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How to Market your Book Better

If you are an Indie author, as I am, then you’re always looking for what is the best way to market your book. I admit that I’m not a blogger. I write, I paint, I read … Notice how these activities are usually a one-gal show?

And not particularly interactive.

So taking the initiative and blogging is daunting, even though I like to write novels. (14 to date)

I use Freebooksy as my ad platform because it works best for me. I ran an ad in May and garnered about a thousand downloads. This wasn’t too bad in that the book had been marketed previously last year through Freebooksy, and this was a second go-around. The other thing was that the first review was not good. My reviews are usually very good, and I had gotten complacent because I really liked this book, A World Too Far. I had no doubt that it would get good reviews.

Arrogant lazy author. Can be a downfall.

I recently read a comment in the Passive Voice (highly recommended blog) from an article he included from the Wall Street Journal that “First impressions are hard to overcome.”

It’s from a study published by Marketing Science that finds a product’s first online review has “a lasting impact–affecting how many reviews it receives and its star ratings.” It goes on to say that products with a negative first review (3 stars or less) received almost 15 fewer reviews overall at the end of six months than products that received positive reviews and about 36 fewer reviews at the end of 12 months.

The research goes on in more detail and the reviews are more about household products, but the results support my experience. In addition, my dear reviewer got several things wrong, and I wanted to argue that he was coming to incorrect conclusions, but, of course, that’s not done. You don’t comment on reviews, or try to correct mistaken conclusions. No. No. They have a right to tro … have their opinion.

So, of course, Amazon put this review before all other more recent reviews and left me to chew nails.

Crunch.

Even so, because it is a series, a good number of readers followed up with the sequel Somewhat Alien and the third book, The Weight of Gravity. so that I did cover costs and am thankful to them and hope they enjoyed the series.

Because I am on the Written Word email list, which has Freebooksy as one of its platforms, I received this interesting email from them on what readers want. I pass it along to you my blog readers, because it has a lot of good information and suggestions if you are an Indie author and are looking for data on what influences readers. At my last peek, Freebooksy claimed 310,000 readers with over 90,000 science fiction enthusiasts. It’s probably higher now and they post the numbers on their website.

From the Written Word Blog:

We (Written Word)get a lot of questions from authors about how to write a book readers will love. Do they like series or standalone?  Why do readers stop reading a book mid-way? Are reviews really that important? What better way to figure out what readers want than to ask them! We asked a few thousand readers what they like and don’t like about books and reading. We’ve rounded up their answers in this article and provided some key takeaways for authors.

Do Readers Prefer Books in a Series or Standalone Books?

Authors like writing in series. Marketers like marketing series. But how do readers feel? The overwhelming majority of readers are indifferent with 60% of respondents saying that they have no preference between series or standalone books. 14% said they prefer series while 26% said they prefer standalone books.

 For authors, this is good news. It means that whichever way works for you, will work for a majority of readers. Successful authors tend to love the series model, and at Written Word Media, we do too. Offering the first book in a series for free or low-cost is a great way to hook a reader, and then draw them into your series.

The reader gets to try out a new author, and the author has an opportunity to gain a reader who will spur additional revenue month after month as they make their way through the series. It is easier to make the economics of writing and selling books work when you write in a series. If you have a series where the first book in the series is free, our Freebooksy Series Promotion (browse series promotional options for freebooksy here) is a good place to get your series in front of avid readers.

Some of the more enlightening information came in the open-ended comments section. One frustration that readers voiced with series books is simply the inability to find the other books in the series. That means that readers will gladly read your entire series, but only if it isn’t difficult for them to find the next book. When you are setting up your books in KDP or another retailer, make sure you keep series information consistent, so your readers can find the books they’re looking for. 

I clearly mark which sequence my books are in the series, as I also have been frustrated trying to find out which book is next or how they work in the series.

Additionally, we saw lots of comments about cliffhangers. Readers hate them! It’s okay for your book to gently lead into the following book, but wrap up the story so the reader is satisfied by the last page. Cliffhangers lead to unsatisfied readers, and unsatisfied readers lead to bad reviews and a decline in follow-on sales!

Hear! Hear! I agree.

Why do some readers love series? For most, it’s the characters. One reader summed up the fear of falling in love with a character but only having a small amount of story about them: “I want to invest in the characters and know I’ll be seeing them again.”

Another reader said that reading a series reminded them of “visiting beloved friends.” A series is a great way to build a connection between your characters and your readers, and turn readers into fans.

Novels are more than a plotline.

What Makes Readers Put Down a Book?

In the era of Kindle Unlimited, where authors are paid by the page read, every page that a reader reads counts. With this in mind, we wanted to find out some of the biggest story no-nos according to readers, so we could help you avoid them. We asked readers what makes them stop reading a book, and the results were informative. We asked this as an open-ended question so as not to bias the poll. The most common theme among responses was the word BORING

Readers want a plot and characters that keep them engaged. Also mentioned frequently were uninteresting characters and overdone descriptions. Farther down the list, but still worth mentioning were grammar mistakes and spelling errors.

For authors, this means plot and characters need to be a primary focus. It is critical to have a plot that progresses quickly to hook the reader and keep them reading. If you find there are slow parts to your story, try workshopping these scenes with an author friend until you’re confident readers will get hooked and stay engaged.

Reading through the comments, another big takeaway was that readers like reading a book that is inline with their expectations. If there’s going to be explicit sex scenes, make sure that’s clear up front. Do the same if your book has a lot of violence. If it’s part of a series, make sure to tell the reader that, so they can expect that some plot threads will be left untied at the end. Readers want to be surprised by how a story unfolds, but not confused by a book that is different from what they expect.

Make sure your cover and your book description give the reader an accurate picture of what type of book they will be reading.

This is visually what they see first, so create a cover that says, ” read me.”

Do Readers Want to Interact with Authors?

When we asked readers if they would want to interact with the author of the book they are reading, the responses fell into relatively even groups.

The most common answer from readers was “not sure” at 37%. Close to that was “yes” at 36%, and 27% of readers surveyed said they wanted no interaction with authors.

For authors, this is helpful in setting expectations for engagement. Only a third of readers actively want to interact with authors, many other readers just aren’t sure, and a solid amount also don’t want to interact, even if they love an author’s work.

So, if you are focused on engaging with your readers, know that some just won’t want to, and that’s not a problem.

Some authors may be shy too. I had a reader knit me an adorable bookworm and want to FaceTime. She was great, but I was a little reticent to interact that intimately with a stranger until I got to know her better and warm up. Thankfully, she was very patient with me.

We asked readers what their preferred interaction method is, and the responses were overwhelmingly digital. The top choices were email (75%) and social media (52%). That said, many readers would be interested in more intimate types of interaction like texting (32%) or in person meetups (47%).

Authors should feel comfortable engaging readers over social media, and many of you already do. Email is the preferred method of communication for most readers, so building a mailing list is something every author should invest in.

Which Social Media Platforms do Readers Use?

With so many social media platforms, it can be overwhelming to try to post to all of them. So, if you’re trying to decrease your social media workload, focus on where your readers are. 

Granted, your audience is a specific subset of readers, so trying different platforms and techniques to see what gets the most engagement is the best plan. But these survey results can help give you an idea on where to start.

The most popular platform among readers surveyed? Facebook, and it’s not close. We know authors love Twitter, and it’s a great place to meet other Authors and engage with the wider author community, but Facebook is where the readers are. 69% of respondents chose Facebook as their preferred social media platform. If you are pressed for time and need to spend time updating your social media presence, focus on Facebook first.

Readers prefer Facebook over other social media sites.

Do Readers Care About Reviews or Price?

We asked readers to pick a book based on just a few limited factors to try and understand how reviews and price impact the decision making process. The answer to this question was dependent on the type of audience you are after, and your goals for the book. We found that readers that subscribe to our different brands answered this question a little differently. Readers were asked to choose from the four options below:

The readers on Freebooksy love free books. They are happy to choose a free book with no reviews over all others. In fact 50% of them would pick a free book with NO REVIEWS over other options. The next most popular option was the $0.99 book with 2 five star reviews. And the third most popular option for Freebooksy readers was the $2.99 book with four stars on 20 reviews.

Our Bargain Booksy audience enjoys a great deal but understands that good books often come at a price. That audience still liked the free book with no reviews, with 37% saying that would be their top choice, but only slightly less popular was the $0.99 book with two 5 star reviews.

A takeaway here is that in the early days of a book when it does not have a lot of reviews, you may need to lower your price in order to attract readers. If you don’t have any reviews on your book and your goal is to get those first few reviews, try running a Freebooksy feature. It will drive free downloads of your book which will get it in the hands of lots of potential reviewers.

The takeaway for authors is that reviews and price both matter to readers. When your book has more reviews you can begin to attract readers at a higher price. If you aren’t getting traction at $4.99 or $3.99 try lowering your price and running promotions to boost those reviews. After you get more reviews, you can start raising your price.

Your Book Description Matters

When asked to rank the importance of several factors when choosing a book, 57% of readers surveyed said the book description was the most important factor. Next most important was price at 37% and author at 23%.

Another finding was that the readers surveyed view review rating as more important than the total number of reviews. In fact, number of reviews was mostly likely to be ranked as “least important” by readers.

One important thing to note is that your description and reviews are often closely linked. As we observed earlier when identifying what turns readers off from a book, setting the correct expectations for your book is critical. If a reader is caught off-guard by violence, sex or the type of ending, they could leave a bad review. So, it’s important that your description both excites readers and sets the correct expectations.

Summary

We hope this has helped you gain some insight into the minds of readers. The major takeaways from our reader survey are:

  • Readers do not have a strong preference for series vs. standalone books. It is easier to become a profitable author when you write in a series and given that readers do not have a preference we recommend starting with the series model. If you are writing a series, make all books in your series easy to find and avoid cliffhangers at the end of books.
  • Make sure your book is not boring. Keep the plot moving quickly and spend time developing your characters.
  •  Be honest about your book. If it’s a series, be up front about it. Sex scenes, bad language, genre fit – make sure all those things come through on your cover and book description, so readers are not surprised by what they find inside your book.
  • Interact with your readers through digital channels like Facebook and Email newsletters. Readers want to hear from you when you use their preferred communication channels.
  • If you have to pick, spend your time promoting and engaging on Facebook as opposed to other social sites.

Food for thought.

Keep cool in this unusual heat. I’m headed for the Oregon coast as I have outgrown my dear duckpond. I have promised my friend there that I would paint her a picture of the shoreline she sees from her condo. I may share it with you after I have finished. I love to paint the Oregon coast. And I want to escape this heat.

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Diving In

Going with the momentum of my recent blog, I’m diving in.

After more than a year, I’m giving ad marketing another try. You, the reader, will be the beneficiary as Caught in Time, my first book in a series, will be offered for free through Freebooksy and Amazon tomorrow, May 26 through May 28.

Yes, Free. Free. Free.

The Alysia Series has eight books, but each one is a stand-alone with a different theme. Caught in Time is a time travel romance, A Dangerous Talent for Time follows a riddle quest, Cosmic Entanglement tells a starship academy story, Past the Event Horizon contains a spaceship adventure, Space Song deals with alien genetics, Touching Crystal involves an apocalyptic event, Someone’s Clone is the story of a clone in search of his identity, and Time’s Equation is a time-traveling murder mystery.

All are different, but connected along a timeline with interlocking relationships.

This is a limited-time opportunity, so dive in and enjoy the first of the series for free and find a whole world filled with science fiction adventure.

And, speaking of diving in, my science fiction reading suggestion for this blog is the Diving Series by Kristine Katherine Rusch. Kris is extremely prolific and writes in several genres under various pen names. This series is currently at ten books with a kickstarter that recently closed for more to be written.

The first book in her series is Diving the Wreck. I put off reading this series because I thought it was an underwater story … but no.

Her female protagonist, who insists on being called “Boss,” leads teams off-the-grid to salvage old abandoned spaceships. In the process of doing this, she encounters a 5,000 year-old military ship powered by an anacapa drive which folds space to enable a ship to travel immense distances, but when damaged can twist time.

… The perfect weapon to counter the powerful Empire that threatens her corner of space.

But not without life-threatening risks involved.

Interesting concepts and well-defined characters made this whole series an enjoyable read.

So… dive in.

And don’t forget that tomorrow, May 26, Caught in Time is free. This may be your week for great time travel stories.

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A Return

A year seems like such a long time…
And then it’s not.

I finished my trilogy, thrilled with how it turned out, but done, done, done.

I needed a break.
So, I took one.
Which has lasted longer than I planned. (Thanks coronavirus.)

Stuck at home, restless, I needed exercise. So, I began to walk around a picturesque local duckpond.

Then, I redirected my creative energy to painting it.

(pictures at the bottom.)

Recently I was musing over offering the first book in the Terran Trilogy on Freebooksy again and remembered a photo prompt that I did for Diana Peach on her Myths of the Mirrors Website.

This is the perfect prelude to the adventures on The New Found Hope in my first book of the Trilogy: A World Too Far. So I offer the photo and the short story below.

Escape Velocity

By Sheron Wood McCartha

Quiet. So quiet.
The sound of her rasping breath filled the night as empty buildings loomed above on both sides, and a silent street stretched ahead. The only other noise was the thudding echo of her pounding feet on hard pavement as she ran as hard as she could.

Thud. Thud. Thud.
The sole sounds in a deserted city.
Her lungs burned. Her legs ached. She blinked watering eyes.
But she had to keep running.
Darkness surrounded her, making it hard to see ahead.
But she had to continue. She dared not stop.
Behind her the moon swelled, growing larger and larger in the night sky.
She didn’t want to turn around to look.
She couldn’t afford to turn around for even a brief glimpse.

For years, the moon had grown larger and larger in the overhead sky, causing ever increasing violent tidal swings. Now, the ground grumbled and shook under its tug every second of every minute, causing low-level cities to be evacuated as tidal surges wiped out people and places. Then higher altitudes were threatened. And higher. In other drier areas, the ground opened up, swallowing entire towns with one gulp.

Humanity peered upward towards the stars for salvation. It would not be found here on this devastated Earth.
Sixty ships built, and fifty-nine already launched—the last now ready to leave the planet behind.

Any minute now.
So, too, she would be left behind if she didn’t hurry.
In the distance, she saw the glow of light silhouetting the last ship and heard the faint roar of frantic voices.

Run. Run. Faster. Faster.
Mother had died in her arms, and she’d been glad to be there at her passing, but it may have been a fatal mistake to stay for her last goodbye. Nevertheless, she would never have forgiven herself if she hadn’t.
The com in her pocket vibrated. She pulled it out and took precious time to answer. “What!”
She couldn’t stop a second or even slow.
Not now.
She could see the dark bulk of the ship ahead of her. So close.
“Where are you?”
“Twenty minutes,” she panted. “Twenty minutes.”
“There’s a mob at the front hatch. You’ll have to go around the back to the emergency entrance and move the gantry over three feet to the left. I told the Captain, your father, that you were a computer wizard, and he would need your skills. Don’t make me a liar. Hurry. I don’t want your death on my hands.”
The voice continued, but she turned it off. She didn’t need the distraction.
She couldn’t afford it.
Blood pulsed in her ears. Her legs ached. Her mouth felt parched from inhaling the smoky night air and puffing it out in hard short bursts.

Huff. Huff. Huff.
She arrived at the edge of the screaming mob, whose fists pounded vainly against impervious metal. Her feet did not slow a step. But, her heart hurt from hearing the desperation in their voices. Quickly, she circled to the back, stumbling in the effort.
She wanted to lie down. To collapse on the ground and never rise again.
But she couldn’t let Jazz down. Her best friend had saved her a seat.
Tugging the gantry to the left, she eyed the endless rungs above her.
Then she began to climb.
Her hands grew raw from the rough metal, and her arms ached as they reached for yet the next rung. Suddenly, she felt the engines stir beneath her hands and the ship began to shake. A hiss of steam vented far below her.
The monster within awakened.
Heat licked her heels as engines ignited, and she hammered at the blurred words stenciled in front of her. Emergency Exit. She screamed, hoping to be heard above the increasing volume of noise. Suddenly, the hatch opened and a hand reached out to yank her in, then slammed shut.
Lying on the hard metal floor, she stared up into the frantic face of her friend as the ship rumbled and began to slowly lift. Tears from above splashed onto her cheeks and her lips. “You cut it awfully close.”
She nodded slightly. It was all she could manage. Lifted awkwardly into a chair, buckles snapped around her. The ship gathered velocity and leaped into the night sky with a roar.

She closed her eyes as the heavy hand of gravity slammed down on her.
The moon expanded in the night sky outside, dooming all those left behind, but the stars twinkled a promise as they beckoned the ship forward.

………………………………………..

A World Too Far starts the voyage of The New Found Hope to find a habitable world.

Space can also be just as dangerous.

But here on Earth we have lovely duck ponds. I promised you a few. This is winter duck pond and autumn duck pond.

Duck Pond in Winter
Duck Pond in Autumn

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Our World from an AI viewpoint and the Hugo Awards

I’ve noticed a new type of science fiction raising its head lately. This is science fiction where the story is told from the point of view of an artificial intelligence housed in a human appearing robotic body trying to pass as human. Several recent books that use this concept are : A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chalmers, The Imperial Radch Series by Anne Leckie, and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries Series. (I’ll report on Martha Well’s book Artificial Condition next time, and I already have talked about Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.)

The idea of a human telling a story narrated by an artificial intelligence trying to understand humans is mind bending in the least. Often, it reveals something about what it means to be human.

One of the main characters in A Closed and Common Orbit we met in the previous book, A Long Way to A Small and Angry Planet. There she was Lovelace, the artificial intelligence that ran the ship the Wayfarer.

In this sequel, she wakes up in a new body made to micmic a human with synthetic soft skin, blood-colored liquid in her veins, and operating organs so she can pass as a human. Of course, what she is, is illegal. She was shut down and re-booted so she has no memory of what came before. When created, she was programmed to tell only the truth and to answer any direct question. These constraints in her programming make deception a bit tricky.

But she has the help of Pepper, a fugitive clone, also illegally independent. Pepper originally was created to sort salvage in a factory filled with female clone workers, but when an incident occurs, she escapes. She hides out in a crashed ship whose artificial intelligence teaches her how to survive in a huge landfill on a secluded part of the planet until they can rebuild the ship and escape.

The book flips back and forth between the two lives. Lovelace takes the name Sidra and struggles to adapt to the body she calls a “kit.” Integration is difficult. When outside, the lack of boundaries is unsettling, but the lack of being able to see from all angles and corners is also disturbing. Sidra finally makes a friend with an alien, also a tattoo artist, who tries to explain humans to her and help her, although she also had a few hang-ups.

Meanwhile, alternately, Pepper’s grim life as Jane23 is revealed. She is a naive and innocent ten years old when she escapes to the junkyard where she finds the downed ship. Luckily, Owl, the ship’s artificial intelligence teaches her all it can. The young child is forced to hunt wild dog and scrounge for mushrooms, which make up her main diet. She also learns engineering and tech from Owl, and culture and language from on board programs and holograms.

I enjoyed the story quite a bit. The concept of an artificial intelligence trying to grapple with the quirks of humans was interesting. The courage and inventiveness of Jane 23 recalled a theme in The Hunger Games.

Becky Chambers has emerged as an outstanding writer in the science fiction field. She was nominated for a Hugo Award for A Closed and Common Orbit in 2017, and while not winning, she received a lot of all well-deserved notice.

Speaking of the Hugo Awards, they are out now for 2018 and in an unprecedented move, N.K. Jeminsin has won for the third year in a row. Check out Utube for her acceptance speech, and more details on the Hugo Awards.

Meanwhile, here are the results through to the novelettes:

The winners of the 2018 Hugo Awards, Award for Best Young Adult Book (hereafter the Lodestar Award), and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer were announced at Worldcon 76 in San José, California on August 19, 2018. A full breakdown of the voting is available here.
Best Novel
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)

Best Novella
All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.Com Publishing)
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette
“The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
“Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)
“Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)
“A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
“Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)

Some interesting new trends in science fiction. Grab a few to finish out your summer reading.

p.s. And speaking of new, I’m working on the exciting cover for the third book in the Terran Trilogy called, The Weight of Gravity. I have clones and lots of excitement. Stay tuned to hear more.

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Eclipse Expectations

Expectations

There’s nothing like an eclipse to remind you of your place in the universe.

A week before the event my husband decided we had to go see it. There was no plan in place.

Immediately, I panicked. I get phobic when he drives, and I sit right seat in heavy traffic on the freeway. I think it’s the lack of being in control and relying on others to make sensible driving choices. Terrifies me.

Whatever. And, it makes my husband crazy when I helpfully point out traffic conditions he might miss.

Meanwhile, the media (Good bless them) were warning of huge crowds. They were reporting on hospitals beefing up emergency rooms, stores adding extra stock, the police department preparing for problems, and making us aware in solemn tones of all that could go wrong. A good friend confided that they were getting up at 3:00 a.m. Saturday morning, packing food, and taking the back roads to avoid the congestion. I was on the edge of deciding to stay home and let husband go on his own.

Expectations influence behavior.

Hearing about all the emergency preparations and the dire predictions of chaos amped up my already bubbling worries. But I wasn’t ready to get up at 3:00 a.m three days ahead of the event.

Enter fate.

Over a garbage can, my neighbor invited us to join them at their place on the coast in Pacific City.

Wahoo! A plan. My husband agreed. He never lost his confidence in the belief that everything would work out fine.

Expectations.

We needed eclipse glasses. So Thursday evening we went on a hunt. Let me tell you, the whole area was out. After an hour and a half of driving all around, we gave up. “We really don’t need them,” he said.

What? Seriously?

I called up my neighbor to plan the food and told her about our expedition. She informed me they had four pair at the house. Not to worry. Silly me.

We agreed to leave around seven o’clock Saturday morning to beat the traffic. I packed everything the night before except last minute stuff, even showered then.

That’s when husband mentioned that he wanted to stop and play golf near Lincoln City. We’d go to the Outlet Mall there, plug into their EV supercharger, and shop around while the car juiced up. Then he discovered a five star restaurant across from the golf course that served breakfast and added that into the itinerary.

Adaptable. Sometimes a wife and writer needs to stay adaptable. However, I noticed that my anxiety was turning into anticipation. As I saw an exciting plan falling into place, my expectations soared upward. Anxiety got put on the back burner.

As we all know now, there was no traffic. We finally left after 8:00 a.m. I was munching calmly on a muffin and gulping down coffee. The traffic was light, the trip beautiful. The GPS shows green all the way…even through Dundee. A miracle was in place.

Near Lincoln City, we stopped at a gem of a place called the Wildflower Grill, which I fervently recommend. Then on to the mall with over a hundred miles still available. Eight open EV charging stalls, we picked one (I had worried they would all be filled) and we went shopping. I found an awesome deal on a needed item, so did husband, and a half hour later we were on our way to the golf links, tank filled to two hundred miles. No range anxiety whatsoever.

Chinook Winds Golf Course was beautiful, and my husband flashed a coupon booklet that let him play golf with a cart for fifteen dollars. He had reserved a tee time, and I could drive along. Needless to say, it worked out great. He could have used a few more birdies, but whatever.

At three o’clock, I called to let out hosts know we were ahead of schedule and on our way. The drive up the coast was spectacular. Their house was jaw-droppingly beautiful and perched high on a ridge overlooking the town. Five star accommodations.

My head was spinning. I took pictures. We got along wonderfully. The men were both tech geeks that found common ground and similar interests. The next day we toured the town, walked the beach, supported a local winery, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the deck. They were perfect hosts.

Needless to say, it was a memorable trip. There were several telescopes with filters, and yes, eclipse glasses so we could observe the whole process. Our worries over a looming marine layer eased as the sun broke through before ten o’clock.

What did I learn?

Expectations….doubts and worries… can block you from a worthwhile experience. Writers and authors need to know this. They need to put aside their fears of failure, and like my husband, plunge into the experience, developing a strategy as they go. Adaptability is key. As events unfolded, he researched ways to increase the value of the event, adding on to the developing plan.

 

Authors can do the same. Write a story. Research the business. Create a novel. Add in a paperback or ebook, maybe audio. Look into marketing. Trust that if you move forward, opportunities will present themselves. Take advantage of them. A signing, a speaking engagement, a book club.

There will be naysayers….maybe among your own family. Evaluate their comments thoughtfully. Then keep moving ahead, adjusting as you go. It’s a journey. Yes, there’s traffic, and, yes, bumps in the road. But it may be a life changing experience.

As I stared at the eclipse, I realized how powerful the universe was, and I was a mere speck in it. But all around me were other specks, in the town, on the ridge, who roared when the sun vanished.

And cheered when it reappeared.

It was a life event I’ll always remember.

Expectations. Let them lift you up and help you reach those shining moments.

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Science Fiction: On the Edge

I live in Oregon and the whole region around me is a-twitter about the coming total eclipse. I live an hour away from the coast area that lies in its path. However, my husband is not a fan of big crowds, so I expected we would view what we could from home. Then a week ago, he ups and says, “It’s a once in a lifetime experience. We have to go see it.”

A million people converging on the area, and he plans to drive somewhere to view it somehow. Details were sketchy.

Heaven help me… And it did.

I was moaning about this turn off events while bringing in the garbage cans, when my neighbor (doing the same) offered an invitation to join her and her husband at their place in Pacific City. We can leave a day or two early and hopefully miss some of the traffic. They are fun to be with, and what at first sounded like a disaster, is turning into whaeclipset could be a very memorable weekend.

It is exciting to be in a place where such a unique astronomical event occurs.

Something to tell my grandchildren about. If that ever happens. Something to mutter in my old age, “I remember when…”

***

This week I finished Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper. It was nominated for the Campbell Award. I must mention that it is tied to previous books The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep. I was unaware of this until I encountered a rant by a reviewer on Goodreads. Frankly, it didn’t disrupt the story for me at all. In my own series, several of the books are separated by spans of time and are also stand alone stories about future generations of the originals.

What makes this book worth reading is its approach on the issue of transhumanism. Each chapter is titled with a character’s name and represents his or her viewpoint. (three main characters)

Charlie stands for the environmentalist. He is a ranger on a planet called Lym that at one time had been mined and polluted. Under the rangers’ care, the wildlife and environment are being restored. The wildlife, however, can be very dangerous and the planet represents raw nature.

Nona comes from the Diamond Deep, an immense space station out in the depths of space. Her mother is dying, her father dead. Both were too late to receive the cocktail of life, now given to their daughter. Upon her father’s deathbed, she promises him to see a sky and watch a sunset. As her mother is dying, she reminds Nona of this promise and asks her to talk to a powerful relative, Saryana. Reluctantly, Nona does and learns that she owns her own spaceship and an inheritance. She’s rich. Saryana directs her to Lym and hires Charlie to be a tour guide for the young woman so she can experience what a planet feels and looks like.

Charlie expects her to be a spoiled rich spacer, but of course, I smiled as I watched a bit of impossible romance bloom between them.

Nona’s best friend is Chrystal who lives in the High Sweet Home, an outer ring space station. She lives with three others: two men, Yi and Jason, and her friend Katherine. They are scientists living in a commune and breeding genetically modified stock.

Outside beyond the dark are the banished cyborg and artificial intelligent robots that call themselves the Next. Far more intelligent than humans, and physically able to modify themselves, they do not need to eat, sleep or breathe. They are powerful beings who want to return and claim portions of planets, such as Lym, for the metal resources there. They capture the High Sweet Home and take Chrystal and her group, destroy their human bodies, and download them into robot bodies that resemble their original form to use as liaisons with the humans.

Chrystal’s chapters are chilling. They are first person narratives where the reader experiences the emotions of a human mind forced into a powerful mechanical body against her will. Not all survive the transformation, and in fact, Katherine doesn’t make it.

The Next make the three, Crystal, Yi and Jason their ambassadors and lure Nona out to the Diamond Deep to save her friend. Charlie is persuaded to go as Lym’s ambassador. Since he’s never been off planet, adjusting to space is a challenge for him.

Brenda Cooper neatly presents all sides of the artificial intelligence debate. Charlie is the human who wants to keep his planet pristine and natural. Nona is the child of ship and station who only knows life in space. Chrystal experiences the vicious prejudices of the terrified humans who call her a thing and refuse her humanity. Even her own mother repudiates her. And Jhailing is the robot who teaches Chystal to survive her difficult transformation. She learns to speak to the other robots using a kind of mental telepathy. No longer does she need to eat, sleep, or breathe. Her powerful body can pick up a human and kill him with a throw. As many humans who are repulsed by the robots, an equal amount are intrigued with the thought of becoming a robot in order to gain immortality, great intelligence, and the strength of such a form.

The reader gets a glimpse of the frightening things that the shadowy, more advanced robots can do, including shape shifting and duplication and wonder at their true purpose in returning. The humans are given a choice of Uphold, Allow or Help as the council votes on their human response to the approaching fleet of Next.

The Spear of Light continues the story. Also, Cooper just released in June, The Wilders.

***

 Monday the world will go dark in the middle of the day. A reminder of the frailty of the human species in a powerful universe.

But it will only be for two minutes, and the sun will return.

President Trump will tweet something, and somewhere a terrorist or protester will commit a violent act, and we’ll return to the insanity of our vulnerable world.

With only science fiction to warn us that we should behave better or face the consequences.

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Science Fiction Awards List

The nominations for the 2017 Hugo are in, but to refresh your memory here are the winners for 2016: https://www.theverge.com/2016/8/20/12551696/2016-hugo-awards-

Of the four mentioned here, I blogged on Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, read an intro of Seveneves by Neil Gammon (thanks to Amazon which offers free introductions) and liked what I read but haven’t bought the book yet, and have been an enthusiastic reader, and blogger of, Jim Butcher’s other two series: Codex Alera and The Dresden Files. Makes me feel that I’m picking books to talk about that other people like too.

Also out are the Locus Awards.
http://www.locusmag.com/News/2017/06/do-not-touch-2017-locus-awards-winners/

On the Locus list, this year in blogs, I talked about Visitor by C.J. Cherryh, Babylon’s Ashes by John. S. A. Corey, Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Anders. I tried to read Take Back the Sky by Greg Bear but for some reason abandoned it.

Now we have Hugo nominations for 2017:

http://www.tor.com/2017/04/04/2017-hugo-award-finalists-announced/

In this list is All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Anders, The Obelisk Gate revisiting J.K. Jeminsin, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, who also did A Long Way to an Angry Planet that I commented on in a recent blog.

And Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer.

I don’t know where to begin with this one.

My usual policy is not to discuss a book that I don’t like. I acknowledge that each reader brings their own experience and taste to a story and being in my Powell’s Book Group (25 plus members) has made it abundantly clear, everyone’s taste is different. So what I don’t like, others may love.

But as an author and writer, Ada Palmer has had me ranting for days. (My poor husband) She breaks all the conventions of what I’m told is good writing and then makes the Hugo nominations list! Thanks TOR.

Right off the bat, her first sentence warns the reader that the narrator is unreliable. So throughout the entire book, you’re wondering if what you’re being told is true or not. A lot is left out.

Constantly, in the book she talks directly to the reader as if they are sitting in a chair across from her. In her far future world, an attempt to level the playing field of gender results in people not using a definitive pronoun. So in describing a person, it can be a they one moment, then a he or a she, the next. Gets confusing, but it worked for Anne Leckie, also a Hugo winner and nominees, so maybe Ada liked the idea.

In addition, one person often has several names depending on who is in the room talking to them. And there are a lot of characters to keep track of throughout the book. The names are crazy, taken from the 18th century. For example, the narrators name is Mycroft Canner, an homage to Sherlock Holme’s brother.

In fact, the whole book is packed with inferences involving the 18th century, and unless you are a history major of that era, you spend more time researching Palmers’ allusions to the time period than you spend paying attention to the plot.

What plot?

Also, she didn’t hear about the “show, don’t tell” rule and expounds in detail on several historic names, places and events.

Point of view jumps around incessantly and some major characters don’t even talk in English. When they speak Latin, Palmer puts the translation in parenthesis after each sentence. Fonts are constantly changing. There’s sprinklings of French, Spanish and Japanese in the dialog.

In due time, the reader (hopefully) realizes that Mycroft is a criminal (she alludes to his servicer’s uniform) and is sentenced to pay for his crime in service to those families he harmed. But the mystery is that he /she /they is constantly being relied on by the powerful leaders of this world to supply sensitive information or used for top secret activities. He is on familiar terms with every powerful leader throughout the world. Mycroft is more than a common criminal who has performed unspeakable crimes, but as a reader, I wasn’t sure what his connection was to the others, and why they were so nonchalant at having him constantly nearby. I’d hoped to learn by the end of the book.

And that is my main complaint. While Mycroft harbors a boy who can touch toys and make them come alive, (rather cool) the commotion in the story is caused by a list of ten names that is stolen from Mycroft bash (commune/house). For some reason, undisclosed to me, this list is controversial. It’s rather a list of the top ten most important people in the world, according to a journalist who puts out the list once a year. Then you find out there is more than one list floating around.

Have I confused you enough? Not even close. The politics (a blend of distant future and 18th century) and network of intertwining relationships is mind boggling. I read this to the end to see if I could make sense of anything… guess what?

Nope.

It’s a Hugo nomination and I’m ranting and raving all over my house about it… Could you tell? At least as one member in our group commented, “It’s different from any other science fiction novel.” And there she was right.

One last announcement while we are talking about new books out. I’m waiting on my proof for Somewhat Alien and within a week or two should be launching the book. Here is the cover:

It’s an exciting story that takes place on a space station. No Latin or French involved. (Tant pis)

 

Stay tuned.

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Saturn’s Run: Hard Science Fiction

Everyone likes a sneak peek.

So, I’m giving my readers of this blog only an advance squint at my new cover. It is so hot off the press that you might burn your fingers.

Oh, no. That’s right, we’re digital. Your fingers are safe.

Anyway, I’m in the throes of birthing my next book in my Terran Trilogy series called Somewhat Alien. I spent the week working with cover designer Toni Boudreault to get the look I want.

There’s a lot to think about when doing a cover. It has to be artistic, the fonts large enough to read in a thumbnail version, and it has to suggest a story that invites the reader in. This time I’m experimenting with two faces on the cover. This is to let the readers know that there is a relationship arc in the story. I include ships, space stations, and time travel for the more hard science readers, but have added cute rodent-like gebbits that stir up all kinds of mischief on the space station. Then, I throw in a recent controversy concerning immigration. After all, the main goal of the story is for the Terran aliens to land on the planet Alysia, and the native Alysians are less than welcoming. There’s a flavor of the recent headline news in the story.

In addition to that, details on the faces like the correct hair and eye color have to be checked. I have an art background and worked in an art gallery for eight years along with painting oil landscapes. You can see my work behind a few of my blog pictures. So, this is one of my favorite parts of this whole author gig. Toni handles the dpi and megabytes, along with a professional designer’s eye, while I make comments on the look and subject matter.

Next, I’m waiting on several Beta readers to report back. Already, Cathy has given me some great suggestions that I plan to implement in the story. I’m at the final tweak stage with  changes still happening.

So stay tuned. Launch will be at the end of June.

This week, I’m presenting Saturn’s Run by John Sandford and Ctein. This is a good story that includes science so hard that you could chip a tooth. So if that’s your flavor, here’s the downlow.

Sanders Heathcock Darlington’s father is filthy rich, and in two years at the age of thirty, Sandy will inherit. Right now, however, thanks to dad, he works at the Caltech Astrophysics Working Group headed by Dr. Edward Fletcher, who is coming to regret the hire, no matter how much money daddy has promised to donate to the school. Surfing is Sandy’s current hobby along with playing guitar with a girl band called the LA Dicks. Often dressed in shorts and t-shirt, his make-work job is to double check one of the telescopes with a human eye and, if anything looks amiss, to pass it on to a Real Scientist who would evaluate the findings. The fact that he constantly scans his environment and flinches at unexpected movement as if expecting a sniper nearby, escapes most people’s notice. Still, he has a dark side to him that smart people sidestep.

Arriving at work late again, he just puts up his feet when the computer pings a critical anomaly. Close inspection reports an object decelerating, emitting hydrogen, with rich uvs approaching orbit around Saturn. A second computer check reports the same findings with a 99% chance of the object being real.

Fifteen hours later another meeting with the same group and a scary, dark-eyed man from Washington confirms the object is an alien ship. Fast forward to the oval office and President Santeros with eight select people, including Fletcher and the thin, dark -eyed man.

From there the story becomes a political race since the Chinese are readying a launch to Mars. Not wanting another country to get their hands on advanced alien tech, the American military and scientists advise President Santeros to convert the current International Space Station to a spaceship in order to beat the Chinese to Saturn. Unfortunately, the Chinese telescopes discover the alien ship and frantically begin to transform their Mars ship to a ship capable of reaching Saturn.

And the race is on.

Here Sandford involves the reader in some heavy science, discussing the ion propulsion engine, the various trajectories, needed space requirements and so forth. A frantic search for crew brings in an interesting cast of characters, and the ticking clock as the Chinese head to Saturn amps up the tension.

President Santeros’s security head, named Crow, knows ultra secret details about Sandy and urges the president to include him in the crew. Sandy is recruited as their cinematographer who works with a beautiful hard-assed reporter determined that this will make her an ultra star as they record every aspect of the journey.

Sandford does a nice job bringing in interesting people, then throwing a mole into the crew. While doing their main job, Sandy and Crow try to work out who is leaking vital information to the Chinese. A section also shows the Chinese crew and their problems as they race toward the aliens in a totally different style of ship. Technical details included.

Without giving away too much, Sandford also offers a reasonable answer to what they both eventually find.

If you can gloss over the extensive science explanations that show up in lumps, you will enjoy this story. If you are a science geek and have passed over my recent offerings of fantasy with werewolves and vampires, then this one is for you.

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Fake News and Incorrect Prognosticators

I’m tired of it. Headlines screaming out facts that aren’t true or are heavily biased. Same with mouthy broadcasters trying to make their mark or air controversial opinions. I also wish the politicians would quit trying to destroy each other and get on with making America better.

Notice I’m not going for great… merely better.

I wish other countries would stop preying on the gullibility of Americans. I’m not even sure the article claiming Macedonian teenagers created fake news to make big money and influence the vote isn’t fake itself. Although it has the ring of believability about it. Not so much the Indian accented guy who wants to help me fix my computer.

And my eyes keep crossing when I sit across a table and hear the other person assure me of what a well known person is going to do or what event will destroy us all, as if they had insight into the future. They need glasses.

From pollsters who assured us that Hillary would win, to market analysts who predicted a market crash if Trump won, to people on the street who were sure that ObamaCare was over–every one of those pontificating prophets were wrong.

No wonder I don’t believe anyone any more.

It’s just as bad in the publishing world as big publishing floats desperate “facts” either including them in serious sounding articles or whispering rumors into the ears of gullible authors.

Joel Friedlander, another excellent blogger who you should put on your must read list, addresses the truth versus fiction in the publishing world.

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2017/04/fake-news-self-publishing/

Fake news busted. Now if we could only sort out the politicians.

This week I read The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuinn. This is the required book for the Powell’s April reading group. LeGuinn is a well known local author living here in Portland since 1959. Back when science fiction was regarded as mostly pulp fiction, Ms. LeGuinn stood the genre on its head with her work. Using the medium of science fiction, her stories explore politics, society, gender, and other hot topics with a critical eye. She put a bright literary polish on what had been considered lowbrow fiction. She has won the Hugo Award, The Nebula Award, the Locus, World Fantasy and others, each more than once. My favorite of all her novels is The Lathe of Heaven, a unique novel of dreams versus reality.

In the the Dispossessed, Urras is the origin planet that runs on capitalism fueled by greed. It is opulent, corrupt and rich in resources. Back in Urras’s past, a band of anarchists escaped to her moon, Anarres, to set up their own socialist society and separate from the inequalities of the prevailing system. A wall of hate sprung up between the two.

Life on the Anarres is hard scrabble. The barren moon has to be coached to provide sustenance to its inhabitants. Everything is shared and under the philosophy of Odo, the greater good trumps the individual. Choices are limited and often not real choice. Years may separate a husband and wife as each is sent where the need is greatest according to their skills. Sacrifice is the mindset.

Shevek is a brilliant scientist on the verge of discovery. Several important scientists believe he is close to discovering the math for faster than light travel. He writes a thesis, but his department head, Sabul, who has access to the University’s printing press, will only approve and print the paper if his name goes on as a co-author with Shevek.

Shevek decides to go to Urras to break down the walls of mistrust between the two worlds, not realizing the ulterior motives beneath the welcoming smiles of the professors and leaders of the University there. Shevek is a scientist, who understands quantum theory and formulas, but not people.

The story starts with him taking off on his journey to Urras and contains interesting details on traveling through space. He is the only person to visit the planet since the exodus, and goes through a bit of cultural shock after he arrives. He is not used to the lush greenery and is startled by the singing birds, wealthy clothes, and wide variety of rich food.

The narrative jumps back and forth between present and past, revealing Shevek’s earlier life and struggles. The novel becomes a treatise on socialism versus capitalism as Shevek tries to create understanding but only causes a revolution.

Both societies suffer under LeGuinn’s sharp microscope. Both are flawed.

By the time I finished, I’d had enough of serious politics, and my next read will be strictly frivolous fantasy.

So there. Be warned.

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Authors Answer 104 – Best Advice for Authors

For any writers out there, some great advice from successful writers. The one I added to my arsenal was : “Write what you would like to read.” Thank you Thomas Weaver and congratulations for two years of interesting blogs.

I Read Encyclopedias for Fun

Welcome to a very special Authors Answer! This is our 104th edition, which means it’s the end of our second year. And just like last year, we have some guest authors giving their answer to this very important question. I’d like to thank authors Mark Lawrence, Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, and Andrew Rowe for agreeing to participate. They were very gracious when I asked them to participate. And thank you to Jacqueline Carey for her response. Unfortunately, she has her hands full at the moment, so was unable to participate. I love authors who take the time to respond when they can!

This week’s topic is an important one. Authors sometimes need a bit of help, so we’re talking about the best advice we have received in our quest for being published.

fireworks Celebrating our 2nd anniversary!

Question 104 – What is the most important piece of writing advice anyone…

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