Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Why I Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

scifi syllabusIf you follow me on social media, you may have seen this month’s exciting announcement: for the second semester, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) will be taught in a university classroom.

This time, TCD features in a Science Fiction & Fantasy literature class. When I saw the syllabus, I nearly cried. To have my book read alongside such legends is an incredible honor — and one I do not take lightly.

In fact, it got me thinking…what is it about Science Fiction and Fantasy novels (and TV shows, movies, video games, etc.) that I love so much?

Why, out of all the genres, have I chosen to commit my creativity to Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

Well, I think the answers are one in the same.

First, I’ve never had a good story idea that doesn’t fall under one of these two genres. Yes, I’ve got a contemporary romance bumbling about my brain. Yes, I’ve conceived of a historical fiction tale, and even a crime novel or two. However, again, I don’t think these ideas are worth pursuing, and more importantly, they don’t really excite me.

But the apocalypse? Steampunk gadgets? Fantastical lands with mythical creatures? Now they rev my motor.

So why do Sci-Fi and Fantasy appeal to me so strongly? It’s how I was raised. A few flips through the family photo album and it becomes pretty obvious: young Kate dressed as Xena the Warrior Princess for Halloween, college Kate getting the Supernatural tattoo, present-day Kate rocking out to the Buffy musical episode soundtrack…I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

contaiment zoneUpbringing aside — the best part about Sci-Fi and Fantasy? There are no real rules. The only rules are the ones you create for yourself. This character has X-ray vision? Sure. The fuel source on this planet is a primordial sludge? Heck yes. A giant steamship is moored in the middle of a desert? Obviously.

As a writer, I can do whatever I want. My only limits are my imagination and the prescribed order of the universe I create. Beyond that, the novel is my oyster (or alien or demon or talking hedgehog).

And as a reader or viewer? Sci-Fi and Fantasy offer the ultimate escape. What can take you away from your everyday troubles more than a trip to Rivendell? What can make that exam or that work drama seem less significant than the Mad Max apocalypse? And what’s more fun than dressing up as a comic book character of your invention and attending a rock concert? But that’s another story…

So, yeah, sign me up for a lifetime of engineering new worlds, weaving complex systems of magic or religion, and creating lovable (or hateable) inhuman characters. I’m on it. And if I’m ever tempted to stray over to romance or thriller, maybe I’ll just slap some fangs on my brooding heart throb. I hear that works well.

Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles

My Five Greatest Achievements as an Author (So Far!)

I have a habit of being too hard on myself, as well as focusing too much on what’s ahead and not properly celebrating what I’ve accomplished. It’s been nearly six months since The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) was released – but in independent publishing time, it feels like six years.

While my readership and sales figures are still small, I do have a few notable accomplishments that I want to share. Partly, I’m posting these to validate my work to myself (and you, potential readers). And partly, I want to show aspiring or fellow authors that, even early on in your career, there are still plenty of cool moments to be had.

The bookstore proof!

1. My book is being taught in a university classroom.

That’s right! On this very day (yes, I checked the syllabus), The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) is the subject of analysis in Dr. Charles French’s Contemporary Fiction class at Muhlenberg College. Dr. French and I have been ‘friends’ in the WordPress world, he read and enjoyed my book, and picked it up for this course – and his science fiction course this summer!

2. My grandma, who doesn’t often read fiction, read my book.

So did my mom (who rarely makes time for reading), my aunts and uncle, and several other friends and family members. The fact that many ‘non-readers’ in my life made time for my novel makes me incredibly proud. The fact that many of them have vowed, earnestly and enthusiastically, to read the second book makes me even prouder.

3. I received my first five-star review from a non-friend/family member.

And a few more since! As much as praise from friends and family means to me, it’s extremely validating to get a strong review from someone who A) has never met me, B) has no reason to like or support me, and C) had to have found my book through natural channels, my marketing efforts, or all on their own. Nothing says, “I can actually do this author thing” like kudos from a 100% unbiased source.

the cogsmith's daughter
Holding my book for the first time (after learning to format it myself) was another huge win!

4. My first “Super Fan” found me.

As authors, we dream about that reader who will devour our work, then seek us out on social media. Well, I had that happen. And, as a bonus, she also reviewed The Cogsmith’s Daughter, signed up for my email newsletter, and featured my book on her blog. An even bigger bonus? She’s an illustrator with a penchant for steampunk, and if our friendship grows, I see some commissioned art in my (and my readers’) future!

5. My book is available at the Yale University library. 

Okay, this one is all thanks to my husband – or as he likes to call himself, my ‘manager.’ All it took was one request from him, as a student, and The Cogsmith’s Daughter is now in a university library system with a global reach. For those of you who want to read my novel (but don’t want to shell out any cash – I get it, no judgment), feel free to do the same. I’ll still get royalties on the copy the library buys, and arguably more valuable, I’ll gain a wider network of readers. Fellow authors, I highly recommend you and your own readers do the same!

So you see? Even at an early stage – when your social media following is teeny-tiny, your book has only a handful of reviews, and your sales are no where close to supporting you (or even your cat) – being an author still rocks.

Celebrate every little win, and embrace every new experience. Millions of people never even finish a book, let alone publish one. You’ve done (or will do!) both, and you deserve every awesome thing that happens to you along the way. Enjoy it and don’t be afraid or ashamed to share your joy with others. The people who matter will be over-the-moon happy for you.

You have full, uninhibited permission to brag. What are your biggest accomplishments as an author? What goals are you working towards, and how can your readers help you reach them? What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

The Fussy Librarian vs. Bargain Booksy

I’ve recently taken my first crack at the world of paid advertisements for The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1). And in the indie publishing spirit of transparency and helpfulness, I thought I’d share my results in case any fellow authors were interested in the same or had their own experiences to add.

In short, both The Fussy Librarian and Bargain Booksy are email newsletters that provide subscribers (readers) with a daily list of discounted books, curated based on their reading preferences. The best-known (and apparently best, period) of these services is BookBub, but they’re not interested in tiny fish like me. Therefore, I thought I’d test the waters with what I’ve been told are the next two best options.

As you’ll see below, I tried to keep all factors within my control the same. Obviously, there are dozens (read: thousands) of factors outside my control (whether all the subscribers check their inboxes, the other books featured in my genre that day, perceptions of my cover/description, etc.).

The Fussy Librarian

A screenshot of my Fussy Librarian promotion

Date Promotion Ran: Tuesday, February 16 (between 9 am EST and noon)

Genre and Subscriber Count: Science Fiction, roughly 103,000

Price to advertise (based on genre): $16 USD (via PayPal)

Price of my book: $2.99 USD

Description: A shortened version of my standard sales description.

Retailer Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Goodreads

Limitations: I had to include that my novel contained adult language and sexual content.

Return on Investment: $4.69 (sold 7 copies on Amazon, 1 on iBooks, 1 paperback)

Other factors: The other Science Fiction book promoted that day was free, which may have taken sales away from my book.

What I liked: Low price, customizable advertising, wide range of retailers included, showed my Amazon ratings

What I didn’t like: Free books included in the newsletter (tougher competition)

Notable perks: When you place your advertisement, there is an option to send yourself a reminder after a specified date range (21 to 90 days). If you do this, they give you a discount on your next promotion. Likewise, when listing in two genres (at any time), the second genre is half price.

You can see full details on how to run your own Fussy Librarian promotion HERE.

Bargain Booksy

2016-03-21 (1)
A screenshot of my Bargain Booksy promotion

Date Promotion Ran: Tuesday, March 15 (between 9 am EST and noon)

Genre and Subscriber Count: Science Fiction, 68,500

Price to advertise (based on genre): $35 USD (via PayPal)

Price of my book: $2.99 USD

Description: They pull your book description straight from Amazon, without your HTML formatting.

Retailer Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks

Limitations: None

Return on Investment: None, loss of $22.44 (sold 6 copies on Amazon)

Other factors: My book also received a feature on the Bargain Booksy website, which did allow me to customize my book description. However, because Bargain Booksy allows several books in each genre to be listed each day (as opposed to the Fussy Librarian, which limits it to two books per genre), there was a lot of competition, some of which was on sale for $0.99.

What I liked: Website feature, no free books advertised

What I didn’t like: Higher price, crowded newsletter, less customization

You can see full details on how to run your own Bargain Booksy promotion HERE.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, I took the post-promotion survey Bargain Booksy offered and reported my results and criticisms. After reviewing my case and confirming that I did receive below-average results, they issued me a full refund (without my asking).

A screenshot of my Bargain Booksy website promotion
A screenshot of my Bargain Booksy website promotion

Would I advertise with these email newsletters again?

Because of the Fussy Librarian’s low cost and proven ability to create a positive return on investment, I have scheduled a second promotion for April, during the Brain to Books Cyber Convention. While I won’t be able to test the newsletter’s effectiveness perfectly (as I will be doing other promotions and have my book on sale), I believe it is a worthwhile investment due to the discounted rate and my larger promotional plans.

As for Bargain Booksy, I wouldn’t try it again at this point in my career. With only one book available (and let’s be honest — a book that I’m still trying to figure out the best way to market), I don’t think it is worth the risk. Perhaps when I have more in the series, a book that is not cross-genre, or a free book (for which I would have to use the partner site, Free Booksy), I will try it again.

Have you used either the Fussy Librarian or Bargain Booksy? I’d love to hear if they worked for you. Also, if you have any questions that I didn’t answer, feel free to ask them in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Security Tips for Self-Publishing Authors by Cassie Phillips

Today, I’m excited to bring you a guest post from professional blogger Cassie Phillips. Cassie writes for Secure Thoughts, a website dedicated to helping everyday people manage their personal internet security. Here, Cassie provides her tips and tricks for securing your self-published work, as well as protecting yourself and your copyright. 

writingSecurity Tips for Self-Publishing Authors

It’s an exciting day for you. You’re ready to publish that novel you’ve been writing for months, if not years. Perhaps you’ve taken a shot at non-fiction and want to share the knowledge you’ve put together in a single tome. You may even be writing about something brand new and exciting.

You could go with some big publisher, but the costs are high, and you risk making very little money on your book as the publisher will be taking most of it. So here you are. You’ve decided to self-publish. Maybe it’s your first book, or maybe you’ve done it a few times before.

What you may not realize is how important security can be for publishing your book. It may be your idea and your hard work, but it doesn’t take much to lose that. Unsecured work can suddenly turn into a disaster as you watch your effort turn to nil (or even identity theft). Using a publisher you thought was trustworthy could leave you just as broke as having gone through a big time company.

Here are some things you should consider as you’re publishing that next book.

Protect the Devices You Work On

First and foremost, you need to be sure the PC, tablet or mobile device you’re working on is properly secured. If you’ve been doing work from a device that can access the internet (and honestly it would be stranger if you weren’t), your work is always at risk. It’s safer to work offline, but reasonably you should feel safe using any device.

Make certain you have a working anti-virus program at all times. They can be acquired for free for any platform you use, from providers such as Avast, AVG or Panda. You can pay for the extra service if you want, but I don’t feel like its necessary most of the time. These programs usually help you avoid getting a virus.

Use Malwarebytes Anti-malware to remove anything that does get through. It’s easily the best program for removing hard to eliminate viruses. It too is free, with premium features (which I usually don’t think are necessary).

Much of writing takes place on the go, so you may want to consider investing in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. It will save you trouble on public WiFi, as you’ll be able to access the internet securely with an encrypted connection. This is a paid service, but additional perks include access to geo-restricted services (such as Netflix and Hulu) anywhere and an anonymous IP address (keeps you from being tracked).

Keep Your Accounts Safe

Maybe you’ve opted to save your work online. I personally backup my data on services such as Dropbox and Google Drive in case of disaster. There are some risks to using these services, but they’re entirely avoidable.

Make sure your accounts have strong passwords containing a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. You should avoid using real words or things that could be associated with you or your work, as those are easy guesses for anyone trying to steal your work.

Most of all, use unique passwords. If you have 5 different services, it only takes one being compromised to ruin the others if you don’t have different passwords for each. There are a few different problems that can arise from stolen accounts.

Your work may be deleted or altered without you knowing. At the worst, your identity may be stolen and your hard work used to someone else’s gain. Imagine seeing the book you spent weeks on with someone else’s name on the title and no way to prove you were the proper author.

Read Contracts

When excitement sets in, the first thing you may want to do is sign here, click confirm there, and be done with it. You absolutely can’t afford to take shortcuts with your publication. Whether you’re planning to try to sell your book on Amazon, through your website, or some other seller, you need to be sure you’ve read through contracts thoroughly.

Understand who has the rights to your book in each avenue. You may find yourself buying copies of your book to sell, yet owing a royalty to the printer if you didn’t go through the contract properly. It’s easy to lose control of your book, even if you’re self-publishing.


There are a few things to know about your publication’s copyrights. While you do own your work by default, it’s still necessary to register your copyright and include a page in your book about it for safety purposes. It helps if someone tries to steal your work or use it to profit later because you have a legal avenue to pursue.

Just be careful you aren’t treading on anyone else’s copyrights. If you’re writing a book that focuses on non-fiction (or realistic fiction), try to avoid using brand names. A character in your book might want to be depicted as drinking an ice cold Coca-Cola, but that may be an issue if Coke decides they don’t like how you’re depicting their product.

Be sure any images you use are original and that you have permission to use any trademarked or copyrighted words. It’s better to invent a fictitious brand for your book than to deal with legal proceedings with a big corporation who decided they don’t like your book.

Don’t Get Discouraged

While there are plenty of problems you need to deal with before you can publish yourself, don’t get discouraged. Publishing is easier than it’s ever been, and if you’re taking the right steps, you can at least avoid problems on the security front.

Of course there’s no guarantee your book will be a hit. But it certainly won’t do well if it never reaches the press because you got bogged down by some hacker or lost data. Do yourself a favor; be safe, and be successful.

Thank you Cassie for reaching out to me and helping the indie author community learn more about this important topic! If anyone has any questions for Cassie, please leave them in the comments or contact me, and I can put you in touch with her.

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

The Pressure to Be Super Human

During my time as a Sociology major, I took a few classes that focused on gender and family. In these, we learned about the changing roles of women in society, and how modern women often feel pressure to work a “Second Shift” to fulfill their roles. Decades ago, women only had to focus on being a wife and mother. In modern society, women are still expected to thrive in the domestic sphere–while also holding down a full-time career. In other words, they can (and should, in most people’s opinions) do it all.

But this article isn’t about Feminism and the roles of women. It’s about authors.

Decades ago, the life of the author (or, more accurately, the romanticized view we hold of it) was quite different. You simply jetted off to Paris with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, got rip-roaring drunk, and spouted your brilliance. A publisher then plucked it from your hands and sent it out into the world, where your deserved fame and ample royalties followed.

Again, that’s the romanticized view. But it’s still what a lot of people associate with authorship.

Today, a new author has emerged, of which I am one: the indie author. As an independent author, we are expected to write and edit our own books, format them, design covers, publish, and market. Or, of course, hire professionals to assist us. And until we finally figure out the magic formula to full-time authorship, we have to do all of this while working full-time jobs, maintaining our households, and keeping our social relationships in tact.

In my imagination, the ideal indie author — the person I should be — goes through the day like this:

Wake up at four or five a.m. Devour coffee and write for at least an hour. Go to work (while writing more, reading/listening to books or podcasts, or marketing during the commute). Take a lunch break (with more writing, reading, or marketing). Repeat the commute home. Eat dinner and spend a short amount of time with family. Write until midnight. Sleep four to five hours. Repeat.

Is it just me, or does that sound insanely difficult? I mean, I need my sleep…for everyone else’s safety.

Okay, reality time. That schedule is probably slightly exaggerated. But there are plenty of “famous” indie authors who have done something similar. There’s Hugh Howey, who wrote Wool while working in a bookstore. There’s Joanna Penn, who scaled back her day job to four days a week, gave up television, and got up incredibly early every day to write. Listen to any mainstream self-publishing podcast, and you’ll find the success stories.

That’s what it takes to make it to the big leagues. You’ve got to want it so badly that you make huge sacrifices, that you keep pushing even when you’re exhausted, that you devote daily practice to writing and studying the industry. And for most of us, myself included, just thinking about that kind of rigorous routine — even with our burning desire for its rewards — makes us light-headed. I mean, that’s a lot of pressure.

But that’s the formula for success as an indie author — work hard enough that you make your own luck.

So what do we do?

I guess we figure out how to do it for ourselves. I haven’t quite tackled being super human just yet (I’ll let you know when I do), but I think we start somewhere like this:

  • Find the discipline to wake up an hour earlier (or stay up an hour later)
  • Find the energy to knock out some words during our lunch breaks or after work
  • Remember meeting our goals is more satisfying than another Netflix binge
  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast instead of the radio on our commutes
  • Turn wasted minutes or free time into time spent being creative
  • Cut personal expenses and treats in favor of time off work or business-related costs
  • Search out others with the same goal and feed off their determination
  • Recognize that we will always have more work to do
  • Forgive ourselves when we fall short of our goals
  • Keep trying to do better

When I break it down like this, it feels easy — but we all know it’s not.

This is the part where I start to flounder, where I deeply feel my own failings, and where I feel intense pressure to do better. I know what to do, I’m just not sure how to cram it all into my own life. I pump myself up, get into a frenzy of motivation, make progress, then peter out, whether after a day, a week, or a month…

But I’m working on it, and I’ve already seen marked improvements in 2016.

I guess the point of this post is: fellow indie authors, fellow day job grinders, fellow insecure creatives — you are not alone. I’m right there with you, straddling the tightrope between the present and the authorship dreams. And one way or another, we’ll all end up on one side of the rope or the other.

I know which side I want to be on. It’s going to take a few years of penny-pinching and late nights (and getting Daniel through graduate school). It’s not ALL in my hands, but it mostly is, and I’m going to try my hardest to get there.

Where are you right now? And which side will you be on in five or ten years?

If those questions make your chest tight, remember: you’re not alone. And if you need someone to rally around, I’ve got your back.