April 28, 2012

What I did on spring break

A couple of weeks ago, the family and I went on a spring break trip to the east coast. It was fun and educational, as it was the first time that my kids had been to our nation's capital. It was also the first time that I've been to Washington, D.C. in many years, and the history I learned on the trip was more interesting than I remember it being when I was younger. As I get older, I appreciate history more than when I was forced to learn it in high school.

The trip was also very productive for my writing. Every night, after the rest of the family went to sleep and I found myself still awake with nothing to do and not wanting to wake anyone else in our hotel room, I would write. Sometimes I would wake up before anyone else and write some more. The best part was that my brain was churning the entire week and I didn't have to pause because of writer's block at any time. I wrote more during that week than in any other week that I can remember. As a result, I'm almost done with the first draft of my novel, a month ahead of schedule!

Maybe I need to take more vacations.

April 21, 2012

E-book pricing

One of the advantages that indie authors have over traditionally published authors is that indies can set their own prices. Traditionally published authors are at the mercy of their publishers, who care more about maintaining fat margins than what's good for their authors. Unfortunately, most indie authors have taken that freedom to mean pricing their books as cheaply as possible, or even giving them away for free.

I admit that I started out in the same "cheap e-books" camp because I thought that was the only way I could sell any books. My short story collection, Numbers Plus Four, is priced at 99 cents, and my novel, George and the Galactic Games, sells for $2.99. But the more I read about various indie author success stories, the more I believe that cheap prices only devalue an author's work. If you've spent months (or years) writing a book, why do you think it's only worth a couple of dollars?

Earlier this year, Dean Wesley Smith published his thoughts on pricing indie books in 2012. With traditionally published e-books selling in the $7 to $12 range (yes, $12 for an e-book!), there's plenty of room for indies to play in the $7-and-under price range. According to him, my books are priced at about half of what they should be. However, I realize that I'm not Dean Wesley Smith. I'm still an unknown author with just two books under my belt. I also don't think I'll raise the price of the two books I've already published. The pleasure of publishing them and seeing them on virtual store shelves is enough reward for me. However, with the novel I'm writing now and future books to come, I plan to start testing higher price points.

April 14, 2012

Book review: Hera by Chrystalla Thoma

Buy from Amazon

Hera, member of the Gultur race governing the Seven Islands, thought she knew right from wrong and what her future held in store. A chance meeting with a lesser mortal, though, will turn her world upside down and force her to see her race and the laws with different eyes. For Hera, knowledge means action, so she sets out to put things right and change her world.

Taking place in the World of the Seven Islands almost three years before the events in Rex Rising, this is the story of Hera's first confrontation with the truth.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Despite not having read Rex Rising or any other novel set in that universe, I found Hera to be a great short story. It sucked me in from the start, and I found that I could follow it easily without requiring any additional background information.

The author did a great job of creating interesting characters in the short framework of the story. I found myself understanding Hera and sympathizing with her within the first few pages. The plot was entertaining and well-paced.

Several authors have suggested the strategy of pricing a story at 99 cents or free to attract new readers to their other works. Ms. Thoma has done a nice job of that with Hera because it certainly made me want to read her other books!

April 7, 2012

Young adult dystopian rankings

You've read The Hunger Games or watched the movie or both, and you loved it. Now what? Well, I was in your shoes after reading the Hunger Games trilogy last year. I searched for other YA dystopian books and read a bunch. Here's how they rank IMHO. I hope this list helps you fill the hole that The Hunger Games has left.

1. The Hunger Games trilogy - Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games trilogy is simply the best set of books I've read in years. It's deserving of all the praise it's been getting, and I recommend the books to everyone. If you've never read it before, do yourself a favor and buy it or borrow it.

2. Unwind - Neal Shusterman
Unwind tells the story of three teenagers who are destined to be "unwound", a process where their body parts are harvested and continue to live on in other people. In addition to an exciting plot and straightforward narrative, this book came as close as any to creating engaging characters that I cared about like The Hunger Games did.

3. Under the Never Sky - Veronica Rossi
This is a new book that I recently reviewed if you want to learn more about it.

4. Partials - Dan Wells
Partials was also recently published, and I just finished reading it. The story takes place in a future where an engineered race called the Partials turned against their makers and killed most of the humans through warfare and a virus called RM. I admit that part of the reason why I like this book so much is because the universe in which it takes place bears some resemblance to the universe of the novel that I'm writing now. My main complaint with Partials is that I felt it was a bit too long at 480 pages. IMHO, cutting 10% of the book would make it more interesting without losing any effect.

5. Divergent - Veronica Roth
I had a hard time deciding which to rank higher, Divergent or Partials. In Divergent's dystopian society, sixteen year olds must choose which faction to serve for the remainder of their lives - Candor (the honest), Abegnation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), or Erudite (the intelligent). The story follows Beatrice, who turns out to be Divergent, which is a dangerous thing to be.

6. The Maze Runner trilogy - James Dashner
For me, there's a noticeable drop-off between Divergent and The Maze Runner trilogy. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the first five in my ranking, but starting with The Maze Runner, I would only recommend the next three books/series to fans of YA dystopian. The Maze Runner isn't bad -- it's just not as good as the others ranked higher than it. Furthermore, I think that while the first two books in the trilogy are good, the third book is only mediocre.

7. Chaos Walking trilogy - Patrick Ness
The Chaos Walking trilogy is well written with an interesting plot. Many readers liked it more than I did. The reason why it didn't hook me more was because I didn't feel much sympathy for the characters. I wanted to root for Todd and Viola, but they kept doing things that either made no sense (except to move the plot along) or that bothered me.

8. Gone - Michael Grant
The premise of Gone was promising - one day, all of the adults in a California town disappear, and the remaining kids can't leave the town. But the story was too long and the explanation for what happened was unsatisfactory for me.

9. Escape From Furnace series - Alexander Gordon Smith
The first book in this series was OK, the second one was worse, and I didn't want to finish the third book. I'm not even going to waste my time reading the rest of the series.

In addition, there are three YA dystopian books on my To-Be-Read list:
1. Insurgent - Veronica Roth
Insurgent is the sequel to Divergent. It comes out in May, and I'm waiting in anticipation.

2. The Uglies series - Scott Westerfield
I've read Leviathan from Scott Westerfield and didn't think much of it. I've heard good things about his Uglies series, so I plan to give it a try.

3. The Host - Stephenie Meyer
I've never read the Twilight books, don't have the urge to, and didn't like the movies. However, I'm willing to give Stephenie Meyers a try by reading The Host.

I hope this post has helped you quench your thirst for YA dystopian books!