The Tough Decisions of Independent Publishing

Yesterday, I wrote about making 2015 B I G! Alongside that, I am also hoping to make it different.

I’ve been an author-publisher for little more than a year now, and 2014 was a big learning experience for me with quite a few highs. That first sale! Hitting 100 sales! Having both Convergence and Consumption selected by Kobo for their Next Read listings! Newsletter subscribers! All these were huge achievements in my early, learning-as-I-go, baby-steps into the publishing arena.

2015, on the other hand, feels like it needs to be a bit of a fresh start, in some ways, as I look at what has worked for me and what hasn’t. I need to be bolder, I need to be more proactive, I need to try new things. 2014 was all about being an author, and while that part will certainly continue, I need to pay more attention to the publishing side of this business. In short, I need to keep learning and experimenting.

May will see the release of my first solo novel for this year, and, as a publisher, I want to change things up a bit.

So, I’m enrolling in KDP Select.

hicks-kdpThat means, for the foreseeable future, my titles will be available exclusively on Amazon.

I am hopeful that this move will help me build a larger audience, particularly as the release of Emergence draws nearer, as well as the release of our second anthology this fall. Amazon is the world’s leader in book sales, and KDP Select offers me some unique options as a publisher, like offering a 5-day free run on my titles, or countdown promotions. You’ll also be able to, effective immediately, find both Convergence and Consumption in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited. So if you haven’t checked out my work yet, here’s a free and easy way to see what I’ve been up to. Go give these stories a borrow!

This exclusivity agreement with Amazon operates in 90-days intervals. If I’m not convinced of Select’s validity to me as both an author and publisher, I can always end my KDP Select agreement and re-release my titles on all platforms. But for at least the foreseeable future, my works are gone from the Nook, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, and Smashword platforms.

The why of all this is simply to experiment and to dip my toes into new and interesting waters. I’ve not used KDP Select previously, so this shift is an attempt to expand my base of readers on one of the single largest eBook platforms available, and to see how it stacks up against the way I had been operating. I want to see what works best. Quite frankly, there’s just not enough of a demand on all those non-Amazon platforms at the moment to make the diversification worthwhile, and getting multiple sites to synch and coordinate properly during those rare promotional periods can be a time-consuming headache with so very little reward. The vast majority of my sales have been to Kindle customers, and I’m hoping to tap into the very large pool of readers that the Kindle platform possesses.

But, again, we’ll see what happens. This isn’t a decision that I’ve made lightly, and I’ve been weighing the chicken-or-the-egg-like options for the last three months. I think now is a good time to act and to shake things up a smidge. This is a trial run and I’ll be looking at the numbers closely, particularly once Emergence launches. The bottom line is that, from a business perspective, I need to be doing more and I think that KDP Select may be the solution, even if only a temporary one in this ever-shifting landscape of publishing as a whole. Again, we’ll see. In the end, it’s all about reaching more readers, any way I can and figuring out the best way to maximize attention for my releases while building an audience of readers. Time will tell if this is a smart move, or not, but right now it feels like the right moment to experiment and compare and contrast my efforts at diversification versus exclusivity, and figuring out where the readers are at.

The Tough Decisions of Independent Publishing

Dear Clean Reader, Fuck Yourself.

censorship

Chuck Wendig recently posted on Clean Reader, which I had not heard of before today, but which has seriously rankled my nerves and got my blood boiling. Let me put this simply – I fucking hate censorship.

Here’s another simple thought for you – if you don’t like swearing in my books, don’t fucking buy them. Don’t purchase them and then twist my authorial intent and manipulate the words I have chosen with some pathetic thought-policing app.

I am ridiculously livid right now. So, again, for the record – fuck you, Clean Reader.

Here’s the background:

First, check out Joanne Harris’s blogs:

Harris’ initial post sparked this article from The Telegraph, Joanne Harris condemns Clean Reader app for replacing swear words in novels, where the columnist writes:

The app, entitled Clean Reader, has been designed to take explicit words out of any book printed in electronic format – with or without permission from its author – to swap them with child-friendly versions.

The technology works on a scale from “clean” – removing the “worst” swear words such as f*** – to “superclean”, which will substitute words including damn.

And who fucking told them they could do that? If I wanted to write a clean, swear-word free novel, then I could. But I deliberately choose not to. I write for adults, not children; my books are not “child-friendly.” And if you use this app to alter my intent, then be aware that you are not getting the proper story the way I have intended it be told. You’re getting an ineffectual, piecemeal bit of shit.

Swearing is an integral part of language, it’s a form of communication, a method of expression. When I write an intense and emotional scene, would you rather I write the most impactful way I know how, or water it down to appease the thin-skinned, hand-wringing thought-police? Should I have a sentence that runs along the lines of, “He was trapped, his skin boiling, guns pointed at him from all directions. There was no way out of this, and death was certain. He muttered, “Gosh fudge darn Popsicle,” and readied for the end.” because some self-imposed censor think that’s a cleaner, nicer way of writing?

Fuck that. Who are the app developers, these Maughan’s and the developers at Page Foundry, to determine what’s obscene, what’s moral, what’s good and pure, what is or isn’t?

Harris notes,

First, what counts as “profanity”? Close inspection of the “acceptable alternatives” suggests a very strong Christian bias. Therefore, “Oh my God!” becomes “oh my goodness!” “Jesus Christ” becomes “geez” and so on. “Bitch” becomes “witch” (bad news for modern pagans), and by now we’re already beginning to see some obvious problems emerging.

We’ve seen Harry Potter books burned out of fear, we’ve seen cartoonists murdered, and now these religious zealots are embracing the digital age in order to assault our written words, our very means of expression.

As Harris writes,

Apps like Clean Reader change the text without the author’s permission. They take the author’s words and replace them – sometimes very clumsily – on the basis of some perceived idea of “bad words” versus “good words”. No permission is sought, or granted. There is no opt-out clause for authors or publishers. This is censorship, not by the State, but by a religious minority, and if you think it sounds trivial, take a moment to think about this:

The Reformation brought about the destruction of over 90% of our country’s art heritage, including music, books and paintings.

The Nazis burnt countless works of art judged to be “degenerate”; including an estimated 45% of all existing Polish artwork.

ISIS are currently destroying antiquities and historical sites in the Middle East, including the ancient city of Nimrud, the walls of Nineveh and statues up to 8000 years old.

The Victorians bowdlerized and rewrote Classical myths and literature out of all recognition (they also converted hundreds of thousands of Egyptian mummies into fertilizer, having judged them of “no historical value”).

And all in the name of purity, morality and good taste.

Fuck you, Clean Reader.

And if you, as a reader, are so afraid of what words I am deliberately and purposefully choosing to articulate myself with in my novels and stories, then do not fucking buy them. If you’re offended by the choice of words I make in my work, that’s your problem, not mine. And my solution is pretty simple. Don’t buy them, and don’t read them. Stay away from this blog. Because my material is very clearly not for you.

Dear Clean Reader, Fuck Yourself.

Making 2015 BIG!

One of my big life goal’s was to become a published author before I hit 35. In Feb. 2014 (at the age of 34 – that self-imposed deadline was looming large!), I released Convergence as a creator-owned production after it hit the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest in 2013 and won acclaim from none other than Publisher’s Weekly. This was easily one of the seminal moments in my life, and I knew better than to rest on my laurels. I put out a short horror story in October called Consumption, which advanced readers responded kindly to, but which hasn’t exactly set the world on fire or found the readership I had hoped for.

Somewhere in between, I’d begun e-mailing back and forth with Lucas Bale, also a new name to the indie sci-fi scene, and we and a few others formed a sort-of writer’s club (dare I call it an Author’s Guild?) where, in addition to being a bit of a support network, we talked of releasing an anthology, which became the No Way Home collection of short stories.

I knew that 2015 was going to be a big year for me. There are certain road-markers that I had envisioned for this year, but even I’m surprised at just how big 2015 is looking, both professionally and personally.

The real big news, and a true surprise for my wife and I, is that we are expecting our first child in September! Talk about burying the lede, huh? We’ve been trying for a few years, and after two miscarriages and no luck with IVF…well, this pregnancy kind of took us off guard. The first trimester is now past us, and we’ve got a ton of work ahead of us to make our home ready for baby Hicks. Lots of planning to do, lots of money to save, and lots of decisions to make. But jeez, can I just tell you how freaking excited I am? I recently got to see our little jellybean in action at a recent ultrasound, where it was jumping around and sucking its thumb. (By the way, I say “it” not to be a detached, callous sounding asshole, but because we’re not really sure what other pronoun to use as we won’t know the gender until maybe the May time-frame.) Easily a seminal moment in my life, even more-so than publishing Convergence!

On the professional side of things, I knew that 2015 would bring about not only the release of No Way Home, but also my upcoming solo release of Emergence, the follow-up to my debut. (Pro-tip: sign up for my newsletter and get early access to Emergence for free before it goes on sale!) So, there’s two titles for the year. I had two titles out in 2014, so how is 2015 bigger and better?

How about the addition of a second anthology? Since Lucas spilled the beans on this a short while ago, I feel safe in discussing it here. This collection will be bound by the theme of crime and punishment, and we’ll be dragging a new author in with us by the name of Ceinwen Langley. We’re aiming for an August 2015 release, and I’ll be giving my contribution some polishing work after I wrap up proof-reads for Emergence. For those of you that may have been turned off by the highly unsubtle political nature of Revolver in No Way Home, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m off that kick for now. Instead of leftist dystopian and gender-rights issues, you can instead expect aliens, gore, and a dash of near-future, old-fashioned, weird Wild West. It’s a bit of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, western horror mash-up that I really enjoyed writing, and I hope that readers of Convergence and Consumption will find lots to enjoy.

If No Way Home is any indication, our next anthology will be an even bigger hit. I was truly caught off guard at the success of our first anthology, and have been delighted by the responses from readers. There’s a lot of love for this book, and we all did our damnedest to make sure it was a solid and compelling read. It’s been sitting at the top of the charts in Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Sci-Fi Anthologies, peaking at the #1 spot and is currently #3. We’ve also spent all of March in the Top 20 for Sci-Fi anthologies (currently #15). We are very eager to get the second anthology out soon, so expect to hear lots of news on this one in the coming months.

There’s the current plans for 2015 then. Embracing fatherhood, and potentially going overboard with the spoiling of our little one (by the way, I totally want to build this sandbox. Poke around this really cool site run by Ana White while you’re there. So many awesome ideas!) One solo novel and short stories appearing in two anthologies. And then there’s that third anthology I need to get prepared for, which is all about….oh, you’ll have to wait and see. But I’ll tell you this right now, 2016 is looking pretty darn good, too!

Making 2015 BIG!

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Phoenix Lights (Alien Weird Book 1) by Eric Tozzi

PhoenixLights_FT_FINALAbout Phoenix Lights

March 20, 2015

The Aliens Have Come to End the World…

On March 13, 1997, the incident now known as the Phoenix Lights left thousands of witnesses at a loss to explain the sudden appearance of the massive V-shaped craft that hovered in the skies above Phoenix that day.

Now, eighteen years later, the Vs have returned. Bargains will be made with an intelligence beyond our grasp deep within a super-secret government blacksite. Can a crew of TV UFO Busters find out the truth about the visitors or are they going to get far more than they ever bargained for? Whereas once they were blind, now they will see.

Welcome to the invasion.

Welcome to the Apocalypse Weird.


About the Author

Eric Tozzi primarily writes science fiction, a genre especially close to his heart. For over five years he worked for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a documentary film producer and editor, covering Mars Exploration (go ahead, ask him if he’s a rocket scientist). Getting an up close, behind-the-scenes look at planetary exploration gave him great inspiration for my debut novel, The Scout.

The iconic science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, was a personal source of encouragement to Eric. Having directed an award-winning short film based on the story, “Kaleidoscope,” from his book, The Illustrated Man, Eric had the opportunity to spend time with Ray before he passed away. Ray’s passion for writing and space exploration fueled him to the finish line on my debut novel, The Scout.

To learn more about Eric’s work as a filmmaker, visit his website: www.erictozzi.com


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book for review.]

Phoenix Lights is the eighth release under the Apocalypse Weird banner, and easily my favorite of the bunch so far. Each AW author has tackled a regional apocalypse in their own strange fashion, with gamut of creature features running from zombies to demonic gods and goddesses, black magic, and freak weather. Eric Tozzi’s turn at the wheel guides our attention to Phoenix, Arizona and a cataclysmic alien invasion.

Given the pattern of prior Apocalypse Weird books, I was curious how in the heck aliens were going to figure into the overall map of global end-times, and the simple answer is that it does so awesomely. Tossing extraterrestrial invaders into the mix is a really fun and lively way to shake up expectations and provides a fresh take on wicked disasters befalling the human race.

And while the alien stuff is terrific, it would mostly be superfluous fluff without a strong human component at its center. Thankfully, Tozzi has those bases covered with an estranged brother and sister forced to work together while everything around them is turned to cinders. Gage is a contractor for a secret military facility – think Area 51 and you’re on the right track – while his sister, Kristina, works on the opposite end of things as the host of a reality series called UFO Busters, which tries to expose the government cover-ups surrounding extraterrestrial life. When we first meet her and her crew, they are attempting to break into the lab where Gage works. They’re forced together during the violently invasive first-contact scenario that puts them on the run for their lives and band together during the twenty-four hours of blindness that has greeted each apocalyptic scenario of the AW ‘verse. Then there’s Alice, a blind musician who is granted the gift of sight for a brief period, while the rest of the world’s populace are forced to endure their isolated darkness.

Almost directly from the beginning, Tozzi thrusts us into the action, and once all the pieces are in place and the game-board is upended, he just does not let up. Phoenix Lights is a hyper-kinetic, fast-paced read infused with moments of light horror and terrific action. The climax is an epic twist that not only promises more strange adventures for this volume’s survivors, but which also makes this an indispensable addition to the developing AW lore. Apocalypse Weird fans will no doubt be mighty happy with this installment, and for those who haven’t gotten into this line of stories yet, this is a terrific place to start.

Buy Phoenix Lights At Amazon
Review: Apocalypse Weird: Phoenix Lights (Alien Weird Book 1) by Eric Tozzi

Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

within-these-walls-9781476783741_hrAbout Within These Walls

April 21, 2015

In her all-new supernatural thriller, bestselling indie horror author Ania Ahlborn asks: How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.


About the Author

Born in Ciechanow Poland, Ania has always been drawn to the darker, mysterious, and sometimes morbid sides of life. Her earliest childhood memory is of crawling through a hole in the chain link fence that separated her family home from the large wooded cemetery next door. She’d spend hours among the headstones, breaking up bouquets of silk flowers so that everyone had their equal share.

Beyond writing, Ania enjoys gourmet cooking, baking, movies, drawing, and traveling. She currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband and two dogs, Beau the Scottie and Galaxy the Yorkie.

Learn more about Ania on her site, http://www.AniaAhlborn.com, where you can sign up for a direct-from-the-author newsletter on new releases, promos, and more.

Want to connect? Follow Ania on Twitter @aniaahlborn, or find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aniaahlbornauthor.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Ania Ahlborn’s latest, Within These Walls, might be the best horror book of 2015 thus far. Well written, and filled with depth of character and authorial confidence, it’s certainly among the best of the trio of Ahlborn’s releases that I’ve read (although her next novel, Brother, due out in September sounds like it could pose some stiff competition).

Taking center stage here is Lucas Graham, a washed-up true crime novelist whose marriage is on its last legs, and his angst-fueled twelve year old daughter, Virginia. Graham receives an offer from inmate Jeff Halcomb to pen the definitive account of a cult murder-suicide that occurred in Washington in 1983. The catch – because isn’t there always a catch? – is that Lucas has to move into the home where the grisly murders occurred. Graham convinces himself this is a fair trade, and one that might not only salvage his career but win back the love of his wife.

What follows is a complex but consistently engaging story of familial detachment, a charismatic cult leader and his sad followers, and a haunted house that hides the secrets of its past. The main narrative is fueled by a series of flashbacks to 1983, which thankfully never feel misplaced nor pose as a distraction that threaten to derail the steady pacing of the novel, along with excerpts from news broadcasts, police reports, and write-ups from paranormal investigators. Each of these elements provide necessary background and serve to enrich the core of this story, while Ahlborn entwines various threads of her narrative into a stunningly dark and brave finale that left me jarred.

If you’ve not yet read any of Ahlborn’s work, now is the time! Or, if you’re a fan of Stephen King, grab a copy and sit a while with this one; I think you’ll feel at home with it. Within These Walls is a gritty, haunting, and atmospheric read, and one that I expect to be a contender on a lot of Best Of lists by year’s end.

Buy Within These Walls At Amazon
Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

Quick Hits

I got hit with an awful intestinal or stomach bug over the weekend, and have had a rather unpleasant week as a result. I’ll spare you the details, but it definitely cramped the amount of writing, proof-reading, and blog updating that I had wanted to focus on. So, today I just want to make a few bullet points on the geeky stuff I’ve been ingesting while ill. Warning: this is seriously TV and comic-book heavy, so if that’s not your bag, do move on.

  • Spider-Gwen. What an awesome character, and I love the concept and design.
  • Powers finally got its television debut thanks to Sony and their Playstation console last week! This past Tuesday saw the release of Episode 4, which was pretty dynamite. I’m a fan of the comic, and am really enjoying the series. It’s not a straight-up adaptation and, instead, takes its cue from the recent Marvel productions and AMC’s The Walking Dead. This is definitely Powers, but it puts a slightly different spin on the concept while maintaining the tone and all those cool ideas from the comic. Walker and Pilgrim are well cast, although the portrayal of Deena Pilgrim is more of a hybrid with Enki Sunrise, and I’m waiting for Deena to become the more hilarious, foul-mouthed woman of the comics. At times it definitely feels low-budget, and certain scenes feel very much like it’s just two actors on a set. Some of the effects resemble a well-produced YouTube fan video, but maybe if the series is successful enough Sony will give them more money to work with. They definitely aren’t putting Marvel money into this, but overall I’m finding it to be a pretty solid adaptation. And Eddie Izzard as Wolfe, a super-powered cult-leader and psycho cannibal, is wonderfully creepy, coming in fresh off his brief run on Hannibal. You can watch Episode 1 at YouTube.
  • Bosch got picked up for season 2 by Amazon! So, that’s awesome. And Sleepy Hollow was just renewed for season 3. And Hannibal season 3 is finally coming in June!
  • And have you seen these new trailers of Avengers: Age of Ultron? I love the sight of Cap throwing a motorcycle into a jeep of bad guys. Truly excellent!
  • I’m currently reading an ARC of Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls and damn if it’s not absolutely terrific. I should have a review up next week and am little more than half-way through at the moment. I’m really, really happy with this book so far, and it’s got everything: haunted house, intrepid true crime writer, a cult leader with a history of gory murders, and family angst galore. Such an easy story to fall into and I’m looking forward to digging in much deeper during the weekend.
Quick Hits

Review: Monster by Keith Ferrario

monsterAbout Monster

April 7, 2015

They’re the only humans. But they’re not alone.

Adam Hayes pilots a small team to a remote Antarctic research station. Their mission: to investigate the loss of communications. Once there, the group of five find the station deserted, the radio smashed, and several strange piles of empty clothing. Forced to stay the night by a blinding snowstorm, they set out to solve the mystery of the missing crew. Eventually they will learn the horrifying truth—the station is not empty after all, and something unimaginable, dug up from the deep ice, roams the complex. Now they must fight for their lives against a cunning, thinking monster—and those who would unleash this terror on the rest of the world.


My Thoughts

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.]

Keith Ferrario’s Monster begins with the discovery an unknown substance buried very deep in the Antarctic ice. As a huge fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, I was immediately lulled in by Monster‘s description. I’m a big fan of horror that uses extreme locations as its primary setting, and have a particular fondness for arctic climes. So, I figured this book would be right up my alley. Unfortunately (for me at least), the arctic horror is only, literally, half of the story.

Monster is divided into two parts. In the first part, we’re introduced to Adam Hayes, who pilots a small team to the Antarctic base after the researchers housed there have stopped communicating. This is a solid enough story and hit many of the right notes for me and then…it just sort of ended.

Part two acts as a pretty hard reboot halfway through, introducing us to all new characters in an all new setting. All of the momentum and tension that Ferrario built up in the tight confines of the research base completely disappears as readers are put back at square one and thrust into a medical mystery.

And this is really the main problem I had with Monster. It reads more like two novellas that were glued together by a faint thread. It’s not until the book is nearly finished that Ferrario starts layering in the connections in explicit detail, but by then the story has been bogged down in reorienting readers to an entirely new situation and unveiling all the subterfuge and conspiracy stuff that’s been happening around them.

Unfortunately, there’s just a little too much subterfuge for my liking here, on behalf of both the characters and Ferrario himself. Part Two snapped me so far out of the reading experience that I wasn’t able to ground myself in the story again, and I wasn’t nearly as interested in the happenings of the book’s second half as I was in the first. At a point where the driving force behind the story is at its highest, to suddenly have the rug pulled out from us and forced to start over felt more like a disheartening cheat than authorial cunning. Monster should have been rocketing toward its conclusion, instead of limping along with all-new introductions of everything. By the time the ending did near, I found myself increasingly indifferent to its resolution.

I’ll give Ferrario credit, though – upending reader’s expectations so ferociously and flipping the script entirely half-way through is an incredibly ballsy move. For me, it didn’t quite pay off, even if I do think the core idea behind the plot is not only solid, but damn intriguing.

Buy Monster At Amazon
Review: Monster by Keith Ferrario