Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Author Interview: MeiLin Miranda

MeiLin Miranda was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her adventures in self publishing.

KR:  Could you tell us more about crowdfunding?  How did you learn about it?  How did you do it?

MM:  "Crowdfunding" is when the fans or supporters of a project put money behind it to make it happen, rather than hope a gatekeeper--a publisher, film studio or record producer, for instance--picks up the project. Sites like or allow musicians, artists, filmmakers and writers to organize crowdfundings; some people offer premiums there, rather like NPR offers tote bags for certain levels of donation.

I first ran into a form of crowdfunding while reading the online serial Tales of MU. Its author, Alexandra Erin, was then using a donate-for-chapter model; if readers met a fundraising target, she'd write an extra chapter that week. She's since stopped doing that, but for a long time it was the most common model of crowdfunding support for online writers. I used it when I first started, and did pretty well with it.

But I needed to raise a whole other level of money to make the first IHGK book happen. It needed editing, and the closer I got to finishing what I thought was book three, the more I realized how badly the whole thing needed to be rewritten from the top--and how unsustainable it was as a serial. I needed to convert it into books, which meant money for an editor and for professional design services. I think my readers helped me puzzle out what would be attractive to crowdfunders, and this is what we came up with:

For $50, you got
--an autographed paperback
--your choice of ebook format
--an acknowledgment in the book
--and most importantly: the final unformatted hot-off-the-laptop raw manuscript before anyone else got to read it, the moment my editor (Annetta Ribken) and I decided it was done. I finished the book on August 31st, 2010 at 9:30 pm; the manuscript was in the hands of its funders the morning of September 1.

I raised about $2,500 this way from 48 people, some of whom bought two packages and some of whom bought an ebook-only version for $25; they got everything in the $50 package except the autographed copy.

I'll be doing the same thing again for book two as soon as I come close to sending a draft to Nettah the Edittah. Netta is fabulous, by the way:
KR:  Did you have any interest in going the traditional publishing route?  Did you do the agent/publisher hunt?
MM:  I very half-heartedly looked for an agent. I think I sent out three queries. I really didn't want one, but thought, well, now I can say I tried, I guess. The material I sent was atrocious enough that it's no surprise I got turned down, and I did it having already decided to be independent.

That said, I do have two short stories coming out in different Circlet Press anthologies (; in fact, one of them goes on sale December 28th, 2010: "Like a Moonrise: Shapeshifter Erotica." Not sure when the second anthology I'm in is going on sale yet. And I just submitted a short story to a major online outlet, mostly for fun. If it gets rejected, I'm not concerned; I can put it out there myself. I'm just curious at this point.

KR:  You have a book trailer video, has that been an effective marketing tool?

MM:  I have no idea! :) The "Lovers and Beloveds" trailer has been viewed close to a thousand times, and the Scryer's Gulch trailer about 250 times. The funny thing is, the Scryer's trailer is about a billion times better than the LaB one!

KR:  Who did your cover art/trailer?

MM:  I did both my trailers, and it probably shows. :) I do the covers for the Scryer's Gulch books, since they're just compilations of the serial. Alice Fox ( did the cover of "Lovers and Beloveds." Alice has been the official artist for that series for some time now. She is amazing. Fellow writer and all around cool guy MCM did the typography design for LaB.

KR:  How many copies have you sold?  What has been your best marketing tool?

MM:  Speaking strictly of "Lovers and Beloveds," since the book's release in September 2010 I've sold about 75 paperbacks between direct sales, CreateSpace and Amazon. Ebooks, I've sold about 150 so far among Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and direct sales on my site.

My numbers are not that high compared to people like JA Konrath, but as Netta is fond of saying, it's a marathon not a sprint. And compared to the vast majority of self-publishers, I'm doing pretty darn well. I expect things will only get better as my catalog grows.

KR:  When is the next book due out?  Does it have a title yet?

MM:  The next book is tentatively due out in October 2011. The working title is "Mothers and Fathers," though that may not be the final one. I'm about 10,000 words into the alpha draft. (I tend to "name" my drafts by software convention: alpha, beta, release candidate, final.)

KR:  Lastly is there anything else you'd like to say about self-publishing?

MM:  Sure! If you self-publish, take it seriously. Invest in your work: hire a professional editor (not your friend who was an English major in college). Hire a professional cover artist. If you're going to print, get a typographer to design the book block if you can; if you're staying ebook only, you can do the formatting yourself for the most part. There are a lot of good guides out there on how to format for Kindle and Smashwords.

Most important is to commit to writing. Finish the book. Put the time in, get it written. If it's finished and languishing in a drawer, pull it out, dust it off, give it a good shake. Then let someone who isn't invested in being nice to you read it. Revise. Design. Put it out there.

If you'd like to know more about MeiLin Miranda you can check her out at

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Indie Book Review: Lovers and Beloveds

Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom Book One

A while back an email popped up in my inbox requesting I read Lovers and Beloveds for review.  I did my usual routine of checking the book out, looking at it's reviews, reading the back page copy, and bits and pieces of text.  It looked good.  My initial impression was steampunk erotic fantasy.  It sounded right up my alley.  

Then another interesting factoid hit my radar; it was groupfunded, a major plus.  If that term means nothing to you, prepare to learn.  Groupfunding (more on this in a later article on is a technique where you get a bunch of people to give you money to pay for you to do your project.  Call it modern day patronage.  On a practical level that means this book was good enough, in the bits and pieces released by the author, to get total strangers to give her money to hire an editor, artist, etc.  While total money generated is not a definitive ruler for a book's quality, I've waded through a lot of self-published fiction that no one in their right mind would buy, let alone decide to patronize.  I was thrilled to get into this book.  

It turns out my initial impressions of Lovers and Beloveds was off, but not in a bad way.  It is a coming of age tale wrapped around a story of sexual domination (a story within the story writing technique is used to good effect in this book) exploring how the one story furthers the other.  It's a tale of a young man preparing for his eventual kinghood and the paths he may take to get there. 

It is set in a fantasy land with an 1890's-1910ish technology level.  But the technology is just in the background.  To call it steampunk would be similar to calling Sherlock Holmes steampunk, sure it's the right era, but to do so misses the point of steampunk.

It is erotica: coming of age, realpolitik, intelligently crafted with layers and story lines beyond the sex, and wrapped up in the sexual politics of what it means to be a man or a woman erotica.  As such, if you don't happen to enjoy reading explicit sex or sexual violence, just put the book down and head for the next one on your list.  Assuming such reading does not bother you, go get a copy, you'll be well rewarded.

Lovers and Beloveds uses erotic sex as a vehicle to explore the paths of power and the relationships of dominance and privilege.  All things a boy needs to learn to become a man who will be a king.  The sex is well written, very hot, and it's easy to see why the main character, Temmin, finds himself aroused and dismayed by that arousal when seeing the main character of the inner story raped.

I think calling this book fantasy might be a bit misleading.  There is magic in this world, but it's use is minimal.  My guess is that in later books in the series it will become important, (perhaps there will be a magical coming of age in the next book?) but for the opening book it's just sort of there.  Really, this reads more like historical fiction than fantasy.  Take out the few brief magic bits, and this could very easily be set in a fictionalized 1890's Colonial India or Hong Kong.

Temmin reads as a genuine young man.  He's spoiled but trying to be a good person.  He can be self-absorbed and whiny, but he's an eighteen-year-old who just had his world turned upside down.  He's earned his whininess, and there's something wrong with a person who isn't self absorbed when his entire reality shifts.  Basically, the fact that he is annoying on occasion is entirely in character and should the annoying bits be removed, he wouldn't read true.  

The writing is tight.  Scenes flow from one to the next with no major issues.  If there were grammar errors, I didn't notice them.  Dialog and voice may not be exceptional, but they were more than competent and worked with the characters.  I never found myself thinking, "There's no way Temmin (or any other character) would say that!"  There are bits where as a reader I found myself wondering why we were meeting certain characters and plot lines, but the quality  of the rest of the story and knowing this is book one of a series makes me think they are the seeds of future plot points.  The story within the story may have been a bit longer than strictly necessary, but that's my own personal taste (I tend to skim epic battle scenes), and for all I know in the next book the bits I thought were long may be vitally important.
I look forward to seeing how Temmin will mature into his future.

Lovers and Beloveds is available on Amazon as a physical book for $14.95, a good price for a book that length, and it's a steal on Kindle download for $2.99.  You can get it at Smashwords for most other eReader formats. MeiLin Miranda has offered me a free copy to give away, so if you want a shot at it for free, leave a comment, and I'll hold a drawing to see who wins it. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas To Me: Sylvianna is Live!

There was only one thing I wanted to get for Christmas this year, and with a day to go, I made it.  Sylvianna, my book, is online and available for purchase.

So, this is a, shall we say, less than objective book review, but I'll try.

This is the single most brilliant piece of writing you will ever read.  As soon as you devour the first sentence of the first page you'll be hooked, and by the time you finish the last line of the last page, you'll be ready to build shrines to my brilliance and will have started to fill out the paperwork to change your children's names to the names of my characters.

Hmmm... that might be a tad hyperbolic.

It's good.  I feel like I can say that honestly, not just as the person who wrote it, but as a person who reads a lot. 

Sylvianna is the first book in a three book series.  This one is a modern day set tale of magic, the search for redemption, tying up loose ends, and true love.  It's a story of some basically good people who made some very bad decisions and how they deal with the fall out of those decisions.  It took me eight months to write the basic story, and another eight months to edit, re-write, re-edit, re-re-write, and then edit one more time that first story into a book I'm proud I wrote.

I loved Harry Potter.  I even loved (well, really liked) Deathly Hallows on the first read through.  Then I started to think about it critically and disappointment crept in.  It needed a real editor.  It needed someone to explain to JKR that it's not okay to suddenly introduce all the pieces of the puzzle in the final installment, especially since a good two thirds of them really should have been introduced in earlier books.  (Like, I don't know, when Harry is learning about wands for the first time, maybe that would be a good time to talk about how they work and wand mythos.  Or just possibly in one of the early Christmas scenes Beedle the Bard's stories could have been mentioned as say, I don't know, a present for a little sibling not yet at school or something.)  And most of all, someone needed to read that book, give it back to her, and say, "There is no purpose to the Deathly Hallows even being in this book."

I loved the first two books of His Dark Materials, and loathed the third book.  Not only did the story suddenly go off the rails when Pullman decided he wasn't going to write the story he set up, but he also wrote the least romantic romance in the history of best selling novels.  If romance was the temptation that was supposed to give Will and Lyra second thoughts about closing all the cuts, it would have been nice if that romance had actually developed more than ten minutes before they had to close the cuts.  He spent two novels getting us ready for a massive battle of good and evil, God v. Man, and then pulled the rug out from under us by devoting less then ten pages to that battle.  After the set up of the first two books, readers did not want to spend hours wading through an anthropology lesson about Mulefa.  Once again, the idea of the Dust is pretty cool (just like the idea for how wands work in Harry Potter was cool) but diverting away from the climax of the story to tell that tale is not a good writing technique.

I didn't love Twilight.  I tried.  I can't get past page 115.  There's not a single character in that book I had any desire to spend another minute with.  I can deal with unsympathetic characters, as long as they have some redeeming qualities (House for example.)  If the Twilight characters had redeeming qualities, I couldn't stick with the book long enough to learn about them.

So, why is that important?  After all this is about Sylvianna, not those books.  I had a story I wanted to tell, and quite a few ways to go about telling it.  But as I went through I kept the things I learned from reading those series in mind.   And I kept things in mind from reading books I adored.  You probably have to be me to see what I learned from Lonesome Dove in Sylvianna, but it's there.  You don't have to be me to see that Sylvianna has a romance that matters to not only the characters, but to the people reading it.  You don't have to be me to notice that forays into the forest of useless plot are non-existent.  (If you ever find yourself thinking, "Why on earth am I reading this?" just keep reading, it will be relevant sooner or later.)  And you don't have to be me to like the characters.

As I said, I think the book is genuinely good.  You can get it from Amazon at the above link.  That's the 4.99 Kindle version.  You can get it on Smashwords for 4.99 as well, and they offer basically any electronic format you could dream of.  Or you can get it at CreateSpace in a physical book edition for 14.99.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Author Interview: Jason Halstead

I was able to ask Jason Halstead some questions about his own adventures in the land of publishing.  Instead of the more traditional self publishing route, he went with the very small press Fido Publishing.  

Here are his insights on working with a small press, and getting his books into the hands of readers.

KR:  Did you do the agent routine?

JH:  No. I'd love to find an agent, but thus far my luck has not been with me. To be fair, I've only attempted a half dozen or so agents and publishers (combined), so my rejection count is pretty minimal.

KR:  How did you come in contact with Fido Press?

JH:  At the risk of inserting my foot into my mouth, I ran across a writer's work on an independent website and found it somewhat lacking. I checked out the writer's profile and saw that they had something coming out on Excessica. I thought, "Wait a minute, if writing like this can be published..." I checked out the website and threw something at it. It was rejected for various reasons that I don't agree OR disagree with. I accept them, and decided to try something longer (Voidhawk) and definitely not along the typical vein of what Excessica takes. It was accepted. As we progressed through the acceptance talks, I became aware of a sister publishing company being launched that caters more to mainstream writing. We agreed Voidhawk would be a better fit for that company, so we moved it over to be one of the initial launches. Fido was the name of that company.
KR:  Would you walk us through the small press publishing routine?  How exactly did getting your manuscript into a book go?  What services (editing, cover art, publicity, etc) did they offer?
JH:  It's pretty simple really. I submit.  They accept (hopefully). Then comes the legal forms that have to be signed off. I suggest a variety of things (blurb, excerpt, any ideas I might have for cover art, etc.). Then they farm it out to an artist to design some cover art. Somewhere along the line (timing varies) it typically hits an editors desk. My editing experiences have varied, I'll admit, but I've yet to be disappointed. I've also met [through Fido] an exceptional editor who I continue to keep in touch with on the side. When the editing and cover art is complete, it becomes just a matter of waiting for the book to be released on its scheduled date. Voila! And with Excessica and Fido there is no vanity charges, they are legit and offer up great contracts to the author.

KR:  Is your book available at any brick and mortar bookstores?  
JH:  I don't know. What? Yes - it's true. I took several books down to a retail establishment when I lived in Moab, Utah, for them to consider purchasing but they had a campaign going where they were accepting book donations for the troops overseas. My books were accidentally sent there instead of purchased and put on the shelves. It's a good cause so that tempered the frustration I felt for the lack of organization. I've also taken part in a campaign called Operation: E-drop, which offers free ebooks to overseas troops.

So, with that snafu behind me, I have all of my books made available through a variety of channels that might make it possible for a brick and mortar retailer to purchase and make them available. I don't think any have done so though - the Createspace POD model is so expensive it is rather cost prohibitive to offer them thusly.  [KR: Fido publishes through CreateSpace.  They get the book ready to go, but farm out the actual printing and distribution.] They can be picked up on Amazon, however.
KR:  How many copies has it sold?  
JH:  Well, that's a tricky question too. I retain full rights to my books so I have them listed both on Fido (or Excessica, where applicable), and in a few other self-publishing locations (,,, Plus some I have personally sold at a book signing event. All told, I'm in double digits for Voidhawk sales, with only a single one coming from That has a lot to do with limited marketing and advertising (I think). I'm still learning that aspect of the business and I have not had any spare money and very little time to assign to it.

KR: Will you continue to work with a publisher either Fido or a different one in the future? 
JH:  I plan to continue with both Fido and Excessica. I have unbeatable deals with them so there's no reason not to do so - especially if I can boost my own presence and advertising to draw people to their sites. It's a win-win, I get more exposure and so do they, which helps the sites and other authors listed on them.

KR:  You mentioned that you traded IT labor for keeping the rights of your stories.  Can you expand on that a bit for the readers?  (Who would probably be interested in finding ways to get a professionally published book without having to give up ownership of their characters.)  Because of how well the book has sold, do you think it was a decent trade?
JH:  It's a painful story, to be honest. Over the span of a couple of months I developed a totally self-sustained web site for Fido that could handle everything necessary. I was quite pleased with it - but I would be since I wrote it. The owner liked it as well, however the ISP they were using did not support the technology I built it on. They had their own solution for an e-store, a canned package that could be customized. We decided to go that route with it and, after another couple of months of struggling with trying to adapt some particularly difficult code, was born. I still remain confident my design was superior, but mine was customized for the business rather than something off the shelf that had to be shoehorned into the necessary role.

Was it a decent trade based on sales? Not yet - but I remain optimistic that it will be in the future. After doing that for Fido I did the same thing for Excessica and I have some books coming out in a matter of days and months (two of 'em). Between the two sites and my own ambitions to get more PR going, I remain confident that it is an investment in time and resources that I will be appreciative of.

And if it's not, I still learned a few things along the way so it's been a win-win all along, even if at times it felt rather frustrating.

If you want to learn more about Jason, go check him out at  He;s got a sequel to Voidhawk and a few other interesting bits out. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Indie Book Review: The Voidhawk

"Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care.  I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me!"

Pardon me while I hum along.  Why I'd have the theme song to Firefly in my head after reading Voidhawk will be readily apparent to anyone who's ever seen the show and read the book. 

In fact, let me really geek this out.  Imagine a Firefly-Spelljammer crossover.  You now have a pretty good idea of how Voidhawk is set.  For those of you who didn't spend an unwholesome amount of time debating the merits of stone dice versus plastic, and who can't tell me why Fireball is a more effective zombie deterrent that Melf's Magic Arrow, let me do a little explaining:

Spelljammer is a not too well known role playing game set on space going sailing ships.  Instead of the Millennium Falcon sweeping through space, think the Black Pearl.  Firefly is probably the best TV show in the history of TV and definitely the best Sci-Fi TV show.  A band of unlikely people crewing a space ship, going from port to port, job to job, getting in interesting scrapes and adventures and becoming a tight knit family as they survive each new peril.   

Now, put those two things together, and you've got Voidhawk: a swashbuckling fantasy of sword and pistol, spell and sail.  This is fantasy in the Star Wars (New Hope) mode, fast, lots of action, not a lot of introspection.  The characters don't get into long deep discussions about the morality of killing the bad guys, they, like Leia, grab a gun and start shooting.  They don't have long conversations about how they feel.  The reader does not have to slog through pages of internal monologue in which the characters debate their place in the universe and the nature of man.

It is, in a word, fun.  The action sequences are especially well done, blending ship to ship combat with hand to hand and magic in a way I've never seen before (and I've read a pretty good collection of fantasy novels over the years.)  A very quick example:  Hordes of zombies are attacking the ship.  The wizard is holding a protective circle around the ship.  The hand to hand specialists will have to get the zombies off the landing struts before the ship can lift off.  The pilot is in charge of a split second lift off.  The Captain and a few of the crew are soaking the ground with oil so that, if they can get the timing right, they can drop the protective circle, have the zombies storm the ship, take off with minimal zombies clinging to the ship, knock the ones that are off, and then drop greek fire and light the ground under the zombies so they all go up in flame.  In one scene we've got high magic, hand to hand, real world tech, flight fighting techniques, and zombies.  Seriously, what more could you possibly want in a book?

Plot, character development, and snappy dialogue.  Hmm... you're pretty picky aren't you?

There is plot coming out the ears of this book.  We call books that read like movies cinematic.  I'd call this book episodic.  It reads like a TV show, and a first season one at that.  We get to know the characters as they go on a series of adventures.  There's not much of an overarching plot, unless you want to consider the introduction of the characters an overarching plot.  However, each of the adventures is a nicely wrapped package of something interesting.  Yes, some of them will feel a bit, familiar, if you've watched Firefly, but just when you start to think that possibly the book is in danger of straying from homage into full out rip-off, it finds its own footing and differentiates itself nicely.

Character development is probably the weakest aspect of this book.  Most of the book is told through the point of view of Captain Dexter Silverhawk, and by the end of the book we know him pretty well.  His First Mate(s) and Arms Master are well fleshed out, too.  The other sevenish (the number of characters changes during the book) are more like character sketches than full characters.  But as a certain TV show from the sixties proved, you can get on pretty well with a few well developed characters, a few less developed characters, and a crew of revolving redshirts.  

Snappy dialogue: let me flat out say it, it's not as good as Firefly, but nothing else is either.  Joss Whedon does dialogue snappier and tighter than anyone else, and he's got an ear for how people speak that's astounding.  Jason Halstead doesn't.  Which doesn't mean the dialogue is bad, though there are moments when the desire to create a distinct style of speech for his characters mucks with the flow of the scene.  One of the reasons that accents and unique grammar structures are hard to pull off is because they trip up the reader.  Watching a TV show the viewer sits back and absorbs words, but a reader has to slog through those words, put them together and try to figure out how they sound and what they mean.  Since Halstead's characters speak in a sort of westernized-pirate patios, it can be even trickier to keep your eyes moving.  Most of the time it's not an issue: the language flows properly and sounds correct for the characters, but every now and again it slips. 

It is very clearly a first novel, and the writing gets better as the book progresses.  Though I haven't started it yet, I anticipate the sequel will be even better yet.  And, though I'd usually rather spend an hour grinding my teeth and wishing I was anywhere else, I'll enjoy the flight I'm taking on Friday because the sequel to this will make great plane reading.

At $15.99 the paperback is probably a bit over priced.  The $6.99 Kindle book price fits better with the length of the book and the quickness of the read.  Either way, if the rogue with a heart of gold and his cast of colorful misfits is your idea of fun reading, this book is for you.