Festivus Book Pimping: Blood of Heirs/Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

And so, as this year draws toward its end, we once again move into that most sacred of sacred times… Festivus of the Pimping of the Books! Praise be!

Ahem.

I’ll just… moving right along…

We all know that books make the best Christmas presents, so for the next twenty-four days, right up until Santa breaks into your house and eats your food, I’ll be dropping book recommendations of those I’ve read and/or worked on this year that would be most excellent gifts for loved ones and friends and colleagues and that weird relative we all seem to have. (If you are the weird relative, I tip my hat to you!)

Right, let’s get this party started with a double-shot of fantasy for the Festivus Pimping: Blood of Heirs and Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Yep, there are two books now released in The Coraidic Sagas, the latter of which was released just yesterday (Nov. 30), so you get to sink your teeth into books one and two in a relatively short period.

But let’s delve a little deeper into each.

Blood of Heirs is a current finalist in the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) competition. For those unaware of the comp, click here for info. Making the finals for SPFBO is a hell of an achievement — top ten of three hundred books submitted. And it well deserves the accolades. It’s a darker fantasy, with magic and monsters and mayhem all set to the backdrop of Australian-inspired lands and fauna. We follow two protagonists, Lidan and Ranoth, two polar opposites but both fighting battles that could change not only them, but their respective worlds.

bloodofheirs

Here’s the blurb:

Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

The sequel, Legacy of Ghosts, takes place four years after the end of book one, and ramps up the tension and action and magic. There’s a whole lot weighing on the decision both Lidan and Ran make, the consequences of which are brutal and unforgiving.

Legacy-of-Ghosts-cover.jpg

 

Here’s the blurb:

Four years have passed since Lidan’s world was ripped apart, and time is running out to change her father’s mind about the succession before the bargain with her mother expires. Torn between what she wants and what she knows is right, she is faced with an impossible choice; will her brother live, or will he die?

Within the walls of the Hidden Keep, Ranoth holds his secrets close as he tries to harness his wild magic. But when life in the Keep descends into chaos, he is cast once more into the outside world, forced upon a southward path toward unknown lands and untold danger.

With Ran set on seeking justice and revenge, and Lidan fighting to find her feet and follow her heart, journeys will converge, and the ghosts of a past thought long dead will rise.

I enjoyed the absolute shit out both of these books and can’t wait for the third in the series. And, full disclosure, I worked with Alicia on Legacy of Ghosts, but hand on heart (yes, I have one) you won’t be disappointed with the beauty of the prose nor the depth of the character’s she’s created.

Recommended for lovers of fantasy, dark fantasy, grimdark, horror, character-driven stories, unique worldbuilding and monsters. Hell, those monsters

Exposing ‘Exposure Bucks’ (Hint: It’s not a real thing)

Looks like it’s that time again, and while it annoys the crap out of me to keep saying this, I will keep saying this so those new to the writing game understand: exposure is not payment for your stories. I’ll say that again for those in the back: EXPOSURE IS NOT PAYMENT FOR YOUR STORIES.

Don’t believe that bullshit from any “publisher” at any time. From this day forward until the end of days, do not believe the bullshit. Exposure is the lie some feed you to get your tales so they make money while you do not.

The reason for this post came about (again) following the ever-vigilant, and still wonderfully-crazy Alan Baxter calling out a “publisher” for just such bullshit. You can find the Twitter thread here. As you’ll see, the screenshots of the encounter show an utter refusal by Post Publishing Co to even entertain the idea they should pay for the stories they publish, but you will get a free epub of the publication ‘as payment’! That’s not payment, it’s grifting.

Also? $30 for an epub is just ridiculous – no one’s going to pay that for an electronic copy of an anthology. Hell, some won’t pay it for an actual print book. What this “publisher” is counting on is the contributors and their friends and family buying it – that’s how they make their money, and it’s predatory behaviour.

Read Alan’s replies for an understanding about how first publication rights can damage story saleability if you give them away for free. This is something all writers, especially those new to the gig need to know – those first rights are like gold and will likely be the most you’ll ever be paid for said story. Don’t give them away for nothing. When subbing, you’ll find the guidelines will ask for previously unpublished tales – that one you gave away for free? You’ll probably never earn on that. Reprint anthologies are few and far between.

It all comes down to placing value on your work. And you damn well should. I wrote a post on just such a thing (you can read it here), and the difference between the amount of publishing credits you have versus publishing credits that hold value. You better believe there’s a difference.

exposure 1

Look, I can’t make you sub your work to paying markets (although you should), and I can’t make you not give the stories you put so much time, effort, imagination and soul into, away for free so others can make money where you don’t (you see the issue there, right?).  What I can do is give you some things to keep in mind when researching markets to sub your work. For the following purposes, I’ll be dealing with anthology rights, but there is crossover for longer works.

PAYMENT:

  • You should be fairly compensated for the work you provide. Avoid those markets that offer no payment – they’re making money off you, not for you.
  • ‘Exposure’ is not payment. If you see anywhere that a publisher is offering you “exposure” as their “payment”, then run like hell… and let others know not to sub there.
  • Epub copies are not payment. They cost virtually nothing to produce and should be part of the payment for your tale (along with money, just so we’re clear) as a contributor copy – most publishers will (should) provide a contributor copy.
  • ‘Exposure’ is not payment.
  • DO NOT, under any circumstance, pay to get published. I don’t care what it’s for or why – money flows to the creative, not away. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever pay.
  • ‘Exposure’ is not payment.

RIGHTS:

  • ‘Rights’ are the licensing of your work to a publisher for a particular period of time. These rights should always revert to you once the stated time period has lapsed. Rights are not a gift the publisher ‘gives’ you, don’t let them tell you different.
  • Publishers will ask for first publication rights for a certain period of time (usually six months to a year is standard). Query anything longer. And if you see anything along the lines of ‘in perpetuity’, run far, run fast. (This may fall under ‘all rights’, which means that once signed, the story is no longer yours, like ever. Sold once, gone forever.)
  • These first rights should not be given away for free – it’s the most you’ll likely be paid for this story (see above points about being paid… with cash, like actual money).
  • Territorial and world rights are different, so always check which is being licenced for your story.

These are just some of the basics you should be looking at to protect yourself against predatory publishers. Believe me, they’re out there. Do you research. Ask around if you’re unsure. Social media and the writing community are a wealth of information – use it to protect yourself and your work.

It comes down to putting the right amount of value on your stories, of the time spent creating worlds and characters for readers. The publisher shouldn’t be the only one making money from a world YOU’VE created. ‘Exposure’ doesn’t pay your bills, ‘exposure’ doesn’t put food on your table, and I’m damn sure ‘exposure bucks’ aren’t any kind of legal tender. You wouldn’t expect a plumber, a mechanic, a lawyer or accountant to work for exposure. Creatives shouldn’t be expected to either.

Now go, make good art. And get paid for that good art.

So, I didn’t win a thing…

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay. It’s pretty damn awesome. It’s career-goal, achievement-unlocked awesome!

It’s been about two weeks since the Aurealis Awards were announced, and while my short story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine), was a finalist in the fantasy short story category, it didn’t get over the line. That honour went to one of the best humans I know, J. Ashley Smith for his tale: The Further Shore.

For those who don’t know, the Aurealis Awards are the premier literary awards for genre fiction in Australia. With the amount of talent on these shores, becoming a finalist is a massive undertaking and I count this as a hell of a win. To be included in this shortlisting was a welcome surprise, and I was chuffed to be on the ticket with one of my closest ‘people’ – the wonderfully crazy Alan Baxter – plus the other amazing authors putting out stellar work not only in this category but all categories.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t have loved the win – we all want to win, we’d all like awards and trophies and that acknowledgement of the work we put into musings. But small steps are forward momentum, and forward momentum is good momentum. Next step in career goal – Aurealis win.

bloody pen

Child of the Emptyness has an unusual origin – it was born from rage. Too often I was seeing female characters in battle situations being the only ones who cried or were horrified by the sight of blood (note for dude-bros: blood isn’t foreign to us, we see it every month for goddamn years), and I was done. From that rage Nyrra was born in all her blood-wearing, human-sacrificing, don’t-fuck-with-me glory. Is she empathetic? Maybe not, but she was never really drawn that way. She’s unapologetically herself. That’s what I like about her.

When I subbed this story to Grimdark Magazine, I was hopeful of a shortlisting, then chuffed to bits with an acceptance. The Aurealis finalist berth was the icing on a very cool cake, and while I couldn’t quite land the ‘cherry’ (yep, I see it), all told, it’s been pretty sweet.

There are people I need to thank that helped me get there. Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for selecting and having faith in my story, and Mike Myers for his excellent editorial touch. And Devin Madson whose constant kicks up the bum to get the story written and her deft insight brought Nyrra fully into the light.

So while I didn’t win a thing, I won so very much. This finalist nod came at a time when I was seriously doubting my ability to tell a good story, a worthy story. We all have those moments. Sometimes they’re fleeting while other times those moments burrow deep, latching talons to bone and tainting your storyteller-marrow. It’s a world of shit, that feeling, but I’ll take the days where the talons aren’t as sharp, where the ‘I can do this’ voice drowns out the ‘no you can’t’.

And for those of you who also didn’t win a thing, I feel you. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep making magic – it’s the best gig in the world.

Let’s talk about slush, ba-by…

Let’s talk about you and me… Okay, okay, so my flashback to the ’90s is a little sad but kinda on point for this blog post. As one of the editors for the SNAFU anthologies, and with an upcoming submission window opening, Matthew Summers and I would like to talk about stories, slush, and selections.

Disclaimer time. The information provided here does not guarantee Matt and I will select your story for publication – plot, character, and voice will. But don’t send us a romance tale when it’s military monster horror we’re after. We will cut you.

Right then. Let’s kick this baby off with the guidelines for the open sub window for SNAFU: Last Stand (just click that link). While stories subbed to Cohesion Press have specific marks that need to be hit, one thing EVERYONE needs to understand when subbing a tale to ANY market is to not only READ the guidelines but ADHERE to them (the adhering is the most important part). Know your market.

Slush, we’ve all been there. Jostling for position, stuck in the hell that is the slush pile, shouting ‘look at me’ as you push toward the roped-off area that is the shortlist. So how do you get past the cordon? Look, reading is subjective – what I like someone else may not (they’re wrong), but if the past couple of SNAFUs have taught me anything, it’s that Matt and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to story selection. Not once have we had to fight it out (I’d win because I fight dirty, just sayin’). But your opening line, your opening paragraph, has to hook us and the following paragraphs need to reel us in. Your start needs to be strong, and it needs to build from there.

Stuck in Hell by 13UG-13th

Your aim, at this point, is to get onto that shortlist, and a killer opening scene is just the way to do it. Does that mean exploding out of the gate all guns blazing? Perhaps. We love high-action tales, and that’s bound to grab our attention. But it can also be that one line that sets the tone for what’s to come. One of my favourite opening lines from a story in SNAFU: Resurrection is from Conviction by NX Sharps – ‘On the 152nd day of our posting at Fort Conviction, Private Olyver Bagwell shit himself to death.’  That certainly had us take notice.

But the follow-up has to hold water. If your story doesn’t make good on its opening promise, then you could be in some trouble. Think about the story you’re wanting to tell, of the character(s) leading us through. A tale well written isn’t going to resonate as much as one that has me and Matt fate-invested.

That being said, well-written is definitely going to get you a look-in. We want narrative that moves a story forward, we want wordsmiths who know how to give us those evocative visuals that bring the horror, the fear, the dread. Active voice is your friend here. Spelling and grammar? We got that, but too many errors and we’re pulled from the story – it’s the same for all those babies sitting in slush piles.  

With the theme of Last Stand, characters will need to make their mark here. Interpret Last Stand as you will, there are an infinite number of ways to incorporate that into your story, but make that tale linger, make us think about it long after we’ve finished reading. And give us action. Make our hearts beat furiously, give us those ‘oh shit’ moments, and make your monsters fucking terrifying. Remember, this is horror, monster horror… with guns and shit.   

One of the best and hardest part of this process is the final selection from the shortlist. Matt and I have passed on some truly great stories, which is always a difficult thing to do. And we don’t take these decisions lightly – a lot of time goes into decision-making, a lot of discussion and back and forths until we have the mixture just right. We don’t make acceptances as we go; something we love early on may not make the cut because a later story in a similar vein resonates more. Our aim here is to provide our readers with a variety of kick-arse tales, where you don’t know what’s coming but you’re hanging for it just the same. The overriding theme that ties them together, obviously, is ‘last stand’. Make it count.

So while I hope this helps you to understand our process, I also hope it helps you to understand the process for any slush pile you find yourself in. Writing truly is the best gig in the world, and rejections are a part of that. We know. Matt and I both sit the other side of the table, we’ve had stories accepted and we’ve faced that sting of rejection. We understand the work, the effort, the time and the angst that goes into getting those words onto the page, of wrangling your imagination into narrative. We salute every one of you.

And for those of you who make it to that final ToC, just a note here to let you know the work has only just begun. There will be edits. We may ask for tweaks, we may ask for rewrites, we may cut a little, we may cut a lot. Thing is, we’ve been doing this a long time, we know our audience and we know what they like. Be professional, not precious. Co-operation is key here. That’s a two-way street, and we have cut stories because of bad author behaviour. Don’t be that person. Keep communication lines open and listen to us as we’ll listen to you. Our aim here is to get the most out of your story, and we will work hard to make it so.

But just before I go, as you may have seen, the introduction for SNAFU: Last Stand will be written by Tim Miller (yes, of Deadpool and the new Terminator fame). As such, we understand the slush pile may well be large – Tim will be reading the final tales. And if that isn’t a reason to send us your very best, I don’t know what is.

Submission window for SNAFU: Last Stand opens April 1st, 2019. (No, that’s not a joke. Yes, we are laughing.)

Awards and Such Things

So a thing happened last week. My story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine #17), made the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards in the ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ category. To say I’m stunned is an understatement. To say I’m chuffed to bits – also understatement.

Apart from the awesomeness that is being shortlisted, what makes this doubly, or even triply special is the amount of friends I find myself amongst – two of which are ‘my people’ (yes, it’s a thing, we all have them, I wrote about it). It’s a bit of a convoluted web this one, as I find myself sharing the fantasy story nod with one of my closest of people, Alan Baxter, who also got a nod in the ‘Best Fantasy Novel’ category, which also contains another of my closest of people (and bestie), Devin Madson.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! Also please find drinking buddy and he of the best-laugh-ever, J Ashley Smith in the Fantasy Short category. Add in the most wonderful Sam Hawke in the Fantasy Novel shortlist and… how the hell are you supposed to choose?  Huh? Huh?

And there are so many more: Joanne Anderton, Kaaron Warren, Rivqa Rafael, Maria Lewis, Shauna O’Meara, Kylie Chan… I couldn’t be more pleased for these wonderful people and amazing authors. The breadth of talent in this list is incredible to see – Aussie fiction is a deep, rich pool of unique voices that deserve to be read.

Make Good Art

But I want to make a shout-out to those who didn’t make the list. That’s right, you there, who sits down and makes word-babies every day (or every week, or whenever you can), you’re a goddamn star. To those who have the writer-imposteritis shouting in the ear yet still create worlds that are as vivid as the one in which we live – keep creating! To those who hope their tales will get the nod for which they so wish, then wonder what they need to do when their name doesn’t appear – I see you, I hear you, I feel you… I am you. We’ve all been there. Don’t give up. Because that character that’s whispering in your ear, urging you to tell their story may just be the tale those judges need. And if not? Well, you’ve created. You’ve put yourself out in the world, given joy to those who read it, and you should be damn well proud.

You got this.

Festivus Book Pimping – Devouring Dark by Alan Baxter

By Festivus Eve it’s another Pimpus! Slithering up onto the slab today is another amazing Aussie author, Alan Baxter… whose names completes that alliteration rather nicely! Devouring Dark is the latest offering from Baxter that mixes crime and horror – crime noir, if you will – while offering grey characters whose choices aren’t so much between ‘good and bad’ rather between ‘bad and holy shitballs’.

Devouring Dark follows Matt McLeod and his dance with the darkness, with death, and the choice(s) he makes in how to deal with the power he has and where that leads. Hint: not good places. These are my favourite kind of stories as they deal with that power of choice and allows the reader those ‘what if’ moments where we wonder if we’d make the same choices, the same deals if we suffered the same fate.

Death in all its form runs deep through the book and provides an almost narrative on society’s views and take on death and how we deal with it.

Here’s the blurb:

Matt McLeod is a man plagued since childhood by a malevolent darkness that threatens to consume him. Following a lifetime spent wrestling for control over this lethal onslaught, he’s learned to wield his mysterious paranormal skill to achieve an odious goal: retribution as a supernatural vigilante.

When one such hit goes bad, McLeod finds himself ensnared in a multi-tentacled criminal enterprise caught between a corrupt cop and a brutal mobster. His only promise of salvation may be a bewitching young woman who shares his dark talent but has murderous designs of her own.

I mean: ‘supernatural vigilante’. It’s got a nice ring to it! And that cover is to die for! (Yes, I punned.)

If you’re looking for a tale of the darker kind, of crime bosses and corruption, and for those souls who have a direct line to death, then this is definitely a book for you.

Recommended for those who love horror, crime stories, supernatural tales, and just straight up action-based badassery.

Festivus Book Pimping – Dragonshade by Aderyn Wood

It’s a Festivus miracle! Two Pimpus of Bookus today? Time is short, my dudes, and there are sooooo many excellent books you should be reading and gifting to others. Seriously, what better present than something that ignites the imagination?

And we’re heading back into the realms of fantasy tonight with Aussie author Aderyn Wood’s most wonderful Dragonshade. As the title no doubt suggests, here there be dragons. But there is so much more at play here than mere dragons. Wood has delved into two cultures here, borrowing heavily from both Egyptian and Norse cultures to bring a vivid tapestry of both and what happens when those worlds inevitably clash – both good and bad. There is magic, too, also of the good and bad kind.

There is a stunning cast of characters in this tome, and a tome it is – the book taps out at just over two hundred thousand words, and normally I would balk at a book this size, but Dragonshade carries the weight of the words with ease – this doesn’t at all feel like an overlong story, in fact, it leaves you wanting more (no matter how well the threads of the story are tied up).

The battle scenes are epic in scale, but always there is the undercurrent of political sabotage, of betrayal, prophecies and gods, and a duck herder who might just be the one who can set the world to right.  

And here’s the blurb:

Prince Sargan is the worst swordsman in all Zraemia. His clumsy performance draws scorn from his uncle, pity from his sister, disappointment from his father, and sniggers from everyone else.
But soon, Sargan will enter the temple and begin his long-awaited path to the seat of high priest.
His brother will one day inherit the throne.
His sister will marry.
The enemy king will leave them alone.
And all will be right with the world.
Unless… the gods change the game.
And when the gods play, the game turns to war – the Great War.
Ancient prophecies surface, dark enemies rise, new allies emerge, old ones can’t be trusted, magic scorches the earth, reluctant heroes are made, and nothing is ever the same again.

Dragonshade was also an entrant in the SPFBO contest and missed out on a semi-finalist berth by this much <holds fingers together real close>. It got great feedback from the judges – scroll to the end to read the review here.

Recommended for those who love epic fantasy reads, dragons, intensive world-building, magic, dark fantasy, political shenanigans.

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