Release Day!

Eight months after my Corvette novella launched, I’m releasing the sequel – Seer of the Black Star. That’s the fastest turn around for a book I’ve ever managed and it happened for one reason only. Corvette got fans! The little novella about the littlest ship in the Fleet took off and became a best seller in it’s first month. I’ve sold 7,268 copies so far this year and what’s better than that? It’s lit a fire on my back list and led to eleven thousand sales total on the year so far. Not too shabby.

The best way to ensure I write a sequel is to buy my books, not just one, but all of them. Fans have done just that and this book is their reward. If you enjoyed Corvette and then went on to read a few of my other books, I thank you! This book’s for you!

Seer is the second book of a planned trilogy and I’m writing the next book as I launch this one. With any luck, book 3 will be out next Spring and the trilogy will be complete. If sales continue to climb for this series, I can assure you there will be more. I have another trilogy planned with Vance and his crew that will be called Destroyer. In the meantime, I’m back to the Star Saga next year, writing Book 5, XiniX.

Corvette, Written to Market

Last year I read a book called Write To Market by Chris Fox. Chris was no stranger to me having followed his stellar Indy career and read a few of his writing books before. But this book was different. This book chronicled Chris’s attempt to write a best selling ebook. He spelled out how he wrote a Sci-Fi book and took it to market specifically to sell well. This was what I wanted to do. I already had a five book series out but was unable to get any traction with sales. I made so little money at selling them that Amazon didn’t even send me tax information. That sucks.

So I read Chris’s book carefully and I executed his exact game plan for my novella, Corvette. I’m not going to go into all the things Chris tells you to do, you should get his book and read it yourself. But I will say what I had to do to play ball in order to sell in the big leagues. I had to study the market, which fortunately was similar to his market, and read what was selling. I’m not talking traditional books like Scalzi or Weber, but best selling Indy books from authors I had never read or even heard of before. It took some research and some time to read through about four books in the Military SF best seller lists but I started to see what Chris was talking about. I already had an idea about what I wanted to write, but I had no cast in mind. The book would be set about thirty years before the series and could be about anyone I wanted.

Here are my notes written before the novella was started. stating my objectives.

This novella is my attempt to write to market. It will target the self published Military SF market. The plot is similar to the top selling novels in that genre, but it is set in my Star Saga universe. Common tropes that I will use are as follows:

  1. Old captain with an old ship on perhaps a final mission.
  2. Only ship in the area to help find missing colonists.
  3. Secret military mission to find out about mysterious blue skinned aliens.
  4. Happy ending with not a lot of side characters dying.
  5. Violent, overpowering enemy that prove to be cunning and dangerous.
  6. They have to beat the larger, better armed enemy vessel.

I also made notes to remind me to keep the action coming and the chapters short. If you look at those tropes above you can easily apply the to so many SF stories about starships. This was not my usual writing style. I always have action and fast moving plots but I usually didn’t write characters that could fit into any other story. It was hard to not have major characters be women or non-white men, but I was determined to stick to the tropes.

I have talked about what I did bring to the story in great detail in other posts. So I encourage you to seek them out and read them. But what I’d like to elaborate on in this post is that I stuck to the tropes and I stuck to Chris’s suggestions as I wrote this story. It was not a hard story to write and I enjoyed the heck out it.

After Corvette was finished and edited and ready to go I had to make sure it had a decent cover and an inviting description. These are two areas I’ve struggled to refine as an Indy writer. When I started my series I used military unit coins on the covers and nobody understood they were Sci-Fi books. So I went back to the basics and put starships on the cover. Again, I’m not your average SF writer and I was able to design and build my own starship models, photograph them and then hand the images over to my graphics designer brother. Byron put together a color scheme that focused on orange and blue, the same as popular action movies.

For Corvette, we used my huge Votainion warship model and I created a new, smaller ship to represent the tiny corvette. I played around with colors but eventually went with green because it was in the story and many newer SF covers are trending green. The cover blurb was designed to signal the tropes and hint at a the inclusion of naval history in the details. Again, I’ve done posts about the story and what I did to make it unique.

All of these intentional moves helped the book do well on opening day and gradually climb up the charts farther than any book I’ve released since my first one, nearly ten years before. It will be interesting to see where the next release goes this summer. It’s not related at all to this book, but it is a betweener novella that links Book 4 to the yet to be written Book 5.

Making of a Cover – Corvette

One of the best parts about being a self-published author is getting to do your own covers. Most writers don’t want anything to do with the process. But for me, I see it as a great way to showcase my model building hobby. I’ve always built plastic models since the time I was a kid. When I was a teenager my buddies and I would scratch build our own models from cardboard and bits of broken kits we had on hand. They were pretty cool for the time but limited to what we could scrape together with our allowances. We drew hundreds of drawings of starships we never got around to building for a Sci-Fi epic I was slowly writing. Skip forward about thirty years and now I’m writing novels about those starships and those novels need cover art.

About the time I started writing these novels I picked up my scratch modeling hobby again only this time I could afford to make them the same way they used to be made in Hollywood when I was a kid. The only tough part now was figuring out how to arrange them on a cover in such a way that would make someone want to buy the book. For this I enlisted the talents of my graphic artist brother, Byron. Byron takes the elements of each model, combines them with cool backgrounds and effects and then overlays the titles on them. He makes the models come alive as if they were real.

For my latest novel, Corvette, it all started with a thumbnail I did in Gimp using a model of a Votainion warship that I already had and a stand in model for the yet to be built corvette.

I knew we were going with orange and blue for the main colors of this series so I used those colors for the titles. It’s crude but it lets Byron know what I want without actually drawing it. Sometimes I do start with sketched but this time I just hacked together stock images of similar models to get the idea across.

Meanwhile, I had to build the actual corvette model and you know, write the book. The model was scratch built using a drawing I did based on the SS Sokol model featured on other Star Saga novels. It was built to the same scale as the Votainion warship model – 1/350. Below you can see it coming together on my workbench some time last year. For a complete account of this build please check out this post.

The Votainion warship was sketched out years ago and built a few years back for the first few books of the series. Here’s what the original sketch looked like below.

Here is a shot of the larger model under construction. For a more detailed look at how I built this model please check out this post.

Here are both models being photographed against blue screen for the cover of Corvette. I use a Canon digital SLR to photograph the models in high resolution then hand off the images to Byron for Photoshoping.

This is the first attempt at the cover using the new corvette model and the older warship model. I chose a green background because in the novel, the sh

First version with new Corvette model. This was another Gimp thumbnail that I did and the colors are all washed out so we could focus on placement of the ships.

    

I decided to try a different direction, using the Gimp paint filter. I was hoping this would produce an image that looked painted. But after examining it we decided it made the Votainion warship look like it was sculpted out of clay. I also tried making the larger ship bigger and that didn’t quite look right either.

Below is Byron’s first green nebula and laser guns. Author name has the wrong font. I had to explain that the corvette used a rail gun instead of an energy gun so we would have to change the red lasers. Also, we wondered if the background needed to be green or not, so I had him try a blue background.

    

We tested the blue background with random folks and everyone seemed to prefer the green so we dropped blue.

The cover was nearly complete at this point when I realized three major issues. First of all, the corvette looked better at an angle in front of the warship for giving the cover depth. Secondly, the author name was in the wrong font. And thirdly, the rail gun rounds just didn’t pop.

After those changes were made, the cover seemed to pop right out and demand your attention. So we left it alone and went to press with it.

This process took the better part of a year to complete and was started about the same time the book. I had to build a model at the same time as I wrote the novel, which is not unusual and affords me a great visual aide while writing. I think the finished cover is one of our best yet and should help sell the novel and bring in readers to the series. If you purchase the paperback of the novel the cover really shines with a glossy cover.

Corvette is available to purchase Tuesday, March 21st from Amazon as a Kindle ebook and a paperback.

GCU Griffin Build, Part 2

Mounting

The Griffin was not going to be a large and heavy model, like the Renoke. It was a smaller starship than the GCU Sokol and would be built to the same scale as that model, 1/350. I’ve had some success with these 1/4 20 female plugs that can be hammered into a pre-drilled piece of wood. So I went to the hardware store and purchased a 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch square piece of hobby wood and cut it to the width of the scanner section.

This would also be where I mounted the 1 1/2″ PVC pipe used for the Class-C engine. I drilled and hammered into the wood four of these plugs. This would let me secure it to the PVC with the top one and give me left and right and bottom mounts for the model.

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Below we see the PVC and wood mounted with the scanner and head sections taped on for reference. 

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This is a side view of the model. Proportions are slightly long in this shot and would need to be shortened a bit to match my drawings.

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I’ve had great success gluing wood to plastic with this Gorilla White glue. The metal plug sticks out a bit so the plastic sheet on the bottom had to be removed so it set flush to the wood. I also glued some strip plastic to prevent the PVC from twisting.

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I used 0.30 gray plastic sheet for the bottom of the head. I found a couple of parts from my bins that seemed to match the scanner gear under the head. So I went ahead and glued them onto the bottom. Normally I don’t do greebles until the boxing out is complete.

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Here’s the model mounted on a stand. 

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I’m always on the lookout for interesting details. These white plastic parts are only a couple centimeters wide and come from inside the keys of a laptop computer. I thought the ones on the ends looked like they could be escape pods for the side of a starship.

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Here is a divider bin where I keep small parts. I’ve separated out the keyboard parts to make finding them easier.

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Below I’ve placed a row or two of these greebles along the side of the head to judge size and placement. I’ll definitely use them.

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Here is the head section of the ship after boxing it in. There will be more supports and I’ll have to figure out what to do with the fiber optics from the head. It’s a good bet the fibers will run through the PVC to the center scanner section where I’ll mount the LED light for them.

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Writing Bits and Pieces – Second Act Conflict

Plume Creator_006

The above scene from my WIP is a perfect example of a Second Act hurdle that your main characters must face and eventually overcome. I’ve raised the stakes a bit and made Kiloe’s fighter completely disappear right when he was supposed to be picked up by Tamia. It was a relatively simple mission, made more difficult by my First Act problems that were eventually solved by Kiloe and his partner, Tamia. The reader was all set to have them reunited and the mission be a success. But it’s only the second act. You just know things are going go awry or what would the rest of the book be about?

Indeed.

In the Second Act, the hero is given an even more difficult problem to deal with. Something that will force him or her to work harder than before to survive and overcome. It’s up to the writer to ensure that this second act builds drama and suspense by putting the hero in ever deeper water until he either learns to swim or drowns. Sometimes writers call this chasing your hero up a tree and then setting the tree on fire. Now how are you going to get out alive? Easy, giant Eagles will come to my rescue. 

I know what’s going to happen next. I know about the surprise guest appearance, I know about the harrowing fight that’s coming and I know who wins in the end.

 

Novel Bits and Pieces – Re-Reading Before Writing

Bog

This is my first week back from break and I often feel out of touch with my WIP. So I take some time to re-read what I have already written to get back into the ebb and flow of the story. Sometimes I find glaring errors that I need to fix before moving on. Sometimes I just marvel at how well the story is moving, or cringe in horror if it’s not going anywhere. I’d rather catch plotting errors earlier rather than later.

All this week my daily lunch hour writing sessions have been spent reading what I have already written for K’nat Trap. Above is a screen capture from my Plume Creator from chapter 8. The writing’s not that amazing, but I reintroduce the stakes involved so the reader knows the hero has to get moving. I’m not so much examining the writing at this point, just making sure it makes sense and things are moving. I know the story is wavering a bit from the outline and that will take some adjustments. But this happens all the way through the first draft for me. I write strong for days and then wander back and forth as I try to find the correct path forward in the high grass.

Because this is a novella and not a full length novel, I may need to pare down some characters and maintain focus on just a few. There was at least one subplot that I can’t remember where it was going. I hope today’s reading offers some clues, otherwise I may need to edit that one out. See how important it is to re-read before you dive back in?

Year End Giveaway – The Blood Empress

Since nobody seems interested in this action packed Space Opera, I’ve decided to set it free on Kindle for the last three days of 2015. If you’re a Star Wars fan and you like to read, you’ll enjoy this book. What if the villain of a story was actually the heroine? The Blood Empress is a coming of age story for the Empress of the Votainion Empire. Filled with love interest, intrigue, revenge and epic battles, The Blood Empress won’t let you down on action and adventure.

It’s got battles, love interest and a sweeping scale in a relatively short novella. It reads like an epic but it won’t take you months to read. Probably a few hours at best. Perfect for reading on your phone as you find the time.

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If you liked this book, check out Starforgers, Book One of the Star Saga and learn how Empress Nykostra started the Great War with the Alliance.

The Blood Empress – Launch Day

On Wednesday you will be able to purchase and have delivered to your Kindle my second novella set in the first trilogy of the Star Saga – The Blood Empress. It is the story of a young, vicious empress who comes of age in the brutal Votainion Empire. Is it possible to tell the bad guy’s story form her point of view and have her come out sympathetic enough for the reader to emphasis with her? That was the question I asked upon setting out to write this story. Whether or not I succeeded will be up to you, the reader. If you like this action packed novella, please leave me a review on Amazon. Spreading the word on your social networks and among your friends who enjoy Sci-Fi also helps me gain a readership for my novels. Thanks for your continued support of my writing!

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Cover Reveal – The Blood Empress

Next month I’ll be releasing the second novella set in the Star Saga’s Starforgers Trilogy. It’s a coming of age story about the young Empress Nykostra of Voton. Set between book’s two and three, the story deals with how the Empress rose from a guarded youth to a powerful leader of the largest stellar empire. It works great as a stand alone story but if you’re reading the saga books, it fills in some gaps that avid readers will appreciate.

Here’s the cover art by my brother, Byron McConnell. It features an image of Mars standing in for Con One and the KiV-4 trainer model in 1/48 scale. The color scheme for the series is orange and blue with orange denoting the Empire and blue the Alliance. This story being all about the Empire, it’s mostly orange. Where as Devon’s Blade is mostly about the Alliance and so it predominately blue.

The Blood Empress 10-27-15 High Res

The Blood Empress goes on sale next month, so stay tuned for the release date. In the meantime, go snag your copy of Devon’s Blade and then leave reviews everywhere you hang out online. Thanks!

A Sneak Peek at Devon’s Blade

21702169809_5ea0ca8b92_z  Pre-order it from Amazon now. Launch date is Halloween.

http://www.amazon.com/Devons-Blade-Ken-McConnell-ebook/dp/B015Y01CO8

 

The morning mission was not intended to be a revenge killing, but I knew that’s what was on everyone’s mind, especially Katya’s. I let her lead to test her ability to control herself. If she went solo trying to get the Red Ace, it would be her last flight. I was reasonably sure she would stick to the mission plan. I kept the mission simple and instructed everyone to keep their eyes open and look for any weakness they could find in the new enemy fighters.
As for tactics, I told them to fly like they do when they go against each other in training. Assume the new fighter handles similar to their own fighters only better. The new fighter appeared to have a tighter turn radius and was faster, they needed to compensate for that fact when they tangled with them.
I could see in their eyes that they were scared again. As much as everyone was out for blood, they also looked as if I were sending them off to slaughter. Any of them could close their canopies for the final time. I wanted to go with them but I couldn’t risk my own life and leave the unit leaderless.
My preflight speech was more of a pep rally than instructional. I needed to make sure they didn’t come apart up there at the first taste of combat. They had to maintain the fierceness that had made them so good these past few months. As I watched them gather their gear and head to the flight line, I wondered how many would come back. I hadn’t even considered that before now. Dammit.
Karvuk and Sweetness would be the leads, with Condor and Double as their wingmen. I hesitated to send up Sweetness again so soon, but she was our most experienced pilot against the new fighters. I felt they had a better chance with her along. She seemed up to the task and even eager to get back in the fray. That was a hopeful sign.
All the off duty pilots gathered in Ops to listen to the mission on the comms. I stayed in my office until they reached the enemy airbase, occupying myself with trying to figure out new tactics. Nothing was coming to me.
I checked my messages hoping for guidance from Fleet. There was only a message received notice, no official response. I contacted the base Comm Squadron and asked if there were any issues receiving messages from Fleet. They assured me that the communications lanes were open. Dammit.
A knock at my door was Hank.
“Ma’am, they’re almost to their target now.”
I nodded and got up to join everyone in the main room.
The fighter telemetry was displayed on the main viewer as blue icons representing the Alpha Flight. There were no red icons on the map, but that wasn’t unusual and was mainly due to our poor scanner data of the planet.
They buzzed the airbase low, searching for parked enemy aircraft and only found a dozen or so KiV-3’s parked in their revetments. A second pass brought ground to air fire from the base defenses and made their attack more difficult. Karvuk and Condor circled higher up, waiting to be pounced on by fighters on patrol. But they encountered nobody. After several passes and at least six fighters confirmed destroyed on the ground they formed up and headed for home.
“Control, Alpha Lead. No joy on the new fighters,” Katya’s voice sounded defeated.
“Copy, Alpha Lead.”
I went to the paper map that was pinned to another wall and ran my fingers over the island chain where they had just been. There were no other bases within reach to house the new fighters. Where the hell had they come from?
I opened up my sweep to a few more hundred klicks and found another, smaller atoll. The islands were uninhabited and barely above sea level. I moved to the main screen and pushed around menus until I opened the latest images we had of the atoll. There were about seven smaller islands and two larger ones. I zeroed in on the larger ones. One of them had what looked like a natural cave entrance that was large enough to store fighters.
I grabbed the mic. “Alpha Lead, this is Rocket One. Change course heading 270. I want you to do a pass on the Ring Atoll. Copy?”
There was a pause as she no doubt was searching her navicomputer for the coordinates.
“Alpha Lead, Rocket One. Wilco.”
Seconds later they were all on course for the atoll, climbing to combat altitude. Everyone sat on the edge of their seats or stood leaning into the comm system to listen. Minutes ticked by as we waited for Karvuk to report in what they saw. As the icons got closer to the atoll the comm lines crackled.
“Holy shit, we kicked the hornet’s nest!”
“Tally ho!” said Sweetness.
New icons emerged as the combat computer was updated with current telemetry from the Swifts. Three, then six and finally nine enemy fighters poured out of the cave from the main island. It seemingly took them mere seconds to gain altitude and meet Alpha Flight. Alpha were outnumbered and they had lost the element of surprise.
“Alpha Lead, break off and disengage. Copy?” I said into the mic.
A burst of static was the only reply. Followed by excited chatter from Condor, Double and Karvuk. It sounded like they were able to gang up on the first wave of fighters and were close to splashing one. Seconds ticked by again. An eternity.
Finally. “I got one! Splash one of those bastards,” Condor said.
A cheer broke out from the other pilots and was quickly quieted when more chatter crackled over the speaker.
“Double, break right and come up. I’ve got your six,” Karvuk said.
“Negative Lead, I’m losing pressure and speed.”
“Double pull up and stall it, I got him.”
One of the blue icons winked off, followed by another red icon. Nobody cheered that time.
“Sweetness, I can’t get around him. Where are you?” said Double.
“Other side, back at you.”
Another red icon winked off.
“This is Lead, break off. Repeat, disengage. We’re out numbered up here.”
“Copy Lead,” said Sweetness.
“On your wing Lead,” said Condor.
“Control this is Alpha Lead. State twenty to splash. Lost Double.”
“Alpha Lead, Control. Enemy status?”
“They are breaking off too. Looks like they’re heading back to the main base,” Karvuk said. You could hear the defeat in her voice, or was it disappointment?
I walked over to the status board and crossed off Double’s name. Then I went back to my room. The other pilots spoke in hushed tones about losing Double. I couldn’t face them right now.