April 15, 2019

Spring Writing Update

My most recent novel, In the Midst, came about two weeks ago, and since then I’ve been asked the same two questions several times: “Where can I buy a copy?” and “When does the next book come out?” The first one is easy. Amazon! The second is, well, a little harder to answer.

The puzzle book I’m currently working on is super close to completion—if you follow me on Instagram, then you may have seen the preliminary cover in one of my recent stories—and I hope to have it ready for Galactic-Con in June. However, it’s not a novel. It has a story, but the main focus is the riddles and clues.

Sometimes the question of my next book release is specific to the In the Lurch series. I had plans of making serious headway in the third book during NaNoWriMo 2019, but I spent most of the month editing In the Midst. The third installment has been started, but it will be a while before it’s completed.

Most of my writing time has been dedicated to another story which is in the same world as Quality DNA. I’ve got some really great characters in mind and an idea which uses block-chain technology to develop a black market for information. Yeah, it’s going to be cool. However, this book as well is far from finished.

I’ve been so busy recently with marketing and puzzle stuff, I’ve had to pull back on a lot of other things like book reviews and beta reading. Once summer comes and the kids are out of school, I’ll be even busier. I’m also looking into the possibility of doing more events this year, so that will take up some time too.

All of that said, I can’t go long before I have to sit down and write an exciting new story. So in short, when will my next book come out? This summer. And fall. And probably another In the Lurch novel in spring 2019.

April 2, 2019

Today is Release Day for In the Midst

When I was getting ready to release my first book, a few people told me I should consider writing a sequel since series sell better than stand-alone novels. If you’ve read The End of Refuge, you already know that the story doesn’t really have series potential. I did have a multi-book arc in mind when writing Mental Contact, but ultimately, I really love crafting stand-alone stories. I’ve always wanted to write a series, so when I got to the end of writing In the Lurch, I added a hook for a second book.

There was so much of the world of In the Lurch I didn’t get to explore in the first novel, so in the next book, I wanted the characters to travel a bit and show how other people might have dealt with the polarized economic situation. I also included a plane crash and deepened the terrorism operation a bit, both of which were a lot of fun to write. And I have a lot of cool ideas for future novels since Leona and Roemell’s story isn’t finished.

The first draft for In the Midst took me a bit longer than my other novels. I had full intentions of writing it in six weeks, but this project took me closer to six months. I was fortunate that I was writing the book alongside a number of other members in my writing group, and we were able to keep each other accountable and get feedback along the way.

You can jump straight into In the Midst, but I recommend reading In the Lurch first, mostly because it’s an awesome book. I really hope people enjoy this novel and all the future installments to the series.

I have to give a big thank you to all of my readers and fans. It’s so wonderful to hear people enjoy my books, and that alone keeps me writing.

March 11, 2019

Building a Puzzle Book

If you follow me on Instagram, then you probably already know that I've recently been working a bunch on a puzzle book. I'm a huge fan of logic problems, boards games, escape rooms, and strategy video games, so I decided to use my background with those to build an engaging puzzle book. Even with that, as well as my experience publishing novels, putting together a puzzle book has presented quite a few unique challenges.

Collecting the actual puzzles was fairly quick and easy, but after that, I had to iron out how this book would work before putting together the narrative. Since I wanted the feel of solving the book to be similar to that of playing an escape room, I needed to give readers an ‘open room’ full of interesting objects they can tinker with. I also wanted the solving of one problem to lead to more clues revealing themselves. Then, once all the pieces were put together, there would be one huge riddle which would unlock the last door for players to escape.

Part of the escape room experience, at least for me, is asking for the occasional hint. In a physical escape room, there is a game master running the room who can give guidance when needed, or tell you if you’re wasting time in the wrong avenue. In fact, some people treat escape rooms as an interactive dinner theater, asking the game master to narrate the entire process of breaking out of the room. Then there are the locks which allow you to try several combinations while trying to find the one that actually works. I wanted to include all of these elements to give my book more authenticity and the ability to support several different play styles.

There was a lot of back and forth while I tried to figure out a way to check solutions without just printing the answer in the back of the book. I also wanted a way to look up hints and solutions so that the adjacent hints weren’t just the previous and next puzzles in the book. Most importantly, I wanted this project to be self-contained. Readers won’t have to rely on the internet or a phone app in order to play. Ultimately, I put together a keyword system which I think works really well. It involves a lot of flipping through the book, making clear formatting crucial to easily navigate the different sections.

I’m still adjusting the formatting and cover. I can do both for a novel pretty quickly now, but I’m not sure what an indie puzzle book should look like. To be totally honest, I’m really struggling over the cover. Furthermore, the formatting for this book has to do more than just make the text pleasant to read. Putting some sort of tab at the edge of the page to denote each section will make flipping to the correct page faster, but having ink stretch to the edge of the page requires formatting the entire interior with bleed, something I haven’t done before.

There’s an awful lot that goes into assembling a book that people don’t really think about. And if all those elements are done right, they blend into the background, allowing the narrative and fun problems to take center stage.

March 4, 2019

How to Judge an Indie Book

Sorry for the clickbait-y title, but this subject has been on my mind recently. Since I read a lot of indie books, I spend a lot of time sifting through books on Amazon and Twitter (yes, I sometimes browse social media to find my next read) looking for something to purchase. It’s hard to tell whether a novel will be worth reading at first glance, but I also don’t want to spend hours upon hours poring over product pages, trying to decide if this title is worth the $3.99 price tag. But Beth, an ebook costs less than a latté. Yes, but imagine buying 30 lattés, and only four are potable, and only one of those is something you actually like. That’s effectively paying $120 in order to enjoy only one book. Just subscribe to Kindle Unlimited! Fair point, but I also don’t want to limit myself.

At the airport, I realized that I had not yet loaded new books onto my Kindle for my trip to the Caribbean. I quickly jumped on the WiFi and started sending novels to my ereader so I’d have plenty of in-flight and beachside reading. Once I had three new novels loaded, I figured I was set for the week.

Except that I quickly cast aside the first two to my Do Not Finish pile, and spent the entire week reading the last book. Thankfully, it was long enough to last all that time.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder how I had picked out such duds. After a good deal of thought, I’ve put together some strategies on how to narrow the search so you're more likely to enjoy the next book you pick out. I’m not guaranteeing my method is 100% foolproof, but it’ll make finding great books easier.

The Cover

Yes, I just told you to judge a book by its cover. To be honest, the cover isn’t the greatest indicator of quality, but it is the first thing you see, so it’s a great place to start.

Generally, a good book will have a nice, professional cover. This isn’t always the case—there are a number of examples of an excellent writer on a shoestring budget ultimately having to make their own cover, but these are far outnumbered by careless books slung out there with half-assed covers.

Successful authors know how important a cover is at marketing a book, so there’s a lot of deeper analysis which can be done on the front of the book (is it genre appropriate, does it catch the eye, does it communicate the themes of the book, etc.) but I’m going to recommend you ignore all of that. Just a simple, Is this cover professional? Yes or no, will do for now. Not every author is marketing savvy, and a novel with a pro cover that doesn’t necessarily sell the book is much better than one with a shit cover.

The Description

The main questions to ask are:
  • Does it make sense?
  • Are there grammatical errors?
  • Does the story sound engaging and like something you might enjoy?
  • Does the description match the categories the book is in? 
The first two are like the cover—a marker of the level of care used in the crafting of the book, along with a glimpse into the author’s writing style. If those look good, then finding the description cool and interesting is the most critical piece in choosing a book. If everything else checks out, but you don't click with the story, I'd recommend skipping that book. A book can have the prettiest prose ever, but if I’m not into the story, I’m not going to be able to finish that book.

Finally, it’s important that if the description is for a certain genre—say, science fiction—it’s important that the book is listed in that category. However, if the description sounds like fantasy romance but the novel is categorized as a western, that’s a serious red flag. The author may not know what genre their book lies in, which means the story will likely be unfocused, confusing, or unbelievable. Even a cross-genre book will make it clear which genres apply in the description.

The Author Profile

Since I read on Kindle, I’m purchasing books from Amazon, and an important step for me is learning a little about the author. Specifically, I look at their catalog of books. I’m looking for at least of few of their books having a number of reviews, with most of them at a 4+ star rating. I also check that their most popular book is selling well, even if that’s not the title I’m interested in purchasing. If the author has no reviews, several books with poor reviews, or only one title, I’ll pass. I’m not trying to discriminate against debut authors, but I won’t read the first and only title by a writer unless I know them through social media and have followed their writing journey—this gives me way more information on them and their book than a product page can.

The Reviews

At this point, I pretty much know whether or not I want to read this particular book, but if I’m somehow still undecided, I’ll check out the reviews. Ignore all the short 5 star reviews, and focus instead on the 2- to 4-star reviews. These will let you better gauge what people did and didn’t like about the book. If several people dislike the extensive violence, but you love gratuitous gore, this title might be right up your alley. Similarly, if readers praise the fast pacing, while you prefer a slow burn, you might want to pass.

The overall star rating isn’t nearly as important as the content of the reviews. Although, if a book has an overwhelming proportion of 1- and 2-star reviews, that might give me pause.

I follow these steps in order to weed out the books I might not enjoy. But probably the best way to find a great indie book is through recommendations. If you have a friend, acquaintance, or a favorite book blogger who has a similar taste in reading as you, ask them which book you should read next.

And once you’ve read the indie novel you picked up, don’t forget to write a review and recommend it to your friends!

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