And so it begins. I am beyond excited to reveal the cover to my upcoming novel, The Riddle Box…but I have been over-quiet on the blog of late – so I’m going to need to ramp up to it. Just clog up your feeds with me for a few days, that’s basically what I want. I thought it might be fun to show a little bit of the process by releasing the sketches that lead up to the final design, before revealing the final cover on Saturday.
First the OG cover design, made by yours truly. YES, bask in its awfulness.
I think it’s safe to say that this cover is amazing. Sadly it requires a refined artistic sense to truly appreciate, so it’s probably for the best that I went for something a little more mass market.
All of the art you will see henceforth in this series will be from my illustrator, Mike Groves. [poopbird.com]. You should immediately click over there and take a gander at his work – it is delightful and amazing. The sketches I’m sharing here are rough and you should do yourself a favor and look at more of his finished stuff. He is the perfect person to draw zombies or robots for you. Fans of the first book will immediately recognize his style from the cover of Spell/Sword – I was really fortunate that he had time in his hectic schedule to work on the cover for The Riddle Box.
And now – the first sketch.
I can tell you, my heart skipped a beat when I saw this thumbnail. The book’s lived in my head for so long, to see even this sketch of my heroes got me ludicrously pumped. The final design came a long way from this starting point – here would be a good point to thank Mike for his patience with my endless vague emails and texts during the design process.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more sketches and then…DUN DUN DUNNNN…the Final Cover Reveal.
This information is not for the feint of heart or anyone considering self-publishing. But that’s who I’m putting it up for [beyond my own information and planning for The Riddle Box], anyone else thinking of taking the plunge. It’s one of my proudest achievements and I don’t regret it – – but damn, she do cost, don’t she?
Spell/Sword Sales – Year to Date
Paperback – 65 units …….$114.10 total Royalties
Kindle – 58 units …….$63.65 total royalties.
Free Downloads: 316
Spell/Sword Gross Profit: $177.75
Incomplete List of Spell/Sword Costs [approximate]
Cover Illustration, Layout and Design: $500.00
Purchase of unique ISBN number: $100.00
Printing of Beta Copies for review and proofing: $150.00
Giveaways and Promotional Material: $175.00
Shipping of Giveaways, Promotional Material: $50.00
Approximate Total Publication and Promotion Cost: $975.00
Spell/Sword Net Profit GRAND TOTAL:
Hoo. Ouch. Damn, buy some books, people.
This was way more depressing than I thought it would be. I clearly have an expensive habit, and it is called Swordpunk.
I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.
Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtena book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing. I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.
But I loved it of course.
And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]
So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.
This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset. Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.
I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot. I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that. Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one. To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
I high-fived myself four times while reading.
Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise. And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.
This will be an n-part series leading up to the Amazon Firesale for the Kindle version of Spell/Sword. It is going to be absolutely free 8/30-9/3. The plan is to write one of these a day to really crank up my self promotion levels, so when I’m at Dragon*Con, I won’t feel any remorse about begging total strangers to read the book.
But hey, I’m super lazy, so n could very well equal 2.
Reason #1: Sideways
If the damn book wasn’t ridiculous enough, I had to stick in this goddamn character. Those of you that have already read the book are currently nodding sagely, maybe pursing your lips in disgusted agreement. Those of you who have not read the book, let’s play a game. I’m going to describe this character, and you yell when you hit your personal Preposterous Fantasy Drivel Maginot Line. [PFDML]
Okay. Deep breath.
Sideways is an assassin. A mercenary, a sellsword, a blade for hire. He’s extremely fond of witty banter mixed with his obscenely
talented swordplay. He also seems to have some sort of moral code [AHHHHH.] he doesn’t kill for pleasure, and seems to have an overall genial position for a hired killer. He is also a devilkin. [YELLING.] The blood of devils is in his family, mixed with human heritage. He has orange skin, [NOOOO.] eyes the color of ketchup [WHAAAAA?] and ‘horns’ that look more like misshapen coral growths than anything that would appear in Lucifer fanart. His constant companions are a pair of shortswords, a flaming sword named Sunhammer [ARGGGGG.] and a gray sword of indeterminate magical function named Chester. [BLUH!] ‘Chet’ for short. [ALL OF THE SCREAMING, LIKE WHEN ALDERAAAN WAS BLOWED UP IN STAR WARS. EXCEPT IT NEVER GOES SUDDENLY SILENT. JUST SCREAMING FOREVER.]
He also fights a minotaur, kills about 75 sky pirates, crashes an airship, rides a wyvern, and takes a nap on a porch.
So, you see, it’s a very good thing that my book is going to be free in about 10 days.
Labor Day Weekend and some change. It coincides neatly with my trip to Atlanta for Dragon*Con — I’ll be wearing my Self-
Promotion Helm of Shamelessness +3. I’ve printed up a ton of business cards to give to people letting them know about the deal.
The ebook has always been free to Amazon Prime members, and DRM free to boot — but now I’m doubling down. Anyone and everyone can own my book at no cost other than the time it takes to download it. Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you’ll be able tor read it on your Mac, PC, iPad, smartphone, tablet, etc — via the free Kindle app.
I was born in the middle of tomorrow, yesterday’s child.
My parents were Tuesday and waiting for the water to boil. The people of the village are finding me in the hay of the inn’s second stall, the one that the old gray mule calls his own. Or did they already find me?
At some point, there was I in the hay. A child in the hay, pointy ears and bric-a-brac, like Mama Troth says sometimes, or is saying right now as I fold the clothes on the square table in the kitchen, but is also still a stump oozing sap as it’s cut down in the Riddlewood.
I know I’m confusing. People think are thinking that I do it a-purpose, or as some lark. It was hard, sometimes. Wanting to carry on a palaver with all the right tenses, the words that say time like Mama Troth will teach me.
If I’m careful I can tell the pig story right. The straw, the sticks, the bricks — but sometimes I tell the wolf at the beginning,
or leave the wolf out all together. Or put in some extra wolves that people never hear of, but that’s mainly a lark.
I used to be funny. Laughing and dancing down the streets of the Kingdom, with my friends and comrades. Before the war? After? I can’t be sure. Enough to say, there was an I and he was funny.
It’s hard to become this, stranger to remember. All at once and never gone. We’re going to a wedding, or have we already been?
Mama Troth told me to go to the baker and pick up some bread, but I could never figure when the place was open. I always came too late or too early, or I saw when the baker was a boy and didn’t have any bread. Or I saw him choking on that apple seed and he didn’t have any bread then either. I tried just keeping my hand on his doorknob until the time was right, but the rain was over and the rain was coming and the rain was always.
I got wet. I’m pretty sure that one already happened.
It’s going to be hard. People move so slow, but I turn and they’re gone. I send my words to where I see them, but they’re already gone, or they aren’t there yet.
Nora Hill held my hand once, but she ran off when her dad yelled. That one is the only one I know for sure is behind me, even though I want it to always be ahead. Nora is dying right now in the war, when the teeth and claws came over the wall. I don’t tell her and squeeze her hand. I should kiss her but I don’t. I see her dying right now, right before they found baby me in the hay, right after we went to the wedding, before the rain, but during the towels I fold all square and neat.
It’s hard to see. I want to shut my eyes sometimes, but Mama Troth is telling me I have to go buy some bread.
I want the leather of my sword-grip to creak as my knuckles go white. I want the lightning to crackle between my fingertips like Egg Shen. I want the Flux Capacitor to ignite as I travel through time.
I want the power, I want the fairy tale.
I want to run down the secret hallway, and slam my rainbow colored key into the console of the Black Lion. I want to save the universe with Rock and Roll, my electric guitar made of steel and griffon-talon. I want to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of Holmes and Watson clattering by in a horse-drawn carriage.
I want the legend, I want the world of doors.
I want the Master Sword dreaming in the glade, and Excalibur in the Lady’s hand, and Cloud picking up Zach’s sword — his mind all wind and shadow.
I want all the promises that the world is not as it seems. I want Mulder and Scully in a Ford Taurus arguing with the night. I want all the possibilities, the promise of wonder. I want Seven Dragonballs, even if I never get to make a wish.
I want the doors. The endless, endless doors.
I want this world to be not as it is. Or, at the very least, I want the walls of this world to get a little thinner. Thin enough to hear the music from the Universe One Over.
I want to tell my story and I want my mom to get better and I want there to be enough money and I want Emerson back. I want my Beloved to never know pain or doubt, and I want my friends to never know want or despair.
I want to break the rules. I want to undo and shine and defeat and cheat death, cheat life, mashing in the codes on my controller and rolling back the cruel grip of time.
I want to snatch the lost from death’s grip.
I want to not be afraid. Of the Unmaker and its thousand, thousand shadows.
I want there to be more magic in this world, because there is so little — just a tiny, tiny drop.
Such a little thing to shine in the darkness. The secret flame we clutch in weary hands through the wind and rain.
I want the thousand heroes, I want the doors open wide.
I dropped a few copies of the book off at the high school I used to work at, with strict instructions that they be dispersed only to the truly devout nerds in attendance.
Today I got an email from one of my teacher friends, and my very first piece of true Spell/Sword fanart. Also a sweet review:
Actually, I just finished the book right after I sent you the fanart. Overall, it was great. Maybe could’ve used a few runs of spell-check, but great overall. I’m a bit confused, though- you never really explained what Jonas did to earn the title of murderer. Is it going to be explained in the next book?
Also, your original cover is great. Really solid, yet open for ideas.
Dang, Andrew. Why you gotta be like that about the Spell Checkery? That’s to be expected with Artisinal Fantasy. [COPYRIGHTED.]
My heart is glowing in an embarrassing fashion. I’m so excited to put this on my internet refridgerator, and on my literal refrigerator after I print it out.
Thank you so much for the drawing and for reading the book, Andrew! I wrote the book for weird kids like you…and me.