Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Bookish Owl - Guest Post

I've just been featured on book blog "The Bookish Owl"! Now this isn't a blatant self-promotion; it's a brief article on how to write good characters. Hopefully this helps some aspiring writers out there.

Check out the guest post here! And be sure to take a look at some of the other posts too. A bunch of indie authors have been featured recently, and they've got plenty of interesting things to say.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kydona topping lists on Amazon!

An interesting and gratifying realization for me today when I logged into Amazon: Kydona is the #1 free book in both Epic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery!

Now the second sub-genre is a little odd because Kydona has no sorcery in it. Unfortunately Amazon offers authors no control over sub-genres, so I'll just have to hope that the lack of magic doesn't disappoint any of my new readers.

A little more info on the rankings:
#99 Free in the Kindle Store
#5 Fantasy
#1 Epic Fantasy
#1 Sword & Sorcery

Just yesterday, Kydona was the #70 Epic Fantasy and steadily climbing, but I never expected this kind of jump. I have no ongoing promotions and haven't been able to find any recent reviews on popular blogs, so I'll have to conclude that KDP Select is the reason for the sudden popularity. I believe the book found its way onto the Kindle Sci-Fi & Fantasy front page at some point, and the flashy new cover garnered a lot of clicks.

I'll be keeping an eye on this of course, but at this point, I'm awfully glad I signed up for KDP Select! And let me take this time to direct you again to my cover artist, Sam Carr!

[Edit] There have been exactly 1,538 downloads in the past week, most of them in the last 12 hours!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Kydona now enrolled in KDP Select

I've just given Amazon exclusive rights to the first book of Kydona! After much debate and research, I decided that the temporary loss in readership via other outlets is worth the potential boost on Amazon, which is the source of 75% of the book's downloads.

The ebook is still available for free, but not much longer! If you haven't already, jump on Amazon and grab your copy before the price gets bumped!

For those who miss the boat, I anticipate holding a giveaway in a couple of months.

Please spread the word, and thanks everyone for your support!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Hugs Project

Fellow indie author Wanda S. Paryla is asking for additional support for The Hugs Project, an organization dedicated to sending care packages to soldiers serving overseas. She's written a beautiful piece on the mindset behind the project. Please visit her page. It's well worth your time.

I want to add that, as an Army officer serving in Afghanistan, ventures such as this really do help soldiers. Anyone who's read a war novel knows that one of the biggest morale boosters for a soldier is hearing his name during mail call. Words really can't describe the feverish glee that crosses my soldiers' faces as they tear open their letters or packages, even if they don't recognize the name on the return address. And the biggest morale killer is the feeling that the people back home have forgotten you. So please, if you can, help America's uniformed men and women finish the war in Afghanistan strong. Support them right up to the end.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Some thoughts on ebook giveaways

Bloggers frequently bill giveaways as an ideal method of garnering reviews, and by extension, gaining exposure for your book. Give away your book, get a review in lieu of payment. This made perfect sense to me. Although I don't fully understand the ranking system on Amazon, Smashwords and other sites, I assumed that more reviews (particularly good reviews) would give Kydona a better shot of showing up on search results.

Since releasing the first book on April 4, I've participated in 2 book giveaways on LibraryThing and Goodreads. It's been a bittersweet experience. What have I learned?

Well, first of all, I think I'll be avoiding LibraryThing, contrary to my advice in a previous post. Although I gave away 85 copies of Kydona, I've yet to see significant returns. A month-and-a-half after sending out free copies, 10 recipients have reviewed the book. And I'm sorry to say that these reviews were either 1 or 5 star--literally no middle ratings. I'm unsure why this is the case for LibraryThing in particular. But the community there seems to be very critical, even judgmental. In fact, most of the 1-star reviews weren't reviews at all--just ratings without any substantiation.

On Goodreads, the results have been more heartening. A group there, Indie and Proud, is hosting a giveaway that remains ongoing. I've sent out approximately 200 copies of the book under their program. That's quite a reception, and already, I've received 25 ratings. These ones have thankfully been much, much more helpful. The majority are 3 star reviews, with a smattering of higher and lower ones, though no participants have seen fit to give me a 5 star review just yet. I don't mind this. Reading each review, I've been able to glean a lot of useful information that will definitely improve my writing. Goodreads giveaways are a helpful learning experience.

It may seem like I'm making an early conclusion, but I'm seeing trends from each group of recipients, and I don't expect those trends to change.

Kydona's rating on both these sites is comparatively low, hovering between 2 and 3 stars. Yet on Smashwords and Amazon the ratings are 4.13 and 3.70 respectively. So why is this the case?

Primarily, 1 star ratings. Not reviews, but ratings. My book isn't for everyone; I understand and accept that (and my next post will focus on that topic). I think the content put some people off to the point that they simply dropped the book partway through, and Goodreads gave them the opportunity to punch in a 1 star rating with no review necessary. It's remarkably easy to rate a book and move on. Put an extra step in that process, and people are much less likely to commit. Booksellers require ratings to be accompanied by reviews, however short. If the case was otherwise, I'm certain that my ratings would be lower across the board. If a few people disliked Kydona enough to leave a poor rating, then I assume there are others who feel the same, except that they didn't bother to review. They simply dropped the book and moved on to the next one.

So in short, here's the main lesson I've learned from giveaways:

If you give away your book in exchange for an honest review, you're going to get exactly that. You're going to get criticized. If someone downloads your free book of their own volition and they don't enjoy it, they'll simply move on.

So, if you want glowing ratings, just write a quality story and don't give it away.

If you want to grow as an author, give your book away, and brace yourself for the consequences.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Q&A and Author Spotlight on Free eBooks Daily

Free eBooks Daily, an indie book blog, was nice enough to feature Kydona on its front page today, along with an Author Spotlight and 10 Fun & Random Facts about me.

Check it out! And while you're at it, browse the site a bit to discover some other good indie reads.

On the personal front, we're winding down here in Afghanistan, getting ready for our replacements to arrive. It's an exciting if busy time. My soldiers and I are packing shipping containers, writing down our SOPs for our replacements' benefit, knocking out our daily duties, and of course, making a last frantic bid to get in shape before we get back to the real world.

However, I've found time to write bits of my next sequel, Dreadnought. Without giving too much away, this story will be told from not one, but two very different points of view. A hint: you were introduced to the first protagonist at the end of From Ashes. And another: thanks to the second protagonist, you're in for some laughs.

The story is planned and the ending is written. Now to steadily pick away at the rest.

Friday, May 31, 2013

From Ashes is released!

Happy June 1, everyone. Kydona: From Ashes is officially released!

I've also uploaded a new edition of Kydona (Book 1). Give it a look! It's still available for free on all major online retailers.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a preview, so here goes...

The night was peaceful as the king’s army slept. No cricket chirps, no rustling wind. Just the sound of his tent mate’s gentle breathing, and then, just above that… the sound of distant shouts. A horse had gotten loose, probably. The full moon always made beasts behave oddly, after all.

But there were more shouts joining in. Even at this distance, Marcus could hear the alarmed tones.

A trumpet sounded—a long, dolorous howl drifting over the camp. Again. By the third report, Marcus and Vernon were sitting bolt upright. More trumpets quickly joined the first, all blowing that same drawn out note. Even if the Watch hadn’t drilled it into his head already, Marcus would have known what the trumpets were saying.

“Arms!” he shouted, as everyone else was too. He wrenched off his blanket and launched himself out of the tent, grabbing his cuirass as he went. All around him, his brothers were doing the same. They scrambled from their canvas shelters, half-dressed and tousle-haired, each with that same wild look in his eyes.

“Arms! Arms! Arms!” the entire camp was screaming at the tops of their lungs, as if no one knew, and just like that, the men were throwing on their armor as fast as they could, cutting their fingers and scraping their faces on the bands of steel, cursing at the pain. Marcus cinched his sword belt on so tight he nearly pissed himself.

“Come on, Vernon!” he bellowed in the din. He wound his arm through his shield straps and hefted a spear. He glanced back. “Vernon!”

“I’m doing my bloody best!” Vernon yelled, his cuirass on backwards. Swearing, he took up his weapons and clambered after Marcus barefoot.

A deluge of men hurried along the avenues, the clanking of their hurriedly-donned armor merely adding to the cacophony. Some tripped over their scabbards or the butts of their spears, but the ones beside them grabbed them under the armpits and hauled them upright again. Marcus saw Sergeant Carpenter standing atop a wagon waving his sword toward the perimeter. “The walls! Find your spots! This is it! Ivan is here!”

The fright in the air was palpable as the soldiers made for the walls. Every expression was strained. Their breathing was agitated. No panic though. The Watch had drilled that out of them. Most were too frightened for their minds to operate on any higher level, but their legs knew where to carry them. So they moved—a flow of steel-encased humanity that were trained like dogs and herded like cattle for one excruciatingly simple reason: to kill their opposite number.

Above the bouncing helmets, Marcus saw the ramparts rising up ahead. There were men lining the top already, their spears angled forward, waiting for a charge that hadn’t yet materialized. A courier wheeled his horse back and forth in search of whoever was in charge. Overhead, flights of burning arrows went arcing into the sky, streaks of orange cutting into the black of night.

Marcus spied his company standard and moved toward it. His boots dug furrows into the earthen walls as he clambered up to his assigned position, shouldering his way through the second line. Steel rustled, men parted, and he got his first look beyond the wall.

Despite the full moon, there was little to be seen. The steppe was a sheet of dull purple. A couple hundred yards distant were small patches of burning grass that the arrows had lit, illuminating a broad band of ground. Beyond that, nothing.

“Maybe it’s a false alarm,” Hamo postured over the blaring trumpets, his youthful face full of desperate hope.

A lone horseman emerged from the darkness.

He was a strange and fearsome sight. He rode a gigantic black stallion with a shaggy mane and long, muscular legs, its body draped with sheets of studded leather. The rider himself wore full a suit of fine-linked mail. His greaves and vest were formed of interlinked square plates, all lusterless black. His helmet was dome-shaped, wrought of bronze and peaking sharply at the top. On his back was a shield shaped like an inverted tear drop, and the blade in his hand tapped impatiently at one stirrup as he wheeled his stallion around, considering his massed enemy.

The bogatyr raised his sword high, and he bellowed, “Za rodinu! Za Nadiya!

ZA RODINU!” came the roar of innumerable voices. And all at once, the bogatyr came hurtling into the light.

What a sight they made. The elite of Kydona were a wall of armor and horseflesh a quarter of a mile wide—a thousand yards of thrashing hooves and snarling faces. Weapons of all kinds were belted to their saddles and sheathed at their waists. There were bows in their hands, arrows already nocked.

At some unseen cue, their line split in half and broke apart, curling on itself. Marcus watched, mesmerized, as the bogatyr’s charge transformed into two giant, galloping circles.

“Arrows!” Carpenter bellowed over the pounding of hooves. “Turtle up!”

The men quickly obeyed. Marcus sank to one knee, slamming the tip of his shield into the earth. Simultaneously, he felt the men behind shuffle close. The sky disappeared as they angled their own shields upward. The battle line became a barrier of interlocked steel—wall and ceiling both.

The sergeant’s order came just in time. Marcus felt his shield jar against his shoulder as if someone had given it a solid kick. Curiosity got the better of him; he peeked over the rim. He caught only a glimpse of the scene—twin roiling masses of black-armored cavalrymen riding in great arcs beyond the trench, steering with only their knees, unleashing arrow after arrow into the night sky. His shield gave another thud, and he dropped his head.

Back in the shelter, the anxiety was a palpable thing. Eyes were wide beneath helmets, teeth gritted. He could hear excited pants behind him.

“Vernon? That you?”

“Aye! That you?” his friend squeaked.

Marcus was about to reply, but then he felt Vernon flinch. “Fuuuuck! Mate there’s a fucking arrow sticking in the ground half an inch from your ass—”

“Move your shield closer to it then you selfish cock!”

“No way in hell!” bawled Vernon. “I need it more!”

But arrows were finding gaps elsewhere too. Just over the thunderous hoof beats and the metallic thuds, the first screams could be heard. Glancing back, Marcus saw two archers struggling to hold down a third one, who thrashed on the ground with a shaft protruding from his throat. Blood flowed freely, squirting with each pulse. Having seen all he cared to, Marcus looked away. With the arrows pattering against shields like rain, he wondered how long anyone could survive outside the shield wall.

But a lone, metal-tinged voice was shouting above the din, “His coming shall be a whisper, but yea, with his coming shall sound peals of thunder!” Chaplain Stallings strode along the rampart, his black armor gleaming in the moonlight, his mace clenched in one hand and cat-o’-nine in the other, paying no heed to the arrows sinking into the earth about his ankles.

“They shall hearken to his call, those righteous men! From the four horizons shall they come, and prostrate themselves before him—Ancel, the lord come again, wrath incarnate!”

Men gaped at him between the cracks in their shields. “He’s bloody mad!” Rich cried. None of them doubted the truth of it. Yet the chaplain's armor didn’t have a scratch on it.

The bronze skull helm turned Marcus’s way. “Rejoice his coming, you righteous!” No sooner had the words left his mouth than the chaplain stumbled. The men groaned in dismay. But Stallings steadied himself. His gauntlet closed around the arrow lodged in his breastplate, then plucked it free. Growling, the chaplain snapped the head off the shaft and tossed the thing away with contempt.

“And you wicked,” he roared at the stampeding Kydonians, “tremble!”

They all cheered him at that—a poor display coming from a group hunched behind their shields, but still.

“Come on and fight, you bastards!” Jorel shouted. Soon the whole line was hooting and whistling in derision, egging the bogatyr on. And yet the enemy kept on circling, and the Watch stayed firmly behind their cover.

For what seemed like an hour, the two sides exchanged salvoes of arrows. Here and there an Elessian cried out and fell, pierced through. Out in the field, the archers found occasional victims. Horses tumbled earthward, throwing their riders or crushing them. But always, the bogatyr closed ranks, and their flow continued unabated.

Then, just as Marcus became convinced that it would never end, a deep war horn blew. The Kydonian horsemen reined their horses around, threw their bows around their shoulders, drew their swords—and all once came charging straight at them.

“Spears!” Captain Rowley was behind the line somewhere. His trumpeter blew the corresponding set of notes, and the company obeyed. The whole line rippled as the chevaliers stood, lifting their spears out of the dirt. Legs braced. Row upon row of spearheads dropped horizontal, points glittering with menace.

Chaplain Stallings reared his head back and rejoiced to the heavens, “Lord Ancel! Watch your sons!”

The hooves were pounding closer, thunderous—or was that Marcus’s heart?

“Hasten to us the foe, o’ lord!”

The wave rolled over the pathetic fires the archers had set, stamping them into nothingness.

“That we may meet him, with steel in our fists!”

All around Marcus, soldiers panted with agitated excitement and barely-suppressed fear.

“With praise on our lips!”

The stampede was thirty yards away now. Marcus could see the horses’ rolling eyes, the riders’ snarls.

“With fire in our hearts!”

“For Ancel!” they all cried—spear tips pointed, aligned, and quivering.

In the handful of seconds he had left, Marcus tried to remember. These were the moments were epiphanies were supposed to strike, where his life was to flash before his eyes… his blissful childhood that memory couldn’t reach… the few tender moments he had shared with his father… the many he had known with his mother, only never recognized… his first ride with Breggo, getting drunk with Vernon… Kaelyn, Jacquelyn. And they did pass through his mind, albeit so fleetingly he had no time to grasp them. Just like that, they were gone.

He could only watch, paralyzed, as the bogatyr did away with the final yards between them. This close, he could see the gleaming chestnut coat of the horse charging him. The rider atop it wasn’t much older than him. His features were plain, unremarkable except for the eyes—clear blue.

The pike he held was aimed straight for Marcus’s heart.