SPFBO 8: Let the madness begin

Okay, first things first, let’s have some straight talk. I vanished for a bit. It’s been crazy. Things in my last post got worse. Shoot me a message on Twitter, I’ll chat if you’re interested. More to the point, I’m dedicated to reviving this platform, and I plan to use the 2022 SPFBO to do so. I’m not a review blog and won’t ever be, but this is a really exciting competition and I really want to support the other authors putting their work out for evaluation.

Wait…What’s SPFBO?

SPFBO stands for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. The link to the main page is here for writers interested in learning about submission guidelines and here for readers interested in finding cool new books to read. Those links go to pages that link to each other, but I figure readers don’t much care about the specifics of submitting to the contest.

Here’s a quick overview of the rules so everyone understands what the competition does. The competition is run by Mark Lawrence (Thanks, Mark!) as a way to help self-published fantasy authors get visibility on their books, and it runs for a full year before selecting a winner. Each year up to 300 books are accepted on a first come, first served basis so long as they meet the basic requirements. Each book submitted must be a novel (not a short story or an anthology), must be published by the author, must be fantasy, must be available for purchase by day one of the competition (usually June 1), and must be either the first in a series or a stand-alone novel. The books are then distributed between 10 fantasy blogs (some of which are some of the most respected blogs currently in business), who consider their books and write reviews for the books they are interested in. Each blog selects a finalist and every blog is required to evaluate each finalist and select their favorite, which they then must also review. Whichever book wins must be reviewed by any blog in the competition that didn’t review it already. This means that each blog must write between 1 and 3 reviews, but most of the blogs write more, some as many as 30 to 39 reviews over the course of the year.

As well, Mark Lawrence runs a cover contest for the contestants each year (here) and there is a lot of hype around authors supporting each other, SPFBO authors running simultaneous promotions, and lots of other discussions. There is no better publicity in the world for a self-published author (did I say… Thanks, Mark!!!).

Okay, SPFBO sound cool…But what now?

I entered SPFBO this year with my debut novel, Wake of the Phoenix. I’m excited about the competition and I want to support my fellow writers who are in this with me this year. However, I very quickly noticed one thing. There are a lot of people collating lists and discussing entries, but I’m not sure which of these books even fits into a category I want to read. I don’t know about other readers, but for myself, I have to be prepared for the genre I’m reading. If I pick up a YA without realizing it’s YA until I start reading, I’ll dislike it even if it’s objectively good. So, I want to do a little categorization.

I’m not going to be able to post a full evaluation right now, so instead I’ll post some information from the books assigned to each blog every couple days for a bit until I get a list I can work with, and then I’ll start getting into the weeds a bit more.

Here’s the first blog’s worth of books:

Fantasy-Faction
Troupe of Shadows by Jennings Zabrinsky (Reverse portal fantasy? Real world setting, fantasy world protag; sounds kind of interesting)Tails by Jessica Grace Wright (“Children’s” fantasy; unsure if YA or MG)Breaker by Amy Campbell (Western fantasy…like if Firefly was a fantasy instead of a sci fi. Also, another BEAUTIFUL cover that looks illustrated)
The Darkness Calling by Kaleigh McCann (high fantasy, I think; looks like grand quest theming)Imagine The Fire by S.C. Gowland (Epic Fantasy; there’s a sick king, or maybe not sick, and a woman who is loyal to him for…some reason, and a guy who may or may not help; I really want to be interested in this because it’s my genre, but I can’t figure out what it’s about)The Alchemyst’s Mirror by Liz Delton (YA Steampunk)
Dust Bound by Clementine Fraser (post-apocalyptic Fae-based fantasy with romantic plot-threads)Blood on the Canvas by David Samuels (YA epic? fantasy…looks like maybe YA fantasy romance, but listed as epic)In The Shadow of Ruin by Tony Debajo (I think historical fantasy with forbidden magic themes? Oddly, it’s classified as “African Literature”, which seems to emphasize the setting more than the genre)
Burning Bright by Melissa McShane (gaslamp and/or historical fantasy romance; Jane Austen feels)Gold Glamour’s Ghost by Neil Adam Ray (Historical “gunslinger” fantasy…with a BEAUTIFUL illustrated cover)Born of Fire by R R Carter (Contemporary “NA” fantasy with witch burning vibes; looks like a “kitchen sink” fantasy that tries to include everything under rule of cool)
The Scorpion’s Lullaby by Juliet Vane (dragon rider/thieves book, maybe YA, maybe romance, maybe adult epic? /shrug)A Song For The Void by Andrew C. Piazza (Mostly horror, a few dark fantasy vibes; pirate ships, I think?)Beneath the Dragoneye Moons: Oathbound Healer by Selkie Myth (LitRPG…uh…that’s about all I know. Doesn’t seem to have much in the way of stakes? Or at least doesn’t tell me about them)
Master of the Flying Broom by Joseph J. Bailey (Martial arts fantasy, feels kind of tongue-in-cheek)Dungeon Man Sam and the Orphaned Core by J. W. Benjamin (umm….uh….I’m honestly not sure? It’s a fantasy book. There’s something about dungeon building. Some people said “LitRPG” but I see no LitRPG elements except people making D&D style dungeons…Someone tell me what this is)Forest of Forgotten Vows by Grace Carlisle (Contemporary fantasy mystery; Fae/fairy themes; feels a little like a 25-30 woman rediscovering her childhood)
The Soul Trade by Edward Rose (contemporary fantasy; a little Dresden Files-ish, but dark instead of humorous)Rise of Tears by Brand J. Alexander (Epic fantasy; maybe YA or some YA crossover appeal; coming of age story)The True and Accurate Log of the Sand Ship Uncertainty by Fowler Brown (Pirate fantasy but on sand with boats that move on sand? Something about evil landscape corrupting crew, maybe?)
Sacaran Nights by Rachel Emma Shaw (gothic fantasy…is that a genre? maybe dark high fantasy)The Pirate’s Deal by Elayna R. Gallea & Daniela A. Mera (Fantasy romance; I’m getting a YA vibe but it’s not categorized as YA; might be the Little Mermaid comparison)Darkhaven by Kel E Fox (YA contemporary fantasy; very “Coming of age, choose your life” feels instead of “magic cool, kids with magic!”)
Raven: Reawakening by Mitchell Hogan (dark assassin fantasy…yes, there exists assassin fantasy that isn’t “dark” in genre terms)Manipulator’s War by Elise Carlson (YA portal fantasy; set-up looks like it’s heading toward romance vibes but reviews mention nothing of the sort…are YA books allowed to not have romance? That would be so exciting….)Afterworld by James G. Robertson (Dystopian Fantasy…maybe. More afterlife introspection fantasy/sci fi/light horror vibes)
An Altar on the Village Green by Nathan Hall (fantasy horror, maybe some Warded Man similarities?)The Crypt Lord’s Call by Dawson George (LitRPG–yes, a real one–but says great for fans of epic fantasy? Those aren’t the same audiences…)The Heart of the Bloodstone by Philinna Wood (Epic fantasy, maybe with animal companions? Unsure if the obviously human intelligence tiger in the opening is a super-tiger or the protag has animal control abilities)

Please remember that my descriptions above are my own interpretation of the books and their topics. I encourage anyone reading this to click on the links and look at the books themselves. Since many of these are outside my typical preferred genres, I may have misrepresented the books slightly despite my best efforts.

As an extra disclaimer, I have linked to the blog these books will likely be reviewed by. Please support the blogs taking part in SPFBO, as they put in a lot of work to help support self-published authors. Any reviews for the books in this chart may not be posted for some time, as the first phase typically takes about five months (ending in October this year), but the blogs in question still have some great content to check out.

Artifice of Power Series Planning


Finally, after an unexpectedly long break after the release of my first novel, Wake of the Phoenix, I am making good progress on the second book of the Artifice of Power saga. Since a lot of self-published authors choose to go rapid release, I want to take the opportunity of having a good visual of my sequel to talk about my process in a way that I hope helps other writers and gives readers some insight into when they can expect more content.

Publishing Plans

I am not a rapid release author. Primarily, this is because my genre doesn’t lend itself well to rapid release, and I want to explain why that’s true because there’s a lot of tension between some rapid release authors and some other self-publishers. The books in epic fantasy are expected to be long (120k words is on the low end for epic fantasy and at the absolute maximum for most traditionally published books of all genres). As well, there is an assumption of complexity of plot and character interactions that is much more difficult to write in a short period of time.

That’s not to say rapid release authors have simplistic writing, plots, or characters or that all their books are overly short. Plenty of rapid release authors have characters well designed for their stories. They just don’t write epic fantasy. The good rapid release genres are romance (the pillar of this publishing style), urban/contemporary fantasy (which has a much lower world-building requirement), other contemporary books, and a lot of young adult books. Sometimes steampunk works well as rapid release, as well. Plenty of other books have gotten some traction as rapid release (I certainly don’t have an exhaustive list), but these are the ones that tend to thrive. And the one thing they all have in common is they tend to be shorter than epic fantasy by a lot. A 110k word romance novel had better be damned good to survive; the standard is more 70k-90k. Same with YA and most books set in contemporary settings. Go above 100k in those genres and you’re struggling to hold readers. If I go below 100k my readers will be sorely disappointed. Rapid release authors thrive on quick, well-paced books that hit the aspects their readers love. Epic fantasy thrives on a sense of wonder and evolving conflicts, typically mixed with slowly growing stakes.

As a result of these differing expectations, if I were to try to follow a rapid release publishing schedule, my books would suck. As a result, the plan for my publishing plan is this:

  1. Most of the fiction content here will be compiled into a series of anthologies, to be released between my book releases. This may seem like a bit of double dipping. After all, I’m putting the content here for free and then asking people to buy it also? But that’s not the plan. The content from here will be the foundation of each anthology, but the stories will undergo significant revision and likely expansion from the version released here, and will go through formal editing. I have a typo problem in blog posts and I only have so much time to fix them. As well, I intend to include at least one new, previously unreleased story in each anthology, preferably two or three, depending on existing content.
  2. Primary books in the Artifice of Power saga will be released approximately every 2 to 2.5 years. While I would love to release more often, at this time I still have a day job and that’s not going away any time soon.
  3. Several off-shoots of the series are already in planning stages. These plans include the prequel novels to the Aritifice of Power Saga that several reviewers have commented on wanting (I promise this is where this story arc starts; the prequels are already in initial drafting and have an entirely different set of storylines). Another set that is under consideration is a companion series that would cover some of the neglected storylines in areas where the main plot simply doesn’t have a reason to go (Kyli Andriole’s progression through the political landscape, for example). Those books are less likely to begin drafting before the end of the Artifice of Power Saga, given the potential for those storylines to intersect directly with the primary arc.

Tentative Release Plans

Below is a chart which outlines the rough plans I have for my release schedule for the Artifice of Power saga.

BookPlacement in storyTentative release plans
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 1All content occurs before the beginning of Wake of the Phoenix, book 1 in the Artifice of Power sagaTentatively planned for late 2022
Artifice of Power saga, Book 2Direct sequel to Wake of the PhoenixTentatively planned for late 2023/early 2024
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 2All content occurs between the end of Wake of the Phoenix and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 2Tentatively planned for late 2024
Artifice of Power saga, Book 3Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 2Release not yet planned
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 3All content occurs between the end of Artifice of Power saga, Book 2 and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 3Release not yet planned
Artifice of Power saga, Book 4Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 3Release not yet planned
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 4All content occurs between the end of Artifice of Power saga, Book 3 and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 4Release not yet planned
Artifice of Power saga, Book 5Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 4Release not yet planned
Tales of the Laisian Empire, Volume 5All content occurs between the end of Artifice of Power saga, Book 4 and the beginning of Artifice of Power saga, Book 5Release not yet planned
Artifice of Power saga, Book 6Direct sequel to Artifice of Power saga, Book 5Release not yet planned

Anyone who browses this blog for any length of time will undoubtedly realize that I call myself a “pure pantser” or “an extreme discovery writer” and I have even said things like “the more I know about what’s coming, the more difficult it is for me to write the book. This is all true. I typically sit down at my computer for a new book with nothing more than a character concept and a place where that person is standing. Typically not even a name. As a result, the fact that I already know the above rough outline of the series—I even have titles for each of those books, though I won’t release them until I’m sure they won’t change—is a sign of the life this story has in my imagination. It’s also a bit terrifying to me, since I know that makes it a bit harder to get the books started. It took me almost eight months to get the second book working right. The good news is…it’s working now! Below I’ll discuss a quick overview of the status of book 2. Please note that, since I am a discovery writer, some of this “progress” may sound a little crazy (I.e., “how did you write a book without knowing THAT?”). That’s just the nature of being a discovery writer. Even our sequels are pulled out of thin air.

Artifice of Power, Book 2 Progress

I’m very excited to share the progress on book 2 of the Artifice of Power saga. It’s shaping up to be a very fun book with a lot of implications I didn’t quite predict. Currently I’m 20k words into the draft. That’s not a lot of content, but I don’t write linearly. What that means is, so far, I have the likely events of two, maybe even three or four major shifts in the narrative. I have content for the rough arc of the characters, and I know that at least two new side characters from Wake of the Phoenix are getting POV chapters in the sequel. That last bit undoubtedly means the book will be longer than Wake of the Phoenix, which is not entirely unexpected. However, because of the plot moments I already know, it should also have a bit of a faster pace. That means more plot will happen in the length, not less. The element that most excites me, though, is that several moments in Wake of the Phoenix that otherwise had no follow-up have already influenced the events of book 2. While I obviously knew some elements needed to move forward in book 2, I’m very excited at how elements that I had wished I could pursue further have woven into the narrative of the second book, several of which I didn’t expect to come back.

How do these unexpected tie-ins happen? Well, I’ve talked a bit in the past about discovery writing flowing from the natural and logical consequences of events that already happened. At least, that’s how it works for me and every other discovery writer I’ve spoken to about their process. But don’t take that as gospel—I only know a few true discovery writers (as opposed to architect writers who think they should do more discovery writing). But in terms of my sequel, here’s an example from Wake of the Phoenix that illustrates the concept (I’ll keep this mostly spoiler-free, but I’m a strong believer that if spoilers ruin the book I did a bad job writing it).

What’s happening in the sequel is basically the same as Saylina having tea with Prillani in Wake of the Phoenix. Originally that scene didn’t exist. Readers of the book will likely wonder how the book could have worked without it (the book didn’t work, thus the addition). But that scene, which is actually critical to the progress of the book, came from the logical reactions Saylina would have to the scene where Arkaen pushes her out the door to talk to Prillani in private. Saylina has every reason to be confused and concerned over Arkaen’s actions, so she follows her character and investigates on her own. The result is Prillani is pulled into a completely different arc than she would have had if she hadn’t been invited to tea with Saylina. The entire course of the book would have changed.

Similar things have happened in book 2. Events from Wake of the Phoenix which didn’t have a logical follow-up in that book still have consequences for the other characters involved. Following those characters to their logical reactions, they have re-collided with the primary storyline in new and very, very interesting ways. I can’t wait to get this draft done so I can start recruiting beta readers.

Aftermath


Lord Phoenix—

My family wish yours well, though we sorrowed to hear of your recent tragedy. Farm’s keeping well despite the pests. Lads are getting grown enough to cause trouble ’round town, but there’s work enough to tire them out. Love to share a keg of ale with you, if you’ve a chance to come see the new fields. Reckon my lads would get some good out of seeing a proper leader—

Saylina Sentarsin flipped the paper over, checking the seal again. There couldn’t be a reason to send this mundane gossip under an official, private seal. But there it was. Feathered wings rising from the outline of flames, pressed into a complex pattern of colored waxes. Red, orange, and gold glittering in the candlelight around the seal Arkaen had reserved for use only by his personal guards from Serni for the most private of messages. She wasn’t even supposed to know about the decree. A secret Caela had pried from the closemouthed foreign guards after years of building camaraderie. And then she’d died at the hands of a brutal boy and his minions, all to prove a point to Arkaen that had never been made. A pang of grief shook her. Caela, who had stood by her side since she was old enough to have a servant of her own, gone. The lump in her throat choked her breathing, dragging the fresh sting of unshed tears to her eyes. Unsheddable, if she wanted any respect from the lower lords. Nobles didn’t cry over servants. Not even the ones they’d grown up with, close as sisters, and lost to a senseless brawl.

And then, barely weeks after the deadly fight at her uncle’s former estate, this letter arrived for Arkaen under his most private seal.

A single knock, barely a breath of pause, and a servant swept the study door open and stepped in with a tray of steaming tea. Saylina glanced up from the message before her, fighting back her pain to nod in acknowledgment.

“My lady, you have a visitor,” the servant said, crossing the room to lay out the tea, sugar, and a gilded spoon on her desk. Saylina shuffled the books and papers aside to make room. “Count Brayden Skianda has requested your attention. He is just outside, but I can send him away if my lady is too busy.”

“Did he—” Saylina cut off with a scowl. She didn’t know this man, and while he might be loyal, she couldn’t trust anyone yet. Besides, he likely hadn’t even thought to ask why Count Skianda wanted a private audience. “Send him in.”

Saylina waited until the servant stepped outside before scanning the message again, hunting the meaning as the murmur of the servant’s voice drifted in. Arkaen would read something here beyond an update on a small farm, and that meant nothing was as it seemed. A farm with pests—bandits, maybe? But it could just as easily refer to a disagreement between wealthy landowners. The “lads” must be some form of servants, but without knowing the author’s status she couldn’t guess what specific threat “cause trouble ’round town” might imply. She folded the note, setting it aside among a pile of her own, more personal papers. A mystery to unravel when she’d dealt with this request.

Taking a sip of her tea, Saylina waited for her guest. It was only moments before Count Skianda followed the servant back into the room. And he stood, silent and patient, until the servant left again. Saylina gestured him toward a chair.

“Please, sit, my Lord Count,” Saylina said. “Tell me what the province can do for you.”

He smiled. “I’m not here to ask a boon of my province.” Count Skianda stepped around the chair and sat, waiting as if he expected some form of response. When she offered none, he continued. “I came to discuss a matter of some delicacy related to the stability of our home.”

“Well that sounds rather ominous, Count Skianda.” Not that Saylina disagreed with the sentiment. Arkaen had certainly left the town a mess, and the lands beyond suffered for the turmoil of their capital. “What specific issues concern you?”

Count Skianda stared at her, the edges of his eyes narrowed as if he couldn’t quite decide what to tell her. Saylina busied her hands organizing her papers and hoped her anxiety didn’t show.

“Before the rather… explosive events of the past weeks, your brother came to speak with me.”

Saylina let a frown cross her lips. “I recall. I advised him against it. What did my brother promise in that meeting?”

She hated to have to ask. A loss of her power in this negotiation, since he could say anything and she’d never know what was a lie. But Arkaen had been too busy to share the details, and then she’d had that tea with the princess.

A shudder ran through her at the memory. Ropes tight on her wrist. Hands dragging her past Caela’s body, the blood still flowing fresh from her head. The bitter liquid her captors had forced down her throat—

“Apologies, my lady.” Count Skianda leaned forward over her desk, face pained with concern. “I’ve no wish to bring that time back to your mind so soon. May I get you anything?”

“No, thank you.” Saylina pulled back, hands trembling as she dropped cubed sugar into her tea and stirred the liquid. The clink of the spoon against porcelain, gentle swirl of the dark liquid. A distraction from the memories she couldn’t allow right now. “I’m well, my Lord Count. What did my brother say?”

“Well.” Count Skianda hesitated, worry still sharp in his eyes, but finally resumed his seat. “It’s not about what he promised me. He asked my opinion on naming you, my lady, as his heir. He’d clearly been thinking about it some time.”

Saylina nodded. “He made a few comments to similar effect in our discussions as well. He was under a great deal of pressure. I’m certain the appeal of a living sister several years his junior seemed an easy solution to a problem he didn’t care to manage.”

“If you’ll pardon my audacity, I don’t believe that was his reasoning.”

“You flatter me.” Saylina smiled, but she could see the beginning of a suggestion she wasn’t going to like. “I’m afraid Sentar tradition is rather intractable on the matter. Women do not inherit. Certainly not when they’ve an elder brother able to wed and provide a proper heir.”

“But what if your lord brother has no desire to wed?” Count Skianda fixed her with an intense look that hinted at exactly which rumors he meant to reference.

“You’re edging dangerously close to an inappropriate accusation, Count Skianda.”

“To something inappropriate, my lady?” he asked. “Or to something you’d rather not admit? He’s spent these weeks refusing the care of the physics, closeted away with that demon of his. Talk spreads too fast for you to have missed it.”

Saylina rose, heart pounding. Of course she’d heard the whispers, growing since Arkaen’s last public display of womanizing. And he’d thrown oil on that fire when he’d demanded Kilasha stay by his side and refused any other visitors. He might just want the protection. No one could forget the speed with which Kilasha had crossed the crowded great hall where Arkaen had dueled Oskari, knocking a crossbow bolt away from Arkaen’s heart before it could hit home. But politics thrived on scandal, and Arkaen’s seclusion with only a foreign-born, terrifying man for company had sparked every scandalous rumor the nobility could imagine. She needed to nip that in the bud, regardless of who stood before her making the accusations.

Laying a hand on the desk, Saylina leaned forward to catch Count Skianda’s attention. Not precisely towering over him, but enough to emphasize her power in the situation.

“My brother is high lord, Count Skianda. Confirmed by the high lords’ council and supported by our high emperor himself. Any challenge to his rule, any accusation that he isn’t honoring his duty to our province, is treason.” She paused just long enough for him to begin to speak, cutting him off before he voiced a reply. “You’re not engaging in treason, are you, my Lord Count?”

He smiled at her. “I am not, Lady Saylina. Which is precisely why I brought the matter to your attention.”

He leaned back in his chair, waiting for her to sit. She straightened, looking down her nose at him. Another smile, slightly less condescending and more conspiratorial.

“To be honest, my lady, I don’t care what he’s doing with the man,” Count Skianda said. “Arkaen’s done his best by this province despite my initial fears. I wouldn’t call him a good ruler, precisely, but he’s certainly tried to do right by us. I’m only suggesting that he might welcome the opportunity to pass that responsibility to someone better suited to it.”

Saylina hesitated. Still treason, technically, but… You’re my heir, Sayli, he said. Arkaen couldn’t have meant that if he’d planned a full reign. She be far too old to inherit by the time his natural reign ended, and no doubt settled as someone’s wife besides.

“Are you suggesting I ask my brother to abdicate?” She took her seat again, frowning at the thought. Impossible. Too many of the lower lords would protest her coronation while Arkaen lived.

“I’m suggesting that you may not have to ask,” Count Skianda replied. “He’s already convinced the council to accept you as interim high lord while he recovers. We’ve had no objections so far.”

“That’s only a matter of time.” Saylina already knew of several petitions that had been retracted when the complainants had discovered she’d be hearing the claims. If she announced Arkaen wasn’t returning to the seat at all, those slights would quickly become dissent. “A lady has never been confirmed by this council.”

“Only one other has ever tried,” Count Skianda replied. “And she had a reputation for rash, selfish decisions and a tractable younger brother. You, my lady, have neither.”

“But you know I’d face objections from all the other lords.”

“Objections are not an end to the matter if you have proper support.” He leaned back in his chair as if to emphasize the point. “Lord Arkaen had plenty of objections to his coronation, as I’m sure you’ll recall.”

“Hard to forget,” she said. “Especially when his primary critics are still awaiting burial. I’d prefer to avoid a repeat of that circumstance these next few years.”

“We both know that result was avoidable.” Count Skianda paused, glancing behind him as if concerned someone might burst into the room to interrupt them. “If your lord brother had been more prone to placating the nobility we’d likely still have a full council. His temper doesn’t suit the position well.”

“Once I might have agreed with you, my Lord Count.” Oskari’s face hovered in her memory, his frustration at Arkaen’s stubbornness plain on the lined features. Saylina shivered at the image. Oskari had blamed the entire mess on Arkaen, but his words were nothing but a traitor’s justifications for acts he knew were wrong. As she’d known it was wrong to let Kyli Andriole take her place in the imperial capital.

“You don’t agree any longer, my lady?”

Her gaze settled on the message she’d been examining earlier. A coded message to Arkaen from some unknown source warning of potential dangers. And Arkaen’s guard—Kilasha… He’d always watched the province locals like a rabid dog waiting for an attack, until Arkaen had been injured. Now nothing could pry him from her brother’s side. Like he knew the danger wasn’t truly past, no matter what the physic said. The entire time they’d been waiting for something to go wrong, and whatever it was, they didn’t think it was over yet.

“My lady?” Count Skianda leaned forward, laying a hand on the desk between them again.

“I wonder, Count Skianda, why my brother has been so quick to take offense.” Saylina pulled the paper out of her pile, examining the seal again. Too obvious for the subterfuge he’d been managing these last years. Had he meant for her to intercept it?

Saylina looked up at Count Skianda again. “I don’t recall Arkaen being quick to anger when I was a girl. Impulsive at times, perhaps, but always kind-hearted. Was I mistaken?”

Count Skianda frowned for a moment, tapping a finger on the wood of her desk as he thought. Finally, he shook his head.

“No, my lady,” he said. “He was certainly rash at times, and he’d get his hackles up if you insulted his family or friends. But he was never cruel, and he never lashed out at anyone without giving them a chance to apologize first.” He looked up, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “I told you when he took the throne that he’s not the boy we knew any longer. The boy I knew would have accepted Oskari’s surrender.”

She nodded. “But I told you when we agreed to his coronation that he’s still my brother.” An exchange so far in the past now it seemed a lifetime away. Separated from the person she was now by most of a month of captivity. “I’m more certain of that now than I was then. And one thing I know of my brother is he is not petty.” She saw the agreement in Count Skianda’s eyes before he nodded. “If Arkaen has become quick to anger, my Lord Count, then he has a reason to be angry.”

“Then perhaps it is long past time that we discover what that reason is.” He dropped his gaze to consider the message she held. “Is it reasonable to assume that is a hint?”

“If we can decipher the code.” Saylina offered the paper across the desk. “It’s some form of warning, though I couldn’t guess at the specifics.”

Count Skianda took the paper and examined the seal, his lips setting in a grim line as he opened the note. He skimmed the words briefly before looking up.

“That’s dangerous, my lady.” He tossed the page onto her desk. “I can’t imagine we’ll understand what it means without breaking his inner circle. But a coded message under that seal? You know what the lower lords will think.”

“That Oskari was right,” she said. “They’ll think he’s a traitor.”

“Are you certain he isn’t?”

She scowled. But what could she say? Arkaen certainly hadn’t confided in her since coming home.

“He wouldn’t do this.” The denial felt weak. Spoken to convince herself as much as anyone. “Kaen wouldn’t betray his home. There’s another explanation.”

“I agree.” Count Skianda didn’t sound hopeful. “He’d never betray his home. But what has Sentar Province ever done for him? Is this his home any longer?”

Updates and Audiobooks


Hello everyone! Happy new year. Anyone following this blog will have noticed my unexpected hiatus over the past couple months. Due to a couple of changes in my schedule, I’ve had less time than intended to keep up with things. Pair that with the holiday season and some things fell through the cracks. As a result, I wanted to take the time to give some updates on the status of my writing, this blog, and what to expect from me going forward.

A quick overview of what happened

Several things happened all at once which caused the disruption of my plans. Most obviously, my debut novel released. I always knew that releasing a book was going to come with work, but I didn’t realize how much I was going to have to do after it was released. It’s always discussed in terms of the preparation and few people talk about post-release obligations. Since my book released, however, I have been to two promotion events and two conferences, I’ve been trying to schedule a second book signing, and I’m trying to keep track of valuable promotions and opportunities for visibility. That’s over two and a half months, and I’m trying to get more conferences and events on my schedule for next year. That wouldn’t be a problem if not for my day job and my family, but here we are.

As well, I am now trying to prioritize work on my sequel, which understandably takes a lot of my creative focus. Very few people can write in multiple different stories at once, and I have proven that I can’t. Since this blog was originally conceived as a place to build interest in my books mixed with supplemental content for anyone interested enough to seek it out, the sequel has to take priority over the blog.

On top of the predictable series of events above, I also learned over the last few months that my day job, which is a necessity for most debut authors for at least a few books, is in danger of getting outsourced. As a result, I’m being forced to build other marketable skills in order to protect my ability to keep writing and covering the costs of self-publishing well. I haven’t been posting here, but trust me, I’ve been working. There’s a few other more minor events, but those on their own might have caused me to miss a week here and there. The two months of silence came from the combination of juggling new obligations with old while trying to train for a new career.

The blog is alive

First and most importantly, In terms of moving forward, I do intend to return to regular posting on this blog. These plans include posting some fiction that will remain available for free and some thoughts on publishing trends, books, or TV/movies as the story-telling elements seem relevant. Due to ongoing changes in my schedule, however, there will be some changes. These are listed below:

  1. Posts will be biweekly going forward. Weekly posts are too much for me to keep up with under my new circumstances. Weekly was hard when I only had a full-time job, a 4 year old, and debut book production to worry about. Add in book promotion, book writing, and career swapping and it’s never going to happen.
  2. Only one post a month will be fiction. I hate to do this, since the fiction posts were part of what I loved about this space, but it’s needed. As I said above, I can’t work on two projects at once, and this was never intended as a space for beta content from upcoming books.
  3. Non-fiction posts are going to start leaning more toward opinions on recent releases in books, movies, or TV, or experiences while working on my second book. Part of that is because it requires less research, but honestly, I do a lot of the research for my own publishing anyway. Mostly, this is about quality. There are a limited number of publishing topics I can provide a unique viewpoint on, and it doesn’t do anyone any good for me to re-hash the same information you can find on seven other web sites with a quick Google search.
  4. I’ll be leaning on discussions with other consumers of the same media more. I always want to approach my discussions with an eye to evaluating how the story-telling works or fails because that’s the element that I have any expertise to examine, but at the end of the day, an evaluation is always an opinion. It’s more valuable to more people if those opinions are contrasted between different people as opposed to just me rambling about my thoughts.

Announcement

The last thing I want to talk about is an announcement. My book, Wake of the Phoenix, has finished audiobook production and is awaiting final approval. I am extremely excited about this, and I can’t thank my producer, Scott Fleming, enough for his hard work. The final product is exceptional. I was hesitant to begin the audiobook process because of how hit an miss they can be, but this is a product I am very proud of. I’ll be running some promotions over the next month to try and build some interest and visibility for that audiobook and I hope to get some reputation for my narrator, as well. I’ll announce here and elsewhere when the audiobook becomes available. Keep an eye out of that’s an interest of yours!

Reader Perspectives: Prologues


In drafting my recent post on prologue usages, my husband and I got into a discussion about the different executions of this common element of story-telling. We discovered that he and I have had some very different experiences with the same prologues. As a service to other potential authors, and in light of our surprising disagreements, I asked my husband to take a look at some of the storytelling elements from popular novels and give me some feedback. This will be a new series on my blog that investigates reactions to various story-telling elements from a pure reader’s perspective.

For context, my husband will be my initial subject–he is an epic fantasy fan who was very invested in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series as well as the older Dragonlance novels, and as a result the first few of these will be mostly within his genre. Not everyone will agree with these opinions, but hopefully it will give some visibility into an aspect of what works and what doesn’t for some readers.

This week I’m looking at a comparison between the Rage of Dragons prologue and the Game of Thrones prologue.

Rage of Dragons

My husband’s response to the Rage of Dragons prologue genuinely surprised me. I wasn’t completely pulled in by that prologue, but he hated it–and I mean that he hated it to the point where he was intending to do a read through of the entire book to prep for a compare/contrast on his opinions versus mine on the book as a whole and instead he refused to finish the book. His problems boil down to three specific items that broke his interest and left him confused and frustrated.

  1. Multiple POVs. This is a point where I agree. If your prologue is long and complex enough to need four different POVs, then you either have a first chapter or a separate short story (depending on how closely tied the content is to the main plot of the book). My opinion was that the Rage of Dragons prologue is a separate short story, which, while a bit confusing, was… well… fine. My husband was just really annoyed.
  2. Confusing words and/or confusing word usage. This didn’t bother me because I’m pretty accustomed to reading things, not knowing what it means, and waiting to learn later. It infuriated my husband. We had a twenty minute conversation about whether “Ingonyama” is a military rank, a name for people with a specific magic ability, or a name for people who are used in specific magic rituals without having magic themselves. And a similar discussion about “the Chosen”, “the Gifted”, etc. Having read further, I think I know what those words mean…
  3. Naming schemes. This complaint started with the character names. Everyone (or at least everyone portrayed as important in the prologue) had a name that started with a T, even the guy who probably didn’t pronounce the T in his name. This is just a general frustration with fantasy books. Exotic names are great, names which follow naming schemes are great, but if every name starts with the same letter, you’re likely to have readers struggle to keep names straight. After pointing this out to me, though, my husband flipped to the map. I barely even glanced at the map on my read-through, but there it was. Just a big peninsula with a country-border arc on the land side (turning the entire country into a big oval). Mountains in weird places. Names like “the north”, “the south”, “the center”, “the Curse”, “the Northern Mountain Range”, “the Southern Fortress”, “the Central Mountains”, “the Southern Mountain Range”, “the Fist”, “the Roar”, and “Citadel City”. None of these names are inherently bad, but the combination of all of them really broke world-immersion for my husband. Suddenly, instead of feeling like he was reading a book with an overly complex prologue that left him unsure of a lot of world elements, he felt like the complex prologue was trying to make up for lazy world-building. Now, I don’t think Evan Winter is lazy and I think Rage of Dragons is a good book. But it’s worth keeping in mind that a little extra care makes a huge difference to a lot of readers. The inhabitants of the world likely call those various elements something, and it’s pretty rare for an entire culture to name a mountain range “The Northern Mountain Range.” One such name he could have gotten away with. Eight was pushing it way too far.

Game of Thrones

When we compare the Rage of Dragons prologue to the Game of Thrones prologue, there are some interesting differences. The Game of Thrones prologue is both shorter and, in some ways, slower than the Rage of Dragons prologue, but I’d argue it actually does a lot more work for the book and the series. Here’s a few of the elements that worked particularly well in the Game of Throne prologue.

  1. The events of Game of Thrones prologue are directly relevant to events of the first chapter of the book and to the larger world as a whole. This doesn’t mean the characters from the Game of Thrones prologue are relevant. By the end of the first chapter all three of them are dead. But the events of the prologue are the reason for the admittedly quite sedate activity in chapter one of the book. The prologue also gives the reader knowledge about a scenario that most of the characters have little to no direct experience with. As a result, when Jon Snow heads north to join the Night’s Watch, we the reader know that there are some dangers he may face that even the other characters in the book don’t believe in. We haven’t been told about those dangers, we’ve seen them. That gives an extra level of weight and importance to Jon’s commitment and adds tension that the book and series would otherwise be lacking. In contrast, the Rage of Dragons prologue may be relevant to the entire series as a whole, but it isn’t relevant to the immediate opening of the book. It doesn’t give context to every decision and discussion the characters have. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it does mean the Game of Thrones prologue has a little bit less work to do in justifying its place in the book than the Rage of Dragon’s prologue.
  2. Everything in the Game of Thrones prologue is simple, direct, and easy to understand. Three characters are riding through the woods. They are investigating a report of some dead bodies and are actively discussing their theories on that occurrence. There are no secondary plotlines going on in this scene. Nothing for the reader to focus on but the direct information, context, and atmosphere built by the actions and words of these three characters. As a result, it is very unlikely that any reader is going to be confused by the Game of Thrones prologue. They might not be immediately invested in it, but they aren’t going to be wondering what’s going on (at least, not more than the characters themselves are wondering that). This can be a bit of opinion (some people like more complex or more obscure openings), but there’s something to be said for a simple, clear opening that delivers specific information in context without dropping the info-dump bomb on the reader. As well, when we get to the portion of the Game of Thrones prologue which does have combat, the same simple, one-focus style is used. In that context, it suddenly serves to build tension, focus the reader on the specific POV character’s reactions, and keep the events clear and impactful. The larger, ongoing combat the permeates the Rage of Dragons prologue keeps the reader’s attention constantly split. Okay, we’re on a boat talking, but you said there’s a war going on? Wait, now we’re in the war…are we going to hear about the queen? And there’s how many things going on? And which of these characters have I met before? And what am I supposed to know about the context by now?
  3. Which brings me to the third point, and the one I think is probably the most important part of the Game of Thrones prologue. At no point during the events of the prologue does it feel like the characters are actively using information the reader does not have. This is a big, big deal in fantasy prologues and honestly a lot of fantasy writing in general. It’s the main reason why the most common main character in epic fantasy is some form of naïve “everyman” character who is being introduced to a new world for the first time. The Farmboy learning he’s the Chosen One. The modern realm-traveler stuck in a fantasy world. The guild apprentice on their first solo mission. The mundane child admitted to a school of magic. The examples are endless, and primarily it’s because one of the greatest challenges in fantasy writing is getting the right balance between telling the reader what an experienced character knows and not spending pages info-dumping the appropriate backstory. The Game of Thrones prologue is a masterclass in doing exactly this. We have three characters. One is fairly new to a particular organization and somewhat uncertain. Another has some experience and is a bit cocky. The third is a long-time veteran who is always looking for clues as to what is coming next. We never learn the specifics of that organization in the prologue, just that it is called “the Night’s Watch” and that these members are out looking for information. Their job is not to investigate dead bodies, but the veteran thinks they might learn something related to their actual goal by examining the bodies. The characters know plenty of other bits of information about the world, but they aren’t currently thinking about any of those pieces of information, so we don’t get told them. Every action the characters take is a logical reaction to the information we have already been given up to that point. In Rage of Dragons, however, our POV characters mention summoning dragons, being hunted by something called “the Cull”, and a dozen other very specific references that the characters obviously know much more about than the reader does. As a result, those references feel more like coy, author-hidden hints at things that will be cool later. We the reader are immediately distanced from the characters because the characters are hiding information from us when they shouldn’t know we’re there. It’s not the same as the GoT character not explaining the mission of the Night’s Watch, because none of the actions those characters take are direct results of information the reader doesn’t have.
  4. And finally, naming. A lot of complaints around names can come down to preference, and it’s certainly true that people from certain backgrounds will find the character names in Rage of Dragons more complicated and confusing than readers from other backgrounds. But regardless of that, the names in the Game of Thrones prologue are more varied. We don’t have Gerad and Grendo and Gavin, we have Gerad and Ser Waymar Royce and Will. It’s easier to keep track of people when the names aren’t similar. As well, beyond character names, very little is actually named in the prologue. We have the three characters, the organization they are a part of, and the general term “the Others” for the creatures which attack the characters. Anyone familiar with the series knows that “the Others” is not the name for the creatures which attack. It is, however, a simple phrase which readers can quickly identify as referring to something scary that the POV character doesn’t understand. When we are later given an actual name for those creatures, we have enough context from the descriptions and other discussions to know that the name refers to “the Others” from the prologue. None of the other names those characters know have any meaning in this context, and so they don’t come up. In Rage of Dragons we get names for everything from the mysterious inquisition-style enemy that’s hunting the queen’s people to the name of the queen’s old nanny from when she was a toddler. Some of those we know to ignore, but the very inclusion of those meaningless names speaks of an improper scope for the prologue. Especially when you turn the page to chapter one and realize that hundreds of years have passed and the events of the prologue are ancient history to the protagonist. Why did I get the prologue-queen’s nanny’s name, again?

In Summation

I’m comparing Rage of Dragons to Game of Thrones partially because they’re the books my husband picked up, but mostly because they’re both good books. They have a lot of positives and, like all books, they both have some negatives. The interesting element of this comparison, though, is how the craft differed between the opening of each novel. And, to be fair, George R.R. Martin was a well-established author when he released A Game of Thrones while Evan Winter was releasing Rage of Dragons as his debut novel. That might be the entire difference between the books, since they both have obvious potential. However, the next time someone says they don’t like prologues, it’s worth discussing what they dislike about the prologue. If they dislike prologues like the one from Rage of Dragons, I understand. There are a lot of debatable craft choices in that prologue. And I do mean “debatable,” not “obviously bad but I’m trying to be nice.” Preferences vary and some people love that prologue. But in a lot of ways it’s a harder prologue to love than one that focuses on a more directed scope with a more straightforward approach and gives the reader the same information as the characters.

NaNoWriMo Project–excerpt 1


“Mistress!”

The boy scurried across the open square, pausing beside her with eyes wide and breath misting in the night air. Niamsha Pereyra frowned at him. Another of Nijel’s spies, but one she couldn’t bring herself to dismiss. His brown eyes tugged at her grief in a way that Nijel must have intended, the innocence and hue reminiscent of the brother Niamsha had failed to save.

“What, boy?” Her sharp words sent the boy cowering into the shadows of her porch.

“Ya asked fer news when the merchants come,” he replied. “First one’s coming in just now.”

“Then get to the tavern.”

A twinge of guilt rubbed at her conscience. He was just doing what she’d asked. Or so he said.

Niamsha hiked her skirts up, hands full of rough fabric and hem still brushing the ground, and stepped into the dark. She knew these paths by now, her feet well accustomed to midnight treks through the worn, smooth dirt roads. The tavern sat behind a row of houses, hidden from the street. A poor place for a public business, but this town didn’t have the bustle to support a proper tavern anyway. Not enough to support much of anything. No tavern, no inn, the makeshift guild hall lost to the brutality of war almost a decade ago. Most would have taken one look at the ramshackle community and kept moving.

Instead, Nijel had appointed Niamsha to take over the long-abandoned guild hall and turn it into a place where he could gather his followers when he passed through. Perhaps he’d intended for her to create a less wholesome establishment, but she’d had other plans. And a local tavern brought in enough coin from the field workers to cover expenses for her side projects. Nijel had always been expedient in that way. Between the Rendell house in High Lord Arkaen’s home town and this guild hall, she was beginning to think he enjoyed repurposing old, forgotten buildings into new life.

Pushing the door open, Niamsha strode into the dim light and scanned for her guests. Just arrived, the boy said, but the common room sat empty. They should have been here. Unless the boy had lied to her. Her heart pounded at the thought. She had no illusions as to the boy’s loyalties. He’d slipped up several weeks back, hiding a note in a poor spot when she entered a room. Common-born gutter boys didn’t read. Not in these parts, at least.

The door cracked open behind her, just enough to let the cold breeze rush up her spine.

“Nisha.” Nijel’s voice was colder than the wind that chilled her hands. “What a pleasure to see you tending to my partners so diligently. I knew you could be trusted with my interests.”

Niamsha spun around to face him. “Of course, Nijel.”

He must have known she intended no such thing. His eyes sparkled with malice, the shared secret a threat he held over her. One word and he could take her life.

“Come along.” He waved a careless hand at her. “We should prepare. I’ve word a new speaker plans to join our cadre. I’ll need as much information as possible before answering his petition.”

“Yes, Nijel.”

She followed him into the back room, the table chipped and scarred from past negotiations gone wrong. A pitcher of ale sat in the middle of the table, the clay starting to sweat as the heat from the room clashed with the chill of the liquid. No seating, so Nijel wanted his guests off guard. Niamsha stepped forward, circling the table as if her life didn’t hang on Nijel’s whims. He chuckled.

“Don’t be ashamed of ambition, dear,” Nijel said. “I did not find my place by letting others choose for me. I only ask that you respect the efforts I’ve taken for your well-being.” He fixed her with a knowing smirk. “You wouldn’t be here, but for me.”

“Would that be worse?” She shouldn’t have said it, but the wear of this life weighed too heavy for a moment. Just enough to betray her own disgust with her new position.

“Nisha.” His sorrow almost sounded genuine. “How cold this country would be with you removed from it.”

He didn’t sound like her ‘removal’ would be a simple matter of living elsewhere. She hadn’t meant it that way. Emrys’s death still haunted her–she might seethe for the chance to avenge his loss–but she had no plans to let her life to end early.

The door opened before she could answer. A heavyset man entered, pausing at the sight of Nijel as he rubbed at a scar on his chin. He glanced at Niamsha. Stared at Nijel. Stepped inside.

“Didn’t think you lived, lad.” The merchant, Heikkan Carrillo, nodded at Nijel, his casual tone a shock against the tension of the room. “She got you here, too? Just like the rest of us.”

“Young Nisha is my liaison,” Nijel replied. “Though I admit I’m quite surprised you answered, Heikkan. Obedience was never a strong quality of yours.”

Heikkan glowered for a half-dozen breaths. “Obedience is for pets. Men offer loyalty, and loyalty must be earned.”

“Indeed.” Nijel grinned, but she could hear the rising fury in the clipped tone of his voice.

“Earned,” Nijel continued. “Just as your Lord Phoenix earned the men Griffin gathered, protected, and trained. As Kumiho and the Dragon earned the honor and respect the Serr-Nyen owed to their proper rulers. As Griffin earned the betrayal of her army?”

“Griffin went mad.” Heikkan snarled the words like a curse. “I know you believed in her, but you weren’t in the meetings. You didn’t hear. Lord Phoenix–“

“Told you lies,” Nijel interrupted. “Griffin had plans to support Sernyii through our transition. To give power to those who aided her cause. What has Lord Phoenix done for your land since the war? Nothing but enslave his former allies and sell his loyalty to the very empire he opposed.”

“Well.” Heikkan jerked his head at Niamsha. “I did come for a reason. Girl said we got a new power in town. Calls himself the Siren. Supposed to have plans for us all.”

“That is perhaps the first true thing you’ve said.” Nijel paced around the table and lounged against the wall, his lips curling into another smirk. “I do have plans, old friend. Many, many plans.”

Heikkan took a step back, eyes widening at the response. His gaze locked onto Nijel’s, an instant of locked eyes and matched wills. And then Heikkan laughed.

“It would be you, I suppose. Too damned smart for your own good. Always were. We’ll talk, then. When the others get here, we’ll have plenty to discuss.”

Prologues: A Defense and a Primer


I have long been a supporter of prologues, especially in longer fantasy works. My own debut novel has a prologue that I fought for when I was considering traditional publishing. But the stigma against prologues still runs strong in many communities and is stronger than ever in traditional publishing circles. Let’s take a moment to look at what prologues are good for and discuss proper prologue usage.

What is a prologue?

We all know the obvious answer. It’s that opening chapter of the book that is often confusing or boring and is labeled “prologue” instead of “chapter 1.” But there’s actually a specific purpose for a prologue–or, more accurately, a few specific purposes, each mutually exclusive. So, here’s a quick listing of some good reasons to use a prologue:

  1. Give a first-hand account of a specific event that is central to the primary story line but does not take place in the natural arc of the story. A great example is the Game of Thrones prologue, which kills everyone involved but makes clear to the reader that White Walkers do, in fact, exist.
  2. Tease a particularly cool aspect of the world-building which won’t become obvious to the reader in the opening chapters of the book to build excitement in–and offer context for–the opening.
  3. Offer a POV that is useful for the reader to understand but doesn’t fit in the main narrative. Often termed the “villain POV prologue” because of a trend to use these to explain villain motivations, this is a tool that can be great, but it better be very important or you’ll get a lot of complaints for extraneous information.

I hesitate to say this list covers everything, but if it doesn’t fit any of these three elements, be very cautious about using a prologue for that. As a general rule of thumb, if your reason for including the prologue is anything other than “I think this addition will help my readers get greater enjoyment out of the primary story arc that starts in Chapter 1” then you should cut your prologue.

Is this thing working?

Once you’ve determined that your prologue fits into one of the above reasons for use, you need to make sure your prologue accomplishes what you set out to do. Prologues are a much finer art than many realize. Here’s some common mistakes and ways to correct them.

First, did you spend your prologue dropping a bunch of world-specific terminology without much explanation? You probably have a problem. If readers are on page one or two of your book and don’t understand what you’re saying because of world-specific words, you’re going to lose a bunch of readers. And I completely understand that the prologue is not the place to explain those words. Please, for the love of all decent writing, do not edit your prologue to have a definition after every world-specific word. Instead, find ways to make clear through context what the words mean. My husband uses the Rage of Dragons prologue as an example here (and not a good example). See below for his full opinions on that prologue. The important part of this point is, it doesn’t matter if the word has a typical meaning that you’re leaning on. Evan Winter uses “the Chosen” and “the Gifted” as world-specific words, which can easily be assumed to mean something we understand. But it’s clear that the usage isn’t the general sense, and as a result, the lack of clarification can be confusing. If possible, don’t use words which have world-specific meanings in your prologue, or if you must, make clear through the immediate context what the word means.

Now let’s talk about how long your prologue is. Is it more than 3 or 4 pages in the printed book? This is typically about 1500 words on the high end, and shorter is almost always better. If your prologue is longer than this, you’re probably not focusing on the correct elements, or you’re explaining too much context, or maybe even mixing goals. Chapters can have multiple reasons for existing. Prologues must be lean, precise, and clearly understandable. Evaluating a prologue that is too long can be a challenge, so get some beta reader feedback to determine how to cut it down.

Prologues are typically designed to hint at information that will be important later in the book, but this often leads to an additional problem. Does your prologue go out of its way to avoid explaining what’s going on in that specific moment, and/or intentionally end without resolving the scene in an attempt to be mysterious? Stop that. You’re trying too hard and I guarantee it will fall flat for a lot of readers. If you’re writing from a POV you don’t want to go into too deeply for fear of breaking a later reveal, change the POV. Nothing frustrates a reader more than feeling like the author is intentionally hiding things from them. We are, but they shouldn’t feel it.

Finally, what’s the effect on the book if you remove the prologue entirely? Does the story remain completely unchanged by dropping the prologue, including context and reader engagement? If so, cut that thing. It might be the coolest scene in your mind, but if it doesn’t enhance the story, the reader doesn’t care. Conversely, does your book fail to make any sense or feel like it’s missing major story elements if you pull the prologue? Well, turns out, you don’t have a prologue at all. What you actually have is a first chapter and you need to connect it more directly to the main story. If the events are too removed to fit in the story arc there, find ways to drop the information throughout the narrative (or, if it fits your book, through the dreaded flashback) instead of in a prologue. Or maybe consider if your story starts in the right place.

Why even try?

As disliked as prologues are in the modern publishing world, you may be wondering if it’s even worth trying to write one. Some agents will reject on the prologue alone and those that don’t are extremely critical of prologues. Maybe even more critical of prologues than of first pages.

Absolutely you should write one.

Despite everything I’ve said about the dangers and pitfalls of prologues, I would never tell you not to write one if you think it fits your story. Prologues serve a very specific set of uses and are often misunderstood and misapplied. But in those instances where they are done right, they are absolutely critical to the story. I’m going to use my own work as an example here.

I went back and forth on a prologue several times and had several different drafts of my potential prologues. I queried initially without a prologue. Rewrote to improve flow and queried with a prologue, but got some backlash over my prologue. Pulled the prologue and got significant reader feedback that my opening was too abrupt. I finally settled on the prologue I have because it fits my rule above. The story was complete without it, but my prologue gave readers a chance to explore the political landscape and underlying tensions between a handful of important side characters. It was a short, direct scene that addressed the setup of the story without giving you a full history of the world, or even the recent war. This is the sort of prologue that supports the main narrative without frustrating the reader with world-building details or being so removed that the reader only understands the context several books later.

The same can be said for the Harry Potter prologue (you don’t have to like the books or the author, but the prologue does it’s job: telling you that Harry is important); the Game of Thrones prologue (you, the reader, have knowledge that the characters only learn later, so you feel more tension when Eddard Stark says that White Walkers are myths); the Red Sister prologue (you know from page one that “a nun” has a very different training than in our modern world and that becoming a nun must be dangerous); and many others.

A final, cautionary comment

Many epic/high fantasy authors and epic science fiction authors make a very specific faux pas that is often credited as the reason prologues have a bad name. They use the prologue to info-dump setting or history. I’ve even seen numerous advice web sites describe this as a potential use of a prologue.

Do Not Do This!

Unless you are well-established author with a loyal following of dedicated readers, you will, not get away with this. An agent who sees this in a debut author’s submission will auto-reject (if they even look at a submission with a prologue at all). A reader who picks up your book without knowing you as an author will look at this and skip it–or they might just put the book down. Either way, that prologue isn’t helping and might be hurting. Feel free to add an appendix discussing these things if you think some readers might be interested. Some people will be. But placing it in a prologue has a very, very high likelihood of harming the marketability of your book.

Hand Selling Your Book


Most self-published authors will, at some point, find themselves in a position where they have to physically talk to a potential customer and sell them a copy of their book. This is pretty different for those who only publish e-books versus those who also publish print books, but the core skill is the same. You have to be able to describe your book in a compelling manner.

There are two main locations where you might find yourself directly trying to sell your book to consumers: Conferences and Book Signings. Obviously the latter only applies to people with physical books to sign, but the events are different enough that it’s worth discussing.

As a quick aside, yes, a lot of indie author sales come from e-books and the majority of those are “sold” via discussions online. Many of these skills are less applicable to internet discussion because they involve establishing a rapport with your potential customer. Still, learning how to describe your book can be valuable even for more distanced, online communications.

Conferences

Let me share my anecdotal experience from my recent conference on October 1, 2021 as a example of how to sell your book in person.

I was seated between a 20 year veteran attendee of the conference who had been publishing for a few years and had connections with most conference coordinators (my table-mate) and a woman who was selling a YA portal fantasy with adult crossover that decorated her table with a bunch of pretty cool dragon miniatures. This positioning was great for me. People walking down the hall tended to stop at the dragon minis, discover that the book was YA with crossover potential, and about a third to half the time look around for other interesting things in the area. Or, they would stop at my table-mate’s book, chat with him about his publishing plans and how well he’d been doing at the conference, and then notice my book and ask about it. The pitches are what I want to evaluate, though.

The YA crossover author always opened the same way. “Do you like dragons?” At a science fiction/fantasy convention, that answer was about 90% yes. But then she moved on. “Great. My book is about a boy who must master the magic in his blood and learn to wield his magic sword.” I got that pitch wrong, especially because she had a decent stakes sentence in there and did mention dragons in it, but that’s close. It always led to a similar question. “So this is YA?” And just like that, she’s immediately trying to justify why it’s not only for teenagers. It didn’t help that her series was named “The Dragon’s Children” series or something similar, which hinted to a lot of people that her book starred children. To be clear, She did perfectly well at the conference, and I sat next to her for three days and walked away a bit interested in her book. When I have time to read (probably over the upcoming holidays) I’ll likely buy a copy. If you enjoy YA crossover or are interested in giving it a shot, she had several dedicated readers stop by, as well, and clearly writes a good book. Give it a shot here if it sounds like your thing: Red Dragon’s Keep.

My table-mate had a similar approach. People stopped to check out his table and–in the rare occasion that he didn’t already know them–he had a pitch pre-prepared. “This is the book I’m encouraging people to start with. It’s two master mage, shape-shifting dragons running an interdimensional hotel. It’s the ultimate cross-genre book. A little bit of everything.” Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear “this book has a little bit of everything,” I immediately ask myself what it’s really about. A disjointed book held together by common setting has to be really good to work. That pitch worked on some of the people walking by, and some of the people already knew about him and were looking to buy his book. But a lot of others immediately asked about his other books. Those were collections of short stories, some independent of his trilogy but some about the same dragons going on vacation (“Sometimes the dragons take a vacation, and find other, well-known tropes but react very differently from what we’d expect. Master mage dragons don’t view a zombie apocalypse the same way, you know!”). Again, as with the author on the other side, he had a fan base and after talking with him for several days the book does, actually, sound interesting. Here’s the link if you’re interested: A Day at Georgie and Armand’s Place. But his pitch, similar to the YA crossover pitch, tried to include everyone.

This is a great starting point for talking about your book. I quickly learned to have a short verbal pitch that I could rattle off, along with a hook that could connect with my audience. For me: “I have a political epic fantasy about a king trying to bring peace after a civil war when his countrymen think he’s a traitor while a reluctant thief is manipulated into stirring up rebellion. Some early readers said it’s Game of Thrones-ish, but I insist I’m nowhere near that dark!” Almost always I was able to start a conversation about what the reader looks for in a book, even if they didn’t know that’s what they were telling me. “So you’re not going to build up an amazing character for me to love just so you can kill them off?” Ah. This reader wants to connect with their characters and ride the entire story with them. My kind of reader. And from that I can discuss the elements of the book that I think they’ll enjoy. I had one possible buyer who hesitated over my description of the book as “political epic fantasy.” He said he wasn’t sure he could handle more politics after the events of the recent election. I agreed, telling him that was understandable, and made no effort to convince him to buy even though he was obviously interested. Why? Because he wasn’t in the right mindset to enjoy the book and selling the book to someone who was going to be frustrated by it wasn’t going to help either of us. The authors on either side of me probably would have tried to push the sale. I’m happy that he was drawn to the book despite being unsure about the politics. He’ll be a reader or he won’t, but he definitely won’t be someone who read the book when he was unsure and disliked it because he wasn’t ready for it.

I ended up outselling my table-mate at this conference. Admittedly, I only outsold him by two books, and we both had a good weekend, so I don’t think his strategy wasn’t working. It clearly was. But mine, improvised off the activity I saw around me, worked just as well. I think we were all surprised by that.

Book Signings

A signing is a different world from a conference. At a book signing, you’re trying to get a group of people gathered, talking about your book to draw in other potential readers. If you can get some personal friends to show up and get that started, all the better. This worked for me. A few people I knew from work and/or writing groups showed up early in the signing, which resulted in a couple other people in the store stopping by to check out the event. At the end, I left 7 copies out of 20 the store ordered on their shelves (hint, if you live in the Colorado Springs area, the Barnes and Noble on Briargate still has a few copies of my signed book in store). But the way I manages that was actually not about bringing my friends in, though that helped.

After my initial crowd died down, the store manager stopped by and talked to me about successful and unsuccessful signings she’d seen in the past. The best author she’s ever had, she told me, is a mystery author who drives up from a nearby town to do signings there. He stands in the doorway, greets everyone, asks what they read, and directs them to his table if he thinks he can get them to give his latest book a shot. I don’t recall the exact number, but she told me he sells tons of books for them every signing. I think it was 70 or 80 books a signing.

I admit that I didn’t have that confidence. I got up, I stood by the door, and I greeted customers. But I didn’t try to strike up a conversation with them. I just offered them a free bookmark and if they paused and looked interested, I tried to catch their attention. Most of the bookmarks I handed out didn’t get me any additional attention. How many of those customers would have paid attention, maybe even bought a book, if I’d been more engaging? Probably more than a couple. But it’s hard standing in a store that you are not affiliated with and trying to convince their customers to care about you. If you piss those customers off, the store might not invite you back. But if you don’t sell enough books, the store also won’t invite you back. So where’s the balance?

Having been through it and comparing to my conference experience, here’s my advice. First, find the simple pitch that you can say while offering a handout. For my book, I should have said “Would you like a bookmark for my political epic fantasy novel?” And I definitely should have approached a couple people and said “Hey, I notice you’re buying (George R.R. Martin/Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson). Would you like to hear about my new epic fantasy novel?” But the manager was right. Sitting behind the table does nothing but scare people away. I sometimes just walked away (in visual range but far enough that I wasn’t lurking by the table) and watched people stop to take a look. Sometimes those were the same people who had specifically avoided coming near the table when I was nearby or sitting there.

So, how do you talk about your book at a signing? By engaging with other content they want to read as authentically as possible. This has a lot of similarities with conference discussions, but it is not the same. In a book store signing, you have to convince potential readers to look at your table at all, because they’ll tend to avoid a place where a person is waiting to talk to them. At a conference, the readers stop by the table because they want to talk to the authors. Know where you’re selling, and know what the consumers there are looking for. That’s the key to getting people to give your book a shot.

Arcana Hydrogista


Caryllie Shaw frowned, her hand trembling over the bucket of water on the table beside her and her nail-beds aching in the dry heat. One dip and her magic would burst free. She could feel the pressure as a writhing creature under her skin, its desires fighting her own. The dry skin of her fingers throbbed as she clenched and relaxed each hand. Just the right pressure along the edge of her index finger and blood would flow from the cracks that had formed in her skin. The council would be forced to pull her from the front.

“Dammit, Caryllie, do something.” Llyr Moreno grunted as he dropped another bucket of water beside her, splashing her thick, leather hiking boots with the liquid. “I’ve got plenty of materials for more water, but I’m running out of space to store it.”

A chorus of quick, snapping noises drifted from across Centennial Boulevard, followed by a loud pop as a burst of sparks flew into the air. Cary looked up, scanning the area.The roads had long been evacuated, but the raging forest fire crept closer to the boundary. Anyone else would have needed full fire gear with masks and still would have been forced further from the edge of the fire. But Cary and Llyr stood protected behind a wall of aerogystas, each pouring their very selves into the effort to blow the heat back and away from where Llyr and Cary worked.

“We should go, Llyr,” Caryllie said, dipping a hesitant finger into the water. Still warm from Llyr’s magic forcing it to convert from separate gasses into liquid. She glanced back, at the distant forms of vehicles approaching their location. “If the firefighters see us here—”

“They bloody won’t if you do your job.” He waved at the growing flames. “You’re the only hydrogista in a hundred miles. Get this water onto those flames or we won’t have homes to go back to.”

As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. Centennial was a large enough road it would stop most fires from tearing through the city, but this monstrosity was no ordinary fire. It grew with a speed that seemed almost supernatural, even in the parched land west of Colorado Springs on a particularly dry summer. Wind blew into her face, pulling loose strands of brown hair away from Cary’s face. And sending the sparks drifting toward the untouched greenery of Ute Valley Park.

Cary dipped another finger into the water, sending a stream out of the bucket to douse the sparks before they found purchase. But that small stream was all she could manage with her hand still clear of the water. Proper control required full contact, her hand fully submerged and becoming one with the liquid, imparting her will on the foreign substance. A tactic she didn’t dare risk. Instead, she sent another stream into the heart of the fire, cooling a flare into a burst of heat. Uncomfortable, but not a risk of breaking free. Yet. Another stream pushed the flames back from the far side, where the fire had been creeping toward the elementary school to the south. A minor shift, but enough to keep the fire moving away from the school. Firefighters had already fought for Chipeta Elementary, further south and west, the night before. Cary shifted her stance, dipping the fingertips of her other hand into the water, as well. Stream after stream, like water guns, soaked fresh fuel and cooled the edge of the flame. Not enough. Like fighting a tidal wave with sand bags. Each shot slowed the fire less as the heat burned away any moisture before she could get a second blast in.

To her left, one of the aerogystas wavered. A blast of heat swept past, tearing the breath from Cary’s throat. Llyr, beside her, gasped in shock and collapsed on the ground, sweat dripping from his face. Cary’s body would take several more minutes to realize the danger and start producing sweat, and those minutes would likely be too long. Heat exhaustion would quickly drain her of any ability to manipulate the water and might leave her unconscious. Her fingers sank further into the water, the edge just below the damaged skin on her fingers, and she splashed the water closer. First on herself, drenching her clothes from top to bottom in controlled bursts. Then the aerogysta, who was far too close to danger to wait. Several splashes and the woman rose, nodding in thanks as she applied herself to the task once more. And finally, Llyr.

Llyr stood when she was done, fixed her with a damp glare. “You’re holding back. This isn’t practice.”

“My skin’s too dry,” she replied. “If I go deeper, I might bleed.”

He cursed. “I can’t allow blood work in my region.” Llyr glanced up at the still raging fire, creeping ever closer. “But that thing isn’t slowing down. Can you use gloves?”

Cary shook her head. “I need to connect. It’s not like air work. It’s not inside me already.”

A series of shouts sounded from behind her and sirens blared over the roar of the blaze. She’d waited too long and they’d been spotted. The firefighters would be there any minute. How many of their lives would her hesitation cost?

“Do it, Cary.”

Llyr turned away, running toward the far side of the park where a half dozen officials were waving at them. He could stall them, but only for a few moments. Hold this fire back now or lose the town.

For an instant she was paralyzed. Dip her hand into the water when she knew the aching dryness like an old, long-despised acquaintance? If she bled into the water as she used it, her soul would be bound to this place forever. Any other home would feel empty, devoid of the life she’d built and savored here. Llyr couldn’t be asking her to sacrifice her freedom for the whims of the arcane council. But if she didn’t, the entire town would burn.

Drawing in a deep breath, Cary dipped her hands deeper into the water. At first, the moisture seemed to soften her too-dry skin, soothing the ache of broken skin. She smiled, narrowing her eyes as her hand clenched in triumph and the water from all the buckets Llyr had filled leapt to her command. Then the pain started. First in her fingers, where the cracks had been in her skin, then growing and radiating further. The pulsing sting arced through every muscle. Her body throbbed in time with her heart, the essence of the ground beneath her suddenly an extension of her pain. She could almost feel the heat of the fire drying the trees, the needles screaming as they burst into flame. Cary stared at the water that streamed from her closed fist, sending a torrent toward the sparks that drifted across the road. A thin, nearly invisible line of red wound through the liquid, threading its way out of a deep crack in her skin. She was bound now, for better or worse. This land was hers, and she would allow no harm to it.

“No.” Llyr’s voice was a distant plea from across the park. “Cary, what are you doing? Stay here!”

The dry ground crunched under the heels of her boots. This land was hers.

Wake of the Phoenix Updates: Events, Pricing, and Audiobooks


Due to some family events I am unable to release my usual post today, but I want to take a few minutes to share some updates anyway.

First, the conference was a success! It was great getting a chance to meet readers and talk about my book with them, and several people were interested in Wake of the Phoenix and purchased a copy. I’m very excited to continue attending conferences and meeting readers in the future.

Second, I want to send a special thank you to everyone who was able to attend my book signing and an extra virtual hug to those who wanted to and couldn’t make it. The store was very happy with the event, leading to an opportunity to schedule a second signing event, this time in Tallahassee, Florida. Negotiations are still under way for that timing, but I’ll release the information as soon as I have confirmation.

Third, I have begun production on an audiobook. This is still in initial stages, but it looks promising and the rough estimate so far is to have an audiobook release in December, 2021. That is very exciting. I can’t wait to share that format with everyone. The narrator is extremely talented and I think really adds a lot to the book for those who prefer an auditory format.

Finally, in unfortunate news, the recent difficulties in shipping and paper shortages have caused my printer, Ingram Spark, to raise the cost of production on physical books. That means that I will be forced to raise prices on paperback copies of my novel at the beginning of November. I am trying to determine the least amount I can raise the cost to offset the increased cost of printing, but due to the nature of self-published novels, it’s more complicated than I’d hoped. This change won’t affect the cost of the e-book or audiobook, since those formats don’t rely on the same production and distribution channels.

This week’s intended blog post should be released this weekend, and I’ll plan to be back on a regular schedule next Tuesday.