Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: FINAL HARBOR by Harry Homewood

I never really thought that a novel following the action of a WW2 submarine crew would be interesting and exciting enough to keep my attention, but FINAL HARBOR proved me wrong. Not only is this book very well-written, the level of technical and historical detail is, in a word, staggering. In fact, if there are any complaints to be had about this book, it is that the little technical details occasionally get in the way because, while it may be proper protocol to repeat every command given, it doesn't need to really be written out that way!

But that is really about the only complaint I have regarding this book, and that complaint is relatively minor. The plot does occasionally stray into the domestic lives of the crew, but I think taken as a whole that isn't a bad thing, as it does tie us more strongly to the characters, and when there are casualties among the crew, the effect it has on the reader is a lot more pronounced. these aren't just cardboard cutout submariners firing torpedoes at the enemy and gritting their teeth while being depth charged, these are human beings with families and friendships, goals and aspirations.

As for the action itself, the scenes are extremely well written. Submarine warfare is very much winner-take-all, because even a single torpedo hit is capable of blowing a ship in half, while even one depth charge, if well-placed, is enough to shatter a submarine's hull and send her entire crew to the bottom of the ocean. Harry Homewood is able to deliver these scenes with nail-biting tension, and you come out on the other side with a sigh of relief, or a gasp of horror. Like war itself, this book does not pull its punches!

In conclusion, if you have any interest in WW2 submarine warfare, especially in the Pacific theater, I highly recommend this novel, and you can find it here on Amazon. There is a sequel, SILENT SEA, which I have read, and found equally engaging. Check them out!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Anatomy of a Kindle Promotion

A month ago I ran a seven-day sale on my novel KILLER INSTINCTS, reducing the price from $5.99 to $0.99. I promoted the book through three different eBook sales mailing lists: BookGorilla, The Fussy Librarian, and eBookSoda. All three emails went out on the same day - Sunday, May 29th. The book was listed as a "Thriller" in terms of category, one of the largest population bases in terms of the subscribers of these mailing lists, meaning the book likely found its way into a couple hundred thousand email inboxes.

KILLER INSTINCTS, despite being one of my better-reviewed novels, just doesn't sell well. In the twelve months before the sale, I'd only managed to sell 28 copies, along with a few thousand Kindle Unlimited page reads, probably amounting to another half-dozen or so "sales" of the book. I was curious as to how well the new cover would affect sales, since I'd just put it on the book a few weeks prior, without any appreciable rise in sales. Below, I've provided the KDP sales chart for the whole month of May, through to today (June 27th). The top chart is sales, the bottom chart is Kindle Unlimited page reads.

Click the image to view at a larger size

All told, between today and May 29th, I sold 187 copies of the book, only 13 of which were after the sales period. While those 13 extra sales were nice, and more sales per length of time than I was seeing before the promotion, it isn't really that exciting. What is much more interesting, though, is the Kindle Unlimited activity. I had about 16,000 page reads (about 37 book reads) between May and June, and only about 1,500 of those were before the sale. About 5,500 were during the sale, leaving about ~9,000 in the weeks after the sale's conclusion. That's about 23 copies of the book read since the sale is over, a little less than double the number of sales during that time period.

But sales is one thing - what about the money? The cost of the promotional emails through the three companies ran about $75, so I needed to break that amount in order for this to have been worth it. Running the numbers, in the last 30 days, I've earned about $175 in sales, plus roughly $65 in Kindle Unlimited page read royalties (estimated), for a total of around $240. That means $165 in profit after deducting the cost of the promotion emails. Since I'm estimating my royalties for the prior twelve months at just about $130 (just under $11 a month), we're looking at a period of profitability roughly fourteen times higher than usual.

So, was the promotion a success? In terms of sales and royalties, it certainly was successful. I sold twice as many books in the first day as I'd sold in the past year, and the money was certainly far better than usual. What's more, looking at that Kindle Unlimited chart, I'm going to guess that a lot of folks who saw the promotional emails decided to add the book to their KU reading queues, and they've been reading the book over the last few weeks, a trend which will probably continue for some time. As for regular sales, I think I'm going to take the price down, probably to $3.99, at least for a few months. I think the new cover will help it sell better at a slightly lower, more attractive price point.

I hope the above information is helpful for any authors out there who are considering the use of promotional email lists in getting visibility and sales for their titles. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Covers for Old Novels

Apologies for the lack of posting over the last couple of months - Real Life has been rather distracting, and I haven't gotten around to providing the usual semi-regular content here. Hopefully that will turn around as the summer gets into full swing!

Recently, after talking to author Mark Allen about the cover for his new novel, The Assassin's Betrayal, I was rather impressed with his experiences in finding and working with a new cover designer, Rebecca Frank. After some consideration, and looking at her website and portfolio, I contacted Rebecca and discussed her re-doing the covers for Killer Instincts and San Francisco Slaughter. After some back-and-forth over cover concepts and several drafts of each, I received the following covers, which I think are fantastic, and a massive improvement over the originals, both of which were designed by yours truly.

Below I've placed each of the new covers to the right of the old cover.

I don't think either of my covers is *awful*, but as you can see, there are certain benefits to paying a professional to do the work for you. Not only do you get what is simply a better, more professional-looking cover, but it adds a layer of professionalism to your book as well. Everyone I've shown Rebecca Frank's covers to has said something to the tune of "I can totally imagine that on a book in a bookstore", which is an excellent metric, if you ask me.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: HAWKER #1 Florida Firefight by Randy Wayne White

Full disclosure: I was offered a free copy of this ebook by the publisher in exchange for a review. You can buy Florida Firefight on Amazon by following this link.

I'd never read any of the HAWKER novels back in the day, so the new ebook version was my first exposure to the series, which starts from a premise well-known to anyone who likes vigilante fiction from the '60s through the '80s. Courts are soft on crime, lawyers are all scumbags, and cops are either incompetent administrators gunning for a run on a political ticket in the future, or tough, hard-bitten streetwise crusaders trying to keep the criminal element in check, while constantly being undermined by "the system". Meanwhile, gangs of violent psychopaths and drug dealers roam the city streets like some kind of Tolkien-esque invasion of orcs and goblins.

Enter Hawker, a cop who doesn't play by the rules, blah blah blah. He kills a bad guy against orders and winds up resigning from the force, only to be hired by a reclusive millionaire to become a one-man vigilante army. You know the deal - the Punisher, but with better financing. To start the series off, Hawker goes to Mahogany Bay, a south Florida town where some Colombian drug-running bad guys are pushing around the townsfolk while using their land for smuggling purposes.

Hawker goes down there and purports to be the new owner of the Tarpon Inn, a formerly successful tourist spot which has definitely seen better days. He immediately gets into a fight with some of the Colombians and gets his butt kicked, but then beats up their leader and pulls a gun on them. He soon hooks up with a Native American woman named Winnie Tiger who is a biologist working in Mahogany Bay, and the only one who helps Hawker when he first encounters the Colombians. There is sexual tension from the get-go, and eventually they have sex. Of course.

I don't really need to give the shot-by-shot plot structure of the book - that's easy enough to find and it's a short book anyway, with a quick enough tempo that ensures an engaged reader will zip through it in a couple of evenings or a lazy Sunday. There's a good amount of gun porn and the violence is suitably visceral, with people getting shot, stabbed, punched, blown up, set on fire...even violated with an air tank and inflated to death (more on that later). While the body count isn't extreme, it is substantial enough to satisfy those whose primary reason for reading such fare is the satisfaction of punks and thugs getting their comeuppance.

And, to be fair, the plot did take me a bit by surprise. Hawker doesn't just go to Mahogany Bay and start slaughtering Colombians. Instead, he actually spends a couple of months in the town, working with the locals to bolster both their pride, and the town's economy. One of the more satisfying scenes in the book involves the townsfolk attacking the Colombians' stronghold and giving them a thorough whupping - sans killing, for the most part. Hawker had cautioned the locals against turning into killers, and there is an impressive amount of restraint and moral obligation there. Of course, even in the few moments where Hawker himself tries non-lethal means to deal with his foes, circumstances conveniently force him to proceed otherwise, and he does the lion's share of the killing in the book, aided by the Tarpon Inn's cook and bartender, both of whom are more than they appear.

I also really enjoyed Hawker using a (in 1984 terms) advanced computer system to track down information about the various players in the situation and gain an information advantage over them. Most of the protagonists in these books, if they do computerized information gathering at all, outsource that to some nerdish ally who is a "computer genius". While Hawker was trained by such a genius on how to do this, he does do it all himself, employing some convenient hacking software and an old-school phone modem to search various databases, even planting a false identity at one point to establish his cover. I hope this is something that continues throughout the series.

Unfortunately for readers in 2016, there are a lot of cringe-worthy parts in the book. Without exception, all of the "good guys" are white, while all of the "bad guys" are minorities. Even the alluring ("mystical" of course) Winnie Tiger is secretly in cahoots with the bad guys. There's one white German bodyguard of a bad guy, but Hawker hints that he thinks the guy is gay, calling him "...a candidate for AIDS disease.", a line that was so stunning, it took me a moment to even grasp its full, historical, implications. There's also a "hulking mulatto" named Simio (...really...?), given all the usual apelike descriptive portraiture, who likes to inflict pain as a strongman for the Big Bad Guy of the novel. Hawker kills him in a horrible fashion when Simio's pants split at the backseam during a fight, exposing his buttocks, and Hawker rams the nozzle of an air tank in Simio's backdoor and turns the valve, inflicting horrific trauma upon Simio's insides. I'm sure a Freudian could write a paper on that scene alone.

Setting aside racial and homophobic issues for gendered ones, there are four female characters in the book. Winnie Tiger, the mystical Indian woman who has sex with and then tries to kill Hawker, two large-breasted blondes who both die only after their shirts are ripped open to expose their assets in death, and Hawker's ex-wife, with whom he has dinner with before going to Florida, and who he almost, but I think does not, has sex with. She factors into about three or four pages of the book and is then completely irrelevant, making me wonder why she's even included except as a possible means to make Hawker seem more three-dimensional. Police Sergeant Dee Dee McCall (HUNTER television series, debuting the same year - 1984 - as this book) would not be impressed with the gender politics of Florida Firefight.

If you can get past these usual, rather uncomfortable artifacts (and if you made it past the first chapter, I'm sure you can), this is still a satisfying read for fans of such "serial vigilante" books. The ebook edition is well-formatted and there aren't any OCR typos that I noticed, typical for Open Road Media's products, which are usually very well done.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Wonderful World of Tanks

A little over a month ago, I finally caved and installed World of Tanks, an online game where you and fourteen other random Internet People fight fifteen other random Internet People in a head-to-head death match, as you each command a tank and drive around a map, smashing through stone walls and knocking over trees while blowing each other up and setting each other on fire.

I've never been that interested in playing online games. I grew up in an age where video games were something you either played on your own, or with a friend using another controller, as you sat in your living room bathed in the television's glow and ate junk food while punching each other in the shoulder because your friend managed that last takedown combo before you did. When, after college, I first began to explore online gaming while playing Quake Online or Ghost Recon, the novelty of fighting against some random Internet Person soon wore off.

Someone's about to have a bad day...

People in general are rude, insensitive jerks who hate their fellow man, but when you add in the anonymity of the Internet, plus a game where you're trying your best to kill each others' digital avatars, the worst in people really comes to the fore. In the last month, I've been insulted in ways I'd forgotten about since junior high school, and while the nostalgia is cute for a moment, it soon sours in the belly and you realize you're approaching the big 4-0 and someone out there still wants to insult you like it's 1990. Thankfully, the wisdom of age - and countless online flame wars - tempers my replies, and I usually tell them they're being adorable and just move on.

On the other hand, I have to admit, World of Tanks is kind of fun. The game features tanks from all the major powers of WW2, and the tanks start with the old, pre-war models (some of them nothing more than prototype tanks) and gradually progress in "tiers" up to tanks from the '70s and '80s, in a ranking of Tiers 1 through 10. In the early games, your range of tiered tanks will be pretty narrow - Tier 1 tanks face off against each other, while later Tier 2-3, and by Tier 5 you might be fighting anyone from Tiers 3-8, depending on the tank you're in (even in a specific Tier, some tanks rank higher than others and get matched against a higher Tier more often).

Just some dudes waiting to kill some other dudes. No big whup.

In addition, there are five categories of tanks: Light, Medium, Heavy, Tank Destroyers, and Self-Propelled Guns. The three weights of tanks are just that - abstract categories that usually match up with historical categories of tanks. For example, the British Crusader tank is a Light tank, while the Churchill is a Heavy tank, and so on. Tank Destroyers often look like tanks, but their armor isn't as good and they're more vulnerable, while their guns are better and their range of vision superior, Self-Propelled Guns are artillery pieces that lob huge explosive shells high into the air, and while they're easy to kill up close, they rain down death from a LONG distance away.

And there's a lot of death to be had, for sure. Tanks have armor, of course, but in WoT, they're pretty good about assigning different armor values to different parts of the tank. The frontal armor is usually the thickest, while the sides and rear are thinner. Sloped armor plates can often bounce incoming shells, while things like tank tracks are easy to cripple with "critical hits". Sometimes a hit to a tank's engine area can set the engine on fire, causing the tank to slowly lose points until it blows up. Crew members can also be killed or wounded, which causes the functions of the tank relying on that member to be worsened. For example, if the driver is killed, another crew member has to take his place, and the overall performance of the tank is now worse.

About what my tank looks like two minutes into most games...

When I first started playing WoT, I joked to myself that this was "research" for my upcoming PANZER series of WW2 adventure novels, but I didn't really believe it. Now, after just passing my 1,000th battle mark, I realize that while yes, it is just a game, it does give some insight into tank tactics. The importance of using terrain to your best advantage cannot be stated enough, especially if you're in a light "scout" tank. Staying behind hills, using depressions in the earth to go hull-down (meaning only your turret is visible), and otherwise remaining unseen (or at least unhittable) are incredibly important. You also very quickly learn how to "sneak and peek" with your tank, because driving boldly at the enemy and relying on your armor is a surefire way to wind up dead very fast.

Overall, it is a fun game that provides a little excitement now and then. It is free to play, although you can spend money to get upgrades faster (I refuse to do this), and it seems like many players consider this poor sportsmanship and the sign of a garbage player. And, while it is frustrating to have to "grind" through a bunch of games in a bad tank in order to earn enough experience to move on to a better one (there is a tree-like progression of Tiers for each country's tank development), there are very few tanks that are absolute garbage. For example, the M3 Lee is absolute garbage. I hate that stupid tank. Hate it.

I hate this tank so much. So very, very much. This image, like all above, grabbed from various Internet sources.

If you play as well and want to say hello some time, you can find me on WoT as "Badelaire". My schedule is rather irregular though, so there is little likelihood of a match-up, but you can always view my terrible statistics.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: THE ASSASSIN'S BETRAYAL by Mark Allen

I've known Mark Allen for a while now as a fellow author, blogger, and all-round action-adventure novel enthusiast. We've been corresponding back and forth for years, and we talked a lot about his planning of the sequel / not-sequel to his first full-length novel, THE ASSASSIN'S PRAYER, which came out a couple of years ago, and did pretty darn well. Mark liked how some things turned out, but in retrospect wished he'd done other things a little differently.

The result of all that experience and contemplation is THE ASSASSIN'S BETRAYAL, and I have to say, the wait was worth it. This story has everything that Mark pulled off to perfection in his first novel, and polished smooth any rough spots the first book might have had. There's action, there's sex, there's gunfights and swordplay, knives and chainsaws, welcoming dive bars and swimming pools filled with hungry sharks. In short, everything you need to tell an awesome, over-the-top-but-not-too-far action story, and make it a real page-turner.

And I say that last out of experience, because I downloaded the Kindle edition of the book late one night and read the first few pages before bed. Then next night, I picked up where I'd left off, and was so engrossed and caught up in the book's rapid-fire pacing, I stayed up well past one o'clock in the morning because I literally couldn't make myself put the book down and go to sleep - I knew I'd just lie there awake, wondering what was going to happen next.

So, if you're into the modern action-thriller genre, dig assassins and gunplay and a book with a significant body count, you cannot go wrong with THE ASSASSIN'S BETRAYAL. Pick it up!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: KILL ZONE by Zeke Mitchell

I must admit to feeling rather conflicted about this book. Author Zeke Mitchell clearly loves the "Men's Adventure" genre of fiction made so popular in the '60s through the '80s, as well as '80s action movies such as COBRA or INVASION U.S.A., and every ounce of that love was poured into writing this book. There are a bunch of direct and indirect references, both in tone and otherwise, that show the intent of making Kill Zone a child of its inspiration.

On the other hand, I think this diamond is still just a little too rough. While the author is able to craft a solid action sequence, and the overall plot of the book flows well enough as a series of action set pieces, I think the story definitely needed some more constructive criticism. I'll give a rundown in no particular order of importance:

- The term "kill zone" appears in the body of the book thirty-eight times. While using the title of one's work in the body of said work is fine in a rock ballad, in a novel it is generally frowned upon, and while once or twice is fine (that, "Okay, I get it" moment), several dozen instances are way too many, and immediately jar the reader out of the narrative. After finding multiple uses in the first chapter, I stopped reading to use the Kindle search feature - which gave me the total. If I am that distracted by the over-use of the term to stop reading and do a word search, this is a problem.

- I understand the desire to make the character a lone hero. Many of the best protagonists of the genre are "lone wolves", but when you pay attention to the books and movies in question, the protagonist is always interacting and balanced by a host of secondary, supporting characters. In this book, aside from "interacting" with bad guys by riddling them with bullets, Thorn only makes a couple of phone calls and delivers one or two extremely short bits of interactive dialogue. Without someone to play off against, either a partner or a recurring antagonist, we spend way too much time just reading Thorn's own inner monologue, which got somewhat tedious, especially during the more fast-paced combat sequences. The author really should have just focused on the action-reaction-action-reaction of the fights, rather than the repeated running mental commentary in Thorn's head, which slowed the pace of the text down somewhat.

- The author's writing style isn't going to work for everyone. Many short, clipped sentences, as well as paragraphs separated by other "paragraphs" of extremely short sentences, or even single-word paragraphs. While this device is good for demonstrating a pivotal moment, it's repetition throughout the novel weakens the impact of the device when it is needed most.

- Although it is just playing to the source material, I thought the idea that the government would send a single man - albeit highly successful and well-trained - to dismantle through violence a criminal empire responsible for a *global* drug epidemic a little far-fetched. Yes, I know, the one-man army trope is a classic one, but I feel the hyperbolic nature of the story was a little extreme, especially as this is the first book in the series. I feel like now, there isn't a lot of leverage to up the ante in subsequent stories. This complaint is just personal preference, but I would rather have seen a smaller, more "street level" story - perhaps Thorn being sent to nip in the bud a drug kingpin right on the verge of making it big, rather than one whose drugs are causing a global catastrophe affecting millions upon millions of lives.

All the above being said, I still enjoyed the book a lot. Technically, the ebook was well-formatted, and I only caught a couple of very minor typos, of the sort that always slip through no manner how carefully a book is proofread. The book's cover is absolutely superb, and no doubt has caught the eye of many of the book's buyers, leading to that "one-click" impulse buy, as does the short but very evocative product description. As of right now, Kill Zone's Amazon book ranking is hovering a little above 2,000 in the Kindle Store, which is extremely good for a debut indie novel.

In conclusion, if you're the sort who enjoys '80s action movies starring Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, et al, as well as serial Men's Adventure novels like The Executioner, Able Team, The Death Merchant, and so forth, I think you'll enjoy this book, and you can pick it up on Amazon by clicking here.. There's a ton of action right from the get-go involving fast cars, big guns, explosions, knives to the face, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, more explosions, people's heads being blown off, even bigger guns, and a couple more explosions. While I have been somewhat critical above, I hope the author doesn't take it as discouragement from writing more books in this series, but rather as helpful feedback.