My top (and bottom) reads of 2016

It’s that time of year again–time to access what we did last year. What we ate, what we accomplished, and most importantly, what we read. What did we love? What did we hate? Well, without further ado, here’s mine!

The top fantasy books that I loved:

Number 3:


Southern Spirits by Angie Fox.

A girl who has lost her family home in the deep South accidentally gets herself haunted by an ancestor who happens to be a gangster from the 20s. He also knows the location of all kinds of buried money that she could use to buy back her house. So it turns into a combination ghost buster/treasure hunt/murder mystery, and it’s a fantastic read. I enjoyed it hugely.

Number 2:

Caliban’s War, by James S. A. Corey

The sequel to Leviathan Wakes, this was hands down one of the most entertaining space operas I’ve ever read. (Of course, I haven’t read a ton of them, but …) The alien protomoloecule has been weaponized. Our heroes from book 1 are trying to help a scientist find his kidnapped daughter, but are plunged into an ever-deepening conspiracy about the protomolecule. Meanwhile, on Venus … some new terror is constantly happening. The book is 624 pages, and I read it in one weekend. Couldn’t put it down. SO GOOD.

Number 1:

Aranya by Marc Secchia

In a fantasy world where everybody lives on islands above a sea of poison clouds, dragons are extinct. It’s illegal even to talk about them. Aranya is a princess of a beaten nation who is being taken hostage by their conquerors to ensure her father’s good behavior. While trapped in a tower with a bunch of other spunky princesses, she makes friends, enemies, and a boyfriend. Except when she uses her (spoilers!) dragon powers on an evil soldier, her penalty is to be dropped into the poison clouds. On the way down, she turns into a dragon. Surprise! Aranya is a dragon shapeshifter. Once she learns how to be a dragon, she declares a one-dragon war on the nation who captured her and tried to kill her. AWESOMENESS ENSUES. Loved, loved this book. Must get the rest very soon!

And now … the moment you’ve been waiting for.

People only read these lists for the list of worst books, right? So, without further ado, here’s the books I read this year that I disliked:

No affiliate links for these guys, sorry:

Number 3:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Naomi, I love you, and I love your books. But you can’t write romance. Srsly.

The premise of this book is great. Every few years the Dragon takes a maiden from the village. Except the Dragon is the name of a wizard. And the maidens he takes get the My Fair Lady treatment, and after receiving a great education, move away to the big city. The Dragon has to do all kinds of magic to keep the evil Wood from consuming the village and the farmlands. The heroine gets picked one year, and she has MAGIC and they have to work together to stop the evil wood.

Sounds great. That part of it was. You can see the romance coming a mile away, except … it never did. I reached the end so disappointed that I got on Goodreads and wrote my own ending where he finally tells her that he loves her. *frustrated grappling motions in midair*

Number 2:

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This book has been on the top Amazon sellers for at least a year. I finally picked it up. It’s about a world that is vaguely late-1800s England (steampunk?) where magic can only be performed on man-made materials. The girl is bonded to paper, a medium she didn’t want, and put under the oversight of a benevolent paper magician. He’s adorable in a Howl’s Moving Castle kind of way (except less of a jerk). She learns how to fold paper in all kinds of ways to do different kinds of illusion magic.

Then, halfway through the book, the body horror starts. An evil wizard comes in who cando magic with the human body, and she slices out the magician’s heart. She also somehow traps the heroine inside it. Now the heroine roams from chamber to chamber inside a living, beating heart, and kind of doing this virtual tour of his memories at the same time. It was gross. And not what I expected. And just … what the HECKBERRIES.

Number 1:

Nameless by A.C. Williams

“It’s a space opera!” I was told as I picked this book up. “A girl with amnesia is trying to find her way back to her home planet!” So I scooped it up and tried to read it.

First off, this book is about how sex is evil. The heroine works in a brothel. When she gets out of the brothel, she’s randomly assaulted/leered at/groped/propositioned on EVERY PLANET SHE VISITS. Finally she hooks up with the cast of Firefly and things get slightly better (they only make lewd comments about her and don’t actually assault her, despite embarrassing shower scenes). I couldn’t take any more at that point, so I put it down. Maybe I quit before it got good, I don’t know. Just … after the excellence that was James Corey, I couldn’t do the SEX ABUSE IN SPACE thing.


So there you have it. My top and bottom reads of 2016! What are your favorite/least fave books of the year?

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Discoverability: curate or die

I’ve been seeing a trend for a while now among indie authors. “Discoverability is so haaaaaard!” they whine. “How can my books stand out?”

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All one has to do is go to Amazon and try to browse ANY category. Everything is flooded with erotica, or erotic + (category here). It’s impossible to find anything else, especially if you check out the top 100 lists (which are now nearly useless). Most of it is laughable–“My Space Alien Billionaire Werewolf Alpha Mate!” That’s not a title–that’s a bunch of keywords.

On the Writers Cafe forum on kboards.com, this discussion has been going on:


Crystal_:

I have no problem with people writing romance to pay the bills if they do the work to write a great romance that readers will love.  I object to people knowingly putting out shoddy work, regardless of the genre. I mostly read romance or trad-pub non-romances, so I really don’t know what’s up in the indie world in other genres.

There are many, many romance authors/publishers who have no respect for the genre, who call romance readers dumb, who call romance stupid. Romance/erotica forums are plagued with people saying “I don’t like romance. I want money. How can I make money fast writing romance? What niche should I pick? BTW, I’ve never read a romance. I don’t really like it.” It happens on Kboards too, but not as often.

KelliWolfe:

A depressing consistency that I’ve found – and got burned again by yesterday – is that the majority of these books simply aren’t romance. The books have romance covers and romance blurbs. They’re categorized as romance. The first couple of chapters may even read like romance. They have some kind of HEA. But they’re not romance.

When you actually read the book, it’s just two characters having sex. A lot of sex. A lot of very explicit sex. There’s a female MC who has no personality and no real characteristics at all except for her overwhelming sexual attraction to the male MC. The male MC is a hot, dominating alphahole who has no other characteristics, either. He’s interested in the female MC because she’s hot and he wants her. There’s no love, just sexual obsession. There’s no relationship building, just sexual tension. It’s like someone too emotionally stunted to understand the difference between sex and love read a few romance books and then sat down at the keyboard to imitate it.

Often the writing is good, or at least competent. Some of them have a really, really good premise and it makes me want to throw my Kindle across the room when they completely destroy the story’s potential that way. But ultimately what they’re writing is erotica, not romance, because the real focus of the book is on the characters’ sex lives, not about falling in love. There’s nothing *wrong* with that. It just doesn’t belong in romance.

This is where the “Look Inside” fails, too. It’s often just not possible to tell from that snippet that the writer is going to do this.

I picked up two more books in KU yesterday that both did this. It made me want to scream because they had great premises and were hitting my favorite tropes, but I returned both of them about 1/4 of the way in. They had gorgeous covers and interesting blurbs and the writing was really good in both cases. But they simply weren’t romances.

So you’ve got a lot of people who don’t “get” romance writing it for money, but they’ve got good writing skills and they’re great at marketing. If they submitted to any of the traditional romance imprints they’d get a quick rejection letter. But there are piles and piles and piles of them in Contemporary and NA and there’s almost no way for a reader to tell them apart from the books that really are romances without getting burned. After a few of these, how many of them decide to just stick with tradpub from now on, where at least you know that if you buy a romance you know you’re getting a romance?


Substitute “romance” for “any other genre”, and you’ve got an idea of the problem.

I was chatting with another reader today. She and I were commiserating that we can’t go to Amazon anymore to discover books. We used to browse categories to find a new great read. Now, you want to gouge out your own eyeballs.

Instead, we’ve turned to curated lists. I personally shop BargainBooksy, the Amazon Recommended emails, Ebooklister, Freebooksy. I even click on stuff in Bookscream. Bookbub even has good stuff sometimes. I subscribe to some authors who occasionally do promotions for their books and a collection of friends’s. There’s other lists for other genres–promos and freebies in any genre you can name.

As readers, this is increasingly where we’re turning. Curation by friends, family, promotional lists, Amazon’s pinpointed recommendations, and even Facebook ads.

The people in the above comments got blasted by other authors who are busy churning out exactly the books the commenters are complaining out. Erotica sells, and that’s why they write it. But the market is shifting.

In the last Author Earnings report, there was a marked shift in profits from indies back to publishers. The profits of small presses eclipsed that of indie authors for the first time.

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October 2016 Author Earnings Report

Could it be that readers are tired of their favorite genres being flooded with off-genre books? As they looking to publishers for more curation, better products? It will be very interesting to see the next report and to see if this trend continues. There were certain things happening at the time this report was made, such as the Kindle Unlimited debacle where Page Flip showed 0 pages read.

I think it might be time for us little fantasy authors to get proactive. We need to start running promos of each other’s books, like Patty Jensen’s Promos. Readers will never find us on Amazon, and social media is absolutely the wrong place to advertise. But if we build promos of decent books (note the curation!) we might see a little more success.

What do you think? Is curation the next frontier in book discoverability? How do you discover books?

My personal theory about aliens and the universe

This is just a bunch of thoughts that have been rolling around in my head lately. Like aliens. And other planets. And Mars.

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Temples of the Giant by MacRebisz

I ascribe to creationism, which means that I believe God created the universe and the Earth in six days. Evolution teaches that the world built itself (or was built by aliens, but I’m not sure that’s actually evolution anymore–at least not Darwin’s).

According to evolution, life pops into being randomly. Like spawn points in a videogame, bugs and bacteria just appear, then grow and change into better and better creatures until they achieve sentience. This means that there must be aliens on other planets, too.

Except we haven’t found any. SETI has been listening for years. We keep finding tons of new exoplanets (and some are really bizarre, like the one with the rings that are like 200 times bigger than Saturn’s).

UFOs just keep getting debunked. (My father-in-law served in the Air Force for 20+ years, and he says that he can debunk most, if not all, UFO sightings.)

We keep learning about our own solar system and how inhospitable it is. Mars has chemicals in its dirt that will poison us. Venus has electrical fields that blast away all oxygen. Jupiter has a magnetic field so strong that getting probes near it takes superhuman effort. Not only is there no life on these planets, it definitely couldn’t spawn there randomly.

This is discouraging for evolutionists (and creationists who would love for there to be aliens). The universe is depressingly empty. Yet our very DNA is a programming language written by someone. There is Someone out there–either God or aliens, and if the aliens built our DNA, then they might as well be gods.

But as we find planet after empty planet, this theory seems to have hit a dead end. We haven’t found aliens and we should have.

So instead, I offer my Big Creationist Theory of the Universe. It’s the inverse of the alien theory.

Back when God created the world, it was perfect. No death. People and animals lived forever. But God told them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the Earth.

Well, with no death, the Earth would soon be full of both people and animals. Bursting at the seams with life, as it were.

As it just so happens, there’s a billion jillion empty planets out there.

If Jesus’s teleportation powers were something that all humanity had before sin entered the world, then space travel wouldn’t have been an issue. We could just jump to whichever worlds we wanted.

I mean, Mars had an ocean at one point. Venus is still slowing down and apparently had liquid water at one point, too. The asteroid belt might have been a planet that shattered–there’s water ice on Vesta. Not to mention the various moons around the gas giants–science fiction writers have been colonizing those for years.

The reason we haven’t found aliens out there is because those are OUR planets. We were supposed to travel out and live there, taking our animals with us. Those other planets may have had water, plants, animals, who knows–but like Mars and Venus, the universe is broken now.

Now we have death. While our population is growing, the earth is far from being full. Getting to other planets takes advanced technology that we’re still developing. We don’t have supernatural teleportation, and heaven help us if we did. The other planets are inhospitable and deadly. We can live on them with a huge amount of effort (see: The Martian).

So yeah, that’s my theory of why there’s no aliens out there. There’s absolutely no way to prove it, and I don’t have any arguments with people who like other theories better. It’s just a fun thing to think about sometimes–what it might have been like to populate the entire universe. To live on a moon near a gas giant, and to wake up every morning to an ever-changing sky of striped, swirling colors. We can only experience that in videogames.

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The Grand Eclipse by JustV23

Three years of publishing mistakes

My second-youngest turned three last month. I published my first book while I was in labor with her. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long!

That first book (YA contemporary fantasy) now has three more books in its series. I’ve also written three clean werewolf romance novellas, some short stories, and the first book of a YA paranormal romance. I’ve made a ton of mistakes and learned even more. Here’s some of it:

Spacetime mistakes:

Lousy description: Nobody will read your book if you can’t describe what it’s about. Or if you can’t point out other books or movies similar to yours. I’ve made this mistake multiple times. Fortunately, Amazon made things easier by sticking it in Chosen One Multiversal Adventure.

Muddy genre: The Spacetime books could be urban fantasy–if I had any idea what urban fantasy WAS when I started writing them. I hit a few genre tropes in a scattershot way and pulled in way too many other elements. Alien robots? Werewolves? Ghostly energy beings? Alchemy? Fast cars? Time and space magic? Yeah, the elements are there–I just couldn’t seem to pull it off.

Regency Shifters Romance mistakes:

Genre mistakes: Same deal with the clean werewolf romance. Notice the “clean” part? Yeah, nobody wants that in this genre. They also don’t want historical, and these books are slow. Like, Jane Eyre with werewolves. They’re also too short–fifty to sixty pages each. I love them all, but nobody else does. Ah well, live and learn!

Malevolent mistakes

I started to make progress with Malevolent, the YA paranormal romance. I wanted a creature that had the characteristics of a vampire but wasn’t a vampire. So Mal is a lich who manipulates the energy of life and death itself.

Botched release date: This book was intended to be a trilogy that released over the course of a year. The book hit its intended market and sold pretty well. The trouble was, I had a baby right in the middle. So books 2 and 3 were written–I just couldn’t touch them for most of the following year.

Now both books are revised and awaiting editing. They’re set to launch in spring of 2017. And oh man, are they GOOD. I hope they’re a fresh addition to a vampire-saturated genre.

Malevolent is available on Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the first time! It’s like a new release, and I’m super excited. The cover even got some new bells and whistles–see?

malevolent-cover4

I intended to publish three books this year, but only managed two–Outfoxing the Wolf and Magic Weaver. Malcontent never quite made it, although it’s going through edits right now. It was close! I currently have three finished books waiting for edits: Malcontent and Malicious (books 2 and 3), and a cozy mystery about dragons and ice cream tentatively called Takes the Drake. Coming to a bookstore near you in 2017!

So that’s been my publishing journey. I’ve worked with lots of fantastic editors, artists, and wordsmiths. It’s been such an honor to rub shoulders with people I respect to the point of reverence: Chris Fox and Rachel Aaron and Elizabeth Spann Craig and Joanna Penn. None of them know I exist, but they’ve taught me so much.