Chris Kellen’s #RoadToWorldCon2014: The Countdown


According to the countdown widget on my HTC One, 111 days remain before the start of WorldCon 2014/LonCon3.

The picture above is the London ExCeL Centre, the venue for this upcoming gathering of authors, fans and media personalities from around the world.

In 111 days, I will be there.

I’ve never traveled overseas before. That’s not to say that I’ve never done any traveling at all–I’ve been on a longer plane ride, even, than the one which will carry me to London. (12 hours on a plane is nothing to sneeze at, but Oahu was totally worth it.) Even then, though, the culture was nowhere near as different as it will be when I leave this summer.

Culturally speaking, the farthest I’ve ever been from home was a trip I took sponsored by my high school to Québec City, way back more than ten years ago. The memories I have from Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Notre Dame de Québec, a boat on the waterfront, a small café where I had a giant croissant and a bowl of hot chocolate for breakfast are some of my most treasured ones. Ten years on, those images are more like still-life paintings than the photos or videos that they used to be, but I will never forget them.

All my life I’ve had a travel bug, but rarely the means to swat it. My mother grew up a military brat, and she was born in Honolulu, lived in Germany at Rammstein Air Force Base, in the Philippines, and she talked about these places from the earliest days of my memory, filling my head with wondrous images of Neuschwanstein Castle, the pink hospital in Honolulu where she was born (which I actually saw when I went there… it’s still there, sitting on the hillside, you can see it from the highway), the veritable fortress surrounded by walls topped with razor wire and broken glass that they lived in when in the Philippines–because at the time Americans weren’t exactly welcome–where one day it rained on one side of the house, snowed on another, while the sun shone merrily out a third window.

These are the pictures I grew up with.

As I got older, and began to truly understand who I am, I knew the kinds of journeys I wanted to take. Many people going to London would be excited by the nightlife, the glitz and glamour, the high-powered shipping… but not me. For me, history is where the wonder is. It’s one of the most frustrating things about living in America for a mind like mine–Americans think that a hundred-year-old building is full of history. I think the great Eddie Izzard put it most succinctly when he sarcastically quipped, in a tone full of false wonder:

We’ve restored this building to how it looked over fifty years ago…

Bah. No sense of time, my fellow Americans.

I’d be most at home in the countryside, as far away from the lights and sound of the city as I could get. My wonder, my joy lies in dreaming of seeing how people live day to day surrounded by so much depth of history. That’s not going to happen this time, but I found a few ways to get a little bit closer.

While researching this trip, I found that most of the best fares to get from Boston to London flew Aer Lingus, with stopovers in Dublin on the way there and the way back. Thanks to a happy confluence of events, I suddenly had the means to pay some extra for a direct flight, but then I had a brainstorm.


The question occurred to me like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky, if you’ll pardon the cliché. Why spend extra on a direct flight and skip a second destination?

Why not use that same money, instead, to make the trip longer?

I could stay a couple of extra days in London, but remember what I said above? When you get down to it, a city’s a city, no matter what. If I’m going through Dublin anyway, why not fulfill a second dream while I’m at it, and spend a couple of days in Ireland?

Okay, but Dublin’s still a city. (I have a friend who’s from Ireland, and she says this all the time.) The only thing different from Boston to Dublin is that the Irish accent’s a little stronger. (I kid.) So how do I get out of the city and see the real Ireland?

So, now my itinerary looks like this:

  • Fly overnight from Boston into Dublin, Ireland.
  • Catch a train from Dublin to Kilkenny (this is where my Irish friend is from)
  • Stay two nights in Kilkenny, soak in as much as possible
  • back to Dublin
  • Fly to London Heathrow
  • Stay 5 nights in London, attending #LonCon3 and seeking the history in the ancient city whenever I have a spare moment
  • Somewhere in here I plan to take a Stonehenge/Bath tour. I mean, come on. How could I not?
  • Take a train south to Crawley, UK
  • Stay two nights in Crawley
  • (Hopefully) Catch a show in Crawley at the Hawth Theatre
  • Fly out of London Gatwick
  • Stopover in Dublin
  • Home at last

Wow. Looking at that is a little daunting, actually. Am I crazy? Maybe.

I’m no travel blogger, but I follow a couple, and I’m using some of their tips and tricks to make this trip a reality. I’ve got a travel credit card whose reward points are instrumental in bringing this journey to life. (It’s a Barclaycard Arrival, for anyone who’s wondering. Great terms, a friendly website, and 40000 bonus points [that’s $400] just for using it reasonably in the first couple of months. I heard about it from NerdWallet.) I’m not staying AT the ExCeL Centre, because that would be crazy and I’m not made of money. Instead, I found a very reasonable hotel just on the south side of the Thames from the ExCeL, which happens to be right near a ferry that hops across, and it’s less than half the price per night. Sure that makes for a little commute to the convention, but IT’S LONDON. It’s not like I’m stuck traveling through someplace boring, right?

With these little tricks, and being willing to compromise only slightly on my proximity to key locations, I’m making real what has literally been a lifelong dream for me.

I’m going to London. And Ireland. I’m going to forge new memories to keep and treasure for the rest of my life.

111 days until #LonCon3 begins. 107 days until I set out on what I hope will quite seriously be the experience of a lifetime.

Are you going to #LonCon3? If you (or someone you know) will be there, drop me a line at eisengoth (at) gmail (dot) com and maybe we can put together a posse!

Jeff Carlson’s Adventures In Self-Publishing: What I’ve Learned So Far

Jeff Carlson is the author of Plague YearPlague War (a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award), and Plague Zone. To date, his work has been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in a number of top venues such as Asimov’sBoys’ LifeStrange Horizons and the Fast Forward 2 anthology. His latest book,The Frozen Sky, is available in paperback and as an eBook.

This post originally appeared at SFSignal (10/15/2012)

Self-publishing is five jobs and a half.  By comparison, writing the book was easy. It was also waaaaay more enjoyable.

I like writing.  That’s why I’m a writer.  But when you publish alone, you’re not really alone unless you’re a fantastically talented jack of all trades.  My strength, I hope, is in storytelling.  I liked to draw when I was a kid, but I hardly qualify as a professional artist.

Many people say cover art doesn’t matter for ebooks.  For the original short story of The Frozen Sky, it’s true that I used a simple placeholder designed by a super fan named Ben Metzler.  He created it for sheer love of the story after hearing the podcast by Amy H. Sturgis on Starshipsofa.  Then he emailed his artwork to me as thanks.  Thanking him for thanking me, I wrote Metzler into the novel as a squat, ugly, quick-tempered genius who’ll find himself eviscerated by a Europan ice monster.  Such is life in a Jeff Carlson novel.

His jet black cover was stark and effective for a 99 cent short story.  For the novel, I went old school.  People do judge a book by its cover.  Especially for dead tree editions, I believe it’s critical to have evocative, mood-influencing artwork, so I hired the talents of Jacob Charles Dietz.  I’m a starving writer.  I realize some of my brethren would squawk at forking out $500.00 for a schnazzy cover when a cheap-o slap-it-down file from PhotoShop will suffice… but does it really?

When the sentient raccoons rule the world in 3303 A.D. and discover your ebook among the toxic ruins of our civilization (after which they’ll power up our Nooks and Kindles with their zero point clean energy beams), don’t you want them to chirp and bark in amazement at your artwork (chirping and barking being the raccoon equivalent of oohing and aahing)?

Meanwhile, I don’t convert my manuscripts myself.  Yes, I know, I should be able to learn to do this for free on Calibre, but I don’t have the patience for it, partly because The Frozen Sky is salted with interior illustrations, maps, and org charts.  Again, my strength is writing the book.  I want to invest my time writing, not flailing around with computer programs.

I dropped another $500.00 in total on print-ready files, e-conversions, KindleNookKobo, and Paperbackfiles, and last minute changes as I crawled up and down my own personal learning curve.  For example, on the front sales pages I dropped the ball by listing David Marusek’s blurb as:

“Nothing short of amazing.”
–David Marusek, Tiptree Award-winning author of The Wedding Album

David Marusek has never been nominated for a Tiptree.  But for Pete’s sake,  the guy’s been shortlisted for so many awards, it’s no wonder I was bewildered.  If he would stop writing such mind-bending stories, I would stop being dazzled.  I’m in the process of replacing all print and ebook editions with the correct attribution: Sturgeon Award-winning author of The Wedding Album.  At the moment, those collector’s item goofball editions are still on sale.

Back to the topic at hand.

For bookkeeping purposes, I also attribute $250.00 specifically to upgrades to my web site for The Frozen Sky.  Developing my site is another chore I partially hire out because I’m not a programmer or a graphic artist.

Total costs for the new Frozen Sky: $1250.00.

Then I earned this money back in the first 10 days after it went on sale.  Kindle, Nook, and Kobo split another $900.00 for allowing me to use their platforms.  Chump change, right?  Making $1,250.00 in 10 days would be an abysmal failure for a traditionally published novel.

Plague Year sold 15,000+ copies in its first week.  I don’t mean it shipped 15,000 copies.  Penguin distributed a truckload more than that.  I mean actual receipts in hand exceeded 15,000 copies sold, and 15,000 is a small number indeed compared to the heydey of paperbacks long before I got into the game, much less the numbers of current New York Times blockbusters like Grisham or King.

Nevertheless, as a debut mass market genre original, 15,000 copies sold in seven days popped some eyeballs in New York.  Plague Year immediately went to a second printing to keep up with demand.  Today,Plague Year is in its eighth edition and has sold (not shipped, been returned, or lost in the magical world of reserves against returns) nearly 40,000 copies in North America.  That’s a nice set of legs.

Self-publishing is a different business model.  You know the drill.  No rent, no utilities, no editorial staff, no sales staff, no publicists, no marketing costs, no print costs, no warehousing, no shipping, no kickbacks for front-of-store placement.  It’s Day 10 and I’m in the black.  This ignores the reality that I spent the better part of a year writing, editing, and polishing the book (which I would also do with a traditionally published novel), but I’m in the black.

My track record with the original short story is exactly what I’d like to repeat, ideally in a tighter time frame.

During its first three months, the original story sold less than 500 copies.  “Eh,” I thought.  “So much for self-publishing.”  Then it found its audience.  Word of mouth reached critical mass.  The story took off.  With the novel, my biggest hurdles have been my own impatience and the myriad tasks of updating my web site, uploading and proofing e-files on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo, proofing and sending pdf files to the printer, and checking and uploading audio files to

One thing I’ve learned is it’s impossible to release a book simultaneously across all platforms in all formats when self-publishing.  Each e-store has it own requirements and delays. has a five week wait before it lists print titles.  Five weeks!  I can only jump through so many hoops at a time with a time machine.  Organizing every little piece of the puzzle is what I hate most about the experience.  Finally, most of my torpedoes are in the water.  Very soon I’ll be back at my next manuscript instead loading, arming, aiming, and firing.

The Frozen Sky is available on Nook, but for now print copies can only be found on Amazon and in select independent book stores.  As yet, it’s also unavailable on iTunes because while you can access your iTunes account from a PC, you can only add new material from a Mac.  I ain’t got one.  Two friends who live nearby are Macky Men.  They’ve allowed me to use their über–cool machines in the past.  Now their schedules haven’t matched up with mine, and I can’t ask them to quit their jobs and sell their families in order to make time for me.  I mean, I did ask, but they said no.  iTunes likely has to a wait another week or more. has also proven a small minefield.  Next week we hope to release the audiobook at last?

Thus go my adventures in self-publishing.

I also need to point out a mistake in my previous guest blog for SF Signal.  I claimed my grandfather’s copies of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1978) and Han Solo’s Revenge (1980) were the world’s first media tie-ins…  And I call myself a science fiction fan!!!  Aha ha ha.

Both pros and fen took me to task for this blunder.  Here’s the truth:

Author and editor Richard Gilliam (the Grails series) pointed out that from 1907 – 1915, Essanay Studios made a number of films based on real and fictional people like Jesse James and Sherlock Holmes.  Essanay had a tie-in  program in which magazines printed stories related to these films.

Author David Smeds (Embracing The Starlight) said “I have the tie-in hardcover for the 1916 film of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which included several photos from the film.  I don’t know if it’s the very first novel tie-in, but it’s an early example.”

Love it!

The Last Of The Mohicans – Jeff Carlson on Aliens, Spaceships and The Frozen Sky

Jeff Carlson is the author of Plague YearPlague War (a finalist for the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award), and Plague Zone. To date, his work has been translated into fourteen languages. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in a number of top venues such asAsimov’s Science Fiction MagazineBoys’ LifeStrange Horizons and the Fast Forward 2 anthology. His latest book, The Frozen Sky, is available as an eBook.

This post originally appeared on 9/28/2012

Aliens, Spaceships and The Frozen Sky

I’m fourth generation sf/f.  My great-grandmother built her library around Frank L. Baum’s Oz series, the original fantasy epic.  She passed those beautiful hardcovers to her son, my grandfather, who kept them alongside “Doc” E.E. Smith novels  such as Triplanetary and Galactic Patrol, which were the cutting edge in his time.

Later, when I was a boy, my grandfather introduced me to the world’s first media tie-ins like Han Solo’s Revenge and Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye.  This was not a man who sneered at popular good fun.  He entranced me with Star Wars books, then fed my new addiction with the classics.

At the same time, my father was bringing home doorstoppers like The Hobbit and Clan Of The Cave Bear, which reads very much like alt history with strange people in a strange world.

My point is I know a good piece of science fiction when I see it.  Tell me this doesn’t fit the bill:



Something is alive inside Jupiter’s ice moon Europa. Robot probes find an ancient tunnel beneath the surface, its walls carved with strange hieroglyphics. Led by elite engineer Alexis Vonderach, a team of scientists descends into the dark… where they confront a savage race older than mankind…


I’m hooked.” – Larry Niven
A first-rate adventure.” – Allen Steele

Here’s the rub.  The Frozen Sky is self-published.  Why? Settle down, kids.  Let me tell you how the world worked when I was young, for I am The Last Of The Mohicans.

I may be one of the last writers to come up the so-called traditional route.  At the turn of the millennium, I broke into the field selling short stories to small and semi-pro markets, some so small they’re collectibles now.  I’m talking about ink on paper.  My first appearance in print was in the guidebook for MosCon 16, where an über-fan named Jon Gustafson published my story and paid me with a free membership to the con.

Eventually I began cracking pro markets like Strange Horizons and Asimov’s. Then I graduated to novels and sold Plague Year in a minor bidding war in New York.  This was 2007. It felt like the big time.

Also in 2007, I sold a novelette called The Frozen Sky to the Writers of the Future 23 anthology.  Because the story is a near future sci fi thriller, my meat and bread, I pitched the idea of a developing it into a novel to my editor at Penguin as my follow-up to Plague Year.

She didn’t want it.  Plague Year is a present day apocalypse.  For marketing reasons, they’d immediately pigeonholed me as an end-of-the-world guy.

In those days, the Great And Powerful Marketing knew all.  Marketing dealt with other marketing heads in other corporate environments such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Tower, Target, and Wal-Mart.  Their computers matched numbers with other computers; the computers wanted simple, readily identifiable brands; and if this smacked a little of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, try not to think so hard about it.

To my dying day, I’ll remember her words in rejecting a novelization of The Frozen Sky: “Oh, Jeff, all those aliens and spaceships.  Who really reads that stuff any more?”

This from a science fiction editor at a science fiction imprint!  I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d said she was an alien.

She’s a sharp lady whom I like and admire, but, like all of us, she works within the constraints of her environment — and it’s true that in genre fiction, Category B had outsold Category A for many, many years.  Boy wizards and magic rings dominated the bestseller charts.  Marketing had the numbers to prove it, and publishing is not a business driven by great profit margins.

Most novels, especially first novels, lose money.  They sink without a trace.  I was lucky to strike it hot with Plague Year.  The publisher rightly wanted more.


I wrote my sequel, Plague War, a decision which worked out well.  The marketing machine knew what they were talking about, but the direction of my career was laid by the publisher dictating to the writer rather than trusting the writer’s instincts.  I’ve always had one eye over my shoulder wondering what else I could do with The Frozen Sky.

Meanwhile, the global economy imploded.  Publishing took a larger hit with the advent of strong, low-priced, well-organized e-stores and e-readers.

Late in 2010, I republished my novelette of The Frozen Sky on Kindle, Nook, and iPad. It’s sold 40,000 copies.

“Huh,” I thought.  “I guess somebody’s reading aliens and spaceships.”  In fact, from a glance at the top sellers in ebooks, there’s clearly a large demographic of tech-savvy, tech-friendly, literate people who love a good mind-bending novel.

E-readers have revived science fiction, which is precisely what you’d expect from futuristic gadgets.

Oh, sweet irony.

As soon as I cleared my desk of deadlines, I started writing the novel of The Frozen Sky. I never had any intention of pitching it in New York.  At best, a Big Six publisher would offer a mid four-figure advance, then lock up the rights for ten years.  Or ten decades. I’ve earned $14,000 republishing Sky on my own as a 99 cent stand-alone.  That won’t cover my mortgage.  It did pay off my wife’s car.

Equally important, money isn’t my only goal.  Writing is my job, but I also want to be read.  The ability to leap directly to readers is a wild experience for a guy who spends a lot of time alone in a room with his laptop listening to the voices in his head.

John DeNardo sez: Wait.  My mathematical mind wonders how selling 40,000 copies at $1.00/each equals $14,000?  Do you mean 40,000 downloads, some of which were free, some of which were sales?

Jeff sez: Excellent question.  No, I mean I sold 40,000.  The royalty splits with Kindle and its brothers break down like so.  From .99c to $2.98, the author receives 35%.  From $2.99 to $9.99, the author receives 75%.

Since it was a 60 page short story, I thought 99 cents seemed reasonable.  Amazon, which saw the vast lion’s share of activity, kept nearly $25,000.  I kept $14,000.  Hard to complain.  It’s their ballpark.

Meanwhile, other writers are selling 100,000 or 1,000,000 copies of their ebooks.  This is insanity.  It’s chaos.  And chaos is opportunity.

Self-publishing The Frozen Sky is an e-experiment for me.  Wonder of wonders, the book is also available in print for anyone who still prefers dead trees (myself included).  An audiobook narrated by the esteemed Amy H. Sturgis will be out next week.

This is a freedom even Heinlein or Clarke barely imagined.  Search your feelings.  The truth is out there.  Live long and prosper.

Welcome to the e-future!

Rose-Colored Demons

This post originally appeared on

Guest blogging for us today is Jeff Carlson. Jeff is best known for the Plague Year series and his bestselling Kindle novella “The Frozen Sky,” which is also available on Nook and will soon appear on iBooks. As a working pro, Jeff lives on the other side of the author-reader connection. He promised to give us a look behind the curtain, which he calls…


For me and many writers, one of the most eye-opening changes since the e-revolution has been the rise and importance of book reviews on personal blogs and corporate sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N.

To writers, strong word-of-mouth is catnip. Even bad reviews can be useful in honing your craft.

I spend a lot of time alone in a room with a laptop listening to the voices in my head. That sounds like a joke, but it’s a large part of my job description. There’s no one to hang out with at the water cooler in my office. Heck, there’s no water cooler! That’s why it’s especially cool to get fan mail or to have my Google minions find reviews such as: “This novella was so fast paced and action packed from the very first line that I was sucked in like a two by four in a F5 twister!”

Reading that, I thought, FantasticShe gets it.

Capturing you is exactly what I want – to connect, to entertain, to make you a 2×4 in my tornado.

When eight people say the ending is abrupt, that’s useful, too. My brain says to me, Okay, you thought you had every element in place, but you’d better add at least another paragraph to wrap things up. Readers want to walk away with a feeling of completion. Sometimes I move too fast, so I’m learning to take it down a notch.

Even the people who hate a story are right. No writer reaches everybody, and it’s perfectly fair for someone to leave a low-starred review if he doesn’t feel like he got his money’s worth. That’s expected.

But in today’s brave new world of e-media, my inbox is also peppered with a steady dose of diehard political outrage, accusations, and messages from weird alternate realities.

When I swap emails with my writer friends or when we meet up at cons, the new game is Who’s Been Burned The Worst. It’s almost funny.

We all view the world through the lenses of our personal life experiences. Sometimes the world is rose-colored. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how thoroughly our own demons shape our perceptions, so let me share some of the over-the-top experiences I’ve had with folks from the fringe.

  • The Illinois Nazi. More than once I’ve received hate mail or nasty Amazon reviews for Plague Year because two of the main heroes are a Latino and a genius Jew. Worse, two of the villains are white guys. Obviously I’ve either turned on my own kind (I’m a white guy) or I’ve been so indoctrinated by the sinister liberal media that I don’t even realize what I’m doing…Here’s the thing. The opening chapters of Plague Year are set in post-apocalyptic California. I don’t know where our white supremacist friends live, but the West Coast is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on the planet. If everyone was forced into the mountains to escape a runaway nanotech plague, there’s zero chance it would be only sparkly blond Caucasians who survived. More to the point, among my best friends growing up were Hispanic and Jewish families. I knew I could pull off those backgrounds competently, and a diverse cast added a bit of texture to what’s ultimately just a rock-’em sock-’em sci fi thriller.
  • The One-Winger and The Classic Old Knee. As a writer, it’s both frustrating and hilarious to have the same novel condemned as a subversive socialist pinko screed and as a right-wing manifesto. Yeah, it’s nice to strike such a chord. Every writer wants their work to resonate. But reading is a subjective experience. People bring a lot of themselves to the experience… sometimes too much.The One-Wingers are careful not to mention race like the Illinois Nazis, but they don’t appreciate how the conservative remnants of the government are perceived by the heroes. By the same token, The Classic Old Knees are certain I must be a big fat Republican because the government is enforcing martial law and the tough Special Forces guys keep pushing the scientists around. It’s crude symbolism, isn’t it!?!?

    Uh, no. Plague Year is an end of the world novel, man. The new U.S. capital, a Colorado town meant for 3,000 people, has been swamped by 600,000 refugees. There’s no food, no shelter, and if I was in charge I’d darn well have the few remaining supplies surrounded by Army units. That doesn’t mean I’m a liberal or a fascist or a purple polka dot Martian.

    I think it’s a very human phenomenon that individuals on far, opposite ends of the political spectrum are able to interpret the same story in different ways, seeing exactly what they want to see in order to support their beliefs.

    Sometimes the smallest minds make the biggest noise. That’s because feeling angry is pleasant. It makes you feel important. Condemning a book as dangerous and shouting your warnings from the rooftops… let’s call that the Revere Complex. Each of our archetypes the Nazi, the Winger and the Knee fall into this same category, a truth which might outrage them all over again if they realized it.

  • The Nutcake. Alas, these folks are even easier to explain. They’re nutty. Three times I’ve received emails or comments insisting that Plague Year was penned by someone else, namely the person contacting me, and that I stole the book before he or she could publish it. Unfortunately, other writers tell me this isn’t uncommon, nor are personal threats. Welcome to my FBI file.Slightly less bizarre but more fun, let me introduce you to the Owner Of Katie The Dog. Not long after my sequel Plague War hit stores, I received an email with two jpg attachments. Hmmm. All right. Let’s read it…

    A woman had felt compelled to say she liked the concept behind Plague Year, but (insert sneer) “it was written in a grocery-store thriller style.”

    Aha HA ha ha! First of all, the cover has an ominous red tagline that shouts The Next Breath You Take Will Kill You. Plus the title letters are on fire. If you’re looking for a cozy literary novel, this ain’t it. Second, having my books racked in grocery stores and big box outlets like Wal-Mart and CostCo is my goal! That’s what I’m striving for!

    Yet she was so offended she’d spent $7.99 on this trash, she added that she’d fed Plague Year to her dog and snapped pictures of Katie eating it.

  • Wow. That’s wrong, isn’t it? I mean, that takes effort.

    I had no intention of opening her jpgs. Remember, I’d barely published my second novel. Being in stores still felt new and daunting. But my writer friends insisted I see what Katie had done. One accomplished old vet said, “You know you’ve arrived when you’re making people that crazy.”

    Um… Thanks?

    Conventional wisdom holds that authors and editors should remain above the fray. You’re supposed to ignore bad reviews, especially those that are off-topic or smell like fruit. I know writers who engage their haters in the comment fields on Amazon, but the reason to avoid such arguments was best put to me like this: Never wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, and you get covered in sh*t.

    Which leads us to the most craven of them all…

  • The Dread Saboteur  Since February, my novella “The Frozen Sky” has sold 20,000 copies on Kindle and Nook. That’s not a huge number, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s also gotten a lot of nice reviews, which is gratifying.Unfortunately, “Sky” has also seen some attacks.

    As the e-revolution evolves, the pages of successful books are experiencing not-so-subtle assaults by bitter would-be successes who post scathing low-starred reviews with as many dummy accounts as possible, then use the same dummy accounts to post five-star raves of their own novels in an attempt to draw traffic from the high-selling books.

    Can the system be gamed so easily? My guess is no, not in the long run. Ultimately the Dread Saboteur’s work needs to stand on its own. If it’s garbage, it’s garbage. Cardboard plots, wet dream characters, bad dialogue, and the inability to spell or use punctuation are common pitfalls.

    Horse puckey reviews won’t carry a flawed story beyond a few extra sales – and if those readers feel duped, well, let the bad karma begin! The fake five-star raves will be overwhelmed by genuinely unhappy reviews.

There are more archetypes and goofy anecdotes I could share, but we’re out of time.

Here’s a final thought. Things are changing fast in publishing, but I hope it will always be true that it’s the fans who carry the day.

The loonies and the saboteurs want everyone to wear their demon-colored lenses. Don’t let it happen. If you like a book, bang out a quick ranking-and-review. That positive feedback may be enough to see your favorite author through his next encounter with a Nutcake From The Eighth Dimension.


Readers can find free excerpts, advance news, contests, and more on Jeff’s web site at

Ready to be a Wrublisher? A Priter? Some Caveats for Self-Publishers from Bestselling Author Jeff Carlson

(This post originally appeared at Anne Allen’s blog at:

These are chaotic and exciting times in the writing game, but it’s important to remember self-publishing means you’re not only the writer, you also need to wear an entirely different set of hats.

My first three novels, a series of apocalyptic thrillers known as the Plague Year trilogy, were published by Ace/Penguin Group USA. They did a nice job not only with the cover art but in packaging all three novels with a “look.”  They edited and typeset the books and handled the conversions to ebooks on all platforms.  Heck, they also bought display space in the major chains, placed ads in genre and trade magazines, ran specials on the Penguin web site and generally did a bang-up job.

Did I come anywhere near the New York Times lists? No, sir. Did I exceed the expectations of everyone involved (except me!) from Penguin itself to some critics to booksellers? Absolutely.

Plague Year is currently in its seventh printing in North America and, in Spain, became a hardcover bestseller due in part to my Spanish publisher’s enthusiasm not just for the book but for the treatment it received in the U.S. Like it or not, New York still leads the way in the corporate world. Other countries such as Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic have also fallen in line with their own excellent campaigns. Of course I take most of the credit – I wrote the books – but it can’t be argued that a fair level of support from Penguin helped convince some minds overseas.

Why am I bragging?  Because I’ve begun to self-publish on Kindle and elsewhere myself, and: it’s harder than I was promised by the e-revolutionaries!

Ha ha. There are hurdles I hadn’t anticipated. Identifying and solving those issues has become my own personal revolution.

Anne spoke eloquently on quality writing and professionalism, so all I’ll add to those ideas is the old truth that most of us average 1,000,000 words of garbage before we learn enough craft to write superior characters, dialogue and plotlines. That learning curve hasn’t changed.

In today’s world, especially on the ’Net and with all e-things, we expect instant gratification. Everyone hopes to skyrocket onto the charts. Personally, I want a zillion love slaves to FaceBook me and then gather on Skype to sing pirate shanties about my greatness.

What’s stopping them?

Cover art

People do judge a book by its cover.

One thing I’m not is a graphic designer. When I geared up to republish my short stories in mini-collections on Kindle and Nook, I wanted to spend as little money as possible.

99 cents is the lowest price on which Kindle and Nook will pay royalties. I didn’t see any point in selling my collections at 75 cents if Kindle and Nook pocketed 100% — and below the $2.99 price point, Kindle pays only a 35% royalty, not the vaunted 70% you tend to hear, so I calculated how many copies I’d need to sell to break even.

The best artists command as much as $400 per cover.

People like to say ebooks are forever (i.e., you and your descendants will earn royalties until the sentient raccoons take over the world in 6400 A.D. and place humankind in chains), but I really didn’t believe I’d sell 1143 copies before the raccoon apocalypse. The average ebook sells, uh, nothing? More on that in a minute.

I went cheap with the covers. Was that a mistake? Yes and no. Go ahead, take a peek. They’re not great. But there are years of evidence to support the idea that short story collections sell poorly compared to novels, so that’s an additional factor.

Are those covers holding potential readers back?  Or is the material not generating word-of-mouth? All of these stories were professionally published, btw, most of them in top anthologies and magazines. I like to think that means they’re good stuff, and yet three of my e-collections have yet to pay for their inexpensive covers.

Here’s where I’m wrestling with conflicting data:

My fourth ebook is a stand-alone novella called “The Frozen Sky.” It’s sold 8500 copies since January. That’s not a staggering number, but it’s enough to meet my wife’s car payment and most of our utilities. What’s interesting is the simple, stark, ominous cover was designed at zero cost by a superfan who gained permission from NASA to use a photo taken by the Cassini probe.

What I’m learning is that ebook cover art shouldn’t be busy, and, in fact, can be very basic, but it still needs to have a “look.” Finding someone who can deliver that look is the whole battle. If you’re not an artist, don’t kid yourself. Hire the best. My feeling now is that going halfway is wasted time and income.

Upfront Expenses 

“The money flows to the author.” This maxim is a venerable standby in writing, but it’s changing.

If you’re self-publishing and you don’t know PhotoShop (or want something more spectacular), need editing, and need your work converted into e-formats, it’s easy to burn through several hundred dollars in a hurry.

Referral lists aren’t always reliable, either. It’s also maddening to wait for the hired help to get organized when the whole point of self-publishing is to make your book public now, not next month.

Depending on your free time, it might pay off in the long run to teach yourself all of the above. Me, I’d rather be writing, so I’ve learned to plan ahead. I try to get each ball rolling before I need it. This can be a lot like herding cats.

I’m no longer just a writer, I’m a “wrublisher.” (A “priter”?)

My advice is to ask around for personal recommendations.  Once you find a service provider who’s reliable and affordable, love them.

You want a product that will to wow people, not a book that’s half-baked.

The Race to the Bottom

Right now there are 900,000 ebooks on Kindle.

500 of ’em are selling great; 1,500 more are selling well; the next 10,000 are doing all right; another 20,000 sell a steady trickle;  and the other 868,000 are selling zipperooni, maybe 15 copies total to Aunt Mavis and the author’s buddy Steve.  That’s right.  The vast majority of these writers are exactly where they’d be if they were banging at the gates of the evil elitist gatekeeping gatekeepers — on the outside.

I don’t like being a big fat negative-nancy, but the idea that we’re all going to upload our Great American Novels and sell sell sell is crazy, crazy, crazy.

It’s a swamp. Buyers are bees. They find the flowers and swarm.

What this has done is create enormous pressure on writers to undervalue their work or give it away free.

Even then, most of the time, nobody’s buying. What can you do? Writers control what they’ve always controlled: their stories. Keep at it. Do the work. Patience and persistence will always be the names of the game.

Most successful first novels are not that writer’s first novel at all. I know nobody wants to hear it, but few of us are gifted enough to write a well-crafted book with our first effort. If you’d told me when I was seventeen that my derivative Stephen King rip-offs weren’t good enough, I would have argued heatedly that you were a nincompoop. But it was true. Plague Year was my third-and-a-half novel, and that’s a very, very normal trajectory.

Remember why you got into this crazy business in the first place. Presumably it was for the love of language and storytelling.

Good writing is hard. E-publishing has subverted some of the rules, but the difficulty of finding commercial success isn’t something I predict will change. There are no shortcuts. So do the work. You’ll get there, but it may be a long haul. That’s just my pragmatic advice.

E-Revolution Now!

Having said all of that, there are break-out exceptions every week. If you think you’re ready, take your shot. The best part about ebooks is you can fix, expand or completely rewrite ’em at will, then post new versions in a matter of days instead of haggling with the corporate machine for three years to fix one freaking typo.

If there’s a negative reaction to your book (or if there’s no reaction at all), you can remove it and improve it – and if people love it, you’ve already arrived.

How To Find Quality Self-Published Books

Self-publishing is here to stay, and has become a viable option for writers. However, even with the stigma that used to hang over self-publishing fading, now readers have a new set of problems. The first of which is sorting through hundreds of thousands of books being self-publish every year. (Some reports say over 400,000 in 2012 alone.) Let’s face it, even with many of those books are produced by writers with an eye for quality, hiring editors and making sure to put out a product they can be proud of, the quality of many self-published books is iffy at best. I’ll be the first person to suggest to someone, just because you CAN self-publish a book, doesn’t mean you SHOULD self-publish a book.

One of the most frequent questions I get while at conventions, whether on panels or just hanging out at the parties, is, “How can I tell if a self-published book is going to be worth the money.” It’s a valid question, one that I’ve worked at finding a definitive answer to. Well, I’m just one guy, and while trying to puzzle out something like a “sound bite” that I can rattle off when people ask me that, I thought I’d ask some of my writer and fannish pals what they think.

So, mission firmly in mind, I sent out the following question: “Can you give one piece of advice on how the discerning reader can pick out good quality self-published works from the quantity?” I think the responses are pretty interesting. (And see how many of them couldn’t keep it to one piece of advice.)


Christopher J. Garcia, Hugo Award winning writer/editor of The Drink Tank:

Three ways – first, look to the product. If it’s well-produced, if it’s got a solid cover image, if it LOOKS well-done, that’s a start. Few self-published works I’ve enjoyed have ever been slap-dash in production.

Second, Goodreads. If I can find works by the author on Goodreads, and if they’re not all comments on how awful they are, even if most of the reviews are middling, I use that as a sign of potential quality.

Finally, it’s all about the Author. Search, find their blog, their posts somewhere, anything. If THAT material is worth reading, it’s a very high likelihood that the rest of their stuff shall be readable too.


Steve Drew, moderator and community manager at /r/fantasy on Reddit:

My own personal reading habits are built from my own experience reading authors I enjoy, author recommendations, and recommendations from the r/Fantasy community. In the past, it was a bit pot-luck – buying a book based on the cover kind of crap. With the advent of the internet, I can find good books through recommendations from people I trust. (Typically blurbs from authors I enjoy and/or reviews.)

I read VERY few independent books – sticking more frequently to those that are published and tried-and-true. That’s based on me being a slower reader compared to most in this genre. I don’t have time for wading through books on my own.

I have heard from authors that their presence on r/Fantasy has led to sales. Some direct sales c/o their AMA or Writer of The Day presence. More from their long-term presence on the site. That certainly helps to differentiate.


Rachel Thompson, bestselling author of A Walk in the Snark, Mancode Exposed, and Broken Pieces:

Amazon, B&N, iBooks etc., all offer free samples of books. Read the sample or download it to your smartphone, laptop, or tablet (remember, all online bookstores have free reading apps; so for example, no Kindle is required to read Kindle eBooks, just the free app). As readers, we should be able to form an opinion on the quality of the book based on that sample.

Many authors will also give editing credit (just under the title), so that gives a reader information that the book has indeed been professionally edited.


Michael J Sullivan, bestselling author of the Riyria Revelations:

My Riyria Revelations were self-published before being picked up by the fantasy imprint of a big-five publisher (Orbit: fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group), so I read quite a few self-published titles as I like to keep up on who is doing well and recommend books I like. It’s my way of giving back. I have a large waiting list (tbr pile) and the ones I have read are, with very few exceptions, well suited to my tastes. My preferred reading material is epic fantasy so I’m going to use links for that genre – but Amazon has all kinds of list for all kinds of reading preferences.

  1. I check the Amazon’s Kindle Epic Bestseller’s List and skip past the “big names” like Rothfuss, Sanderson, Martin. (A lower price is also a pretty good indication, although not always) that a book is self-published. From there I can also click on the Epic Top Rated List. Titles that are on both are usually a good bet because they have been highly rated and sell well.
  2. I use the “Look inside the book” or download a sample copy and if the writing intrigues me, I hit “buy.”

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. I’m actually surprised when people say they have problems finding any “good” self-published books as I never have had any difficulty doing it the way I do.


Ian C. Esselmont: writes in the Malazan World with his long-time friend Steven Erikson:

I guess that what I would say is that it all comes down to that first page and first paragraph/opening. If authority is seen, or ‘felt’ in that first section, then to my mind, that’s where you catch, or lose, your scanning, hurried, reader.


Amber Scott, bestselling author of the Moon Magick Series:

In a bookstore, we browse, pick up a title, page through it and decide based on the impression we get. With ebooks, I see samples as a great way to do the same. Shop, sample, buy. Reviews can be bought and there’s a whole slew of authors with numbers in the thousands who did just that–purchased reviews. Ads are just that, advertisements paying for our attention. What it comes down to is taste. If my books are your taste, you’ll know by page one.


Hugh Howey: author Silo Saga, being Wool, Shift, and Dust, as well as the Molly Fyde books and I, Zombie:

I think the challenge for readers is similar to what is has always been: finding a book they’ll enjoy among the legions of books they won’t enjoy. Grabbing a random book out of a bookstore rarely works either. Most shoppers stick to an author they know or a book a friend recommended. When they do browse, they usually head to their favorite genre, check the cover art for the mood of the story, read the blurb, and then sample the first page.

Online shoppers should do the same. Filter for the genre you want, look for a professional cover, see if the blurb is well-written, and then read the free sample. One of the advantages here is that the indie author probably wrote the blurb, so if that is clunky or has mistakes, you can often move on to the next book. With the free online samples, there is so much to browse. It’s one of the reasons I think there’s never been a better time to be a reader.


Howard Taylor: writer and artist of the web comic Schlock Mercenary, also contributer to the Hugo Award winning audio podcast, Writing Excuses.


A good writer who pays close attention to the craft, and who has a solid feedback loop of alpha readers, beta readers, and copy editors, is going to get more than just the writing right. Why? Because they pay attention! In that vein, I totally judge books by their covers.

First: does the cover suit the genre? How does it stack up against mass-market books in this same space? A cover that fits the genre is a good sign that the author knows the space they’re working in.

Second: How is the back-cover copy (or the “description” on Amazon)? Does it grab you? Descriptions like these are some of the most difficult things to write, and they must be edited, polished, refined, then ground to powder rebuilt molecule by molecule. Strong back-cover copy is a good sign that the author is really committed to getting this whole thing right.

Third (this isn’t the cover, but it’s close): Has it been blurbed or reviewed by anybody you know? Ultimately your best guide to a good book is reading it and deciding for yourself whether it’s a good book. Since life’s too short for that, what are other people saying about the book? I’ll take a friend’s recommendation over a random five-star review any day. And to that end, if you read a book and love it, don’t be afraid to say so.


Damon Stone, producer and game designer for Fantasy Flight Games, including the Game of Thrones trading card game, Call of Chthulu card game, and Netrunner:

When I’m looking into buying self-published works I look for a number of different things but there are three main things I consider…

1) Has it been recommended to me by someone I know and trust? Personal endorsement is still the strongest factor in what I read and when I read it.

2) Are any pages made available, or chapter excerpt from the book. Nothing tells you as much about how an author writes, than the authors writing. 😉

3) Does the site I’m making my purchases from show what other books were purchased, viewed, or reviewed by people who have purchased or reviewed the work I’m considering? If someone is a fan of GRRM and Steven Erikson , or Steven Brust and Glen Cook, or Patrick Rothfuss and Neil Gaiman and viewed this work favorably, I have an idea of what I may find.


Lisa Rodgers, agent with the JABberwocky Literary Agency:

That’s actually a very interesting question that, in my opinion, doesn’t really have a “one true answer.” There are a number of variables that a “discerning reader” probably already knows to look at in order to “appraise” the quality of a book (whether it’s self or traditionally published), including cover art, book description, and reviews. Given all of that, I think personal recommendations from people whose reading tastes you trust would be my piece of advice.  I think it’s especially important for self-published work, since there is so much out there and their discoverability isn’t limited to physical shelf space.


Michael R. Underwood, author of Geekomancy and the forthcoming Celebromancy and North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books:

For me, the way to find excellent self-published books is to take recommendations from indie writers. I think indie SF/F writers are going to know best what the good indie SF/F books are, because they’re going to show up together in discussions, recommendation engines, and likely in social situations – indie authors are great about trading both business and craft tips, so they’re going to know who the exemplars in their community are at any given point.


Bill Waters, writer for about all things geek/pop culture related:

Over the last several years the publishing world (in games as well as books) has been completely turned on its head. Now it’s no longer a question about if an individual can be published, there’s any number of self-publishing routes available to individuals. However, it should be noted that even in the days of classic publishing, there was no lack of utterly terrible content out there. Now the challenge is that of discovery, among the white noise of all of the Appstore on mobile devices, in the Amazon Kindle store, and all of the other outlets available, each new publication is a speck among the masses. People go towards things that they know – those can be bestseller lists, reviews from professional critics (as well as from casual bloggers). Individual readers will now find information portals (podcasts, blogs, news feeds, etc) that resonates with that particular person’s tastes and they’ll use that as their primary channel for recommendations. That way their level of effort is reduced from a constant thrash of published titles to identifying a few reliable sources that they can use as the filter to the noise.


Brandon Sanderson, bestselling author of Mistborn, Way of Kings and the Hugo Award winning novella Soul of the Empire:

This is a tough question because the question of how do you pick out a non-self-published book, I mean it’s gotta be the same criteria, right? I don’t think the reader should worry so much about the source of the book as the content of the book. And how do you find out about books you’re going to enjoy? By function of what we do, you have to trust something. Either it’s going to be the blurb or the packaging, or hopefully you’ve had a friend read the book and recommend it to you.

I think that this is kind of a much smaller issue than a lot of people seem to be making it. Readers have always had way more to read than they have time to read, and finding the good stuff has always been kind of the quest of the reader, and I think most of us are pretty good at it and know what works for us. So I don’t know that it should matter between self-published and non-self-published. Use the same instincts.

Well, it seems like the more things change, the more things stay the same. If you’re looking for something new to read, don’t look so much at whether the book is published by an author or by a big publishing house; you’re going to get varying experiences with both. No matter where the book is coming from, just use the same process you’ve always used, no matter what that process is, to determine whether you try a new book or writer. If that process has worked to find good books in the past, it’s probably going keep working to find you good books in the future.

Happy reading!

Some Thoughts On Reviews by /u/wifofoo

Genre Underground’s Note

(A version of this was originally posted on Reddit’s /r/fantasy by user /u/wifofoo. The Genre Underground requested a version to feature here, which the author very graciously offered to us, with our gratitude.)


I’m reading a book that I just don’t like so far. Ten chapters in and I’m really struggling to turn the page.

Now, the old me would have given up on this thing a long time ago. In fact, the old me would have wrapped it up in red paper and pawned it off as a Christmas present like a fruitcake or that label maker from Seinfeld.

Actually, I might still do that.

But, I’ll tell you what I won’t do. I won’t give this book a bad review. I won’t tell a friend to “save his money,” and I won’t vow to never read this author again.

You know why?

Well, there are two reasons:

1: I haven’t actually read the book, so… there’s that.

2: Other people REALLY enjoyed it.

You see, there’s this thing about art being subjective. Art is not about athing being good or bad. Well, it can be, but that’s up to the person experiencing it. (See? Subjective.)

And as I was reading the reviews for this book I don’t like, I started to grasp something that had never occurred to me before; this book isn’t bad… It’s just not for me.

I know this doesn’t sound like the epiphany I make it out to be, but I feel it deserves some recognition.

I mean, how many amazing stories get buried in a grave of one-star reviews by people who don’t understand them?

How many authors’ careers go stagnant because their audience isn’t being reached?

How many great books go unread because one or two people couldn’t appreciate them? And rather than say, “hey, this book wasn’t for me and here’s why…” those connoisseurs of story decided that this “atrocity” was totally and reprehensively bad and therefore should not exist? (Click here for emphatic fist pounding.)

Here’s a thought. How about the next time you write a review, don’t say something like, “it baaaaad. Me no likey. Dis author fat and stupid!!!..!” or “Dis book bad because I no like author’s political/personal opinionnnns!!”

Why not try something like, “Hey, this book is great for anyone who likes characters with dark pasts. There are plenty of solid action sequences, mostly with swordplay and some casting of spells. If you like creative magic systems and want something short, you might get into this book. Oh, and there is some graphic violence and language so be ready for that.”

Or, “I’m a huge fan of romance in fiction, and while this story does have a bit of romance here and there, it just doesn’t compare to my favorites (Twilight and Hunger Games). Still, if you like a good romp with a lot of creepy monsters and interesting locations, you might really like it.”

Or maybe, “After reading this book I discovered that the author opposes something very dear to me. For this reason, I will choose not to support the author financially despite the fact that I do enjoy his/her work.”

Look, I’m not saying to be dishonest, and I’m not saying to forego writing a review. I just want you to communicate in a way that’s beneficial to both readers and writers, be it positive, negative, or both.As someone who is reading your reviews, I want to know what the book’s strengths and weaknesses are. How does it compare to similar books? Does it end satisfactorily?

I’d also like to know where your interests lie. Saying you like romance is one thing, but saying you like Twilight romance is very different thansaying you like Wuthering Heights romance or Outlander romance.As for authors, give feedback that helps them be better authors. “The prose is okay, but a little heavy in places. There were many times while reading this book that I found myself skipping passages. I usually don’t mind longer narratives (Robert Jordan fan here!) but this one went a bit overboard.”Or, “I really wanted to like this. The idea is solid and very unique, but there were just too many technical errors. A think a good editor is in order for this author. Better luck next time!”

Your goal is not to end a career, here. Your goal is to inform.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have some reviews to attend to.

Top 5 Symptoms of NaNoWriMo Syndrome


They’re Heeeerrrrrreeee!

No, not the ghosts in your television, though perhaps an equally frightening group. It is, as many of you know, THAT time again. Time for the nanowrimo disciples to crawl from their dark, caffeine-infested burrows and go on their annual word-slinging rampage.

See what I mean? Does it look like she’s about to stab out his eyes with that pencil, or is it just me? This is their secret membership badge, and you can find them by it, if you know where to look. They might, however, try to cleverly disguise themselves to avoid detection. In that case, I’ll give you a few tips for ferreting out the culprits.

First, look here:

(Okay, that’s a little too easy)

Next, be on the alert for the following signs:

  1. An inexplicable twitchiness and general sense of excitement for no apparent reason.
  2. Flinching whenever you say the word, NOVEMBER
  3. Panicky scribbling on yellow pads of paper…upon further examination the scrawlings are a very complicated and poorly understood branch of mathematics known as: The Word Count Equation, or Literary Efficiency Theorem.
  4. Sporatic, maniacal laughter punctuated by fits of weeping.
  5. The sudden appearance of novelty items bearing the word: Author, Wordsmith, or “WINNER”

If you suspect that your friend or family member may in fact be suffering from Nanowrimo, there are a few, sure-fire tests:

  • Casually mention that you saw a plot bunny dart under the front porch and then watch carefully for their reaction.
  • Poke suspect with a fork. Do they immediately begin to scribble words on paper?
  • Paste a sign on the bathroom mirror that says, 2 more days til Nov. 1st. Wait.
  • Hide the coffee. If they produce more, hide that too.
  • Announce that you are going on vacation in November and they will be required to: watch your kids, do your job, keep the house clean or anything else that will take up large chunks of their time.
  • (wear protective clothing)

If any of the above cause severe agitation, aggression, depression, violence or a visible rash…you have one in your midst! Immediately rush to and join them.

There is no beating them.

Ten Great Genre Novels to Come Out Of NaNoWriMo

While most of the United States prepares to binge on candy or puts the finishing touches on their costumes, a select group of writers from all over the world are steeling themselves for 30 days of literary abandon with NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month; an event where the competent, the reckless, and the (slightly) insane attempt to create the first draft of a novel solely in the month of November.  Even if a writer completes the challenge, there’s no guarantee that the results will be usable, let alone the next instant classic of genre fiction.  Even so, there’s dozens of lovely books to come out of NaNoWriMo, and whether you’re a reader looking for your next literary fix or a writer looking for inspiration, here’s a spotlight on ten genre novels that began life as successful NaNoWriMos.

1. King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

King Maker Cover

The King Arthur myth gets dramatically retold through the eyes of street hustler King, as he tries to unite the crack dealers, gangbangers and the monsters lurking within them to do the right thing. From the drug gangs of downtown Indianapolis, the one true king will arise.






2. Greetings from Buena Rosa by Nathan Crowder

Buena Rosa Cover

When Manuel de la Vega testified against his fellow officers in a corruption investigation within the Mexico City Police Department, he knew his old life was over. He fled the country, joining the police force in Cobalt City, center of the superhero world.

But when his cousin is accused of murder in a company-run border town, Manuel finds himself making a long-overdue return to Mexico. With a signed confession in the hands of the police, it might not matter how innocent she is.

It will take all of his craft and guile and the help of Manuel’s half-panda assistant Snowflake to see that justice is done in Buena Rosa. And if all that fails, he may have no choice but to resurrect the life he thought he had left behind–that of the masked vigilante Gato Loco!



3. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey Cover

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Buy [ ]


4. The Magic Shop by Justin Swapp

The Magic Shop Cover

When Marcus and Ellie’s grandparents decide it would be good for them to tend the family business, the children discover a strange, secret world that has been kept from them all their lives. Not only is the family business a front, but the children learn that they’ve only narrowly escaped death since their birth.

Follow the children, clue by clue, as they uncover the magical feud that has plagued their family for generations.  Will the children survive? Will they find their parents? Those are the small questions. First they must discover the secret their grandparents have been keeping from them all these years. It all comes down to what’s hidden at the Magic Shop.

Buy [ ]


5. Unlikely by (The Genre Underground’s Own!) Frances Pauli

unlikely Cover

Satina knows more than anyone that gangs are bad news. As a Granter, she uses her magic to help people escape them. So far, her sole reward has been a life on the run, dodging from pocket to pocket and only landing in the ordinary world long enough to put her special skills to use.When the goodmother arrives in Westwood, however, a magic-hungry gang is just one step behind her, and their leader wants more than just the town. He wants Satina, and he’ll do anything, use anyone, to get her. Though Satina finds an unlikely ally in Marten, the imp Skinner who manages to help more people than he hurts, it will take all the power they can summon to keep Westwood’s secrets from falling into the wrong hands, to keep one wide-eyed girl from following the wrong man, and to keep Satina herself from falling in love with the only person in the world who knows how much of a fraud she really is.



6. ELEGY by (The Genre Underground’s Own!) Christopher Kellen

Elegy Cover

D’Arden Tal arrives at the city of Calessa to reclaim it from darkness. Even to enter, he must fight his way past the corruption gathering at its gates. Armed with only his mind, his crystalline sword and the sheer force of his will, D’Arden must shatter the chains of corruption which threaten to consume every soul within those stone walls. Deep beneath the earth, he discovers an evil which will cause him to question his faith, his devotion, and his very existence.

Buy [ ]



7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder Cover

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.



8. Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough

Darwin Elevator Cover

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

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9. Wool by Hugh Howley

Wool Cover

In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.

His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising.

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10. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

TheNightCircus Cover

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

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