Sci-Fi to light up your holiday weekend

If you’re looking for a change of pace, an excuse to stay in bed, or a fun way to work through your food hangover this weekend, take a look at Hard Drop, a “balls-to-the-wall action thriller” (Amazon review) and sci-fi shoot-’em up that follows a group of elite troops as they are deployed into the heart of a civil war. Available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and at Smashwords, Hard Drop delivers a “good old rock ’em, sock ’em fighting military saga” (Amazon review) that will entertain you from start to bullet-riddled end.

Take a look now, for only $2.99!

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Hard Drop and Old Fool’s Errand samples – now on Wattpad FREE!

The first chapters of Hard Drop and Old Fool’s Errand are now up at Wattpad – take a look, leave a comment, get in touch!

Or, for a more traditional sampling experience, check them out at Amazon, B&N, or Smashwords now!

Old Fool’s Errand: On-trend and on point.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out Old Fool’s Errand, my short story about a crotchety failed astronaut latching on to a second chance at the stars – and a one-way trip to Mars, you may want to take a look, as things are getting pretty real:

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, is now back to take a shot at being the first person on a foreign planet.

Now, to be clear, I am not by any stretch of the imagination calling Tereshkova a failed astronaut – far from it! – but it’s another, exciting chapter in the Mars saga, and another step towards a real-life Old Fool’s Errand.

Self-Publishing Resources (#1): Scrivener

I’ve tried a bunch of different programs, techniques, and styles over my writing career. Some have been marginally useful, some not useful, and some downright counterproductive. When I started dealing with e-books, the formatting issues were honestly enough to get me foaming at the mouth and nearly throwing my computer. I’m not a meticulous person by nature, and in general when I write things can get a bit loose and creative, so it was with absolute, abject horror that I saw my first attempts at e-books jump from single to double spacing, skip whole pages, and randomly indent – despite my word file showing no evidence of this capricious formatting!

What made this worse (and all the more frustrating) was that I’m not, and never have been, bad with computers. Hell, I even do some coding (C++/Java, but still…). I get how compilers work and I realize that you have to play consistently by the rules to get cooperation from your machines. And, to be fair, if I worked hard enough on a document and turned on the ‘show formatting’ option, I can usually get my manuscripts through the Smashwords meatgrinder no problem. But…it’s annoying, laborious, and takes the fun out of finishing a book.

Which is why I’ve found Scrivener to be so awesome. It’s not a panacea for the ills of variable formatting (you still have to minimize the degree of variation in your text styles as much as possible, and trouble-shoot some issues), but it has several enormous advantages over sweating it out against Microsoft Word’s best efforts at sabotage:

1. It’s easy to use. For the most part, what you see is what you get. Better yet, you can ensure that it is by checking the ‘As Is’ box when you compile your project, although of course this may also preserve other errors in your formatting.

2. You can use it for a while to get the hang of it before deciding to buy. The trial version gives you 30 days of use – not 30 days from when you crack the seal, 30 days of actually opening the program and using the full version. If you compare this to other programs I’ve used (such as Final Draft or Photoshop), that’s a tremendous value-add.

3. The interface is great and hugely supportive of the writing process. While so far I have predominantly just copied and pasted word docs into the program to compile them for .epub and .mobi formats, there is a wealth of functionality available, from summary view to storyboarding (i.e. the digital equivalent of pinning index cards to a corkboard with thumbtacks), so you can see your story develop and work on it within the Scrivener program.

4. Tech support is terrific, and I do mean really great. They are fairly quick to respond (quick at least as far as typical tech support goes, they get back within 24 hours without fail), they are courteous, they are thorough, and they recognize that their program isn’t perfect. This last one I find especially important, as, over the course of my learning how to use the program, there were a few issues (such as not being able to include footnotes in an .epub) which proved really annoying. The responder I worked with acknowledged this limitation and helped me troubleshoot ways around it. Other times, of course, the issue was, as they say ‘ten inches in front of the monitor’, but they didn’t dismiss my issues or make me feel incompetent about it. In other words, great sales job, but I’m also very comfortable knowing that if something comes up that just doesn’t make sense to me, they’ll help me through it.

5. Ability to experiment with unique styles. Because of its straightforward interface and strong user support, the program gives authors the opportunity to experiment and innovate without having to worry about completely and irrevocably messing up the format of their book. This is awesome because, in the end, what author doesn’t want the chance to make their writing look interesting, different, and even artistic?

As aforementioned, it’s not a perfect program – there are minor issues (footnotes), some things aren’t as intuitive as they might be (i.e. you have to look in a different place for ‘contents’ and the ‘create table of contents’ settings), but all in all, Scrivener has been the best find of my indie publishing career. And, at $45, it’s pretty damn cheap.

Things I’ve learned from Self-Publishing (so far)

It’s been a wild few months since Hard Drop first emerged on Kindle (and Nook, and Kobo), with some huge ups and a few disappointments here and there. So now, looking back on the steep learning curve, I feel qualified to offer a tenuous opinion on the subject. I hope the below is positive, interesting, and perhaps useful to other self-pubbers like myself out in the market. Without further ado, a few self-publishing thoughts:

1. Always edit one more time. If there is any doubt in your mind that you have edited enough, go back through the document. It is just too easy to miss something, or for Word to incorrectly ‘correct’ something, or to forget you never finished your sentence on p. 137 during the last set of revisions. Things fall through the cracks. I’m not advocating hiring an editor per se, but at the very least you should be completely sick of spell-checking and googling questionable words because you’ve forgotten how to spell them from looking at them too long. Why? Because, at the end of the day, even a very generous reader will give you 2-5 spelling errors, max, before they decide you’re just another self-pubbed hack. As for formatting? One strike is all you get.

2. Be grateful. This one can be hard to do, but it is very important. Especially as a first-time author, even if you are convinced you are the next Stephen King / Stephenie Meyer / J.K. Rowling, remember that the rest of the world is not. Your readers are taking a chance on buying a self-published book with no track record or frame of reference (beyond the trial chapter(s) and your blurb), and more than that – they’re doing it in spite of the fact that, more than likely, you’ve tried the traditional publishing route and not gotten an offer. Never mind that it’s increasingly difficult to crack that sphere if you’re not writing Wizard/Vampire/Fight to the Death YA (and even if you are!), they don’t know you from Adam/Eve, and you are not entitled to their money. So be grateful for each sale, respect your fans, and…

3. Ignore the haters. There will always, always be someone who does not like your book for some reason that makes no sense to you. It’s too long, it’s too short, it wasn’t suspenseful enough, it ended on a cliffhanger, they didn’t like your choice to make up a language for the aliens, they didn’t think it was realistic the aliens would speak English, etc. etc. etc. Ignore the haters, they do not add to the conversation in any meaningful way, and the reality is that the market will make its decision about you with or without them. Do not change the way that you write because of one negative review, and whatever you do, don’t stop writing (or let writing become less enjoyable).

4. That having been said, reviews usually do have an element of truth to them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as acknowledging that your story isn’t for everyone, that yes, you really have made choices that some people disagree with (e.g., your vampires sparkle in the sunlight). Other times, you need to be a bit more honest with yourself about the structure of the story, or the character development/backstories, or (see #1) the amount of editing you’ve done. Mind you, I’m not talking about the star ratings here – those are subjective and questionably counterproductive. I’m talking about the actual text of the review. Ignore the hate, but do take a second to distill the useful feedback that sits somewhere in the one-paragraph screed about how completely you’ve missed the mark.

5. Keep writing, keep improving, and keep having fun. Writing isn’t always fun, mind you, but it is fun to have created something, and to share what you’ve created with other people. Meanwhile, self-publishing offers something that traditional publishing wasn’t really able to: the ability to track the improvement of your quality (or, more accurately stated, the degree to which your writing matches market tastes) on an incremental basis. Take a moment to objectively consider your reviews (positive and negative), consider what’s selling elsewhere in your genre, look over your own writing, and try again. If you do it right, there are a number of ways (short stories, novellas, free chapters, or various social media ways of interacting with your growing audience) to test yourself before you commit to writing a full-length novel. Keep moving, keep improving, and have fun.

That’s where I am right now.

We are go for Kobo!

Hard Drop and Old Fool’s Errand are now live on Kobo!

If you’re not a Kobo reader, never fear – both books are still available at Amazon (HD and OFE) and Barnes and Noble (HD and OFE) – take a look and let me (and others!) know what you think!

Old Fool’s Errand on Nook! (Hard Drop & OFE coming to Kobo within 24 hours)

Old Fool’s Errand is now out for the Nook – find it here! Kobo editions of both Hard Drop (Amazon and Nook) and Old Fool’s Errand (Amazon) are processing and should be up within 24 hours.

It is a pleasure to bring both works to these new platforms, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to connect with new readers. And, as ever, feel free to reach out, either here or at vandervaartwill on twitter!