Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SPFBO? What's That?

Many of you will have no idea what the SPFBO is. It stands for Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and has been instrumental in shining a light on both individual indie writers as well as indie fantasy as a whole. Created in 2015 by the best-selling author Mark Laurence, the SPFBO provides hundreds of indies the unique opportunity to have their work reviewed by top fantasy sites, with thousands of followers. These sites typically review and discuss traditionally published authors and would rarely consider reading an indie novel.

The rules are simple. There are 300 entries spread among 10 review sites. Each site narrows it down to 1. And from those 10, a winner is chosen. The prize: aside from the review itself, exposure and prominent mention by a world-famous author…and I think he sends a trophy. This may not sound like much. But for those of us who have spent countless hours soliciting reviews and doing anything we can think of to get noticed, it’s a pretty big deal. Big enough that not only did I enter, but several of the top selling indies out there did the same.

As with any literary contest, the judging process is subjective. There is the possibility a book could end up in the hands of a reviewer who simply prefers a different style. But it’s as fair as it can be, given the number of books. But the point of it isn’t winning the contest. Well, not to me. Getting these high-volume sites to review an indie is nearly impossible. And here is an opportunity to spread your name. If you lose, fine. But they might remember you. They might even have liked your book enough to recommend it. Bare minimum you get a critique from a highly thought of reviewer. And so far, the reviews that have come in from those eliminated have been thoughtful and carefully crafted. No. Not all of them were 5 star. But they were constructive, and many left spots where the author could use a quote – another big deal.

Speaking of quotes, I asked Mark Lawrence to give me one about the SPFBO and he had this to say: “The SPFBO, or Spiffbo to its friends, is a collective effort that has become far more than I imagined it would be. It has made a huge difference to several excellent writers and a small difference to a great many more. It's one of the things I am most proud of, although my contribution is quite small." Mark is far too modest about his contribution. He is in constant contact with the participants through the social media site, and has been a true source of inspiration. Hell, he even gave me the quote I asked for the next day.

Why a guy like Mark Lawrence, a traditionally published, best-selling fantasy author with no specific ties to indie of which I am aware, would take the time to help indie authors is a question only he can answer. But I’m glad he did. So if you haven’t read his work, do so. Not only will you be reading a book written by one of today’s most talented writers, you’ll be supporting someone with a heart of gold and a true champion of the literary world. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

99¢ Sale on Akiri!

From now until Tuesday September 19th. Don't miss out!

      Click the link below

   Amazon US

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tropes! Tropes! And More Tropes!

To trope or not to trope? That is the question. One to which no small amount of discussion has been dedicated. Does the world really need another farmboy with a secret destiny? Have elves become old and tired? Do you really want another rock hammering, tunnel drilling dwarf? You bet! But then, I love the tropes. I don’t need them. But I love them regardless. I admit it can be overdone. And if the story is weak, all the elves in Elrond’s army won’t make it better. That’s where I think people get turned off.

I’ve always believed that a good story should be able to translate into nearly any genre. Simply adding elves, dwarves, dragons, magic, etc., isn’t enough. And if the writer is lazy about it, the tropes become annoying. Simply ramming a prophecy in so that the plot makes sense, or to use in place of subtle foreshadowing is a fine example. Not that there is a thing wrong with a good prophecy. Done well, it can add an air of mystery and be used to enhance the book’s ah-ha moments.

The races in fantasy are another bone of contention. But again, we run into the same issues. Elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs, are absolutely wonderful in my view. Overdone? Yes. But so what? Again, it’s not the frequency of their use, it’s the way they are portrayed. Creating a society is not easy. It’s meticulous, time consuming, and often frustrating work. Simply ripping off Tolkien is a sure-fire way to turn off a reader. No one wants another group of eternal know-it-alls. If they are so damn wise, why didn’t they get rid of the bad guy in the first place? And why do they all have to live in trees? Are they cousins to the mighty squirrel? But if you give them a real history; one that is complicated and perhaps a bit tumultuous, they can be fabulous additions to your world. This is true with any of the trope races. I think it’s when there is an utter absence of thought and depth you see the “trope haters” take exception. And who can blame them? Orcs are evil, elves good, dwarves xenophobic mole people, and humans…in power and governing the world, yet at the same time the least special and weakest race. Yeah. It’s easy to see why an avid fantasy reader could scream, ENOUGH!

And there is the plotting. How better to start a good fantasy novel than with…wait for it…the farmboy? But hey! I like the farmboy plot. Though massively overused, it is a great way to launch an adventure. Now keep in mind the farmboy doesn’t have to be an actual farmboy. Your hero can be a farmgirl. Or the child of a blacksmith. Or whatever. The point is the unlikely hero. A mundane person who discovers they were special all along. The reason it works so well is that people desperately want to see themselves this way – a lowly worker bee with untapped potential and undiscovered greatness. How could you not relate to that? And there isn’t a thing in the world wrong with it. But if you use this plot, you must use caution. Pay close attention to how you flesh out the main character. When using a common theme, you have to make up for it with great characters and exciting storytelling. It’s one thing to rehash the farmboy plot. It’s something else to do so with two dimensional characters and jaw-droppingly predictable storytelling. You’ll lose the reader…even the trope loving kind. This applies to other common themes such as the dark assassin, disgraced soldier, and the lost prince or princess, to name but a few. Use it. But you’ll need to step up your game.

Tropes in general are not bad. They provide a sense of familiarity that I, along with many readers, find pleasing, and even comforting in a way. Used well, they can help paint a picture of your fantasy world that can transport a reader away from their hum-drum and provide a bit of pleasure in an otherwise harsh life. It’s when they are used in place of well-considered storytelling that they begin to annoy people. You have to strike that balance between the familiar and the new. It’s a tightrope walk, to be sure. But no one ever said being a writer was easy.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

BookBub Follower Drive!

Hey everyone! I'm on a drive to get more BookBub followers. Think you can help me out a bit?

My BookBub Profile


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Akiri: Dragonbane!

The third installment of the the Akiri series, Dragonbane is available for kindle! Huzzah!

Amazon US
Amazon UK

Amazon AU

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

We Are Not Snowflakes

Okay people. It’s come to my attention that I’m a pompous, elitist, privileged, asshole. I was aware of being an asshole and have been for many years. Just ask around. As for the rest…I’ve never been called pompous. I spend my time at my desk wearing a pair of sweat pants and sometimes a tee-shirt. This is also how I present myself in public. For fun, I drive down to the local VFW and listen to war vets tell stories while we drink beer and whiskey. Not exactly what a pompous person does. Or am I missing something?
Elitist could be more accurate. But only in terms that I work in an elite field. With roughly 15,000 novelists making a living, being one makes me elite – though not necessarily elitist. I don’t look down on someone because of their job, education, or social status. I was not born rich. I am not and never have been a part of what one might call “high society”. Well…unless you count my younger years when I smoked a lot of pot.
And as for privileged, you might be thinking ”White, middle-aged male. Hell yeah, you’re privileged.” The problem is, given what I do for a living, none of that helps me. I could be anyone. I could be black, white, male, female, or an alien from Mars. You only know about me what I tell you. And I could be lying. Morgan Rice has sold millions of books and I only recently found out she is a woman. I still don’t know what she looks like. So as a fantasy novelist, privilege doesn’t help me.
I was called these things by other writers after suggesting to them that they should write 1000 words per day. Understand that these were people with agents and most having been published at least once. I mean, what the hell is wrong with telling a writer to write. No one will pay you to be a writer. They pay you for what you have written. I must have touched one hell of a nerve because the name calling and accusations flew. I was an elitist pig. Yup! A bunch of traditional authors were calling an indie, elitist. I had to drop my pen to be certain gravity was still working.
Some of you may be thinking, “But Brian, not everyone has that much time.” This is true. But once you decide to take that step from hobbyist to professional writer, you have to make the time. You can’t wait for the muse to strike. You must start producing. Being a novelist isn’t about book signings and wine. It’s day after day of sitting behind a keyboard and pushing forward. It’s writing when you don’t feel like it, because it’s your job. In short, it’s hard fucking work that never ends.
You can’t expect to write one novel every five years and remain relevant. You are not going to attain stardom on the strength of a single book. If you think it will happen, all I have to say is, good luck with that. I’ll come visit you at the place you tend bar and you can tell me all about how unfair the literary world is.
We write because we must. I’ve heard that quite a bit, as I’m sure you have. It’s a groovy way to add a bit of artsy-fartsy to writing a novel about swords, dragons, and magic. But the second part of that is: we must because it’s our job. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do…most of the time. But being a professional comes with responsibilities and obligations. That means I have to write when I just don’t want to. It means writers block doesn’t exist in my world. I have to force myself to keep going. Will the story suck? It might. But I can’t edit what isn’t on the page.

You may think I’m wrong. You may think the others were right about me. All I know is that of the hundreds of successful novelists I know, all of them hold this view. If you are a writer, you have to write. We aren’t snowflakes. We’re beasts – ravenous and relentless. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

What do I need to Self-Publish?

Recently, I read an article about “how to self-publish” that has me thinking. If this person is right, then I’ve been wrong for my entire career. According to this person, you don’t need fancy editors or proof readers. You don’t need cover artists. Hell, no. All you need is grit and determination. That other stuff is a waste of money.
This is a dangerous thing to tell an aspiring writer. It sets them up for bitter disappointment. And being a novelist is already tough enough without crippling yourself out of the gate. So I’m going to answer some basic questions posed by many new authors.
Do I need and editor and proof reading? YES! Well…. if it’s for a writer’s group or simply something to share with friends and family, no. But if you intend to ask people to pay for your work, you do. It’s not just about putting out a professional product. It’s also about respecting the fact that you are asking a reader to spend their time and money on you. To release a book that has never been edited or proof read not only shows a lack of respect for the work, but it disrespects the reader. Their time is as valuable as yours. And when you offer a book for public consumption, people expect value. They expect professionalism.
I can hear it now: “Yes, but I don’t have the money for an editor.” Neither did I when I started. But I saved my nickels and dimes; I did without until I had enough. It took time. A lot of time. But I believed in the work and I wanted to give it the best chance I could.
It’s also important to understand that this is a business. For those who disagree - You are offering the fruits of your skills and talents to the public. In return, they pay you. Sounds like a business to me. And in what business can you get away with zero investment and expect a return? Does it happen? Sure. And some people win the lottery, too. I hear all the time about the few out there who have made a career without editing, proof reading, etc. But for every one of them, there are a hundred who will tell you exactly what I am telling you.
I realize producing a book can be expensive. I also realize that not everyone has the money. Even saving, it might not be enough. But there are ways to get it done. Trading services, local writer’s groups, and networking online can help you attain valuable resources. But it takes time and effort. You are trading money spent for time spent. Either way, you are spending something.
Do I need a cover artist? YES! Well…. You might already be a good artist or brilliant with photoshop. I’ve seen it. Not often. But it happens. I wish I could draw, paint, or do more with my computer than type. But I can’t. Therefore, I employ a cover artist.
Here is where I find there to be no excuses. Back in 2010-2012, cover art was hard to come by and exceedingly expensive. These days you can pick up a nice cover for a very reasonable price. The web is filled with sites selling pre-made covers that look absolutely spectacular. I’ve seen them for as little as $100.
Your cover is the first thing a reader sees. It conveys to them the tone of the work and builds anticipation for the story. It also tells them that you care enough to present it properly. If you put out some homemade cover you threw together on your laptop, why would the reader believe you took the time to make what the cover contains worth reading?
How much does this all cost? That varies. I spend quite a bit. But I do this full-time and my readers have certain expectations of me. Although I can’t tell you exactly how much, I can tell you it’s not cheap. Whether your currency is time or cash, if you want success in self-publishing, get ready to spend it.
They say that “time is money”. In this case it is the literal truth. If you have no chance at hiring an editor, proof readers, cover artists, etc., then you must network until you have the resources to get it done. That means getting to know people – both online and in person. It means becoming a part of a community. It means when you ask for someone to use their skills on your behalf, you must be ready to give something of value in return. The fact is, you should be networking regardless. But here, you have specific goals regarding the quality of your book.
If I spend all this time/money, what’s the guarantee? None. Just like anything else in life, you might fail. There are hundreds of reasons why this could happen. Far too many to mention. And trying again might not work either. Yeah, I know. That sucks. But being a professional novelist is not an easy goal to achieve. There are only about 10,000 of us out there doing it for a living (these numbers are an estimate based on multiple sources, but are nonetheless debatable). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If you want to be a writer, be one. But go into it with your eyes open. Write your books because you enjoy it, not for fame or riches.
You don’t know everything. You might be wrong. Sure. I make no claims of being an all-knowing, indie Yoda. Everything I am saying is based on a very short career. My first novel was released in 2011. Since then, I’ve written and published fourteen books, which have sold roughly 750,000 copies. One of my books was a top five finalist in 2015 for Fantasy Book of the Year on Audible ( I lost). And I was the first indie in history to get a six-figure audio deal. Those are my qualifications, such as they are. Wow! Sounds awesome, right? But believe me when I tell you that I’m a minor player in the indie world. A virtual nobody. So it is important for me to tell you that what I have said is also supported by the opinions of dozens of colleagues who make me look like a complete novice. Their sales are in the millions and their experience far greater than my own. So, I rely heavily on their opinions.

I am not advocating that people should spend their life-savings or neglect their family. Nor am I saying success is base solely on the money you have in your bank account. But to think you can start a business without investment is laughable. And when you self-publish, that is what you are doing – starting a business.

There is some amazing talent in the indie world that tragically goes unnoticed. And there are some who still think indie is the poor cousin to traditional publishing, rife with inadequacy and talentless hacks. I, along with many others, are trying to change this perception. We’ve come far since the initial indie explosion. We still have a long way to go. But with enough effort, I think we’ll get there.