Category Archives: New York Times Best Sellers

Amazon’s New List

Amazon continues to stretch out and find ways to encourage readers. And I’m usually all for that. So, I was interested in their new venture.

This past week Amazon has started to compile a weekly best seller and best read list to rival the well-known New York Times Best Seller List. The Times leaves out Indie publishers since they do not appear in bookstores. How The Times decides who gets what spot isn’t sure, but Indies are never included and, yet, are now read by an increasingly large segment of the population. For years, The Times has been the sought after benchmark of success for writers of both fiction and non fiction, but self-publishers don’t make the list.

If you want to know what are the top selling books at Amazon in different publishing categories, Amazon has published a wide variety of lists according to genre that are updated almost hourly.

Last Friday, I ran my Freebooksy add campaign for Past the Event Horizon and made number #1 in the Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>science fiction >space exploration and #1 in Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>First Contact on March 15. That rating soon changed as sales go up and down all the time like a turbulent sea. Still, it felt good. Anyone looking for a science fiction in either category might have given me a try, and indeed, sales followed for a number of my other books.

Okay, so now Amazon offers a weekly list of the top twenty books sold and books read across all genres. Only Amazon has the algorithms to determine what books are actually read. As an author, I can follow what books my readers are reading and when.

Here’s the link to the chart: https://www.amazon.com/charts

As a reader, this is interesting, but as a midlist writer I have a few problems with it.

First, I noted the large number of big publishing houses, and almost all of them have an agent attached. Then, there is the Bookbub phenomena. An author must sell a lot and have a lot of reviews to be accepted, but once accepted the author gets an even bigger bump in reviews and sales by being accepted for promotion. You know the story. A writer has to get to a point where doors open, and until they reach that tipping point, sales are a struggle… Each author has to decide how much time, effort, and money they want to spend, and what goal is acceptable for them.

Worldwide fame or merely getting published?

I think I won’t need sunglasses to hide behind any time soon.

This week I have returned to science fiction and my list that I put out at the beginning of the year with Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson (Hugo winning novel Spin).

I picked this book because it had a time travel theme, and I read and liked Spin by the same author. Wilson plays with the idea of multiple dimensions. In the near future, technology is created that can open a gate onto the past. That past is similar, but not exactly like our past. Inhabitants of the past provide almost a theme park of times-gone-by to those who visit from the future. But as the future influences the past, the past changes, and eventually, the gate closes.

A passageway has been open into the 19th century in Ohio for a decade now, and both sides of the gate know it will soon close. This is the last year the gate will be open.

On September 1, Jesse Collumm saves General Grant’s life as the general visits the future side of the gate. Jesse is from the 19th century but has been hired as a guard in the small city that had grown up around the gate. Working crowd control, he notices an illegal gun and dives to save Ulysses’ life. This brings him to the attention of the higher-ups who run the gate. Jesse is delegated to an attractive woman for various assignments. Unfortunately, he falls in love with her and decides to do anything to follow her through time back to her future.

This was an interesting novel, but not riveting. However, I was intrigued with the time concepts. How would we react if we could visit the past and see how it really was? Would the history books and actual events match? What might happen to influence our future? How big or little need that influence be?

I write about time travel, and it was interesting to see another author’s handling of the subject. If you are intrigued by time travel, you might enjoy this one.

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Filed under Alternate Universe Stories, Amazon publishing, Best selling author, ebook marketing, Indie authors, Indie Publishing, Marketing and selling novels, New York Times Best Sellers, Portal fiction, science fiction

Fantasy vs. Science fiction

photoMy writing group has a mix of both science fiction and fantasy writers, and I’m coming to some conclusions on how these two genres differ in regards to writing styles.

One differences is the extent of world building. Sure I put a map in my second book, but I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance tome, and he has not only an extensive map but extensive illustrations of the flora and fauna in his world, the fashion of his world, and the social hierarchy. Science fiction writers paint a world and then get on with the action; fantasy writers dally in the landscape and admire the scenery more.

Fantasy seems to be more character driven while science fiction is more plot driven. The reader doesn’t get too deep into the complex psychology of the Splinkx, whereas in Fool’s Assassin, the complex emotions of FitzWilliam is a focus for the story and provides the impact at the end.

And the science fiction writers like their high tech gadgets and cutting edge science almost as much as fantasy writers like their magic. Sometimes the two are very similar. (see sidebar quote)

In my series, there is time travel. Poof you’re here; poof, you’re there. Sorta magical.

Both may involve large battles. However, in Lord of the Rings, the battle is mostly on the ground while in in Star Wars or Star Trek, the battles are usually out in space with lots of lasers and gunships.

The enemy tends to be ugly in both genres. Whether it’s Klingons or Orcs, it’s not a pretty face. Our allies, however, are attractive. Legolas and Aragon make me drool, although we should skip the characters of George R. R. Martin as he is changing this trope a bit . Princess Leia and Hans Solo are also easy on the eyes…but the occasional hairy Wooki does pop up. And some of our friendlier aliens often exhibit odd behaviors.

In writing group, the fantasy people are always telling me to put more description in my story while I’m always asking them to stop admiring the scenery, the dress, character behavior and get on with the action and storyline.

This interplay makes for better writing on both sides of the aisle. Still, as a writer, you must recognize your genre and the style that your reader expects, and accommodate that expectation to a certain extent.

I recently read a blog by Tara Sparling and even though it is dated, the numbers are interesting. It’s data on the best selling books of 2012 with charts and graphs. Check it out here: http://tarasparlingwrites.com/2013/08/21/2012-bestselling-book-data-visualised/ 

Words of RadianceThis week I finished Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. (Huff. Huff) The over one thousand pages looked overwhelming, but they were actually easier to do than I expected– although it entailed a few really late nights. Way of Kings is the first in this series and I reviewed that last year and really liked it. Brandon Sanderson is a favorite of mine.

If you like chunky epics with detailed world building, you will love this one. The characters are compelling and the magic, as ever with Sanderson, is interesting. There are three major point of view characters: the doctor’s son betrayed into slavery and clawing his way back, the king’s uncle and stalwart hero who battles both in the trenches and in the  evil court, and the abused beautiful young girl who searches for the strength to become a powerful woman. Each has a story and each interact with the others. The stories start slow, but build beautifully.Way of Kings

Sanderson writes with passion and a good storyline. That combination always makes an excellent read and is worth being a little sleep deprived at times.

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Filed under alien life forms, award winning scifi, ebook marketing, fantasy, fantasy series, magic, Marketing and selling novels, New York Times Best Sellers, Tor's Reader's Choice, Writing Critique groups

Science Fiction Selections for 2015

photo A new year is upon us, and there’s lots of excitement on the horizon, especially in the science fiction book world.

I get to select five books this week to put on my shelf to read for 2015. I may not read them all in a row or at once, but throughout the year, adding others as I go along. The selection process proved interesting. Various factor were at work, and good science fiction was hard to find.

But first, I finished the Martian by Tony Weir and eagerly recommend it. What I learned is that humans have ingenuity if they just keep trying and remain focused. Yes, some of the chemistry got heavy and Mark’s personality included offbeat humor, but it’s wonderful to read a book where the characters are decent people. People from all over the world worked together for a common goal of saving a life, no matter what the odds or outcome. Makes me proud to be human. I like that feeling.

Enough said…I don’t want to spoil it for you.

So how to chose?

Goblin Emperor by Katherine AddisonWell, word of mouth is one way. My friend Lea recently suggested the Goblin Emperor, and that will be my fantasy pick. Lea knows books, especially scifi and fantasy, having 24,000 in her home, give or take.

I was skimming through Goodreads and bumped into The Rosie Project again, where someone recommended it as one of their favorites for 2014. They say you have to see a product more than three times to buy, and I remember seeing this title on several recommended lists. So, it went on mine.Rosie Project

Free is the price I can best afford and factors into my choices occasionally. Since I have recently offered Cosmic Entanglement in my series free through KDP Select, I now browse the free lists and websites for interesting Starship Magetitles. Starship Mage attracted my attention. I thought I would give it a try.

Sometimes after seeing a recommendation, I’ll read the summary to get a feel for the story. Departure is by A. G. Riddle, an author I have never heard of, but the blurb sounded intriguing. I may take off with this one. All the Light You Can See has been hitting the hot selection lists, but after reading that it was about Nazi Germany and a young, blind, Jewish girl, I gave it a pass. I’ve read enough about that shameful part of human history already. So, the summary or story blurb affects my choices also.Departure

Poor Man's Fight  by Kay ElliotTed Blasche (retired), my scifi military specialist, has been urging me to read a series that starts with Poor Man’s Fight. This is a self-published series that has been high in Amazon’s ratings and also suggested several times on my front page there…making it my military selection. I’ll give it a go. Thanks for the many suggestions, Amazon.

Ted is also in my writers group that recently had a spirited discussion on time and how it works. There were some back of the napkin drawings involved and various analogies with branching streams or electric currents. It sparked me to think that the past really isn’t a fixed event, but an entanglement of perceptions…that the past for each individual is different, and given events are perceived differently by each individual involved. New information can change the perception of a past event , so it’s not totally static. Also, how close you are to an event or how far away changes the impact and individual perception dramatically. If you experience a plane crash, that event is far different for you than for a disinterested viewer who sees it on a newscast and then goes about his daily business. We think of the past as static and absolute, while it really depends on the witnesses and how they record and perceive what happened.

Yeah, food for thought today. Have a happy New Year and may many great things happen in 2015.

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Innovation and Writing Trends in Science Fiction

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I put The Human Division by John Scalzi on my reading list, not realizing it offered the opportunity to discuss current writing trends.

The Human Division takes place in “The Old Man War” universe after Earth realizes it’s been used to supply soldiers and bodies to fight an alien filled universe for the Colonial Defense Force.

The Colonial Union, an association of dozens of planets with a population of billions, took old people from Earth who were ready to die, downloaded their brains into green heavily augmented bodies and inducted them into the military to fight enemy aliens. Upon agreeing to the procedure, the new recruit understands that he will never see Earth again. Everyone he ever knew will consider him dead.

The human DivisionBut now, in the Human Division this lie is revealed and Earth is mad about the deception and may sever all ties from the CDF. The third factor is the Conclave, an association of four hundred alien species once enemies, now formed into a single political unit that wants to dominate all worlds. The Colonial Union wants to prevent the spread of their power and dominance, but needs Earth to supply soldiers.

Pretty standard plot.

What is different here is that Scalzi first presented this novel in an electronic episodic format that he has now turned into a hardcover book.

The first episode/chapter begins with a planned secret meeting between an alien race, the Utche and a Colonial Union ship, the Polk, out in deep space for some clandestine back door negotiations. The Polk arrives three days early and surprises an unknown ship that is setting a trap to disrupt the supposedly secret meeting. The Polk gets fired upon and destroyed; everyone on board is killed, including an important Earth diplomat.

With sixteen hours before the jump plus four hours at the incident spot before the Utche are scheduled to arrive, the CDF calls in a “B” team to find the Polk’s black box and try to learn what happened.

Enter Harry Wilson, wisecracking hero and ex CDF, and Harte Schmidt, junior ambassador and sidekick. Their leader is the abrasive Earth female ambassador, Ode Abumwe. Eight are on the team to find the black box, learn what happened and conclude the negotiations successfully.Th Last Colony

Expectations are not high for a successful completion of the task. Black boxes are notoriously hard to locate in deep space…the black color, and well, Abumwe is not a smooth diplomat.

But the “B” team is the underdog, the misfits, who everyone roots for and how they accomplish their goal makes for an interesting and exciting story.

Chapter one.

The episodic format while interesting has its weaknesses. After the chapter or episode completes, the reader can easily put the book down. The next episode is a piece in the puzzle, but stands alone, often in another point of view or event somewhere else.

One of the techniques many writers often try to employ is to have your chapter ending leave the writer wanting to turn the page, desperate find out what happens next. We don’t want the reader putting down the book. We want the light on under the covers at midnight with an avid reader muttering that he or she has to get sleep while compelled to read on to see what happens next.

That’s what we want. Sometimes it happens.

So the episodic format jerked me around a bit. I easily could put down the book. But then, I would pick it back up because of Scalzi’s plot and characters.

The bantering dialog between Schmidt and Wilson was brilliant…except for the writing style. Whatever big name editor guided Scalzi to use “said” for most of the dialog tags was an idiot. It was very disruptive.

Here’s an example from the first chapter:The Ghost Brigades

“Let’s hope the rest of our people made it to the other escape pods,” Blair said.
“But Evans said–”
“Evans said what he needed to shut us up and get us off the Polk,” Blair said.
Several minutes later he said….”

Now, I was at more than one writing seminar at Willamette Writers a few years back when “professionals” encouraged writers to use “said” for all dialog tags. They claimed it disappears and the readers won’t notice.

Well, it doesn’t. It’s annoying if used too often. I got annoyed.

The current writing style mandates “show, don’t tell.” No one is supposed to even use dialog tags any more. It’s all behavioral clues.

While I agree with this to a certain extent, there are times when you have to tell and get on with the story.

Also, adverbs no longer are allowed. Banned.

Here are examples of each:

Tell:  Luke was angry.
Dialogue tag with adverb: “What did you do now?” Luke asked angrily.
Show: Luke stomped into the room, threw his coat on the sofa and yelled, “What did you do now?”

Okay, the energy is better with just behavioral clues, but notice the word count. Sometimes for the sake of the main plot and the mounting word count, you have to tell and move on. At other times, the action needs to be rich to engage the reader more and the writer should use behavioral clues and show in detail.

But current editors swoop onto any “tell” like an eagle to a mouse and start shaking a finger. A little leeway, please.

Another popular mandate of current editors is to use only the active verb and not anything passive.

“ing”, “was” “had” are a few of the culprits here. Scalzi has four or so “wases” per page and doesn’t flinch from using had or ing words. And Scalzi isn’t the only best selling author to do so.

I would not call his writing passive. It’s full of twists and turns, battles, witty dialog and strong human interaction and relationships.

Plus “ing” may be a participle verb that needs a “was.” If you are describing action in the past, you might need a “had”…otherwise your grammar is incorrect.

Example:

She was skipping home. (lots of action here)
She had skipped home as a young child, now she walked sedately.

Okay, enough style ranting.

In The Human Division each story isn’t of equal quality. On this necklace of a novel, some chapters are diamonds while others are quartz.

While each chapter contains a complete story, when I reached the end of the novel, I still didn’t know who, or what was trying to manipulate a war. I finished without a conclusion. That was not where I wanted my cliffhanger.

Now I’m clutching the edge, ready to fall and hoping he’ll get the next book out before life intervenes or I don’t care any more and fall off the cliff.

Other Scalzi books I recommend:

ps: Redshirts won a Hugo, Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale were nominated for Hugo

Red Shirts

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Ebooks: What’s Going On?

IMG_0174Several interesting developments have happened to me recently in the world of Ebooks.

First, my science fiction book club selected Amped as the book to read this week. Dan Wilson also wrote Robopocalypse, which made the New York Times Best seller list. He’ll be coming out with  sequel, RoboGenesis, in 2014.

He’s a young writer with a promising future and came to talk personally to our group…old school marketing style. His credentials are strong as he has a Phd in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and consulted with several professors on how such a device would work. He said that Random House is his publisher and really got behind him with a strong marketing campaign to get his book out there.

I would say, it worked. Color me green.

AmpedThe book is about a device implanted in the brain that increases intelligence, motor function and overall performance. In Amped, the device is implanted into the handicapped and lower class person, setting up discrimination against those “Amped.”

Already, we have many devices implanted in the brain to augment deficits…cochlear implants being one, Parkinson aids, pacemakers, and others. I actually know people who have each of these right now. So, the idea is not too far future.

There is the flavor of Flowers for Algernon and a bit of Slan, except technology is used instead of chemicals or genetics to elevate performance.

Needless to say, a class war ensues and Wilson brings in some weighty questions as to who should be augmented and how the ordinary Joe will react to those chosen to be augmented into superior beings.

A lot of politics and back room maneuvering for power develops. Events turn nasty…and he starts with a suicide.

However, what I found interesting was that to get the book, I went online to my local library, and downloaded the story. Thrifty person that I am, it cost nothing, and I didn’t even leave my chair. I used an app called Overdrive that made it easy.Robopocaypse

Even for a techno idiot like me.

Then, last week I went to a seminar put on by Kobo, which is an ebook seller worldwide in over 150 countries. They are partnering with independent bookstores to put in  QRcards for ebooks.

Jan’s Paperbacks, an independent local bookstore, hosted the event and over eighteen area authors came to greet their readers and swirl carousels to distribute cards with their cover and a QR code on the back. The cards took you to Kobo where you could download the book for free. The idea is to offer a free book in order to get your name out there and entice readers into other books you have written.

However, some books cost…and I bought a card for DIY Publishing for $9.99 and went online to Dropcards.com to download it through an access code found on the back of the card. Worked quite well.

So we have both libraries and brick and mortar bookstores offering Ebooks, some free and some at a good price.

Interesting.

A final note to the awesome Peter at Powell’s Bookstore in Cedar Hills Crossing, Beaverton. The reading group just celebrated their tenth year, and Peter has worked with the group offering sample books, helping us pick out available authors and generally existing as a font of science fiction knowledge. Thanks for all your help. Ten years for a reading group to stay together is amazing.

Leah Day and John Bunnell are part of the reason why.

Leah has over 27,000 books in her home and contains an incredible knowledge of science fiction. John remembers esoteric details of all things science fiction and is also amazing.

Thanks to everyone for all your hard work in keeping this group going.

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