Argh…

It hurts, it hurts.

I didn’t want to do it, but I had to. Pulling my book out of premium distribution, re-uploading to Smashwords and forcing a full re-publish on the Kindle store that’s going to take 24 hours… argh! It hurts!

I should have listened to that little voice a few days ago that was telling me, ‘No, don’t go with the cover you drew 3 years ago… come up with something new and better!’

‘Silly voice,’ I said imperiously. ‘You have no idea of which you speak. This cover is great! It’s the one I’ve always wanted to put on this book! After all, I drew it myself!’

‘Yes, but there’s something wrong with it,’ the voice replied.

‘Well, what’s wrong with it?’ I asked.

‘I don’t know,’ answered the voice. ‘But something is wrong with it.’

‘Bah!’ I exclaimed. ‘You know nothing of what you speak, voice. Go, begone – I will do this my own way!’

Yep – once again, I’m an idiot. You win, tiny voice.

Rachael Stephen (@mythicflux) was also kind enough to point out to me, gently of course, that she wasn’t a fan of my cover image. Her reasons in particular were not ones that I agreed with – mostly that the previous cover was simply not professional enough. I believed that the home-made feel would be more likely to draw in my ideal readers, those who thought – as I do – that home-made is better. Unfortunately, that still didn’t solve the consistency problem, which, I realized today, was entirely insurmountable without completely changing the cover image.

Well, anyway… I hope she likes the new one at least a little bit better.

I knew there were going to be bumps in the road. I knew that this was going to be difficult, and painful, and kind of fun, and more painful. I knew that I was going to make mistakes; huge, epic blunders that were going to cost me time and make bad impressions on someone.

Like I said before – I don’t have a map here. I don’t think any indie author really does, besides some helpful advice from other indie authors. When it comes to things like covers, though, there’s a certain aesthetic sense that’s required, and I thought I had it down pat.

I didn’t.

Elegy: Book 1 of the Arbiter CodexThis. This is the freakin’ cover of my dreams. The one I could never hope to have accomplished with my well-practiced but still amateurish comic-art drawing skills.

If I’d listened to the voice in the first place, this could have been the cover I led with. Instead, I didn’t, and led with a cover which was okay, but decidedly not anywhere near the level which could be achieved.

So, in the next few days, the new cover art (and slightly altered interior) will be pushed out to the various retailers and such. Hopefully the good people at Smashwords won’t hate me too much for improving my book’s marketing by about 1000%.

I’m sorry, voice. I promise to listen to you in the future.

Cover Art

So, I believe I’ve found yet another mistake to chalk up in my indie publishing saga.

I think I’m going to have to change Elegy’s cover art.

I don’t want to. I really like the artwork I’ve done for it, and I think it makes for a great cover, giving a glimpse into the story without giving anything away. The problem is, I drew that cover between 2 and 3 years ago, when I was an artist working to produce a webcomic twice a week. Ever since that project ended, I haven’t really been keeping up my artwork, so I’m not sure how much effort it would take me to get those skills back. I have a feeling it would be a fair amount.

Now, if Elegy was a stand-alone, that wouldn’t be a problem. But as I’ve clearly titled it, it’s Book 1 of the Arbiter Codex. I’m 30,000 words into Book 2. I don’t know that there’s any way that I could create a cover for Book 2 in the same style as the one for Elegy, because those skills are so atrophied.

I used the current cover for Elegy because that’s been its cover ever since I wrote the first draft, way back in 2008. That was always going to be the cover, and at the time, there wasn’t any need to worry about it, because I was doing artwork very consistently, and improving all the time.

I’m in the process of seeing if I can develop something that I like better, that I can consistently create more in the same style of for the following books in the Codex. If I can, I will reluctantly change the cover art… for the good of the later books in the series, and for the sake of consistency.

But I really don’t want to.

Review – Ghost Story

(Note: This review contains minor spoilers for Ghost Story and its predecessor, Changes.)

It should be noted that I’m a big fan of Jim Butcher and his work. I find that he is one of the most gifted plot artists I have ever had the good fortune to read, one of the few who can really write a sprawling detective novel or a fantasy epic and make the smallest details both come alive and become vitally important to the story by the end.

I have read all of the Dresden Files books, and the entire Codex Alera (which I’m very sad is finished, but was completely satisfied by the ending of, save for a sort of melancholy longing for it not to be over).

Ghost Story is Book 13 of the Dresden Files, following the wizard Harry Dresden through his adventures in Chicago and the spirit realm, here called the Nevernever.

Based on the above, it probably won’t come as a big surprise when I say:

I. Loved. This. Book.

Once again, Butcher has proven himself worthy of the crown I think he should have (but probably doesn’t) as the King of Male-Protagonist Urban Fantasy. It has a very different feel than Female Protagonist Urban Fantasy, and there are some fantastic writers in that field, so we can’t make Jim King Of All Urban Fantasy right off the bat.

In the last book, Changes, a lot of stuff happened. Like, a LOT of stuff. In this one, Harry is forced to deal with the aftermath of his choices from Changes with a very particular set of limitations. Namely, of course, that he’s dead.

As a spirit (or shade, as indicated in the book itself), he has to discover who his killer is in order to keep those he loves from coming to harm.

For the first time in the series, Harry is forced to take a really hard look at himself and the choices he’s made, instead of just reacting to the circumstances around him. He’s given an opportunity to really see the effect he has on people, both positive and negative, and it makes for some really compelling storytelling. Butcher is in top form with his world-building, as usual, making the spirit realm of Chicago entirely believable.

If you’re at all a fan of urban fantasy, I highly recommend reading each of the Dresden Files books from the beginning, starting with Storm Front.

If you’re already a fan of the series, you probably don’t need a review to tell you that this one isn’t to be missed. If you went looking for reviews anyway, you can rest assured that you really ought to buy this book.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 stars. Don’t miss this one.

Review – In Her Name: Final Battle

(Note: This review may contain spoilers. Consider yourself warned.)

So, I actually finished reading FINAL BATTLE two days ago. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this review.

There was a short period of time where I considered just not reviewing it, because I’m kind of conflicted about it. I decided it was better to try and get my thoughts down rather than trying to keep them all bottled up, though, so here goes.

FINAL BATTLE is the third (and final) book of the IN HER NAME saga. It’s the epic conclusion to the story of Reza Gard which began in EMPIRE and continued on through CONFEDERATION.

I think that I can safely say that I really enjoyed about 90% of this book. The overall plot direction, continued character development and writing style are all very solid and continue Michael Hicks’ pattern of excellence. I continued to see the influence of science fiction greats, but they in no way overshadowed what is clearly Hicks’ own personality and focus shining through in a stirring, fantastic story.

Now comes the hard part. I have two quibbles with this book, and unfortunately, these aren’t minor ones.

Here’s the final score for those who’d like to know what I thought of the book without reading the spoilers.

For the grand conclusion to the saga of the fascinating Kreelans, overall plot direction and tight, page-turning storytelling, I would have given FINAL BATTLE a full 5 stars. However, my two not-so-minor quibbles with the ending force me to drop it to 4.

Read on if you’ve read the book, or if you don’t mind me basically giving away the ending. Otherwise, stop here and do not go on.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars. Recommended.

(Spoilers ahead. This is your last warning.)

————————————————————————

My problems arise within the last 5,000-10,000 words of the story. The antagonist, Markus Thorella, was never a particularly subtle character. He happily danced WAY on the far side of the Moral Event Horizon pretty much from the moment we met him, and Hicks did a great job making us hate this character for everything he did, especially how perfectly he set Reza up at the end of CONFEDERATION to prepare him for taking the fall for the events which set off FINAL BATTLE.

With how much I already gleefully hated Thorella, there was absolutely no reason for the frankly shocking and brutal scene near the end. I actually ended up having to skim it. I won’t go into the details deeply here in this review, but I felt that it was actually a bit gratuitous and unnecessary either for plot or character development.

Given this particular scene, however, it becomes several times more imperative that Reza finish him off in a satisfying manner, like he’d been promising for all of CONFEDERATION and FINAL BATTLE so far.

He doesn’t.

Yep, you read that right. Reza doesn’t actually deliver the killing blow that we’ve been expecting for two whole books.

I had a discussion about this with my wife and some friends after seeing Harry Potter 7.2 in the theater last weekend. Harry never actually has to make the choice to kill Voldemort – it’s taken care of for him by the villain’s own failings. In my eyes (and I realize that this is mostly subjective) this cheapens the hero’s accomplishments, because he never has to make the hard choice to do what has to be done. It’s all taken care of for him, and he gets to keep his hands clean.

What I found most odd about the end of FINAL BATTLE, though, is that Reza is in no way Harry Potter. He’s no children’s book hero, who’s forced to keep his hands clean because it’s ‘for the kids’. Reza is a cold-blooded killer, trained on an alien world, who has zero compunctions about slaughtering those who deserve it and doing what needs to be done. Yet he never delivers vengeance for all of the things that Thorella did to him and to those he loved, and that really disappointed me.

At the beginning of CONFEDERATION, we’re told that Reza knows that one day he will have to kill Markus Thorella. And yet it can be said that, by the end of FINAL BATTLE, Reza didn’t have anything to do with Thorella’s death. He died by misadventure, and I just couldn’t find it satisfying.

If Reza had fulfilled the promise made to us, I probably would have given the gratuitous brutal scene a pass… but with the two combined together, it unfortunately turned into a pretty serious disappointment for me.

Dutiful Daughter – Now Available

So, going back a couple of years now, I discovered the military science fiction genre.

I think it happened somewhere around the time that I started playing Warhammer 40k at my local gaming shop. I’m a halfway decent model painter, but I really, truly, honestly suck at playing the game. I lose games probably about 4 or 5:1, and it’s kind of depressing. I really enjoy the modeling aspect of it, though… building and painting is quite cathartic.

Regardless of that fact, though, the ‘fluff’ (that’s the official term for all of the story that Games Workshop has built around their hobby) really captivated me. I was really drawn in to the dark, unyielding universe, and so I started buying WH40K omnibuses, practically in bulk. I devoured them all, discovering which of the authors I liked and which were not as good.

My temporary insanity led me, in the end, to Baen and Webscription. For those of you who don’t know, these are the folks who are basically the only ones in the professional arena who are doing ebooks right. They have a massive library of free books by authors, usually the first one or two in a long series, and offer the others at reasonable prices with NO DRM.

I proceeded through the Baen Free Library in much the same way I had done with the Warhammer novels; figuring out which authors appealed to me and which I was going to end up passing on. I discovered probably ten or twelve great series by six or seven different authors, and read them all.

Dutiful Daughter ebookThe military sci-fi really struck a chord with me, and that’s why I wrote this short story. Entitled Dutiful Daughter, it’s the story of a young woman in command of a cruiser squadron during routine war games, when something goes entirely wrong.

As a character, Trace really grew on me throughout the writing of this story, and I would one day like to figure out where her story goes so that I could write a full-length novel worthy of her. That’s the goal, but the time is not yet.

Anyway, this particular ebook is free, free, FREE! So what have you got to lose, am I right?

Live & Learn

So, after spending nearly two weeks following formatting instructions to the letter, I released Elegy this morning, only to be informed very shortly thereafter that there was a HUGE, MONSTROUS formatting problem with the PDF version of the book.

Honestly, I’m mortified. After being so confident in the work I’d done making sure that everything was exactly as it’s supposed to be, it turns out that I screwed it up royal. I’m also frustrated, though, because I followed those damn instructions like they were divine commandments, and it still turned out with a major problem!

I uploaded a revised version only shortly thereafter, and it actually looks significantly better than the original, both in PDF and the other formats, including my preferred: ePub. (I love ePub – it’s wonderful and reads so well on my ancient Sony eReader, though I don’t get to spend nearly the time I’d like with that particular device anymore). The problem was relating to page breaks, and as it turns out, the ePub format DOES acknowledge and listen to page breaks. Go figure!

Live and learn. Also, revise and update. I can’t be afraid of making mistakes here, since I’m doing this all on my own. There’s no map here, and even though I’ll probably end up reinventing the wheel five or six (hundred) times in the coming months and years, hopefully I can glean something from the other indie authors in the business as I go along. Mistakes are going to happen, they happen to the best, and the only thing one can do is accept the mistake, work to remedy it, and move on.

On the bright side, this means that I can get the formatting for Dutiful Daughter right on the FIRST try, and won’t have to panic mere hours after uploading it because one of the versions is completely broken!

“Mistakes, properly addressed and rectified, turn into wisdom.” – C. Kellen, 2011

Elegy Launch: 7/27/2011!

I’ve gone and done it.

The formatting’s been done for two days, and every day since then has simply felt like I’m wasting time. I’m confident in my story, and I could not allow myself to push this off any further. It’s like running and taking a huge leap off a cliff, or jumping out of a plane with no parachute attached – things I’ve never been very good at.

I love this story – I really do. Elegy is right up there with the best things I’ve ever written, and the fact that it is in a complete, polished state is just too good to be true. I’ve known for a while (since I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was complete at ~51,000 words) that it was never going to make a splash in a traditional publishing arena. It’s just too short, and besides it is firmly in a genre – swords & sorcery – which is not well-loved by the established industry these days.

Besides, I really wanted the flexibility of going independent. I want the ability to connect directly with my fans (assuming there will be at least a few out there), to say what I want to say with no fear that a publisher is going to come down from on high and tell me “mmmmm…. no”. I love the indie publishing scene, and there are more and more great authors out there all the time who are going it alone. It’s wonderful that Holly Lisle has declared for us as well, lending a lot of legitimacy to our pursuits!

So, Elegy is now available via Smashwords.com and will soon be available via Amazon Kindle as well. It will be priced at $0.99 at all locations, because I said so. I have that ability, and so I have decreed it.

I will update once Amazon has finished its review process and it has become officially available on the Kindle store.

This is a hell of a thing. Of course, this launch is not the end… oh boy, not by a long shot. This is just the beginning, making it available. Now I want to find the people who will love D’Arden’s story as much as I do, and who enjoy talking to me and like sharing what they’ve found out there. I’ve already begun to find some great people on Twitter, and I know that will continue!

Thanks to everyone who’s come along with me so far, and may there be many more friends along the way!