Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Your Book is Not a Special Snowflake

I know I promised not to talk about the Hachette/Amazon thing ever again, but it just keeps dragging on and on, and when things drag on and on, ugly things get exposed. The latest of these is a letter to the Amazon Board of Directors from Authors United, a group of authors who've banded together to stand up for the Everyman/woman writer whose books are caught in the middle of the corporate struggle.

To be clear, I have no problem with this in theory. I think authors should have a voice in the business side of their livelihood. In practice, however, Authors United's efforts to be a voice for all authors have been, shall we say, highly disappointing, and this letter is the worst offender yet. Just take a look at this choice paragraph:
We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China. Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers.
Casual racism much? I'm pretty sure China has many, many talented authors who might take umbrage to the idea that their stories are only important as a cheap replacement for American novels. Also, note how the needs of authors are so much more important than the needs of the people who make razor blades and shoes. Clearly, exploitation of foreign workers is totally cool with Authors United, so long as those workers are not authors.

There's more, of course, but Courtney Milan has already eloquently torn into all of this, so I'll just point you to her post and add "Ditto." My personal bone to pick here, however, is the assertion that books are somehow different from other commercial goods.

This is hardly the first time the "books aren't like all that other stuff, books are SPECIAL!" argument has cropped up in the Amazon/Hachette morass. Even all around cool dude John Scalzi writes "[Readers] do not see books as an interchangeable commodity with a garden rake, even when they aren't bestsellers." But while I agree that novels are not interchangeable, that every story represents the sweat/blood/tears/time/etc. of its author, that books have the power to touch people more personally and profoundly than any garden rake (hopefully), they are still marketable items produced to satisfy wants and needs, which is the very definition of a commodity.

The whole business of book selling is based around the treatment of the book as product. For years, the widest available book format was the Mass Market paperback, whose commercial, commodity nature is right there in the name! Books act like commodities, too, just look at the numbers. My own novel, Fortune's Pawn, is currently discounted to $1.99, and sales correspondingly shot up because that's what sales do when there's a discount. Likewise, publishers will sometimes give a book a different cover if sales are low, as happened to my own Eli books. Why? For the same reason cereal makers keep redoing their packaging: things that look better/newer/more exciting sell more. It's the same pattern you see with hair dryers or rakes or any other commodity.

If books were truly unique, non-commodity works of art, there would be only one copy. New works would be sold in book galleries, and classics would hang in a book museum for people to stand in front of and read as a unique book experience...and it would be HORRIBLE. There's a reason the printing press is hailed as one of the most important inventions in human history. It took books, which had previously been unique, hand copied works of art available only to the rich, and made them reproducible, vastly expanding the number of people with access.

It is precisely the cheap, abundant, easily accessible, commodity nature of books that makes them such a huge part of our lives. Clearly, Authors United thinks so, too, because one of their primary complaints is that Amazon has stopped discounting their books, a move they claim has made sales go down "by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent." To be clear, this is a valid complaint. By ensuring Hachette books have a relatively higher price to the rest of their stock, Amazon is intentionally hobbling sales. BUT OH MY GOD, PEOPLE, you can't say "Books are special! Books are not commodities!" in one breath and then complain that Amazon isn't treating your book fairly as a commodity the next.

So look, Authors United, I get that you're mad at Amazon and that you don't appreciate being used as pawns in a larger corporate battle, but y'all need to get a grip. No one's saying you have to wholeheartedly embrace the cold, commercial side of publishing, but you do have to acknowledge that it exists. You have to accept that you're not a unique unicorn with magical bookmaking powers and that the basic rules of economics do, indeed, apply to you and your work. Books are commodities. They behave like commodities, function as commodities, and they're going to be sold like commodities. If you have a problem with how Amazon is treating the sale of your commodity, that's fine, but don't try to argue that the rules should be different for you because your book is a special snowflake. It's not. You're not. The rules apply, and perpetuating the lie that they don't helps no one, least of all authors.

Someone designed that rake, too, you know.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge - A Non-Cannon Devi Morris Short (Shot?)

The entire crew of the Glorious Fool, minus one, huddled around the table in the middle of the lounge, talking in hushed voices. Down the stairs in the cargo bay, their victim sat on the floor with her armor spread out around her, humming a Paradoxian marching song as she lovingly inspected each piece, completely unaware of gathering taking place behind her, or the bucket of slushy ice water at their feet.

"I'm not going to do it," Rupert said, crossing his arms firmly over his chest.

"What are you afraid of?" Basil squawked. "You're an unkillable alien super solider! She's not even wearing armor."

Rupert cocked an eyebrow. "You think that will slow her down?"

We should make Nova do it, Hyrek typed, holding his handset out so they could all read. She won't hurt Nova.

"Oh no," Nova said, shaking her pale head. "No matter how good the cause, I could never disrupt Deviana's harmony like that."

Hyrek heaved a long, raspy sigh. I thought this exercise was about improving people's lives, but it seems it's going to end one of ours if we go through with it.

"Wait, isn't she supposed to dump it over her own head?" Mabel asked, tapping the condensation-beaded bucket with her toe. "Not that I object to dousing her, but we just got the hull fixed."

Rupert shook his head. "I asked her about it earlier, but she said dumping a bucket of ice water over your head for charity was, and I quote, 'a sissy Terran version of the real Ice Bucket challenge from Paradox where they throw you naked into the northern sea and make you swim for it.'" He frowned. "I'm not actually sure how that helps charity, but I think there's betting involved."

"Backing out is not an option," Caldswell said, reaching down to pick up the bucket. "We already agreed. One way or another, this bucket's going over her head. So who's it gonna be?"

His crew all looked at their feet, and the captain sighed. "Fine. I'll do it."

"You're a brave man, sir," Rupert said.

The captain shook head. Honestly, he'd rather bait a bear than Devi Morris, armor or no, but the author had already made promises, so Caldswell hefted the bucket in his hand and started down the cargo bay stairs to do what must be done.

By the time he reached the bottom, Devi had stopped working. "You're a lot less sneaky than Rupert," she drawled, her hand drifting toward her gun.

"Wasn't trying to sneak," Caldswell said, stopping behind her. "Hands off the gun, Morris. You know we gotta do this. ALS is a terrible degenerative disease that's going to keep making innocent people's lives hell until we find a cure. If turning you into an ice cube can convince even a few people to donate to the fight to make a universe with ALS, then I'm prepared to dump the ship's entire water supply over your skull."

Devi set her jaw stubbornly--its permanent position, so far as Caldswell could tell--but she let go of the gun. "You really think this'll help people?" she asked, standing up.

He nodded, and she heaved an enormous sigh. "Fine, do your worst. Just give me a sec to put up the sensitive electronics."

Caldswell stepped back to give her space as she swept up all the pieces of her armor and refitted them back into their case. When cargobay floor was clean, she moved over to the drain and fixed him with her killing stare.

"On three," Caldswell said, raising the bucket over her head. "One....two...."

He dumped it.

"Holy shit!" Devi screamed as the torrent of icy, slushy, one-degree-from-frozen water poured over her head and down her back. "What happened to three?!"

"Quicker this way," he said, trying his best not to laugh as she danced around, whipping her soaked hair back and forth in a vain attempt to knock out all the pieces of ice.

"Did you put salt in this to make it colder?"

"Among other things," Caldswell said. "Too cold for you?"

She bared her teeth at him and whirled around, stomping toward the stairs. Rupert was waiting at the top with a towel, which she snatched it out of his hand. "Did you know he was going to do that?"

"It's for a very good cause," Rupert said, but Devi was already storming away toward the showers.

"Don't you want to call anyone else out?' Caldswell yelled after her.

Devi's reply was long, profane, and mostly in King's Tongue, but it roughly translated down to "Just pay them the (string of expletives) money."

Should we tell her we already donated? Hyrek typed.

"And miss this?" Caldswell said, grinning wide. "Not for anything."

His crew didn't seem to know what to make of that, but being a captain meant never having to explain yourself, so he just pointed them toward the mops and ordered them to clean up his cargo bay.

And thus I participate in a fad for a good cause! Thank you (I think) to author Sandy Williams who had her own badass lady McKenzie Lewis take the Ice Bucket Challenge and call out Devi Morris to do the same. Honestly, I mostly did it because I wanted to dump ice on Devi's head, but it really is a good cause that's been struggling in obscurity for a while now. I hope you'll considering pitching in a few dollars (or a few ice cubes), if not for a cure,  then at least to keep the icy insanity rolling a little longer!

Also Devi wants you to know she totally would have dumped that bucket over her own head like a stone cold boss if her author hadn't wanted to make the others do it for comedic effect.

Thanks for reading!
-Rachel

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Write a Great Blurb

This week, I finally read Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!, the screenwriter's classic How To Tell a Story book. As a non-screenwriter, I still found it very interesting, but the part I liked the best was definitely the chapter about loglines.

So a logline is basically the one sentence description of a movie you used to see in the paper back when people actually looked at news papers for movie times. Things like:

"The fight for the future begins when a computer hacker learns the world exists in the sophisticated alternate reality of a computer program called 'The Matrix'"

"A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship."

"Toula's family has exactly three traditional values - "Marry a Greek boy, have Greek babies, and feed everyone." When she falls in love with a sweet but WASPy guy, Toula struggles to get her family to accept her fiancée while she comes to terms with her own heritage."

These are loglines for The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, and My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding respectively, though I probably didn't even have to tell you that. We know these stories, because these were all loglines that sold movies. In the business part of Hollywood, that's a logline's job: to sell a script.

In this area, at least, we novelists have it WAY better than screenwriters, because we have blurbs. Unlike loglines, which have to be short enough to pitch in that proverbial elevator, blurbs (or query letters, which are basically blurbs personalized to an agent) are allowed to take up entire paragraphs. Compared to the loglines above, that's an embarrassment of riches in terms of space to lay out our stories, and yet we still struggle to fit it all in. How do you convey what your 100,000 word book is about in two paragraphs? That's barely enough space to lay out the main characters and a basic sketch of the plot.

Well, you're in luck, because telling the story isn't what blurbs are for! A blurb, like a logline, isn't meant to be a synopsis or a report or anything so heavy. Instead, it is the answer to the question, "What is your story about?" And as any author who's admitted their profession in public can tell you, when someone asks "What is your story about," they're not signing up to hear a book report. They just want to know what's the genre, and why should they care.

Once you understand that, you've taken the first step toward mastering the blurb, because blurbs, like the loglines above, aren't there to tell the story, they're there to sell the story. They're meant to hook, to tease, to excite, to get whoever is reading them to want to read more. That's it, that's the entire point, and once you realize that, writing blurbs becomes very simple.

Not easy, of course. Blurbs still have to be short, witty, tantalizing, and full of hooks, which is hardly a walk in the park. But with a few guidelines (and the knowledge that you're writing ad copy, not a book a report), blurbs can stop being things you hate and become fun writing exercises.

Years ago, when I was haunting the NaNoWriMo forums, I came across the best single line hook for a novel I've ever read. It was one of those "boil your novel down to one sentence" challenges, and the entry was "He broke the world, can he fix it?"

That's a hell of a hook. I think I actually asked out loud "I don't know, can he?!" If there'd been more, I would have read it right there. Now, having read Save the Cat!, I think I understand why I was so immediately snapped up. In his book, Snyder mentions that the two essentials for every logline are irony and mystery. "He broke the world, can he fix it?" is just these two things in their purest form, a giant, unbreakable thing has been broken by an individual (irony), can he fix it? (mystery)

This two pronged approach is most easily visible in loglines where the enforced brevity leaves no room for anything else. Looking back up at the logline for The Matrix, we see that our real world isn't real at all (irony) and that we're going to be fighting machines to get back (inherent mystery, can we win?). Blurbs, being longer, are a little different. They still rely on mystery and iron, which could also be called the ingredients for a good hook, but they have the space to pack in more: more characters, more intrigue, more hooks. The canny writer will use this to her advantage.

Take, for example, the blurb for Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews:
"Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren't for magic… One moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters. Here skyscrapers topple under onslaught of magic; werebears and werehyenas prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst of knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires with their minds. In this world lives Kate Daniels. Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing and remain safe or to pursue his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy…"
This is a fantastic blurb on all accounts. There's requisite the irony (how could a city with magic not be a nice place to live?!) and mystery (Why is there magic? Will Kate catch the killer?), but there's also about ten billion other amazing cool hooks waiting to grab us--magic and technology switching places! A ruined metropolis crawling with magic! Necromancers who mind control vampires! A kick-ass heroine! A killer on the loose! How could you not want to read this book?!

This is the power of a great blurb. The paragraph above tells us almost nothing about the actual plot. There's only one named character (Kate Daniels) and a single recognizable location (Atlanta). We don't know why magic came back or what the world is like or even what Kate actually does for a living, and yet I want to read it all RIGHT NOW, as do hundreds thousands of other people going by her regular appearances on the NYT Bestseller List. We all want to read because this blurb does a great job of selling the setting, characters, and voice of the book.

That last bit is really crucial, and one of the reasons why authors should never farm out their blurb writing. Unlike loglines for movies, blurbs are more than just a sales pitch. They're also a sample of the writing we can expect inside. If a writer can't write a good blurb, or at least an interesting, engaging one, I have to wonder if they can write a novel. Blurb writing is hard, yes, but it's still writing. When I see an overworked blurb full of awkward sentences, predictable turns, and cheesy stock phrases ("the fate of the world," "toughest challenge she's ever known," "Character's perfect life falls apart when"), I can't help but wonder if the book isn't just as bad. That's never what you want people to wonder! You don't want them to wonder at all, you want them buy/request sample pages with squeals of delighted glee!

So, if you're sitting down to write a blurb or a query letter for your book, or if you already have a blurb/query letter and you're not getting the responses you want, take a step back and ask yourself if your blurb is doing its job. Is it highlighting what's best and most interesting about your work? Is it only telling people what they will read, or is it showing them why they want to read it?

Again, blurb writing is not easy. I can write 1000 words an hour, but I've spent two days on a 200 word blurb and still not been completely happy. That can feel a lot like failure when it hits, but your blurb is worth that level of effort, because the blurb is the most important bit of writing in your novel. The blurb is the first impression, the foot in the door. It's the very first thing anyone will read of your work, and if that blurb can't convince a reader or agent to keep going, your novel will not be read. So never be afraid to take your time and never settle for a blurb you don't love. It might take dozens of tries, but a good blurb is always worth the work in the end.

I hope this has helped you get a bit more insight into the World of Blurbcraft! I wanted to put up a really terrible blurb as a counter example to the Ilona Andrews one above, but there's no writer I dislike enough to embarrass them like that. Besides, you know a bad blurb when you see one. Everyone does, which is why they don't work. So use that same gut instinct on your own blurb. It might hurt, but I promise it's a good, becoming-a-better-writer kind of hurt.

And that's my post on blurbs! As always, thank you for reading, and remember to pile those hooks high!

Happy writing!
Rachel

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Cost of a Professional Quality Book

UPDATE: After talking to Brian McClellan and rereading his blogpost, The Cost of a Good Book, I realized I misinterpreted what he was trying to say. His point wasn't that $32k was what you should spend, but what Orbit had spent on his book as part of his argument that publishers do a lot for authors in the whole Amazon/Hachette debacle.

I'm not actually sure how I read this so wrong. Apparently I'm illiterate, or at least comprehension impaired. But correct information is what this blog is all about! So I've removed the parts of this post that refer to his because, hey, I was very wrong! (And in this case, I'm really happy about that. Seriously, I couldn't understand how an author I liked could be saying these things. Now I do, because he wasn't. Durrr.)

I've left my own numbers in, of course, because those actually are correct and hopefully still relevant.  Mea culpa, Brian McClellan! Sorry about all the hub-bub and fuss! And to the rest of you, sorry about the confusion. That'll teach me to get my britches in a bundle.

Carrying on!

THE COST OF A PROFESSIONAL BOOK


When I decided last year that I wanted to self-publish Nice Dragons Finish Last, the very first thing I knew I wanted was that my self-published books should be indistinguishable in quality and production from my New York books. I wanted my readers to be able to move seamlessly between my series without even noticing who published what.

To achieve this level of quality control, I knew I would need:

1) A high quality, custom illustrated cover from a professional artist. ($1100)
2) Thorough content editing from an experienced genre editor. ($1400)
3) Serious copy editing. ($480)

After a lot of research into the costs of the services above, I settled on a production budget of $3000. If that seems lower than a lot of numbers you've heard, it's because I made decisions that deliberately kept it that way, lowering my initial risk and hopefully ensuring a successful future for my book!

So what are these decisions? Well, to start with, Nice Dragons is currently ebook only. The reason for this is simple mathematics. Looking at all my royalty reports for my Orbit books across two series, I could see that the print percentage of my sales has been steadily dropping. By 2013, the majority of my books were sold as ebooks. This is critically important. Even with a New York publisher getting my books onto bookstore shelves, I was still selling more ebooks than print copies. Also, ebooks are easier to sell, higher profit margin, and cheaper to produce than print editions. Seeing this, I decided the initial Nice Dragons release would be ebook only, which saved a huge amount of money on the initial production cost.

Does this mean Nice Dragons will be ebook only forever? No way. I still love print, and I know my fans do, too, but data doesn't lie. Every number I had told me that print wasn't where the money was, so I made the decision to put off a print release (and all the type setting and back covers and expenses that go with it) until I had numbers proving Nice Dragons Finish Last could sell enough copies in print to justify the cost.

I also decided to forego an audio book edition.

Just like my decision not to do an immediate print release, this was a personal choice to save money on the initial production cost of my book. Audio books are awesome, and they can make you a lot of money, but they are enormously expensive--$2800 by Mr. McClellan's report, which sounds right to me. This struck me as something I could pursue after Nice Dragons was "earning out," and since self-publishing is a long game, I knew I'd have the time to pursue this later on if I chose.

Again, print books and audio editions and all the other bells and whistles that might seem necessary for a book release are, in fact, not needed to produce a professional quality book readers will buy and enjoy. For that, all you need is a high quality, professional cover, professionally edited text that is free from errors, and, of course, an actual good book.

Again, even leaving these out, my book still cost $3000 to produce, which is actually a lot by self-published book standards. But I was determined to make sure my readers got the highest quality reading experience, and I put my money where my mouth was. That said, I have read absolutely lovely, well edited books with very nice covers produced for less than $1000, so your millage may vary.

Just speaking for myself, Nice Dragons has already made enough money to cover all its costs and justify a print edition (which I will be adding soon!), and it hasn't even been out for a full thirty days. It's also my best received book to date, so I think $3000 was right on the nose--just enough to ensure maximum quality, but not so much I'd have to wait forever to earn it back and try other things I wanted to do, like print and audio.

Is $300 a good cost for you? I can't say, because I'm not you, and your book is not mine. I do, however, feel that $3000 is a realistic price for a professional quality self-published book put out by an established author. Again, YMMV, so always be sure to make a budget you can stick to and price out your freelancers first! The KBoards Yellow Pages for Authors is a great place to start.

Thank you as always for reading. I hope you enjoyed the post. Again, sorry about the edits.

Good luck and happy writing!
Yours,
Rachel

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unlimited Profit: The math behind how Kindle Unlimited is going to make Amazon a ton of money, and maybe you, too!

Ever since the rumors started about Amazon's $9.99 a month unlimited ebook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited (often described as a "Netflix for Books"), there's been a great deal of speculation and doomsaying about what this will mean for book sales. Specifically self-published and small press book sales since the Big 5 publishers aren't included in Kindle Unlimited's initial offering.

The basic breakdown goes like this: readers pay $9.99 a month for unlimited access to the Kindle Unlimited library, which currently boasts upwards of 600k titles, including bestsellers like The Hunger GamesLife of Pi, and every self-published title currently enrolled in Amazon Select, Amazon's exclusive publishing option. (Note, several big name indie authors like Hugh Howey don't have to play by the exclusivity rules. This is great for them! For the rest of us, though, being in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited means we can only publish on Amazon. More on that in a sec.) Self published authors with books in Kindle Unlimited are paid their usual royalty when a reader hits the 10% mark. (UPDATE! I got this wrong!! Select authors are paid a fixed percentage of the global fund just like it was for the Kindle Lending Library, not their royalty. Last month, this worked out to $2.40 per borrow, which was fantastic for people selling $0.99 books, like myself, but not so great for authors with higher priced books who would normally earn more than that with a sale. I'm updating the rest of this post to reflect this information for the sake of accuracy, though my general argument remains unchanged. Sorry about the mix up!) Small publishers have different deals--some are paid when a reader first opens the book, some are paid at 10% like the rest of us--but everyone gets paid at some point when a Kindle Unlimited subscriber reads their book.

Now, if you're following the math above, you might notice a gap between the $9.99 monthly subscription price and the usual cost of books. Plenty of books start at $9.99. Even if you're buying all indies at $2.99 a pop, that's still only 5 books before you hit ten bucks and start getting books for "free." So how is it, then, that Amazon can afford to let people read all they want and pay authors their usual royalty on the books for only $9.99?!

Up until now, the answers I've seen to this question have either been "They're going to cut royalty rates on borrows! We'll all be getting paid pennies in no time! DOOOOOOM!" or some variation of "Relax, Amazon knows what they're doing."

Personally, I'm not really satisfied with either of these. I don't believe Amazon will suddenly slice the royalty rate on the authors that create all the content they're now selling. Authors, I might add, they've been working very hard on wooing away from traditional publishers for years now. Why would they undermine that just to shore up Kindle Unlimited? That's robbing Peter to pay Paul. It just doesn't make sense, especially not for a company as smart and far seeing as Amazon. On the other hand, I also don't believe in blindly trusting giant corporations to have my best interests at heart.

To truly understand why Amazon decided to launch Kindle Unlimited and how they hope to profit off it (and, hopefully, how we can, too), we need to understand the math behind the Kindle market itself. Naturally, of course, we don't have any exact numbers (Amazon doesn't share those with anyone) but we do have a lot of percentages and derived figures, and those numbers paint a very interesting picture, indeed.

But first, let's start by figuring out how many ebooks Amazon actually sells.

WARNING! MUCH MATH!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I talk Paradox secrets and Nice Dragons with Fantasy Book Critic!

So the absolutely wonderful Mihir at Fantasy Book Critic asked me to come do an interview! We talk all about Paradox, including a lot of secrets and back story that weren't covered in the books (so no spoilers) and about the new Paradox trilogy that I hope to be writing soon! We also talk a lot about my new book, Nice Dragons Finish Last, and what we can expect from the rest of the series.

In short, it's a lot of secret information and a lot of fun! So go on over to FBC and see for yourself!

In other news, the Nice Dragons release was a big success! Thank you to everyone who helped make it so. Now I just have to stop watching sales long enough to actually finish Heartstrikers book 2. o_o

Finally, I am emerging from my hobbit hole to do a signing at the Buckhead Barnes & Noble in Atlanta, GA on Monday, July 28 at 6 PM. If you're in the area, I hope you'll come by and say hello!

Thank you again for reading!
Yours,
Rachel

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nice Dragons is Out!! -- Official Release Day Post

It's here!!


The day has finally arrived! The first book in my new Heartstrikers series, Nice Dragons Finish Last, is out in the wild!

You can buy the ebook on Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo right now for $4.99. All of these vendors pay me about the same, so feel free to use whichever one is your favorite. Or, if you want to try before you buy, you can go here to read the first three chapters free!

I very much hope you'll give it a shot. I'm really proud of this book and I think it's a great addition to my bibliography: familiar, but still very different from my other works. If you liked Eli or Devi, I think I can safely say you'll like Nice Dragons. I'll hopefully be getting it on more platforms as I get better at this self publishing thing. I'm also hoping to add a print version soon. If you'd like me to email you when new stuff comes out, you can sign up for my new release mailing list. I promise there will be no spam, only release info!

Huge, huge thank you to all my fans for supporting me, and thank you to my new readers for giving an unknown book about dragons a chance. I hope you'll read and review. Please review. Good or bad, reviews are author's life blood. They are vital to getting new sales, and I can't say thank you enough to everyone who's already reviewed my books on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever else readers gather. Thank you!!

Yours always, and happy reading,
Rachel Aaron

Monday, July 14, 2014

How I Write - Chain Letter Edition (Plus, Nice Dragons comes out tomorrow! EEEEEE!)

The ever lovely Karina Cooper tagged me for this on Twitter. I thought it would be a fun update, so here's my current Writing Process!

1. What am I working on now?

The sequel to Nice Dragons Finish Last (our tomorrow!! And Fantasy Book Critic liked it, so you should totally give it a try!), which I'm calling One Good Dragon Deserves Another. I'd hoped to be on the third book by this point, but 2014 has been an awful year for my family personally. My husband's father died suddenly and unexpectedly, my grandfather died (not suddenly or unexpectedly, but still very sad), and my four-year-old son got very close to dying due to a rapid onset strep infection in his leg (SCARIEST THING EVER. Seriously, parents, if your kid has a fever and is complaining about sharp pains that seem to have no corresponding physical injury, take them to a doctor STAT).

So yeah, not a good year for us, and writing suffered correspondingly. But everyone's fine now (knock on wood) and we're back on the writing train!

2. How does my work differ from others' in the genre?

Considering I've got three series in three different genres (Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, and now Urban Fantasy), that's a tricky question. Rather than go into individual differences, I want to talk about the stuff that links my books together through all those different shelf spaces. No matter what the genre, I like to think I write some pretty hilarious and charming people. Whether in space or with magic, the fun feel and epic scale of my story is always there. My goal is that if you like one of my books, you'll like all of my books, even if they're in a genre you don't normally read. I have a lot of fans who tell me they never read Science Fiction before I got them into with Fortune's Pawn! That's pretty cool :D

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because it's cool? Because I have to? ¯\_(o_o)_/¯

As much as I know about my writing, I'm not actually sure on this one. As Karina said in her own answer to this question, "Once upon a time, I would have said simply, 'because these are the things I enjoy', but I enjoy rom-coms, too, and I don't write those." I feel exactly the same way. I mean, clearly I jump genres a lot more than Karina, but I've had a killer idea for a contemporary romance for years now, and I've never felt the urge to write it. Same with a great Western. 

I'm not sure why I write some stories over others. It's not for money, that's for sure. I have ideas I know would be surefire hits, but no impetus to write them. I've tried, trust me, but even though I can see the whole thing like it's already finished, I just don't care. Other ideas, however, hit me like lightning and I just have to write them, even if they're horribly difficult and I'm not sure if they'll sell.

I've been trying to figure out what triggers this "OMG OMG OMG MUST WRITE" reflex for one story over another for years now, but I still have no idea. Personally, I'm just glad it hits! The all encompassing drive to write is one of my true joys in life, not to mention the source of my income. Whatever book the subconscious Rachel wants to write, I'll make it work.

4. How does my writing process work?

Step 1: Get awesome idea. Preferably a lot of awesome ideas that all sort of fit into the same world/story.
Step 2: Plot.
Step 3: Write.
Step 4: Rewrite/Edit
Step 5: Give book to husband/friends for feedback, bite nails.
Step 6: Edit again (see Step 4)
Step 7: Send to my in house editor/professional editor I hired (if self publishing). More nail biting.
Step 8: Edit again.
Step 9: Copy edits.
Step 10: Finished book!

Step 1 can take years on the sidelines of other projects. Steps 2-4 generally take from 2-4 months depending on how many problems the book has. Steps 5-8 go by very quickly or very slowly, depending on how busy the editor is. Step 9 is at least a week, and Step 10 can be pushed off forever depending on nerves :P

There's more to it, of course, but that's the general skeleton process for every book I've ever written. 

So that's how I write!

I hope you enjoyed this quick little update/overview of the novelist in her native habitat. I'm a very excitable novelist today because I'm uploading Nice Dragons Finish Last for it's release tomorrow RIGHT NOW! HOORAY!

Given the timelines for how quickly my stuff has shown up online before, it might even be up early. If you want to know the moment the book is available, please sign up for my mailing list! I'll email you the moment the book is available (and no other time. I hate spammy newsletters!). 

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow with a big release post/self-publishing post with numbers about the self publishing process (for those of us who are into that sort of thing). 

- Rachel

PS: This was a tagged post, so for my tag, I'm going to tag all of you! I love to hear about how other authors work, so if you're a writer, tell me: how do you write? If you want to participate, just link your answer in the comments and then tag someone else at the end. Sort of like a chain letter, only actually useful and informative!

Monday, July 7, 2014

"You’re doing what?" – Why I Decided to Self-Publish My Next Series

So I wrote a guest blog post for the always amazing Civilian Reader about why I decided to hitch my star to the indie author steamroller.

This is the most I've ever talked about my decision to go self-pub (there's an unwritten rule in publishing that you don't discuss business decisions in public, which is one of the big reasons the industry seems so mysterious). I admit, there's very little drama, which is kind of the point of the post actually. Still, I hope you'll find it interesting!

And on that note, my new novel Nice Dragons Finish Last, come out in less than ten days!!

As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn't cut it in a family of ambitious predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience. 

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ--a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit--Julius has one month to prove to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test. 

 He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons.
You can read the first three chapters here to get a taste of what's coming July 15! Thank you everyone for reading, and I hope you enjoy my guest post

Yours,
Rachel

Friday, June 20, 2014

"It's been done before" doesn't matter. Doing it awesomely matters.

First up, Gail Carriger's June Book Club reading of FORTUNE'S PAWN is still going! Goodreads discussion thread is here is you want to talk Devi with other totally awesome people.

As someone who is infinitely interested in all aspects of the writing life and business, I spend a great deal of my casual internet browsing time lurking around places where authors talk shop. On the down side, this also means I spend a lot of time skipping over endless rehashings of certain eternal writer questions - First vs. Third person, do readers skip prologues, how much editing is too much editing, etc. But the reoccurring topic that I notice the most, probably because it's the one that bothers me the most, is cliches.

I've talked about this before, but, like the zombies it would be cliche to compare them to, the idea that cliches are the bane of good fiction keeps coming back. And that's really sad, because when used correctly, cliches (or, more appropriately, tropes) are a fantastic way to build a familiar feeling base that readers can instantly feel at home in.

Because I'm hungry, let's think of books like bread. It's fun to try something new -- say a jalapeno-artichoke brioche with a walnut honey glaze--but no one is in the mood for all new experiences all the time. Sometimes, we hunger for the familiar done well: a perfectly baked French baguette, or a tangy loaf of sourdough served just right.

The same basic idea applies to reading. A classic trope (the farm boy hero, the sexy immortal vampire, the hard boiled detective) might look like a cliche on the surface, but when done well, tropes can actually become selling points. Readers already know what they like, and offering them the same thing again served up with style can be just as much of a hook as something completely new.

The best times, of course, are when you can create something that is both familiar and original at the same time. The new spin on an old favorite is the holy grail of commercial fiction: the same, but different. To revisit our bakery metaphor, take the sensationally selling cronut. It's just a fried croissant shaped like a donut and covered in sugar. Two common expected things, jammed together to make something new.

But while making the cronut of fiction is a fabulous goal (and the genesis of every sub-genre), there's also nothing wrong with baking a killer baguette. A big, popular trope done right with your own signature style is a marvelous foundation for any story, especially since the audience's built in familiarity of the trope gives you a ready made set of expectations to lean on, subvert, and play with. The key here, of course, is that your trope has to be done well, but that's true of anything. Have you ever seen a piece of writing advice that said it was okay to halfass something? I didn't think so.

So writers, please, the next time you feel the need to reject an idea because you feel it's been done before, remember: these tropes keep reappearing for a reason. People like them, they work well in stories, and best of all, people think they know what to expect. That's when you can have real fun - when you turn the cliche on its head. But even if you don't, even if you just take the time to make your chosen trope as interesting and deep and well-thought-out as possible within your own story, you'll end up with something that is delightful in its own right. "It's been done before" doesn't matter. Doing it awesomely matters.