The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III: Now Available for Amazon Kindle

I’m pleased to announce the official release of the third thrilling volume in the award-winning Soul Cycle, The Secret Kings.

About The Secret Kings

 
Campbell Award finalist Brian Niemeier’s highly acclaimed Soul Cycle speeds toward its climax in the thrilling sequel to Dragon Award winner Souldancer, The Secret Kings.

The god of the Void is free. Aided by a Night Gen fleet, Shaiel’s fanatical Lawbringers spread his Will throughout the Middle Stratum and beyond.

Teg Cross, whose mercenary career took him to hell and back, finds the old world replaced by a new order on the brink of total war. A fateful meeting with a friend from his past sets him on a crusade to defy Shaiel’s rule.

Meanwhile, Nakvin strives to muster a last-ditch resistance in Avalon. But can worldly kings and queens stand against divine wrath?

The Secret Kings cover - clean

Thanks to my international team of publishing experts, including my lovely and talented editor L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright, my astounding cover artist Marcelo Orsi Blanco, and consummate professional formatters Jason and Marina Anderson from Polgarus Studio. This book wouldn’t exist in its current wonderful form without you.

Special thanks to all of my outstanding beta readers for helping me to polish the manuscript and get the book out the door by Christmas. We made it!

On the subject of early readers, initial reviews have been unanimously positive. Just because they’re beta readers, that doesn’t mean they’re sycophants. These guys have been some of my most rigorous and astute critics going back to Nethereal, so I’m inclined to trust their judgment.

To be completely honest with you, I wasn’t expecting quite this kind of response to The Secret Kings. I knew that the book was good, but I’d expected a reception on par with Souldancer, which is still my personal favorite entry in the series. SK is actually shaping up to be the fan favorite, which is fine by me. I work to please my readers, and if you guys are finding yourselves increasingly entertained by each new book I write, it means I’m succeeding at my job.

The Secret Kings - Front and Back Covers

On further reflection, it’s not surprising that this book resonates so well with audiences. There’s a nigh-universal hunger for good space opera, and The Secret Kings definitely fits that genre–even more so than Nethereal did. Compared to both of its predecessors, SK features more space battles, more fight scenes, and more overall action, all tightly wrapped into a little over 400 print pages.

The most common reader observation about The Secret Kings is that the previous two books in the Soul Cycle make more sense in light of the revelations it contains. That’s probably because SK ties together plot threads and character arcs from Nethereal and Souldancer in satisfying ways. In terms of things making more sense, it’s not that I didn’t give readers all the pieces in the prior two books; it’s that I’ve now provided categories that help frame the puzzle. As a result, the answers can be seen more clearly.

I’ve also provided sword fights, space werewolves, another kind of space werewolves, disintegration rays, space jellyfish, multiple flavors of teleportation, true friendship. long-awaited revenge, and even a touch of heartbreak. Because a little bitterness gives contrast and context to sweetness.

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is available now from Amazon for Kindle. The trade paperback is currently undergoing review at Createspace and will be available any time now. I’ll update you as soon as the print version goes live.

In the meantime, please enjoy The Secret Kings with my heartfelt thanks.

For those who haven’t read the first two books in the Soul Cycle yet, I haven’t forgotten about you. Nethereal and Dragon Award winner Souldancer are both on sale now for $3.99 each.

Get all three exciting novels today and get ready for the fourth and final Soul Cycle book, which you’ll find a preview of in The Secret Kings.

Happy Anniversary, Nethereal!

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

My indie publishing adventure began one year ago today when my first novel, Nethereal, went live on Amazon.

It’s been a wild ride, to say the least. In the past year, I’ve released my first book’s sequel, Souldancer, put together a second edition of Nethereal based on your feedback, got nominated for a Campbell Award, and received a coveted BOOK BOMB from super author Larry Correia that you guys made the fourth most successful he’s ever done!

Book Bomb
Do not underestimate the power of a Book Bomb!

It’s been said that half of self-published authors only earn $500 a year and sell about 250 books.

When I started this little publishing enterprise, I had no idea what sort of outcome to expect. It was entirely possible that everyone would hate my writing–or worse, ignore it.

Thanks to you, my growing ranks of readers and my fellow author friends, my first year sales have crushed the numbers cited above. I can’t thank you enough.

I now know that it’s possible to self-publish for a living. There’s still some altitude to gain before I reach that lofty peak, but it’s now much closer than the ground.

No turning back now.

I hope you’ll join me on the way up. And bring a friend.

What does the coming year hold? What’s really exciting is that I have no more idea what to expect this year than I did last year. Anything could happen!

One thing I do know: Soul Cycle Book III, the penultimate entry in the series, is coming along quite well. I’m aiming for a late 2016 launch, so watch this blog for updates and release dates.

In the meantime, what’s an anniversary without gifts?

Nethereal, the SFF book that started it all, is on sale today for $2.99 in the Kindle Store.

Already own Nethereal? Get the even better sequel Souldancer right now for the same low price!

Have you already read Nethereal and/or Souldancer but have been waiting to leave a review? What better time than on this auspicious day to share your informed opinions with me and Amazon’s customers?
Honest Amazon reviews benefit authors in several ways. For one thing, they figure into the Kindle Store’s ranking algorithm. Plus, Amazon ramps up their promotional efforts for books with 50 or more reviews. Last but not least, feedback is good. I read every review, and as Nethereal 2nd ed. shows, I listen to reviewer feedback.
Writing a review can seem daunting, but don’t worry! It’s perfectly fine to leave something as simple as, “I really liked this,” or “The story wasn’t to my taste.” Every little bit helps.
Thanks to all the folks who have already left reviews. If you’d like to express your opinion, please consider leaving a review for Nethereal, Souldancer, or both today.

Nethereal BOOK BOMB!

I’m proud to announce that today I’m joining forces with best selling author Larry Correia to BOOK BOMB! my breakout SF-fantasy novel Nethereal.

What is a BOOK BOMB? I’ll let Larry explain:

For those of you unfamiliar with Book Bombs, what we do is pick a good book and a deserving author that could use a publicity boost, and then all purchase their novel on the same day on Amazon. Since Amazon updates its sales rankings with this rolling average algorithm, the more books bought on the same day, the higher it gets in the rankings. The higher it gets, the more new eyes see it, and the more new readers the author is exposed to. Success breeds success, and most importantly the author GETS PAID.

In this case, the lucky author is me 🙂

I’ll actually be posting the Book Bomb post the night of the 17th, because it appears that Amazon now has about a ten hour delay before the sales register. Gone are the wild west days where a book would begin climbing an hour after the Book Bomb started, and it isn’t nearly as awesome to hit the peak at 2 AM when most people are asleep and won’t see it.

You might be wondering how Larry selects books to bomb. Here are his stated criteria:

Why did I pick Brian for this month’s Book Bomb? First, I really liked the book. Second, he’s just starting out, and he’s a super nice guy.

Thank you, Larry! I’m honored to be lavished with such high praise from an author as accomplished as yourself. Your manatee will be released on schedule at the agreed-upon site–which is a relief, because he’s halfway through my last drum of Cheetos.
Anyway, welcome, members of the Monster Hunter Nation and all readers who’ve taken an interest in the BOOK BOMB! Here’s a foretaste of what Nethereal has in store.
About Nethereal
A woman like no other who longs for acceptance.
A precision killer inspired by the dream of his captain.
The last member of a murdered race, fighting to avenge his people against the might of the Guild…and the dark powers behind it.
The Sublime Brotherhood of Steersmen holds the Middle Stratum in its iron grip. Jaren Peregrine, last of the Gen, raids across fringe space with Nakvin—her captain’s best pilot and only friend, apprentice steersman Deim, and mercenary Teg Cross.
Hunted by the ruthless Master Malachi, Jaren and his crew join a conspiracy to break the Guild’s monopoly with an experimental ship. But when its maiden voyage goes awry, the Exodus flies farther off course than its crew could have imagined.
OK. You know about the book. Larry has recommended it. Get over to Amazon and buy it! Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book 1)
And for those who already own Nethereal, the even better sequel Souldancer is on sale now for $2.99.
Thanks again to Larry and everyone who’s helped to make this BOOK BOMB! a success.

Fandom Is Dead. Long Live Fandom!

the medium is the message

If you change the medium, you change the message.

Philosopher of communication Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively that advances in media, regardless of content, can incite dramatic, culture-wide effects.

A best selling print book can reach millions of people, but turn that book into a hit movie, and you increase its sphere of influence by orders of magnitude. Consider The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Or, for a meta-example, In the Mouth of Madness.

Now throw in digital technologies–the power to instantly connect with anyone or everyone, everywhere. The effect is compounded exponentially.
A media paradigm shift is playing out in SF fandom.


Dragon Con

Getting back to McLuhan, saying that he was ahead of his time would be an understatement. In fact, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to call his work prophetic. Let’s put it this way: the dude predicted the internet in 1962.

McLuhan noted that print technology caused a massive societal shift away from the more tribal, logic-focused outlook of the Middle Ages to a more individualistic, rhetorical worldview. He expected the web to swing the pendulum back toward tribalism.

Let’s take a look at SF fandom through the lens of McLuhan’s “medium as message” theory.

In the early days, science fiction enthusiasts:

A. Got their fix almost exclusively through the printed word in the form of novels and short stories circulated in magazines.

B. Were a pretty nonconformist, iconoclastic bunch. As Andy Duncan recently said on the passing of the great David Hartwell:

Even in the mid-20th century, David continued, science fiction was a haven for gay and bi and trans people, for people in open marriages or triads or even more complex domestic scenarios, for people with physical and mental disabilities, for shameless exhibitionists and unapologetic recluses, for anarchists and socialists and Birchers and libertarians and Weathermen and CIA operatives, for cosplayers and gamers and creative anachronists and people who crafted wholly spurious biographies for themselves that were accepted and therefore became sort of true, for channelers and Scientologists and orthodox Jews and pre-Vatican II Catholics and Mormons and New Agers and heretics and atheists and freethinkers, for Ph.D.’s and autodidacts, for writers of COBOL and speakers of Esperanto, for Forteans and CSICOPs, for astronomers and astrologers, for psychics and physicists, for basically anyone who was smart and passionate and willing to pitch in somewhere— though talent certainly helped, and curiosity, and a zeal for argument, and a sense of humor.

C. Subsisted as a relatively small subculture within larger Western society.

It’s often been remarked how sci-fi fandom burst out of the basements, niche bookstores, and cramped con suites of its birth to win new legions of adherents with the 1977 release of Star Wars.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

–Brad R. Torgersen

Most commenters usually emphasize this event’s unprecedented effect on C, take A largely for granted, and so gloss over–or misattribute–the causal relationship between the change in the primary medium of SF consumption and B.

Brad is an outlier in his astute recognition that newer media (movies, TV, video games, etc.) contributed to the disruption of old fandom. But he focuses more on what kinds of SF contemporary fans prefer than how they prefer to experience it.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom.

My explanation for the conflicts that have shaken fandom of late differs slightly from Brad’s. I agree that relative innovations like movies and TV, and recent developments like video games (which are all reasons why there is no universal canon of SF touchstones), lie at the root of the turmoil.

But I don’t think that fandom is tearing itself apart. Instead, what we’re seeing is various sub-tribes of SF fans vying against each other to establish the identity of an emerging, consolidated fandom.

Brad gives a good description of this phenomenon: “It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.”

That, my friends, is the shape of the future. But what will be the content of its character? What sort of men will these post-fans be? Or will the Amazon servers and mega-convention halls of tomorrow be populated entirely by omnisexual, non-binary otherkin?
Fandom will become more communal, but what sort of community will it be?

Star Trek: The Apple

Watching a movie requires less personal effort than reading print. Even eBooks engage readers’ senses and though processes differently than print books do.

Audiences watching the same movie share a much more uniform experience than readers of the same book. Everyone who’s seen Star Wars knows what Luke Skywalker looks like, but no two Neuromancer readers have exactly the same mental image of Case.

The film industry dwarfs print publishing. As more people come to SF through movies, their shared experience will restore fandom’s sense of community. What the values and customs of this community will be remains undetermined.

The outcome is being decided right now, by self-appointed makers and high priests of culture. If we would have a say in the destiny of fandom, we must wield the new technological tools at our disposal. And we must establish a presence in film.

Currently, I am at best a lowly squire in the battle royale for fandom’s soul. Who are the warring tribes, and who are the chieftains that champion their visions?

We’ll meet them next time.

Amazon Stumbles Over Parody Book

John Scalzi Banned This Book

Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed my generally favorable disposition toward Amazon. I consider it a public service to refute the deceptive zombie memes spread by Amazon’s less scrupulous detractors.

These actions are rooted in my commitment to support what’s best for readers and authors. In most cases there’s no question that Amazon treats their customers–both writers and readers–better than legacy publishers do. However, I have no qualms about calling Amazon out when they drop the ball.

A disappointing case of Amazon violating their customer-centric prime directive has developed in the last few days. The incident arose in response to an ongoing flame war between best selling author John Scalzi, who recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with Tor Books, and game developer/SFF editor Vox Day, whom one might describe as the sci-fi equivalent of a heel wrestler.

The full details of the controversy can be found here. The part that interests me is Scalzi’s request to have a parody book with a highly unflattering invocation of his name in the title removed from the Kindle Store–a request which Amazon granted.

Taking a moment to dispense with an obvious objection, Scalzi sought expert advice on the book’s legal status and was informed that it is clearly recognizable satire protected under the First Amendment. So the book’s unknown author is guilty of breaking no law.

I also understand that Amazon is a private sector company that has every right to decide what it will and will not sell. That’s not the crux of my argument. I maintain that, even though removing the book was well within Amazon’s rights, they were stupid to do so.

Bowing to the demands of a best selling, millionaire author makes Amazon look like they’re siding with the establishment against the little guy–and in this case, they are.

It doesn’t help that the same author chided Amazon back in 2010 for doing what he’s just turned around and asked them to do.

Even more disturbing, some customers have reported the book missing from their Kindle libraries (see comments 5 and 10). Amazon has deleted eBooks from customers’ Kindles before. Even Amazon president Jeff Bezos called the practice “stupid”, but that didn’t stop them from doing it again.

And since the book in question was the #1 parody title on Amazon, a lot of people may have had their purchases deleted. Amazon has always issued refunds when they’ve done this, but it’s the perception of confiscating property without the owners’ permission that makes this move a huge customer service failure.

Postscript: the book is back in the Kindle Store under a new title. It’s to be hoped that Amazon learned the lesson that Sonny Corleone ignored to his peril: don’t interfere.

How to Make Your Self-Published Novel Reader-Friendly

How to Make Your Self-Published Novel Reader-Friendly

The twin revolutions in digital book distribution and self-publishing have forever changed how we obtain, market, read, and produce books of all kinds. Today I’m going to explain a bit about the production end, focusing on novels.

Technology, largely driven by Amazon, has overthrown the old publishing model that had gone largely unchanged for centuries. Not even the book layout familiar to most readers has been spared. Every indie author should know how to make a self-published novel reader-friendly, because the advent of ePub, mobi, etc. formats and the devices that read them has placed a powerful set of tools in authors’ hands.

Grab a dead tree novel off the shelf and take a look at the first few pages. Odds are you’ll see a title page, followed by a copyright notice no one reads, a dedication everybody skips, and possibly another title page.

Old Books
Old school book design favors publishers; not readers.

Compared to paper codices, eBooks are a whole other beast with their own set of dynamics. Indie authors would be wise to arrange their books’ contents according to these guidelines:

Cover Image

One major difference between print books and eBooks is that the latter don’t have physical covers. Since its cover is among a book’s most powerful marketing assets, compensate by placing your professionally commissioned cover image on the first page of the eBook version.

This is the first thing readers see when they open my eBook.

Solid covers convey the genre, mood, and tone of their books at a glance. They must also be intelligible in black and white and in thumbnail size. An effective cover will incentivize your audience to turn the page. Therefore, the next page should feature…

The Book’s Description, aka the “About” Page

If you expected the copyright notice to come next, you’re mired in analog thinking. Yes, protecting your authorial rights is important, but giving your audience a pleasurable reading experience is vital. Most readers load up their Kindles, tablets, and phones with eBooks, so placing the description right after the cover helps them remember which book yours is and why they bought it.

The book’s description should be the same as its Amazon product description and the print version’s back jacket copy. I won’t rehash all of Book Marketing 101 here, but a novel’s product description should introduce the main protagonist and antagonist, their goals, and the main conflict. You can also sprinkle in mentions of central themes and important secondary characters to taste.

Sci-fi Novel Description
Nethreal’s “About” Page

Just as the cover should direct readers to the “About” page, the description they find there should entice them to start reading. Ebooks have an advantage over print books here, because readers don’t have to flip the book over. They can just forge straight ahead.

We’ve got a couple more elements to introduce before getting to the story’s first page, so let’s make them as short and sweet as possible.

Title Page

Unlike a print book, an eBook should have one title page. It should directly follow the description and should include the book’s title and the author’s name. That’s it.

Sci-fi Book Title Page
Here’s what mine looks like.



Table of Contents

Next, make sure to include a table of contents with each item linked to the page it starts on. The table should include:

  • the body of the novel
  • a glossary if you have one
  • a preview of your next book if you have it
  • the Acknowledgements page
  • your “About the Author” page
  • and finally, the copyright notice

 

Sci-fi Novel Contents
Nethreal’s Table of Contents. Note the hyperlinks.

I also recommend adding a separate table of contents that links to each individual chapter and section.

The Body of the Novel

Now that the cover has intrigued the reader sufficiently to check out the “About” page, the description has enticed him to start reading, and the table of contents has facilitated the process, it’s time to get into the meat of the story.

I’ve covered my actual writing process before, so no need to reiterate here. At this stage it’s critical to bear in mind that your book’s opening paragraph is your third and final chance to hook readers. If they’ve made it this far, then the cover has piqued their curiosity, the description has caught their attention, and it’s time to seal the deal.

Your first paragraph should open with action, dialogue, or character; not setting description. The main protagonist should be introduced, and the main conflict should at least be hinted at.

The first chapter of Nethereal is freely available here. Imperceptive critics might skim the first paragraph and accuse me of breaking my own rules. In fact, I’m actually using a somewhat more advanced technique where the main character is having an inner dialogue with herself about the setting in the context of her goals, so the paragraph pulls triple duty.

Glossary

Not every book needs one of these. Really, only sci-fi and fantasy novels with a lot of fantastical Proper Nouns should provide a mini-dictionary for the reader’s convenience.

Sci-fi Glossary
My book has a lot of fantastical Proper Nouns.

Next Book Preview

If you’re planning to follow up with another book (and you should be), it’s a good idea to give readers a foretaste of what’s to come. This step is nonnegotiable if you’re writing a series.

Sci-fi Book Preview
The preview should have its own cover page, with the addition of a note stating that it’s a preview and a subtitle giving the upcoming book’s place in the series.
Sci-fi Book Preview 1st Page
Format a preview as you would a new chapter.

Acknowledgements

Yeah, it may seem crass to relegate your outpouring of gratitude for the people who stuck with you through thick and thin to the back of the book, but let’s be honest. The only people who read acknowledgements are the people being thanked, and if they really support your writing they won’t mind you moving the acknowledgements out of the readers’ way–especially since they can skip right to them with one click.

Sci-fi Book Acknowledgements
I’m deeply grateful for all the support I’ve received. So much so that I’m publicly posting Nethereal’s acknowledgements again.

Author’s “About” Page

A major mistake that I see legacy publishers making is cramming all sorts of pointless information into author bios. An author bio should inform readers of the author’s qualifications to write about the book’s subject matter and reinforce his solidarity/credibility with the target audience. Readers don’t care where you’re from or what your day job is unless it’s relevant to your writing.

Your author bio should contain the same information as all of your social media and forum profiles. My “About” page mentions my history and theology studies–which are highly relevant to my books–and reinforces my geek cred (I’ve been playing and running pen and paper RPGs for over twenty years).

Copyright Notice

Last, and in my considered opinion least, we come to the copyright page. I suspect that legacy publishers’ habit of prominently placing notices of their IP rights at the beginning of their books says something about their mindset.

Being paranoid about copyright is considered a newbie tell among pro authors. If you go the traditional route, your publisher will register your copyright for you. If you go indie, it’s easy to do it yourself.

I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t meant as legal advice, but I do know that you own all the rights to a work as soon as you create it. The copyright page is a notice stating that you reserve these rights. There is no reason I know of not to stick it in the back of the book, because once again, it’s something that nobody reads.

Sci-fi Book Copyright Notice
Hey look! I own Nethereal. Did anyone here not know that yet?

So that’s how you organize an eBook. This guide is far from comprehensive, and there are plenty of special circumstances that will necessitate changes. If you can think of anything that’s missing/could improve upon, let us know.

We Don’t Have Enough Road

My informal study of book covers has prompted a question: is there some rule of graphic design that claims a causal relationship between sales and images of roads stretching from the foreground to a vanishing point in the background?

Yellow Brick Road

 American Road Goldberg Road

OK. This one’s pretty much obligatory.

 The Road

 But this just seems like double-dipping.

 McCarthy Road

The artist behind author Black Crouch’s books especially favors this motif.

 Serial

 Killers

 Serial Killers

 Desert Places

 Except sometimes it’s a boat’s wake.

 Locked Doors

 To take a wild shot at it, the rationale behind cover designs like those above looks like an attempt to visually draw the reader into the book. An open road leading into the unknown is also a powerful symbol of storytelling itself.

 

Off-topic: Nyphron Rising by Michael J. Sullivan doesn’t have a road on the cover.

 Cover Synthesis

 But I love it anyway because it’s a perfect synthesis of The Unforgettable Fire

 The Unforgettable Fire

And The Joshua Tree.

 The Joshua Tree

www.brianniemeier.com