With each new release, the nausea rises.
Will I fail this time? Will I have gone somewhere my readers cannot go? Will I have taken one risk too many? Are all my ideas shit? What if Fluency was a one-hit wonder?
I've seen it happen. I've seen extremely popular authors release a book and have their most loyal fans universally pan it. There's a new SF release on Amazon right now with a less than 2-star average (though, admittedly, it's selling like gangbusters anyway.)
Will that be me?
Well…not yet. ;D
I got this in my inbox yesterday and I'm still in shock.
Of the thousands of science fiction novels released in 2016, my little sequel-that-could has been pointed up as one of 15 that readers loved most.
I still can't believe it. But there it is.
I'm grateful. You guys made this happen. You read my books and you talk about them around the water cooler. You tell friends and family and even strangers about them. You leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. You write blog and social media posts about them.
And more people buy them, making it possible for me to keep writing them. Writing is my one and only job. I'm supporting my children on this income. I'm not bagging groceries or stuck in a lab without windows all day.
I have never expected external validation like this. I write popular fiction--escapist literature with some small elements of social commentary. It's supposed to be fun, not snooty or serious at all. I write space opera stories. That's it.
The other books in this category are fantastic. I'm honored to have one of mine among them.
I'm asking YOU to find a moment to do two small things for me:
Reviews are powerful social metrics for buyers and potential advertisers. The more a book has, the more confidence a potential reader has (I'm sure most of you aren't immune to this--I'm not).
The number of reviews can make or break a book. As an independent author, I don't have the big bucks marketing machine of the big five publishers behind me. Case in point--The Druid Gene was recently turned down for the biggest book promotion site out there. One promotion with that site could launch this book into the stratosphere.
The Druid Gene has everything it needs to be a success--good editing, fantastic cover art, a solid story that most readers enjoy--but it doesn't have enough reviews to make the cut yet. Help me get it there. You can make an actual difference in my career.
Thank you, gentle reader, for your support.
As you may know, I published a new book a few days ago. This has been an unusual journey for me to get to this place. Let me tell you a story.
When I wrote Fluency, I expected to remain in obscurity. My long term goal at that point in my life was to continue to learn my craft and grow as a writer. I hoped within five years or so to make enough from writing to compensate me at the level of a part time job so I could justify continuing to stay at home with my kids. I planned to work hard and persevere. That's my nature.
With that in mind, I finished Fluency and set it aside to remove some of the newness of it from my mind, so that one day, in a few months, I could pick it up again and see it with fresh eyes and make it a better book. In the interim, I started a new novel that had a working title of Druid.
At that point I was afraid of putting all my eggs in one basket. I'd seen indie writers work endlessly on series that didn't sell well. I didn't know how Fluency would be received, but considering I was starting from zero, I assumed (rightly) that it would not sell. My intent was to create something very different, but within the same universe, to give readers another starting point if they wanted to try my work.
The original idea for Druid came from a feverish, frightening dream. In this dream, I was a young woman with no allies, running from a relentless hunter. I had special powers that I didn't understand. Most of that dream, oddly, took place in an overgrown maze of a vineyard and a rural town on an alien planet populated with all sorts of diverse alien people. I woke up and scribbled out my thoughts and the ideas grew into Druid. Very different from that dream in a lot of ways, but the central premise was there.
In my original conception of Druid, Darcy was a young black woman. A black friend talked me out of it. I won't go into his reasons why. I was consternated. I knew that POC rarely see themselves in fiction and if they do, they are often the bad guy. (Even my beloved Star Trek isn't innocent of this--case in point, Star Trek Beyond). More on this thought process in a moment.
I got about forty-five thousand words into the Druid novel and decided it was time to do the final edits on Fluency and publish it. And then something insane happened. Fluency was virally successful. After the first blush of insanity, I went back to Druid and kept writing this novel I loved.
Then, due to Fluency's success, I got an agent. He insisted I'd be ruining my career if I published anything OTHER than a sequel to Fluency. I stubbornly continued to work on Druid. For a while.
I was out of sorts. My personal life was not in a great place. I had so many doubts about whether Fluency was a fluke or if I really had what it took to make a career as an author work. Eventually my agent, and all of my writing friends, convinced me to write the sequel to Fluency. Remanence was written then. It wasn't easy and took a lot longer than I wanted it to. But then it was successful too and I began, just a little bit, to believe in myself.
I thought long and hard about the Confluence series and how that partially completed novel, Druid, fit into it. I knew from the start I wanted the two series to intertwine and that meant I couldn't keep writing the Confluence series without introducing the Druid characters or I'd spoil the Druid series and waste all that work. I couldn't throw away what I thought was shaping up to be a good novel.
So I went off-book.
I am my own woman.
I continued to debate the racial identity of Darcy. The pivotal moment in that decision came when an old college friend who happens to be black told me that when she read Fluency she expected Ron Gibbs to be a red shirt just because he was the black guy. And she explained her experience with seeing people like herself represented in fiction.
My heart broke in that moment. That's not hyperbole. I honestly felt like I'd somehow let her down even though Ron is far from a red shirt and plays a larger role in Remanence than he did in Fluency. It was exceedingly painful for me to think about. I couldn't get it off my mind. People with brown skin deserve to see themselves as heroes every bit as much as I do. Yes, that means supporting writers of color--and I do. But it also means that people with privilege should make an effort to understand the challenges of people who have different experiences and bring that to their work. I wanted be a better writer.
A lot of white writers are afraid of writing characters with brown skin because they're afraid of getting something wrong. In addition, I was once told by a gay friend that I wasn't "allowed" to write gay characters. That I had to leave that to people who had lived it. I worried black folks would feel the same.
I came to the conclusion that that's absurd. That's "write what you know" taken to extremes. I've never been a squid OR a formless, malleable sentient colony of bacteria OR a plant/animal hybrid. I've never been a linguist, OR a male aeronautic engineer OR a lesbian space pirate. And yet I'm able to write those characters by using my innate empathy to imagine what their lives would be like.
I talked about it extensively with my new partner. He is biracial and his experience resonated with me. This new knowledge gave me a new direction. Here was an underlying theme I could give this work to imbue it with it more depth and power. The novel underwent extensive rewrites to reflect my new decisions and I'm really proud of where it went.
This book is not about race, though. It is about identity. That might seem like a subtle distinction, but I urge you to read it and see for yourself.
Just as I had struggled for years with my own identity as mother and novelist, in this work Darcy struggles with what it means to become something greater than she believed she was capable of. At its core, it is a book about becoming one's true self. That is something anyone of any nationality, race, gender, or religion can identify with. I hope you agree.
Now The Druid Gene is out there and it's doing great. If you read it, and you value my work, please do me a solid and review it (and tell your friends!).
Let me know if you have any questions about this or anything else about my work and I'll be happy to address it in a future blog post.
I've been gratified to find that the reviews of Remanence have been very favorable. I hope that the audiobook is received just as favorably. The book is selling well, but I'm certain that many readers of Fluency haven't found it yet, so if you enjoyed the book, spread the word!
I'm on schedule to finish The Druid Gene: Gildrut and get it to my editor by August 1. I recently contracted with Hugo award nominated illustrator Galen Dara (who designed the header for this site) to do the cover art for this book. It's all going to come together quickly over the next few months and should be publishing sometime in October.
I'm also working on my outline for Valence: Confluence Book 3 which I hope to publish next summer.
I'm considering starting a Patreon account to give my readers opportunities to be beta readers for The Druid Gene: Gildrut and give them first peek at cover reveals and other perks. If you have any ideas for how I could best utilize the Patreon platform, please shoot me an email. Supporting a family on a single author income is tricky at best. This might help me stay afloat and write more, at least in the short term.
In other news I recently adopted this wee beastie! His name is Link (my 13 year old is a Legend of Zelda fan) and he is a 5.25 lb Chihuahua/Pekingese mix and he is the best thing since the domestication of dogs!
I engage with readers a lot. I really enjoy the conversations we have. You may or may not be aware that I am very active on Twitter and happily answer questions there, but I can give more in depth answers to questions in my Facebook group called Speroancora Crew. Join us there if that sounds interesting to you!
Recently a crew member asked this question:
Here was my reply (written late late late at night…)
Apparently I don't see him [Alan] the way everyone else seems to perceive him. Huh. Where to start.
First of all, one of my favorite characters ever on television was Rodney McKay on Stargate Atlantis. I was definitely thinking about some of his traits when I created Alan. But Alan is NOT Rodney in disguise.
Second, NASA astronauts as a group are very homogeneous. That's problematic when you're writing a novel and need conflict and variety. I had people complain that Tom Compton and Ronald Gibbs were too similar. These two characters--and Ajaya Varma--were all based on typical NASA astronaut personalities.
These people don't get excited about anything. They are even tempered, methodical, cooperative. NASA very specifically LOOKS for these traits. There has been talk that maybe NASA should incorporate some other personality types for long flights because it might be a better group dynamic.
If I wrote a book about 5 of these people going to space…well…I didn't see how I could create much conflict between them.
So, WALSH was modeled after the early astronauts--the test pilots in the 50s that were the first to go into space. These guys were mavericks. I gave him a strong military background so he would be disciplined and good under pressure. But then I threw a fly in the ointment by having him be the FIRST to be affected by the nanites (which most people don't realize--and they think I was simply writing a stereotypical drill sergeant asshole. I wasn't. Jane describes Walsh as being fair but difficult to convince, but maybe people forget she says that and react emotionally to his irrational and bullheaded behavior that comes out under the influence of the nanites affecting his central nervous system.
And ALAN needed to break the mold as well. I needed him to be a foil. He was rejected for the astronaut program originally. He is only included on this journey because of his experience reverse engineering alien tech. He's the best and brightest. And sometimes the best and brightest have difficult personalities.
As for why he's so negative… This catches me off guard. Because I don't see him that way. He's a lot like ME. He grumbles about stuff in a snarky way. He calls people on their bullshit and he's right most of the time. It's not always easy being the smartest dude in the room (not saying THAT'S like me by a long shot!). But that's where he's coming from.
What does Jane see in him? He's REAL. He's always straight with her when her own ex was more of a obfuscator of facts. He's been vulnerable with her. They see and appreciate each other's ambition and drive. She knows he doesn't know what he's doing. He's never been in a serious relationship. She finds that endearing. She thinks he's funny. All that grumbling is cute to her. There are women who find this sort of thing attractive.
I've been accused of making Jane a Mary Sue. The truth is Alan is more like me than Jane ever was.
I've been accused of making them act like teenagers. Well, love does that to people. It puts them off kilter. It makes them act weird. Even grown-ass 30-somethings. I've seen it. I've experienced it as a 43 year old newly divorced woman.
I've been accused of man-bashing. Well, I don't know where that comes from and I can't even begin to address it. I wrote characters that felt like real people I've known. I love every single one of them. I don't hate any of them. And I don't believe I present any of them in an unfavorable light. Writing characters that have foibles and issues isn't bashing them.
Jane has issues too! Um. Commitment, much? ;D
And then another crew member made this comment which I felt was truly awesome and really articulated how I felt about it well (I'd been writing all day and it was late at night!):
Brilliant, right?! Way to out-author the author! I tend to be so close to my characters that it's hard even for me to describe them. So this was GREAT!
If you want to hang out and chat with me like this or about science, space, fandoms and general geekery, think about joining the crew or follow me on Twitter! Keep the conversation going! (And keep reading! It's good for you--you need vitamin R!)
Audio Book News...
The audio book production of REMANENCE is almost complete. I heard from Susanna Burney a few days ago. She's finishing up the last few chapters now. Then sicsound will master the audio and take out page turns and flubs etc. That will take some time. The audio book should be available by the end of this month! Yay!
What I'm Reading Now...
I've been devouring space opera audio books lately at quite an insane pace. I don't get a lot of time to read on my kindle much anymore but I listen to audio books when doing any kind of mundane chore like driving, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, cooking etc.
You'd be surprised how fast you can read an audio book when you cram it into otherwise boring moments. Last night I was listening to an audio book while popping popcorn on the stove and I was so engrossed that I ended up standing in the kitchen eating said popcorn (and throwing a few kernels to Link because he's so adorable--he takes ONE piece and trots off to another room to chew on it then comes back for another) while listening.
Here's a list of the books I've been listening to lately (in case you're as hungry for great space opera as I am!)
The Expanse series by James SA Corey
The Legacy Fleet series by Nick Webb
Darkship series by Sarah Hoyt
The Aurora Rhapsody series by G.S. Jennsen
Armada by Ernie Cline
Hyperion Cantos books by Dan Simmons
The Paradox Series by Rachel Bach
Have you read any of these? How did you feel about them? Let's keep the discussion going!
This is just a quick post to let you know what's going on in my authorial life.
To start with, two upcoming events:
Marcon May 6-8, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio
I'll be speaking on panels and doing a signing and reading. I don't know why the programming isn't up on their website yet… This is my schedule:
BEA (Book Expo America) May 11-13 in Chicago, Illinois
I'll be floating in and out of this one because it's running concurrently with another con the same weekend (that I'm also attending). Not sure yet about the mega book signing. I'm having some trouble with book distribution at the moment. I'm not sure if my books will make it there on time. I'm not really going to be there in any official capacity, just networking. But if you're going to be there, get in touch. I might do a meetup.
SFWA Nebula Conference (Science Fiction Writers of America) May 12-15 Chicago, Illinois
This is a con for authors, mostly. For learning and networking and important stuff like that. The Nebula Awards will be announced at this gig. Since I went to the Hugos last year, I thought I'd give this a whirl. In addition, this conference traditionally holds a mass author signing every year. And there are some big names on this list. I'm hopeful that my paperback supply issues will be solved by this point and I'll be able to join in too. Here's the list of authors attending (you might want to sit down--there are some pretty big names on this list!):
In other news, there has been a resurgence in interest in Fluency after a week-long 99 cent sale which just concluded. Sales are up overall and both books are ranking well. Here are a few screenshots from my warm-fuzzy file in case you missed my shameless boasts on Twitter:
Lest you think I'm getting a swelled head, I did receive THIS review this week:
Well, some people like my writing anyway. I got two great interviews this week. If you didn't see them, check them out:
On the ALLi site (Alliance for Independent Authors) I was asked to Share the Secrets of My Success as an independent author.
And on Lawrence M Shoen's Eating Authors website I described my most memorable meal.
I launched REMANENCE!
Don't you just love that cover? I think it's amazing! Stephan Martiniere has done it again.
The launch was a little rockier than I intended. At the last minute I decided to employ a proofreader to give a new editor a try and that really pushed me up against the wire there at the end. I'm glad I did though, because I liked his work--he did a great job in a very short amount of time--and it never hurts to have another set of eyes looking for typos.
That meant that I had to format the ebook (easy) and paperback (excruciating, difficult, and far more time consuming than usual due to software problems) at the last minute. Next time I'll probably buy and learn InDesign and give myself weeks to do it in, rather than days or hours (I assumed it would only take a couple of hours to format the paperback when in reality it took something like forty nearly non-stop hours of wailing and gnashing of teeth.)
As a result the paperback lagged behind and is just now catching up with the ebook on the amazon page--but they're both on the same page now! I really wanted to upload everything early and give the system a chance to smooth everything out by March 13, but that simply was impossible. Next time it will go more smoothly.
Sales have been spectacular and the early reviews have been flattering. Middle books in trilogies are notoriously hard to pull off, but it seems like people are universally enjoying it and already asking for book three.
I appreciate each and every one of my readers and that's why I go out of my way to reply to questions and comments via social media and email. You guys rock!
The audio book is my next job. I'm planning to have Susanna Burney work on book two but contemplating hiring a male narrator to voice Ei'Brai's and Alan Bergen's chapters. Not sure how to work that out yet. I'm still exploring the possibilities. After that, I'll finish up my Druid (title not final yet) manuscript and begin work on CONVERGENCE (the third and final chapter in the Confluence trilogy.)
Just a quick note to let you know that I've set a date for the release of REMANENCE (Confluence Book 2): March 13, 2016.
The book is currently with my line editor getting that last minute comb-through. I'll have it back by the end of the week to make his suggested changes. That will take several days of feverish work. Then I'll format the ebook and the paperback and let my graphic designer know how many pages the book is so he can finalize the paperback cover. That process will take a few days.
Just to reiterate: There will be no pre-order. They don't work in my favor so I'm not doing it.
The audio book will go into production after the final draft is complete. I expect it will be ready by midsummer.
It's all coming together! Everyone is playing their part beautifully!
Other stuff going on:
1.) I have FLUENCY bonus materials if you're interested! You have to sign up for my email alerts to get it. Your privacy is important to me and I only send email a few times a year when I have something to say. Also, subscribers get perks like autographed copies and other giveaways.
2.) There is a Goodreads group called Space Opera Fans that is reading and discussing FLUENCY all month long. Check that out if you're interested! (And let them know that the sequel will arrive on March 13!)
It's been three months since my last update about the progress of REMANENCE, the sequel to FLUENCY, so I thought I'd check in briefly. If you scroll down to the previous post, you'll see the timeline I've set up. It's still 100% in play without any delays.
I'm still on target for a March release. The exact day is yet to be determined (possibly I'll be prepared to give one by late February or early March). I could give you an exact date now, but that would make life very uncomfortable for me, as I either push myself beyond my limits, or sit on my hands for a week after it's done, waiting for that date to arrive. I'd rather just publish it when it's done.
You want to know when that day arrives? Sign up for my newsletter (and get the bonus of a free story). I hate spam, so I don't send more than a few emails a year. Your email address is safe with me. I'll only send you mail when I have something important to say.
People are asking for pre-orders. I'm not going to do those. They actually work against indie authors and I don't want to promo something that's not ready for sale. I won't be having a book launch party or a cover release with a bunch of fanfare. That's not my style. I've participated (reluctantly) in some of these things for other authors or anthologies but I don't enjoy them and I don't think they help an author's career. I don't need to do an AMA because I'm always available to answer questions here, on Twitter, or Facebook. Okay, that's enough curmudgeon-Jen for today.
Here's what has happened so far:
I wrote a first draft of the novel: Remanence.
I did my own first revision of the novel.
I passed that novel on to my professional editor to do a developmental edit (this is story level editing) and simultaneously asked about ten people to read it. Those people include my IRL (in real life) writing group/critique partners, a NASA/JPL engineer, an independent aeronautic engineer, a theoretical physicist and a couple of general readers.
I am now scouring the notes I received and assessing each one with a good old fashioned gut check. If someone noted a blind spot and I think it's valid, I'm fixing it. If something was too hard to understand, I'm clarifying it. If a scene is missing, I'm adding it. And so on. It's tedious work, but also really rewarding, because a novel is taking shape that I am really proud of. I'm nearing the end of this process now. I've been working around the clock. No tv time for me. It's all work and very little play around here until this is done.
The next step starts in two weeks when my professional editor will take the manuscript and do a thorough line edit. That will look at the novel more at a sentence level than the story level. He'll be looking for homophones, grammar errors, typos--as well as redundancies in the narrative, overused words, poorly constructed sentences, unclear passages and so on. It's a critical step in making a book as clean and readable for you, the reader. I won't skip it.
While my editor has the book I will be finalizing the covers for the ebook and paperback and making up a glossary to tack on to the end. I'm also hoping to find time to set up a giveaway as a thank you for all my dedicated readers.
Once the editor gives me the manuscript back, I will make the corrections, then I publish. I'm predicting that will be the third week of March, but anything could happen. Stay tuned.
These are exciting times! Read on!
I get asked a lot when the sequel to Fluency is going to come out. I'm here to tell you today when that will be.
But before I do, allow me say:
1.) I'm relatively new to noveling. (READ: new=takes longer.)
2.) I've had a lot on my plate over the last year (those are personal details that I won't be sharing).
3.) Writing a sequel that lives up to a very successful first book is a lot of pressure.
4.) I've got two kids (anyone who has lived with children knows what this means.)
That said, I've been working hard on this book for about a year. Considering that it took me two years to write and revise Fluency, I think I'm gaining some speed here. I'm not interested in churning out books. I want them to be the best I can make them.
Remanence is near completion. I'll be finishing it up and doing my own revision through the end of the year.
I've commissioned the same cover artist to create the cover artwork that did the cover for Fluency and he's already turned it over to me. Stephan Martiniere works as a concept artist for film (Guardians of the Galaxy was one of his projects) and he had to finish work on a Spielberg film before he could work on this cover. It's SPECTACULAR. You won't be disappointed in this cover art.
I've hired a professional editor and scheduled him to work on the manuscript in early January. This will be a developmental edit. Story level--looking at story arc/character arcs/searching for plot holes. In general, this guy makes me look good. He's edited several of my short stories. We work well together. He'll turn the manuscript around in about a week and I'll take the rest of the month to complete that revision. Assuming there won't be a ton of rewriting to do, that should be just enough.
(Authors--if you want to know who I use for editing, please take a look at my author resources page.)
Also in January I'll be sending the manuscript to a few select expert beta readers--fans of Fluency who happen to be aeronautic engineers, physicists and so on. People who are essentially going to tell me if I've misunderstood or misrepresented the science in some way. There are a lot of technical details in this book. While they are a backdrop, they add a layer of realism that my readers enjoy. This is a step I can't skip.
In February I've got an editor lined up to do a line edit. This level of editing looks for grammar errors and typos. Some editors at this level also fact check. This is a time consuming process and will likely take all of February. My prose is pretty clean, but everyone makes typos or uses homophones on occasion.
In February, after looking at where I'm at, I will put the book up on pre-order for a March 2016 release. I won't name the date of the release until I'm sure I can do it. There are penalties associated with not making a pre-order happen on time. Remanence will be exclusive to Amazon for a while because Amazon has been very good to me.
More exciting news? As soon as the Remanence final manuscript is out of my hands, I'm planning to finish a partially completed novel that I started right after I finished Fluency (before I knew Fluency was going to sell the way it did.) That book is 50% complete and I'm planning to finish and release it in 2016 as well.
Druid (working title) is set in the same universe as Fluency with a new cast of characters and a different set of problems. It's a sort of superhero origin story.
Then I will return to Confluence series to complete that trilogy. (My plan has always been to go back and forth between the two series until both were complete.)
I'm sorry I couldn't bring you the book sooner. But I hope you enjoy it when it's ready. (And I'm really hoping the zombie apocalypse doesn't happen between now and then. What can I say? I'm a worrier.)
EDITED TO ADD: If you want to be the very first to know when I release ANYTHING, sign up for my newsletter. You'll find boxes to sign up all over this site. Notably, in the top menu bar, under the word: subscribe.
***Additional edit: The clock starts ticking on the audio book AFTER the book is complete and ready for sale. Production takes a few months. So I'm guessing we'll be looking at June or July for an audio version.
Jennifer Foehner Wells
I'm an author of the Space Opera variety.