jessicasteiner: (Fangirl Moment)
Today I bring you a much-delayed review I was asked to give of Starship Grifters: A Rex Nihilo Adventure. The author provided me with a pre-release e-book copy of the book, which is published by 47North.

Starship Grifters is the story of a half-insane space-faring con artist named Rex Nihilo, who travels the stars looking for ways to pad his pocket book. He's always in debt, pursued by the authorities, getting into unbelievable adventures, and nearly getting himself killed. The story is told from the POV of his robot, who has a program fault such that any time she has an original thought, she shuts down and forgets what she was talking about. This creates some delightfully odd moments in the narrative.

I honestly didn't know what to think of the story for the first chapter or two, but it sucked me in despite myself. I found myself laughing out loud at quite a few points. It's written in the quirky and satirical vein of the Hitchhiker's Guide, and as a long-standing Douglas Adams fan, I was originally skeptical of anyone who was trying to follow along in those footsteps.

However, Kroese won me over, and I eagerly look forward to the sequel.

I want to thank Kroese for approaching me to do this review. It's a book that I likely wouldn't have found on my own, but I hope this review prompts more people to check it out.
jessicasteiner: (Constructive Criticism)
During my vacation, I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I'm vaguely aware that there was a movie, which I haven't seen. I just thought the book sounded neat, so I read it.

I read it in ebook format, on my Kobo e-reader. In this historical fantasy novel, an old secret journal is uncovered which reveals that Abraham Lincoln - yes, that Abraham Lincoln - was secretly a vampire hunter.

I have a funny feeling that there may have been pictures and/or formatting that didn't translate into the ebook version, but I could be wrong. I haven't checked a physical copy to determine if it's true. If so, I'm sad, but it didn't hugely impact my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, I found it very interesting and engaging. It's a fun, quick read, and I read the entire book in an afternoon.

I don't know much about the American civil war, and it was interesting to learn something about this historical event that I never studied in school. The author did a good job working real history and the "secret history" in together so that you could almost (but not quite) believe that it was really true that vampires existed in civil war era United States.

Also (spoiler) Abraham doesn't have sex with any vampires!

Worth checking out, especially if you enjoy historical fantasy and/or vampire novels that aren't just about sexual wish-fulfilment.
jessicasteiner: (Solitaire)
I have some other reviews lined up, but this book suddenly came across my computer screen and then hit me hard enough I want to go out and get everyone to read it before my passion for it starts to dwindle.

How To Be a Whiny Beeyotch: 71 Writing Excuses Meet the Back of My Hand is a quick read (only 161 pages on Kindle) and every page is gold. At least, if you're a person who wants to write, or believes you want to write, which are not always the same thing.

The book is basically a list of 71 real excuses given to Mr. Morgan for why a person who wants to become an author, can't do it. And then why those excuses are bullshit.

While many of the excuses made me laugh at how silly the people making them are, #4, #5 and #6 were the ones that really got my goat. As I was reading those it was a lot of 'Oh...yeah. You're right' and realizing that I needed to stop kidding myself. I may literally print them out and wallpaper my office with them. I think anyone who wants to be a writer will find their excuses in this book, and will see that those excuses are simply nothing that should be stopping them.

I have two complaints about this book:

1. It's not long enough. There's about 2 pages of witty, pithy, sarcastic anti-bullshit motivational stuff for each of the excuses, and it was over far too quickly! I would have loved to read Mr. Morgan's humour for far more than a single evening. (Though I think I'm going to run out and get some of his other books, so there's that)

2. It's only available in paperback, or on Kindle, apparently. Mr. Morgan, if you see this, some of us have Kobos. I paid for it anyway, hoping that I'd be able to convert it to epub and read it on my chosen device, but it has DRM. Instead, I had to read it on my laptop, which sort of sucked. This, unlike #1, is a real complaint. But it's no reflection on the quality of the book itself.

So yes, go get it. It's only $3.50 or something on Kindle. It made me laugh out loud at many parts, and really got me feeling good about writing as well. I heartily recommend it.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
I've been meaning to do an in-depth post like this for a long time, and now I've had a couple of requests, so I'm going to bite the bullet and try to put my thoughts into order about this topic. I've done a tonne of research over the last couple of years, and there are many reasons why I've decided to self-publish, some financial, some not. I very much welcome discussion about this topic. It's a hugely timely issue for writers, as well as readers, and I think a lot of people don't really grasp the enormity of the issue.

My reasons break down into several categories, which can probably be summarized as: money, career planning, control, and trends. Read on for my reasons )
jessicasteiner: (Constructive Criticism)
Catching Fire is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

In Catching Fire, Katniss, Peeta and the others have to deal with the fallout of giving the Capital a general 'fuck you' at the end of the first book. They are forced back into the games again, as the Capital attempts to contain the growing flames of a new District rebellion.

I read the ebook version of this book, as well. The ebook title can be purchased for around $10.00, so I guess the sale I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games is now over. The audiobook is available on Audible for about $20.00, narrated by Carolyn McCormick.

This review may get a little spoilery about character motivations, but not so much about plot points.

Catching Fire is definitely my favourite of the three books (which I can say with certainty now that I've finished Mockingjay). It definitely doesn't suffer from "middle book syndrome" in my opinion, and is a solid story in itself that carries the overarching plot forward rather than simply forming a bridge between the beginning book and the ending book, as many second books do.

The new characters introduced in this book are strong and interesting, receiving good development. I especially liked Finnick, and the way one's perception of his character changes over course of the novel. Katniss also deepens her relationship with many characters that were in the first book, such as Haymitch and Gale. I also liked how her relationship with Peeta developed, as she struggled with her feelings.

Katniss has a really hard time trusting and loving others (except for Prim), and the reasons for this are understandable on many different levels. I like that her romance isn't simple. It's not just a stereotypical love triangle between her, Peeta and Gale, where she must choose between the two men in her life - there's every chance that she will be unable to choose either of them. This is something that I found interesting and compelling to read.

One of the things I love best about this trilogy is the realistic way that Collins portrays the horrors of being thrust into a war, especially its effect children, but on adults as well. The characters have dealt with trauma in a variety of different ways, and this is an important part of the plot. While it's not just unrelenting doom and gloom, the horror of not just having been selected to participate in the games once, and having to carry that memory forever, but to know that she will have to go back in, is sharply felt. This is not only something that Katniss has to deal with, but also most of the other characters as well, and they all react in different ways.

I really don't have anything bad to say about this book, so I'll round off the review there!
jessicasteiner: (Constructive Criticism)
I'm sure about a billion people have reviewed this book, but...tough. I'm doing it anyway.

The Hunger Games has been on my list of books to read for quite a long time - since before I got my e-reader, and long before there was a movie. With the film having just come out, I decided that it was about time to finally knock it off my list, so I could go to the film and fully appreciate it.

I'll do my best to keep this review spoiler-free. If it bothers you to know the basic premise or the names of characters, stop reading here.

The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy about Katniss Everdeen, a young woman who is chosen to participate in a horrific death-match against young men and women from around the world, as part of a sort of yearly Oppression Olympics held by the Capital.

I purchased The Hunger Games from audible with one of my credits, as well as getting the ebook for my Kobo, but wound up reading the ebook. I'll probably listen to the audiobook, too, but I haven't had time, and I read far faster than I can listen. You can get the audiobook here for about $20, which is pretty up there, but the ebook is sale on the Kobo site for only $0.99, which is probably a limited time thing. Amazon.com has it for $5.00 for the Kindle.

I found The Hunger Games to be a wonderful book. As far as pacing, it is a quick read. I devoured it in a day or two, and it only took that long because I physically didn't have much time to read. Suzanne Collins is very good at dragging you into the next chapter without letting you go, and every time I put the book down I kept wanting to pick it back up again.

Despite the very dark premise, there are a fair number of light-hearted moments and victories for Katniss, enough to keep the story from becoming overwhelmingly depressing. Yet the subject matter is treated seriously. The different ways the characters react to such violence and horror, essentially being turned into child soldiers, is varied and realistic. And the romance plot is important to the story without destroying Katniss' independence or reducing her to the level of a romantic heroine.

I found Katniss difficult to warm up to at first, as she comes across as slightly masculinized, having no interest in much outside of hunting, but I grew to love her and found her well-developed as a character. She is consistent, and also develops and grows through the book, and her struggles don't always show her in the best light, which is great.

I find it unfortunate that while there were a lot of great females in the book, such as her mother, her sister Prim, Rue, Effie, etc., and her relationships with them drive the book, their roles take a back seat to the strong speaking roles of the males in Katniss' life, such as Gale, Peeta, Haymitch, and Cinna. That being said, there is no shortage of strong females overall, and others may disagree with my feeling on this.

As for the ebook format itself, it was probably one of the best-formatted books I've read on my Kobo. I didn't have to fiddle with the font size, and it was nice that at the end of the chapter there was a page break, then the next chapter started halfway down the page, just like a real book.

I would heartily recommend this book, and I've already finished the second, and moved on to the third. Reviews for those will follow, no doubt.
jessicasteiner: (Blank Paper)
I've been listening to a lot of interviews lately and a similar theme keeps popping up amongst the various authors - how is the internet, and in particular, the popularity of ebooks, going to affect the publishing industry going forward?

There are a couple of things that come up over and over, which I'm going to summarize for you here really quickly (basically because the point of this article isn't really about what the impact will be, but what in heck are the best ways to deal with it).

Firstly, the publishing industry as a whole is not really geared to protect the author. This isn't that surprising, even if it is disheartening. Despite the fact that no one in the industry would have a job if it weren't for authors spending a lot of time and hard work writing books, authors only get perhaps 10% of the revenue from the books they write. If they're lucky.

Even though there are many aspects of how publishing works that at best fail to support the success of authors - or at worst, actively sabotage them - the author has little to no say in how a book is marketed by the publishing industry. Authors take on nearly all the risk of the sale of a book (if a book tanks, you can basically kiss your career goodbye while everyone else gets to keep their job), but they can do little to actually improve their own chances. Authors are expected to do all of their own marketing, even though they have no resources in particular and publishing companies are large. Authors are expected to wait years for portions of their royalties because book stores are permitted to return any books not sold with no penalty and no time limit.

I imagine the reason for this is that the publishing company figures, I guess, that for every author that they let go because their trilogy didn't sell as well as they hoped, there are hundreds of people who are eager to take their place. Why spend money helping your existing people to succeed when there are so many others around who might be the next J.K. Rowling? Even though the one you actually have might be that person, if you just helped them along a little.

Secondly, it appears that the publishing industry as a whole is not really prepared to embrace the ebook industry. They are treating it as an adjunct, an additional, but comparatively unimportant part of their market, while they flail around madly trying to prop up flagging sales figures on paper books. The price of paper books is skyrocketing, major chains and independent book sellers are going out of business, and I am given to understand that Amazon now sells more ebooks than paper books.

But despite all this, we have seen little change that I'm aware of in the publishing industry's business model. They're still focused on selling paper books, and they're selling ebooks for as much as the paper books (at least the paperbacks, thankfully I haven't run across any $20+ ebooks in my searches so far). And their sales figures continue to be uncertain.

And no matter how much most of us might love paper books, no matter how fearful some might be that they will become extinct and we will never be able to curl up in bed with a paper book in our hands (a future I honestly doubt we will ever see) ebooks are the future. They are hugely popular and growing in popularity. They are convenient, and if the people in charge of getting books to readers don't embrace the technology and figure out how to maximize their usage of it, it is those people who will become obsolete and disappear - not the ebooks.

It is this lack of certainty and the resistance to change which causes even more uncertainty for the authors. Because authors take on all the risk and have no control, if the publishing industry fails, it is the author who suffers first.

And since I'm an author, this is something that's been weighing on my mind as I listen to these interviews - if I know that even if I break in and sell a first novel that is no guarantee of success or even fair treatment, how do I try to increase my own odds and take control of my own future?

Well, there are a couple of ideas.

Idea 1: Direct E-book Sales

Michael A. Stackpole (whom I wrote about last week) has started selling ebooks directly. All it really takes is a website, a Pay-Pal button (and/or an Amazon seller's account), Microsoft Word, and persistence.

The obvious advantage is complete control. Your overhead is basically nil, and for every book you sell, you get 100% of the profit. If you've got a following already, you're pretty much golden. Otherwise you've got to work at it, and work hard at it.

One big disadvantage is the lack of gatekeeping. Just because you might want to write books doesn't mean you're actually any good at it. The traditional function of the publishing industry has been to fill this role, though they haven't always done a very good job at it (Twilight anyone?). Still, people tend to assume if you're good enough that the book is published, they're safe to read it. But if you're just some random Joe on the web, they're not going to pay for your unedited drivel unless they know it's good.

There are two ways around this that I can see, and both are pretty easy.

One is to include free samples of your work on your website. They may be whole stories that you're willing to give out for free, or they may be first chapters of novels that you're selling.

The second is to get editing help, from people who know what they're doing. They may be other authors, and you can pay for their assistance by editing their work. The bonus of this is that you can promote each other's books and cross-pollinate your fan-bases. If none of you are traditionally published authors, this could be a situation of the blind leading the blind, but it might work well. Or you can even hire the same freelance editors that the publishing industry uses, though I have no idea how much they charge and you should be extremely wary of scams.

I would suggest a combination of these two - get editing help and then show people a sample of what they're buying so they know it's good. You can't go wrong with that.

In his podcast, The Secrets (which I reviewed last week), Mr. Stackpole suggests a pricing scheme as follows:

$2.00 for a short story (less than 10,000 words)
$3.00 for a novella (10,000 - 40,000 words)
$4.00 - $5.00 for a novel depending on the length

That's a heck of a lot cheaper than most books on the market, and he gets all of the money immediately instead of a 10% or less royalty he may not see for 15 months. One can make a good living even if you're actually making far fewer sales at this rate, I would say.

Idea 2: Small print runs

Tracy Hickman said in an interview that I recently listened to, (and I'm paraphrasing because I couldn't find the exact wording if I tried now,) a book is just a souvenir of the story that you read and loved.

Not every book you read is going to be a keeper. I don't know about you, but I have bookshelves and bookshelves crammed with paper books, and I haven't even purchased that many books in the last ten-plus years since I moved out of my parents' house and had to start paying for my own books. (Thanks, Mom and Dad)

Going forward, in the age of the ebook, the books you really want to actually have in your hands are the ones which are truly important to you. The ones that changed your life. The ones that you will go to for comfort and want to curl up with like an old friend. Other books you may read and enjoy and never really want to have that book to keep on your shelf and remember forever the experience you had with those characters.

Once a person has read your ebook they may want to buy your actual book, but they may not want to pay full price twice. You could have them pay the difference to get the full copy of the book, reduce your profit margin a little, but get a loyal fan who isn't turned off by the lack of a print option. You could even do limited runs of signed copies. There are several services which allow anyone to self-publish small runs. If you could sell enough copies, paying for Lulu would be worth it.

Idea 3: Serialization

Some of you may have heard of Dragons Bard, which is a series by Tracy and Laura Hickman. They are selling the experience of a story in a far different way than normal. People who buy in to this book get the chapters week by week as they are being written. They get access to forums where they can discuss the book as they go, and receive access to special additional content (I presume maps and little tidbits about the world). And at the end of the whole process they get a signed, limited edition copy of the book to keep.

I would presume that you would pay a bit more for this than you would for the average ebook or paperback, but I think the experience would be well worth it, if it's a book you enjoy. And you do get the book at the end, as your souvenir.

Serialization doesn't appeal to everyone. I know when I was talking to Miko about these ideas that she said she wasn't interested in a serialization model because she reads too much and would get frustrated waiting for the next instalment to come out. She prefers to wait until a whole series is out (even when we're talking about a series of novels!) before buying the whole set.

Thank goodness not everyone is like Miko or we wouldn't have any series.

Serialization is a tried and true, traditional model, and not everyone minds waiting. The anticipation can be exciting, and many successful art forms continue to work with this model, such as comic books. It wouldn't be difficult to build a community of subscribers who pay an ongoing fee to get chapters of your books, if you can keep them on the edge of their seat and continually put out good stuff.

Idea 4: Adding Extras

What if your e-book had pictures? Animation? Music?

What if fans of your book could pay a small fee to get a membership to your website, and gain access to essays about the magic system, about the technology, about bits of the world they wouldn't normally get to see?

What if they could buy short side stories that add to the richness of your main story?

These are things that the publishing industry has really never touched to my knowledge, but which could really deepen and expand the experience of reading your book, making it memorable, and making it more likely that fans will remember and return to buy again.

Idea 5: Traditional Publishing

Obviously I'm not discounting this! Traditional publishing still works for many people, and could work for me. Going this route doesn't preclude also supplementing income and creating security by using some of these other ideas.

In fact, none of these ideas are mutually exclusive, in my opinion. I could see application for doing all of these, or some combination.

I'd like to get some discussion going, so here are some questions:


  1. What do you think of these different ideas I've outlined?


  2. Any other ideas that I haven't touched on or potential implications of each idea that I haven't mentioned?


  3. Do you think that the prices quoted for direct sales are fair?


  4. Is there anything in particular that really captures your attention and you want to talk about?

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Jessica Steiner

February 2016

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