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Mary Hallberg’s State of Emergency gets characterization down right. It feels a lot like a meme I once read about playing D&D (the one with what we think it’ll be like and a pic of heroes from Lord of the Rings compared to what it’s really like: the cast from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) State of Emergency is a far cry from Walking Dead, and that’s a good thing. There are way too many clones out there and this is a breath of fresh air in the zombie genre.

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While Dallas fighting off zombies with a pizza cutter might sound like we’re headed in straight-up Shaun of the Dead territory, it’s not quite an overt comedy, but it has its moments. Maybe I’d call it a blend of Walking Dead and Scott Burtness’s Monsters in the Midwest series.

The book is peppered with fun references if you’re a fan of the genre. Then again, maybe it’s just me, but there seem to be seamless little Easter eggs hidden though the book as nods to other great zombie and undead stories, (like how Dallas calls Ashleigh, Ash and Dallas’s name seems to draw from Zombieland’s nomenclature.)

It is a fun read and not nearly as heavy as I am Legends or the like—and though it has a teenage protagonist it didn’t feel as angsty and whiny as most YA stories have trended in recent years… I appreciated that.

If you’re up for a Halloween read this fall, consider picking up a copy. I got mine for free in exchange for an honest review. You can get it by clicking here.

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State of Writing

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This coming week I’ve got to get edits back on Fear in a Land Without Shadows, and work on betas. Have any of my initial readers for Wolves of the Tesseract 2 finished? Email me!

I had a pretty great week all around last week. I have begun to learn how to use Scrivener and I see the potential (especially for editing and long term planning,) as huge… I had to do something to help me plot out the long and convoluted arcs and timetraveling nuances that comes from my upcoming project The Hidden Rings of Myrddin the Cambion which is essentially 6 stories written across 5 books which all interlink into one larger work (and I’m planning a couple tie-in characters that will link in our current Earth version in the Wolves of the Tesseract series.)

In order to really use Scrivener well I began a couple projects. I began to sketch up some outlines for Rings (starting with the last book first) and I began a new story, too. I logged over 2,000 words after outlining the first of three new Dekker’s Dozen stories which will potentially create a launching point to restart the timeline into a new universe following the end of The Last Watchmen (that sounds confusing, but makes sense if you read the story)… it includes some fun moments such as the birth of the romance between Dekker and Vesuvius… the eventual stabbing, and hopefully the giant plant monster and the orphanage (all events referenced in TLW).

Stranger Things 2 happened this week, plus I found a sweet score at a used book sale and picked up like 5 books I was missing from the Wheel of Time series (I’m waiting to read it until I have all the books collected in hardcover… just missing #4 The Shadow Rising and #7 Crown of Swords (but i have duplicates of 2 others.) If anyone wants to trade or donate, 4 or 7 let me know!

I want to finish the new Dozen story this week and I’d love to see some progress on my two novels in beta (TKR3 and WotT2) before I head out to Crypticon MPLS for the weekend. I’m taking a few days off this week and have almost 2 solid weeks of vacation after wed!

Taking Credit Cards (Square and PayPal)

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The future is now… except for some of the older crowd. Many people, even in the older/less technologically proficient crowd enjoy the ease and access of credit cards. Every day we become more and more of a cashless society. If you are at a book festival, signing, or author talk and don’t have the opportunity to process credit card transactions, you are limiting the number of books you can sell.

In the past, taking credit cards meant having merchant accounts, paying large fees, processing minimums, bulky equipment, and a lot of tracking and hassle that made it much too inconvenient for authors to deal with. Nowadays it’s simple. Even large segments of the “technophobic” crowd are passingly familiar with how to use online banking and run an iPad or android tablet. Luckily, that’s all that is required.

As a general rule of thumb, Paypal has proven that it lags behind Square and other physical methods of taking payments. It is still the standard for online purchases made person to person and for eBay transactions. Paypal is owned by eBay (or at least a member of the same circle of companies) and as such it’s important to remember that it operates as a financial institution but it is not one—that means it is not FDIC Insured, etc. They do take credit cards, but cards must be linked to accounts, etc. which can mean extra steps that make it highly inconvenient for casual shoppers who just want a quick and easy transaction (that ease and convenience is what attracts people in the first place.)

Square is a different animal altogether. It was created by its designers who couldn’t complete a transaction because the seller could not accept a credit card. With this in mind, it became a convenient way for people at swap meets, yard sales, etc. to accept credit cards. As a musician who played in a band that wanted to sell t-shirts at a merchandise booth it became an effective way to sell products to an increasingly cashless demographic.

Why you should accept credit cards:

Numbers vary, but I’ve heard it said that sales increase 20-25% or more when a seller accepts plastic; that number certainly helps pay for those transaction fees, most of which cost you mere pennies, and then some.

In addition to the financial motivation, there are other reasons. It legitimizes you as a business in the eyes of consumers. It levels the playing field with other vendors. It encourages impulse buying (what you want). It eliminates the risk of bad checks.

How Square works:

Other services are pretty similar, but I’ll discuss Square since I am familiar with it. More detailed info can be found at https://squareup.com.

Signup for a square account and link it to whatever existing bank account you want to receive payments from. Enter your address to get the card reader hardware mailed and download the software app to either your apple tablet or phone or your android tablet or phone. For simplicity, it’s best if you have run the app from a device that has a data service plan and location settings are turned on (as if you wanted to use a gps program). Using the app, sign in to the account you created with Square and you can take payments immediately!

There is a slightly higher fee to type in the card account number/info (when/if you can’t use the swiping device that plugs into your headphone jack) but it’s a hand feature in case you lose or forget it, or the card refuses to read when swiping. The app also has a bunch of neat features. I have all of my books’ prices saved so that I can easily tap each title to ring up the item; I also have my local sales tax rate saved in the settings to automatically add onto the total. If you don’t use these features you can always do the math and type in the amount you are charging and charge whatever amount is necessary. If you run all of your transactions through the software (including cash sales) it gives you a nice log to show sales amounts and numbers (with or without tax) which is nice if a vending event/location charges a percentage against your sales.

Other Alternatives:

I can’t speak to ease of use or reliability of these others, but Square is not alone in the services they provide. Here are a number of other companies that provide a similar service. Alternatively, many mobile phone companies also have their own service as well.

Clover Go
iZettle (for non United States users)
Paypal Here
Inner Fence
Spark Pay
Intuit GoPayment
Vend
Lightspeed
CardFellow
ChargePass
QuickBooks Payments
…and more.

Review: Blockbuster Branding

51FeDin6ifLI don’t read lots of nonfiction, but I’ve been in a learning mood lately. Blockbuster Branding by Faith Faith has a few points to offer retailers and authors. Particularly in the aspect of naming your product, service, or book. While the book delves into a diet-version of the psychology it seems to spend a great amount of time trying to convince me to buy other products or services for brand marketing.

I got this book when it was free during a promo/free download period and agreed to review it for my blog at the author’s request. I’ve lately been reading up lots on branding and marketing, click funnels and sales/email automation in particular. Everything about this book felt like the author was trying to sell me on some other product or service (much like a click funnel or squeeze page might do to coerce the next step in a sale.) Maybe it’s how people write for sales, but it bothered me since this is a nonfiction book/how-to and I felt like there was more to the strategies… and I’d get it if I just buy the next book.

That’s not to say that there’s not information in the book. A lot of it is very basic (like naming strategies, phonetics, etc. But everyone needs to start at square one and it helps not to make an assumption that people have a basic understanding of branding/marketing.

Perhaps the strongest part of the book are the examples Faith uses to demonstrate marketing and branding techniques she is referring to. While this wasn’t a book that rocked my world, it might prove revelatory to someone relatively new to the business world or cutthroat world of street-level marketing and proves especially relevant to authors writing nonfiction (especially if you haven’t quite launched the book or brand just yet.)

You can check it out by clicking here and seeing if it’s the right type of book for you.

State of Writing

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I completed all revisions on Fear in a Land Without Shadows last week and got it off to editing for final corrections. I’m very pleased with it and think it’s some of my best work ever (and it’s a huge book which reads something like Michael Crichton and Stephen King.)

So now what? Winter is getting close and it’s time to start looking at new projects. I’m gathering info on a nonfiction book about the enduring (and misguided) influence of Pat Pulling (who I think did more harm than good to the cause of Christ). I am also brainstorming and outlining the Hidden Rings of Mryddin the Cambion series which I hope to begin writing next year. (Time traveling gunslingers, pirates teleported to space, robin hood vs vampires, epic viking and samurai team-ups, plus a quest to save Merlin. It’s got something for everyone!)

Read John in the John For Free!

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I don’t sell boats, but I Noah guy who does…

Signup and get one weeks’ worth of daily devotionals sent to your email for free courtesy of my In the John devotional series. Just because it’s got biblical content, it doesn’t have to be dry or boring… this is the devo book that is totally “what Jesus would read in the bathroom.”

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Keys to Making People Excited About Your Book

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People ask me all the time, “Which book that you wrote is your favorite?” That’s difficult to answer, but honestly, it’s typically whichever book I’m currently working on. The correct answer isn’t the title of one of your books, it’s enthusiasm. You need to be excited about your stories. If you are not, no one else will be either.

  1. You’ve got to be excited about your book—not just the fact that you wrote it, but it has got to genuinely be a book you would buy. To test this, you’ve got to let it simmer… once your final draft is done, let it sit a few months in a drawer or on a hard drive… go do something else, start a new book, even… then come back and read it with fresh eyes. If it doesn’t excite you, then it’s time to reevaluate the book (even a final draft isn’t necessarily a final draft).
  2. Great Cover Copy. Your blurb/elevator pitch has to be on point. I write about this elsewhere with sample formulas. Aside from your opening page, this is your opportunity to set a killer hook. An amazing tagline is also great tool (a one sentence summary).
  3. Amazing First Page. What comes up when you click Amazon’s Look Inside feature—or what does a reader do when you put a book in his or her hand (besides read the cover copy)? People default to the first page. Give them some irresistible bait. Don’t be hokey, cheesy, or overly gimmicky. Be good. Incidentally, this is also a critically important piece for literary agents who are deluged with read requests every day.
  4. Superb Cover Art. Maybe this should’ve been higher on the list since it’s practically sequential, but the cover is the very first thing a reader sees. If it reeks of sub-par quality or feels amateurish the reader isn’t likely to be receptive to your enthusiasm and might not even bother reading the cover copy.
  5. Know Your Reader. People are meant to be in community, so find out where your reader are and what they like—engage them on familiar ground. I write mostly SF/F and there is little surprise that I do well at comic conventions. If you write something similar to Chicken Soup For the Soul, a scrapbooking or quilting club is a great place to talk about your book and engage readers. I would terribly at a historical society meeting, but a nonfiction author who writes on regional interests could do well. Identify your target audience; go to your target audience.

As much as I wish there was a magic bullet to make your book irresistible to consumers, there is not. No special formulas or methods, just pure, unadulterated hard work, enthusiasm, ability to sell, and drive to keep promoting your book. When your energy runs low, take a break. If it doesn’t come back, fake it. Push through until something breaks—if your book is good and if you’re present with your prime target audience, persistence will always rule over resistance.

Be tenacious. Be excited. You’ve got this.

State of Writing

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I casually remarked to a fellow Rotary member today at lunch, “I thought things were supposed to calm down for me after the summer.” I must be a terrible judge of these things.

Regardless, I’m keeping on task with my edits. Fear in a Land Without Shadows should be sent to my editor by the weekend. I had a blast signing books and meeting people over the weekend at one of my few out-of-state events over the weekend at Iowa’s longest running comic book store (thanks Oak Leaf Comics) who had their 40th anniversary celebration.

Hopefully, after this week I can start outlining The Hidden Rings of Myrddin the Cambion… I also have need for a few people to beta read the second Wolves of the Tesseract novel and the third Kakos Realm books. Contact me if you want to read them and provide feedback!

Where to get Art for your DIY Cover

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For many DIY authors who have either a familiarity with software and aspects of design, access to great templates for covers, or just want to try their own hand making covers, knowing where to get license free artwork is a boon.

One quick caveat on cover art, many people have made many, many really bad book covers. Good enough to satisfy doesn’t cut it. This is one more area where the failure of indies (or their apathy towards the subject) has made the term “self-published” synonymous with “crap.” Please don’t take a dump on the pile and add to it. If you are committed to releasing a DIY cover into the wild, please make sure that it doesn’t reflect poorly upon indies as a whole. There are many services who will gladly contract with you to design the cover you have in mind (but check their portfolio, first, to make sure he or she isn’t some fly-by night with a demo copy of Photoshop striking out with no more skill than you.) If you see multiple images that you’d love merged into your ideal graphic but don’t have the skill to seamlessly integrate them, please don’t go alone.

There are many places to acquire stock images for use in your covers.  http://www.istockphoto.com and http://www.shutterstock.com are both highly recommended. I have memberships at both and use Shutterstock often. I have also been a member of http://www.deviantart.com for many years. Its forum has been a mostly fruitful place for me to hire professional illustrators for a variety of writing-related commissions.

For the ultimate in DIY on the cheap you can search for free images at sources that aggregate CC0 license stock images. Please use these places and not Google Image Search. A Google search will show copyrighted images and you can quickly find yourself in legal trouble for infringement—and an author who willfully infringes on the copyright of someone else (pretty close to plagiarism) will find little support from the community at large. CC0 stands for Creative Commons Zero. Under the terms of the license, all images may be used, displayed, or modified freely for personal or commercial use. The only stipulation is that identifiable faces should not be used in potentially offensive ways (like erotica book covers). No attribution is needed. (More here: https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)

My favorite site tops this list, others follow.

  1. https://pixabay.com
  2. https://www.pexels.com/
  3. http://unsplash.com/
  4. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/
  5. http://publicdomainarchive.com/
  6. http://littlevisuals.co/
  7. http://pickupimage.com/
  8. http://www.pdpics.com/
  9. https://stocksnap.io/
  10. http://skitterphoto.com/

Picking your cover art and design motifs are one thing, but remember the practical things, too. Your spine’s thickness will depend upon exactly how many pages are in your book, and whether your pages are white or crème (they have different thicknesses that add up.) Rather than do all of the math, I’d recommend searching online for a “book cover calculator” that will adjust your spine width for you and give you a template to design over with proper bleed and trim edges. Both Createspace and Ingramspark have these features built into their creation wizards and allow users to upload their own files for quality proofing by their own experts (mostly Skynet computers who gained sentience.)

Because of the large file sizes and opportunities to constantly tweak, change, or mess up, I recommend saving often, and save in multiple formats. I always save any final WIP that I intend to upload as a Photoshop PDF with all layers merged together and at 300DPI (always work in 300DPI—you can always lose quality, but never gain it). Some publishers have maximum file sizes to keep their servers from imploding; merging the layers helps bring that size down.

When all is said and done and you are done tweaking and adjusting your graphics, make sure to get a physical proof ordered by your printer. Oftentimes colors will represent as darker or lighter when ink hits the paper. I try to intentionally upgrade the vibrancy of my covers so that they pop more. Printed covers tend to either look darker or more faded out than they do on the screen.

Happy designing, and don’t feel bad if you get unhappy results. I’ve scrapped many pieces that I didn’t love… and my biggest regrets come from using artwork that wasn’t quite ready for the world to see. Don’t publish unfinished art or unedited stories. The world won’t thank you for not doing that… but it will ridicule you if you do.

Review: Ride the Star Wind

rideI’ve always been a little skeptical of anthologies. I did a convention this week and my table mate sold out of his anthology while I nearly sold out of mine. With the quality of production and content on the rise, it’s easy to see how anthologies like Ride the Star Wind are changing opinions.

Ride the Star Wind is definitely the best anthology I’ve reviewed (and I’m very picky with anthologies over here at Inside the Inkwell.) I don’t say that lightly. I haven’t yet read every story, but that’s because I’m savoring it. These guys at Broken Eye Books nailed everything about the Lovecraftian mythos and it feels amazing.

I was a little concerned at first when I saw a preview of the cover art. A lot of great popmetal and metalcore bands were doing art like this (it’s almost a nu-ratfink) ten years ago and it exploded. The problem was that so many artists were merely doing copycat pieces to make a few bucks without really embracing the weirdness of it. By this I mean that it fits a certain mold and when you look at it up close it loses something. But not this one. This art is amazing! Everything on the cover is spot-on (I recommend getting the paperback for sure, everything from the finish and feel of the book to the fonts and color.) Seriously, I’d hang this as a poster in my mancave next to my Imax floor to ceiling Logan movie poster. The interior illustrations are also right on the money, even in black and white and the little touches like the Elder Sign paragraph breaks and the story title blocks preserves the feel of the book.

As far as stories and content, the feel is awesome. There are good stories in here! (I’m not going into specifics because it is an anthology and it will vary from piece to piece.) H.P. Lovecraft didn’t write novels; a huge swath of his work was limited in word count and wouldn’t even be considered a novelette. That said, those who really know Lovecraft will feel like this book is a big heaping pile of authentic cosmic horror, and in all the best ways possible.

I know the paperback looks a little expensive if you’ve bought anthologies before—but don’t let that fool you… this isn’t like others. It’s roughly two and a half times the size of the last antho I picked up, so you’re getting at least an equal value on it (and this comes from a guy who hates spending more than twenty bucks on a book.)

I did receive my copy for free in exchange for an honest review. You’ll have to pay for yours, but if you’re into the genre, I have a feeling that you won’t regret it. You can check it out by clicking here!