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Move Over, Vampires! A Review of Everblue by Brenda Pandos

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Cover courtesy of Amazon.com

Vampires are cool, but I always thought it was creepy to fall for a creature that drinks blood for sustenance. I mean, really. However, mermaids and mermen are a totally different story. That’s what Brenda Pandos’ book Everblue is all about, with a healthy dose of adventure thrown in. Now on to the good stuff:

Everblue clocks in at 305 pages and is aimed at a younger YA audience; I’d say 12- to 16-year-olds. It’s written from two points of view: regular high school student Ashlyn Lanski (Ash) and home-schooled teenage merman Finley (Fin). Ash is best friends with Tatiana, Fin’s twin sister. They grew up together on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Ash is the high school swim captain and has a secret crush on Fin, not knowing he’s a merman. He knows that one kiss from his lips would seal them together for eternity, so he tries to avoid a relationship. Most merpeople avoid all contact with humans, but Fin and Tatiana love living on land. There’s just one problem: the mer king is ordering merpeople to start preparing for a war with humans and has a hidden grudge against Fin’s parents.

There are several points in favor of Everblue, namely that Ash, even though she has a crush on Fin, is not completely obsessed with him. She enjoys the company of other guys at the school and lives a normal life. Also, Pandos does an excellent job writing the story from Ash’s point of view—I was really able to get inside her head! I also enjoyed the lore and history of merpeople and the way their world worked. It wasn’t perfect but it made sense and it was consistent.

The novel also includes intrigue and fighting among the merpeople, but the violence doesn’t escalate to gruesome levels. This was refreshing because a lot of YA novels nowadays go for shock factor (case in point: Hunger Games). Pandos kept it realistic and tense. Anyway, keep this in mind in case you’re looking for something edgier, but for those who enjoy a good, clean YA, this is it. The only issue I had with the book was how rapidly the chapters changed perspective; at times I think Pandos could’ve had 2 or 3 chapters from one character before moving to the other, but that’s just me.

This book deserves 4.5 stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Changing Perspectives: From Traditional to Self-publishing

I know I’ve been over this before. The publishing world is going through a revolution and authors are the ones who stand to benefit most. If you’re a writer you have to think about why you are publishing your work. Perhaps you just want to write and practice your art, in which case you understand that your readership may be very small and you don’t mind. Or perhaps you are hoping to make a living or supplemental income from your works. Or maybe you’re writing for your posterity and don’t intend to sell many books. And maybe you are a super talented, hard-working writer with books screaming for an audience. Whatever the reason, self-publishing is probably the best route for you. Take a look at Hugh Howey’s post on Salon about self-publishing if you don’t believe it.

Breaking into the traditional publishing crowd takes talent, hard work, and a bucket of luck, unless you’re already a celebrity and then you don’t need any of those traits. Traditional publishing houses are businesses. They are going to publish what they think will get them the most sales. This means they want well-written material (for the most part), pre-established social platforms for new authors, agented writers, and proven subject matter. I’m sure you’ve noticed that as long as a book deals in the recent trends (i.e. vampires, zombies, post-apocalypse), the writing quality does not need to be perfect. You need most of these things to be a successful self-published author, too. Only, in traditional publishing, you sell all rights to your work. You give it up for an upfront fee. So I ask you, what is the advantage of traditional publishing?

Marketing? Not necessarily. In fact, most publishing houses require new authors to orchestrate their own marketing strategies. They don’t have the money to invest in marketing for a book that may not sell more than the advance given to the writer. Publishing houses do have the advantage of selling directly to book distributors and libraries. Self-published writers can do this as well, but they have to use their own time and effort. The leveling field for this advantage is Amazon, which does not discriminate against self-published authors. Traditional publishers have to price their products higher than self-published authors because they have to cover overhead. E-books don’t cost anything to produce, which means pure profit for the self-published author and they can set their price low and sell much more than the traditional publisher.

Advances? Yes, if that’s all you hope to make from your book. Most traditionally published authors do not make more than the advance. After a while, these books go out of print, which means no more money from them. With a well-implemented marketing plan, a self-published work can bring a steady income and never go out of print unless the author chooses.

Editors? Sometimes. The truth is your work has to be nearly perfect already to get accepted to a publishing house. Some agents act as editors and some ask the writers to hire a freelance editor. Either way, writers advantage from hiring their own freelance editors.

Validation? This is a matter of opinion and subject to change. This is the topic that fuels my inner publishing conflict. I still feel that breaking into traditional publishing will somehow validate me as a writer. This idea stems from the many impatient writers who fill the self-publishing sphere with first and second drafts. I am terrified to fall into their ranks. Yet I know that my idea of validation is flawed. Much of the recent traditionally published literature lacks imagination. I’d rather be guilty of sloppy writing than mundane storytelling. Fortunately, self-publishing does not equal immature technique. The trick is to master your craft as if you were trying to make it through an editor’s slush pile and then self-publish your work and retain all rights to it.

What do you think? Is traditional or self-publishing the way to go? Have I missed something? I want to hear all the angles.

“Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty” By Sir Poley

Happy Tax Day, for all of you American readers out there. Don’t forget to thank a public employee for all of the hard work that they do for you. Anyway, on to the review for Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty by Sir Poley.

Ah, fanfiction. Commonly used for up-and-coming authors to get their voices heard without going through the rigmarole of original worldbuilding. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of this meta genre, though I recognize how useful it can be. This is nowhere more true than in crossfiction (crossover fanfiction is where two disparate literary universes meet in someway). Or so I thought.

Lately, though, I’ve found that a well-written fanfiction piece can be every bit as good as an original piece. Take Harry Potter and the Natural Twenty. As the title would suggest, it’s a crossover between J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragons games.

The Natural Twenty is something of a parody on D&D: Milo, an eleven year old adventurer who took the Wizard class is somehow summoned into the home of a Deatheater living near Hogsmeade. Milo has to adjust to a world where the very rules of the universe are different from what he’s used to (though he still uses his original rules)–and Hogwarts has to adjust to him.

If, like me, you are only vaguely aware of D&D’s mechanics and lore, don’t worry. This story is still mostly understandable. The only thing that took me back is realizing that something like 1d6 means rolling a six sided die. Otherwise, Sir Poley does a decent job of explaining the rules and his tongue-in-cheek humor will make the explanations fun.

The Natural Twenty stands at thirty-four chapters and, according to the author, is twice as long as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), which this fanfiction follows.

I highly recommend reading the Harry Potter series before reading this, however. As a fanfiction, this story does not enjoy the same level of world immersion that enriches the original.

Amazon KDP Select

KDP Select and What’s In It for You

Amazon KDP SelectFellow writers, readers, and anyone else interested in the self-publishing industry: let me introduce you to a short treatise on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and its KDP Select program.

This Select service was brought to my attention by GoodReads’ Jane Friedman blog, specifically a guest post by CJ Lyons (I’d recommend reading it here).

KDP is simply Amazon’s self-publishing service (Amazon is also affiliated with CreateSpace, and probably even more who I’m not aware of), and KDP Select is a special program offered to users of KDP to promote their books.  Here’s the lowdown on what KDP Select does and its stipulations:

1. The author gives Amazon EXCLUSIVE digital rights (though none of the print rights) to his or her book for a 90-day period

2. The book is made available in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library for sharing between customers and earns a small royalty for each “borrow”

3. The author is able to offer the book in a free promotion for a total of 5 days (consecutive or not, author’s choice) during the 90-day period

To tell the truth, when I read this I thought it was really strange and sort of a bad deal for authors since their books might only be downloaded during the free days (if they used any) and/or lent out by customers for a smaller royalty.  After reading Lyons’ post, I still have a similar opinion, though I also see the benefits to KDP Select.  After reading through (almost) the entire KDP Select user terms of service, I got a fairly good idea of what the service really offered to authors.

Based on my research, here’s the pros and cons of each stipulation of KDP Select:

1. KDP Select 90 days of exclusivity:

PROS: if you aren’t trying to distribute anywhere else, Amazon’s Kindle is a great platform to start on

CONS: you’re stuck with Kindle, so no Kobo, no Nook, no nothing! You also wouldn’t be allowed to provide excerpts/chapters on your blog or website because that would also be a breach of contract

2. Kindle Owner’s Lending Library

PROS: great for word-of-mouth marketing, and you do get paid for it

CONS: people who might buy your book borrow it instead, and the payout for lending is dependent on the total amount of books that are lent within a particular month–the more books borrowed overall (even if they have nothing to do with your book or genre), the less money you make

3. Free-Promotion Days (5 total)

PROS: you have total control of when those 5 days occur within your 90-day contract with KDP Select and you can run them concurrently, separately, or not at all.  If you do, it’s a good way to introduce people to the first in a series and garner good reviews to encourage purchase of later installations

CONS: anytime a book is offered for free, its intrinsic value also declines, and you may encourage sentiment for the rest of your books to be offered for free as well

Overall, there are some definite advantages to KDP Select, however, I believe it takes a very specific situation for an author to derive great benefit from it.  Why not simply use KDP’s regular publishing services?  What potential can you see in KDP Select?  I can’t claim a perfect understanding of how to sell ebooks, so I’d love to hear what you think!

Derelict by Lisa Cohen

Derelict is a light sci-fi novel about four teens who are stuck on a backwater asteroid station. At first, all any of them can think about is escaping the station and their horrible parents, but things take a turn for the worst when they actually realize their dreams. Join Ro, Jem, Barre, and Micah as they first revive an ancient derelict spaceship and then struggle to survive the consequences.

Each of the teens are especially good at what they do, though it’s not immediately obvious how some of their talents will help the crew survive. In fact, watching some of the more esoteric skills prove useful was one of the big draws of this story for me. The other major draw was seeing the way that these teens overcame their upbringing.

Saying anything more would probably involve major spoilers, so I’ll let you read this human interest story for yourself. Note that while this story is YA, it does involve some swearing, a hint of lesbian love (unfulfilled and off-screen), a small scene of violence including self-violence (in order to escape), and drugs (a fictional drug similar to marijuana which forms the fulcrum of one or two major plot developments).

Lastly, this is considered a first draft. While it is well-written for what it is, it still involves a fair number of misspellings and other rough spots.