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Monday, April 25, 2016

World Traveling and World Building: Interview with Fantasy Author R.J. Vickers

R.J. Vickers is a fantasy author, photographer, and traveler who says with a laugh that she enjoys juggling multiple projects at once. She’s currently hard at work on a New Zealand adventure travel guide, the second and third books in her YA fantasy Natural Order series, and an epic fantasy novel set in a new world she’s been developing for almost ten years now. She’s here today to talk about Beauty’s Songbook, which, like Awash in Talent, is being published by Kindle Press. 

Author R.J. Vickers 
JK: What is Beauty’s Songbook about? 

RJV: It’s a fairy tale with nods to Beauty and the Beast and Into the Woods. I’ve always been a huge fan of fairy tales, especially retellings in the mode of Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine) and Goose Girl (Shannon Hale), so this was my chance to take a stab at the genre.

JK: Have you written many fantasy books?

RJV: Well, I’ve written seven fantasy novels in all, but only two (The Natural Order and Beauty’s Songbook) have been published. Three more of those are in various stages of revision, and the last two will never see the light of day! 

I love writing novels during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every November, and I see most of these as experiments where I try something I wouldn’t ordinarily write in order to hone my craft. I’ve written a psychological thriller, a futuristic dystopian novel, a contemporary romance, and a pirate story within the confines of NaNoWriMo—and not a single one of them will ever be published.

JK: How do you draw readers into your fantasy world?

RJV: One of my favorite parts of writing is creating a world and bringing it to life.  I love weaving all sorts of sensory details into my writing, and adding those quirky details that really give a world character. For Beauty’s Songbook, I wrote a whole set of songs common in the region, and added a set of folk legends to give the world flavor. 

JK: What are your main inspirations?

RJV: As I mentioned, I’m a huge traveler, and I love taking bits of the world that inspire me and incorporating them into my stories. The setting of Beauty’s Songbook is modeled on Finland, where I happened to begin writing the story, and another recent novel is set in a landscape resembling the fiords of New Zealand. That particular idea came to me while hiking through those exact fiords, and upon returning to the same trail, I was so inspired I had to write the book.

JK: What nonfiction do you write?

RJV: I’m sure you’ll be surprised to know that most of my nonfiction relates to travel. My first nonfiction book was College Can Wait, a gap-year guidebook for reluctant students with a huge emphasis on travel. And, of course, I’m hard at work on the New Zealand travel guide. If that’s successful, I’ll follow it up with more travel guides to all of my favorite places.

JK: What is it like publishing Beauty’s Songbook with Kindle Press? 

RJV: When I originally submitted Beauty’s Songbook for the Kindle Scout nomination process, I didn’t actually expect to be selected. I was very curious, though. Kindle Scout is one of the newest entries to the publishing scene, a model that combines the best parts of self-publishing and traditional publishing. I’ve been blogging about the whole Kindle Scout publishing process here

You get complete control over your cover (though the quality control kicks in during the nomination process—you won’t get many votes with a bad cover), and Kindle Press does a very thorough edit of your book—for content and conventions—before publication. You get an advance, but you also get to keep a much larger percentage of your royalties than you would in a traditional publishing deal (50% compared to around 12%). You don’t get to decide on your book’s pricing, but Kindle Press will drop your price for promotions and submit your book to a number of promotion deals, circumventing the need for the author to pay for these. 

As traditional publishers have had a very hard time competing in the ebook market, due to bad pricing choices and a lack of marketing, models like Kindle Press are starting to look very desirable.

Anyway, Beauty’s Songbook just came out on April 19 (you can check it out here), so I have yet to see whether it performs better or worse than my three previous titles. But it’s been exciting to learn more about Kindle Scout and Kindle Press along the way! 

JK: Exciting is an apt word for this whirlwind process. Thanks so much for being here today, and best of luck with Beauty’s Songbook.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Today at Unusual Historicals: My Intellectual Hero, Alfonso X

Alfonso X. That's him on the left
in the blog banner, too. 
The theme at Unusual Historicals this month is "The Intellectuals." Maybe they don't make history as often, but without the brainiacs to write things down, there would be no history at all. 

My personal and intellectual hero is—no secret—Alfonso X, el Sabio. Read about just a few of his brilliant accomplishments here at Unusual Historicals. 

If you'd like some event specifics, I made two-part biographical summary here and here

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Prescient Reporter Releases Topical Political Thriller: A Guest Post by Kindle Press Author Rick Pullen

Fellow Kindle Press author Rick Pullen has managed what seems impossible: he wrote about what interested him, and now that the time for publication has come around, his topic is hotter than anyone could have planned. Naked Ambition is available for preorder. Make sure to get it now and it will download to your device on May 3. Take it away, Rick!

Author Rick Pullen
Naked Ambition is my first thriller, and believe it or not, it’s about the Republican establishment trying to take down a Republican candidate for the Presidency. Talk about timing! But it was written long before Donald Trump came onto the political scene.

It all began with a court scene I had stuck in my head for a decade. What if a federal prosecutor leaked an explosive story to a newspaper reporter and then—due to an uncontrollable twist in circumstances—he suddenly was forced to prosecute the reporter to reveal who the leaker was? How would you resolve that scene?

For years I couldn’t. I talked to friends trying to unravel the dilemma and still couldn’t. Then one day over beers with a colleague at a sports bar across the street from my office, it came to me. That night I went home and began to write.

I’ve been a journalist my entire adult life. I was an investigative reporter for newspapers for years before becoming a magazine editor. Of course being an investigative reporter meant I was constantly accused of writing fiction long before I ever attempted to.

So in 2011 I took a class on novel writing at the Washington Independent Writers Center and began to understand how difficult it was and how totally different the structure of fiction was from straight news reporting. The inverted pyramid? Forget it. Magazine feature story writing? Fiction wasn’t even close. It wasn’t a style question, but one of craft.

Over the next two years I read more than 40 books on the craft of writing fiction—everything from point of view, to pacing, to how to write a sex scene—all while writing the first and second drafts of my novel. I learned quickly that the real craft of writing was actually rewriting and first drafts were little more than glorified outlines.

I’ve worked in Washington most of my career, so I know quite a lot about how the city operates and thinks. Writing a political thriller wasn’t a big stretch for me. But I wanted my novel to examine more than just political skullduggery, power, and sex. I wanted it to be an examination of the flawed human element that makes up our power structure and how overblown egos affect real lives. I wanted it to cover everything from how journalists often fail to shed any light on what really goes on in the nation’s capital, while powerful politicians do everything they can to thwart the truth from ever surfacing. Instead they cynically preach God and patriotism while lusting for power and their administrative assistants.

For this reason, my working title was “Professional Ethics.” I wanted my thriller to examine all types of ethical dilemmas—from questionable journalistic integrity to political hypocrisy. But in my mind that still didn’t rise to the level of being distinctive enough. All of the great detective and thriller series have something unique about their flawed main characters. I needed to create such a character. That’s when I came upon the idea of the “Naked Series,” an honest portrait of the warts beneath the polished patina of pinstripe Washington.

To the outside world, my main character is an award winning, swashbuckling hotshot investigative reporter. Inside the confines of his condo, he’s an insecure jumble of contradictions who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag without the aid of his secret mentor.

I’m already writing my second thriller. Naked Truth is about the underpinnings of the stature of the Supreme Court. Is Lady Justice really blind or just winking at us? My third book in the series is Naked Aggression. It will examine who holds the real power in Congress.

Of course these are all thrillers, so they are filled with suspense, sex, murder and intrigue. In Naked Ambition, the main character learns about political manipulation and how nothing is as it seems to be—not his job, not his story source and not his new love interest. In the end, everything is stripped bare—well, almost everything. It is Washington after all. So do we ever really know the whole truth? 

Naked Ambition is now available for preorder. Get it today and receive it on your device automatically on the release date of May 3. And check out Rick Pullen at his website.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Debut Author's Road to Publication: Guest Post by Teresa Roman

Fellow Kindle Press author Teresa Roman's debut novel, Back To Us, is a contemporary romance. 

Her absolute favorite things in life are her family and books. Her passion for reading is what inspired her to become a writer. She loves the way stories can take you to another time and place.

Teresa currently live in beautiful Sacramento, California, with her husband, three adorable children, and a doxiepoo named Parker that her son convinced them to adopt. When she's not at her day job or running around with her kids, you can find her in front of the computer writing, or with her head buried in another book. If you'd like to know more about her, she can be found at, where you can also sign up for her newsletter for exclusive book release information.

Take it away, Teresa!

Author Teresa Roman
I love reading author’s stories on how they eventually got their first book published, so I thought I’d share mine with you.

For three years I’d been working on a young adult urban fantasy novel. I struggled with it, agonizing over whether the pacing was too slow, or the world-building good enough. I finally decided to take a break from it and start writing a contemporary romance that I’d had in my head for a while.

Back To Us tells the story of Jessica, a college girl struggling to make ends meet, and Justin, a former Navy Corpsman dealing with injuries from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They meet, and despite the issues they’re both dealing with, can’t ignore their attraction for each other.

After I finished writing Back To Us, I decided, after much internal debate, that I was going to self-publish it. I hired and editor, a book formatter and an amazing cover designer. Only days away from self-publishing Back To Us, I got an email about Amazon’s new Kindle Scout program.

Despite my determination to self-publish my book, I still feared the process, but the alternative—querying a hundred agents and waiting eons for a reply—was even less desirable. Kindle Scout promised a yes or no reply in just over a month. That appealed to me. So I went ahead and submitted Back To Us. I asked friends and family for nominations, but didn’t expect much. I was new to Facebook, new to the world of self-promotion, and quite frankly sure my book wouldn’t get selected.

No one was more surprised than I was when it did. I was also really excited. Another part of me was relieved that I wouldn’t have to figure out the right way to get started in the world of self-publishing.
While the Kindle Scout program might not be a perfect fit for every author, I’m glad that I published Back To Us through Kindle Press. I’ve gotten to meet a ton of authors, many who’ve written several novels before being published by Kindle Press. They’ve become not only friends, but have offered a wealth of advice on writing, publishing and marketing.

Back ToUs has been out for almost a year and is now joined by that young adult urban fantasy novel I mentioned earlier, titled Daughter of Magic.

You can find out more about me and check out my books on my website

Happy reading!

Thanks for stopping by, Teresa. 

Although I've been writing for more years than I care to count, and I had Seven Noble Knights accepted for publication before Awash in Talent, Kindle Press's swift action means that Awash will be my debut, too!

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Unconventional Path to Publication with Author Katie O'Rourke

Continuing the celebration of my fellow Kindle Press authors, today I welcome a guest post on the publishing process from women's literary fiction author Katie O’Rourke. Her accomplished novel Finding Charlie is on sale for only 99 cents until April 15.

Katie O'Rourke
A hundred years ago, when I first started to consider writing to get published, I did the research on how it was done. I bought a copy of The Writer's Market, worked on crafting the perfect query letter, mailed out manila envelopes with sample chapters and SASE (self-addressed stamped envelopes), and collected numerous rejection letters while I waited for a literary agent to discover me.

Now the process has changed a bit, with most agencies accepting email queries. I've perfected my pitch and my rejection letters have gotten nicer. I've had many requests for full manuscripts, more specific advice and encouragement. I even spoke on the phone with an agent from one of the leading literary agencies in New York.

Somehow, these rejections hit me harder than the form letters of my past. I still don't have an agent, but I have three published books. I used to think my path to publication was unusual, but when I talk to other published authors, they all have a different story to tell.

With my first book, Monsoon Season, my publisher found me. I had posted my work on an online writers' site called Authonomy. The publisher was a new imprint of an established company and I hired a literary agent to look over my contract. (Best $100 I ever spent.) Sales were really good, but I didn't like how they handled the release of my second novel, so I got out of that contract and published on my own. They've since merged with Little, Brown and I've been much happier as they continue to sell Monsoon Season.

My second book, A Long Thaw, was released in 2014 under my own imprint. This book sells fewer copies than the first (so far), but I have complete control over how it's marketed and I get daily sales reports about how it's doing. I think this has been a great way for me to compare each method and see what matters to me. Is it reader response? Sales? Cover design?

I entered my latest book Finding Charlie, into a crowdsource competition and it was selected for publication by Kindle Scout at the end of last year. I had been slightly apprehensive about entering into this deal because in some ways, it sounded like the worst parts of my previous experiences: the independent struggle of self publishing combined with the lack of control of traditional publishing. But I have been pleasantly surprised. I had creative control of the cover and book content, but help from a professional editor. The team has kept me involved, returns emails promptly, and I can depend on them for the kind of promotional deals I have going on now: Finding Charlie is currently just 99 cents!

My experience with publication has been diverse and educational. I like it that way. Publishing has changed a lot and the path is no longer as cookie cutter, if it ever was. Sometimes publishers come before agents; sometimes agents never show up. From what I hear, it may be that my path is just as unconventional as the next person’s.

Thanks for being here, Katie.

Get all the latest from Katie at