To Kristin Zummo

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My sister-in-law, Kristin Zummo, has passed away. It was swift, unexpected, and heart-breaking. From the moment I met her she was so incredibly kind. She frequently texted and Facebook messaged, and even helped out at my book launches. She always made sure I knew she was behind me and did everything she could to help. What a sister-in-law!

My life has always been the inspiration for my stories. Kristin’s life, and now her death, has also inspired my literary world.  In my latest book, Weun Academy, a great tragedy befalls the school. Many students and even teachers are killed. My reflections on Kristin’s death made me revisit the memorial scene. Fighting through my own tears, D’abar’s speech began to rewrite itself. The following not only speaks to my fictitious characters, but to me and the others Kristin left behind:

“We are gathered here today to remember and pay homage to our fallen family members. The tragic loss of life, especially for those so young, is unconscionable. There’s nothing to say to rationalize such events, nothing to take away the pain of their loss. While their corporeal journey has ended, ours has become overcast with a cloud of confusion and sorrow.

“While death is life’s harshest lesson, there is a silver lining to this cloud.  We are forced to reflect on the things our lost family members brought into our lives. We take stock on the ways they touched our hearts, saw the world, and forever changed us by their example.

“But the lessons don’t stop there. Death reminds us just how precious and fleeting life is. It exposes our mortal fragility and bodily limitations, while at the same time encouraging us to live life to the fullest and without delay. As a result, we challenge the very substance and direction of our own lives.

“Right now you may be feeling pangs of anger, sadness, and regret. Perhaps you should have spent more time with them, or talked more often. Maybe they never knew how you felt, or understood just how much you appreciated all the things they did. Maybe you didn’t return a call, or a favor. Or maybe you just wish you could have gotten to know them better. Such feelings are normal. It’s called guilt, and we all suffer it. It’s the result of us being imperfect beings: ones that make assumptions about our lives and opportunities, and about the time we have to do the things that don’t quite land high enough on our long list of priorities. It’s important to face this, to acknowledge whatever we should have done better, and to not repeat our mistakes again.

“I will never say death is a good thing, but it makes us examine things we’ve taken for granted, and helps us to become better people–if we’re willing to change. Don’t make our loved ones loss be for nothing. Enshrine them in your heart. Feel what you must, then learn and grow. Become the best you, and above all–live your incredible life.”

Thank you for all you inspired in my life Kristin. You were an amazing sister-in-law.  My heart aches, and I will miss you greatly. I already miss your smile and beautiful heart. Rest in peace.

To agent, or not to agent? That is the question!

Back in 2012, when I had the first book of the Nukari Invasion Trilogy edited, I set out to find an agent and a publisher.  The process was long, and ended in many rejections.  I think what frustrated me the most was the fact an agency could take six to twelve months to determine whether they wanted to work with you. In addition they demanded “exclusive” review rights to your manuscript, effectively locking out finding other agents in the meantime.

Looking back, I had a great deal to learn about writing. Honestly, I’m always learning, but there was a far greater learnings that needed to take place at that point. I do understand why I was not picked up.

As my amazing editor, Arlene Robinson, completed the review of my fourth full novel, D’mok Revival: New Eden, she recommended I not self-publish. She felt the quality of writing was ready for an agent. I can’t tell you how humbled I was by her kind words. I have a very deep trust and respect for Arlene, so for her to say this was very significant to me.

This, of course, creates quite the conflict. I want to release New Eden! There’s AMAZING new artwork from Glenn Clovis to debut. Fans are clamoring for what comes next. The bomb at the end of D’mok Revival: Descension left many fans screaming “WHAT!” and wanting more. At least the approach worked! Sorry!

I’m also very proud of D’mok Revival: New Eden. Many events happen in the book that set the tone for future entries in the series (of which many are planned). In fact, I’m already one third of the way done with Weun Academy: Boy with the Green Eyes (working title). It’s the first official spin-off picking up after the New Eden novel.

To be honest, I was planning on going after an agent with Weun Academy. I feel the story is strong, and has the right combination to appeal to a marketplace hungry for more science fiction, superhuman, and youth focused stories.

I believe I’m going to look into the contemporary way to approach agents. Things may have changed in the past 4 years. Certainly the agents and agencies will have changed. If you’re interested in getting an early preview copy of New Eden let me know. I love passionate people that provide honest feedback. All I ask is that you’d support the book when it official comes out.

I’ll keep you posted!

The road to book 4… D’mok Revival: New Eden

“Here we go again.” That’s what I think each time I begin the next book. Of course, this time I carried with me the experience of publishing an entire trilogy and two novelettes.

The original fourth manuscript was started in early 2010 and finished shortly into 2011. When I published book three, I didn’t originally “see” more to the story, despite the bomb dropped at the end of the third book.

However, one day while working out at Bally’s Total Fitness, while listening to Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s Telephone song, a scene popped in my head. It was Nikko, Kiyanna, and Dane together at a dance club. I found the whole scene amusing and curious. Why would those three (in particular) be together—at a dance club? I ended up heading home and writing out the “short story” of the scene. Two days later another scene happened just like it, except this time a small group of soldiers were attacking the three ladies. I found myself asking “why?” Why were they together? What were they doing? Why were they being attacked?  Why did they go to a dance club?! As always, the “Whys” led to answers, which revealed an entirely new book.

I’ve mentioned before that as I finished book four, I began working on a fifth book. However, before taking on yet another full novel, I decided to bring the first four manuscripts to “the world.” I returned back to book one, started the editing process, and the rest is history.

So, the first full trilogy is out. Two novelettes are released, and the last of the existing full manuscripts was next on the list. I know from experience that reworking an existing manuscript took a great deal of time. My writing style had dramatically changed since 2010, characters had changed, dynamics were different, etc. I needed to rewrite the entire thing.

Armed with the experience of five earlier published works, I assessed the existing fourth manuscript. While the foundation was solid, the approach needed great refinement. There were far too many point-of-views, there were far too many “main story threads” that people were going to get lost with. I also recognized the weakness in my earlier novels in character introductions and descriptions.

The first step was culling the plot points and establishing one core story thread.

I found it ironic that the very scenes (and corresponding main story thread) with Dane, Nikko, and Kiyanna that inspired me to write the fourth manuscript fell outside the focused main story. They had to be removed to keep things centered on the series protagonist Rhysus Mencari.

I didn’t want to lose the important question Dane, Nikko, and Kiyanna were on. So after removing the chapters dedicated to the detail behind their mission, I paraphrased the action in updates Kiyanna provided Mencari.

Doing this streamlined the main story around Rhysus Mencari, and created an opportunity to create a novelette (or even another full novel) around Dane, Nikko, and Kiyanna’s mission later!

What really gave this effort wings was when wrote the prologue for this manuscript. I didn’t have prologues and epilogues in the originally manuscripts. Those happened when each respective novel was re-edited. The introduction of “Jask” in the prologue (not a huge spoiler) from the perspective of the surviving Nukari Beast Warriors and Kajlit’ga’s encampment thrilled me. I saw it all so clearly. Interestingly enough, some aspects mimicked the original short story I wrote back in 1998 (that no one has read to date). The homage to the earlier work, including the symbolism which tied characters together, was so cool (to me).

Then I rewrote the first chapter, adding it entirely from scratch. Originally it jumped right into the operation on Naijen’s world. Without spoiling more, the new chapter one brings you right into Rhysus Mencari’s perspective. It helps you understand him, see what’s happened in the near year been the end of book 3 and the start of book 4, and where he is at emotionally and mentally. It also begins to introduce concepts about the abilities, and the first few key characters to the novel.

I saw it so clearly—watching the movie in my mind and typing it all out. The excitement from this carried me forward.

Another new section was the addition of an actual race at the Hoverdome! The Hoverdome is based on a board game design I created. In book three, you meet the character of Kiyanna who is an avid hoverbike racer (wannabe professional, current hobbyist), the Hoverdome is also introduced in passing. In the latest manuscript, she’s sent on a cover mission to race at the Hoverdome. It was thrilling to see the board game brought to life! I literally “played” the board game to create some of the dynamics discussed in the book. In fact, there’s a few evolutions to the concept mentioned in the book that will find their way back to the board game design. I’ll talk more about the Hoverdome board game in a different post. But the real thing IS coming. It’s a matter of timing.

There was one other significant change to the story. Back in 2010 my significant other of ten years ended our relationship. It was a very difficult time. The characters that represented us in the story were already headed for a split (which clearly shows I knew it was coming). But now there would be no reconciliation between the two characters… While dealing with my own personal pain, I channeled everything into the story. There were even chunks of conversations my former and I had, painful, soul destroying comments that made it in the manuscript. It certainly captured my pain during that experience.

Fast forward a number of years. I as a person have greatly evolved. It was honestly difficult to go back and reread sections of the fourth manuscript. As a writer, especially when evolving an old work, you relive the context of what inspired you to write what you did at that time. It wasn’t fun. I most certainly didn’t want to “be there” or experience “that” again.

But a curious thing—a wonderful thing—happened. I found myself blessed with the gift of perspective. I could look back on a horrible time in my life and see it with newfound understanding. I’m not the Michael of yesterday. Frankly, for the record, that end was the best thing possible for me and my son. I just didn’t realize it then.

So, as I rewrote those sections, I started by removing them entirely. There’s good drama, and then there’s bad drama. There’s interesting drama, and then there’s things we already go through enough in life that we don’t need to experience in our “entertainment.” You know?

Instead of leaving the reader in the lurch of raw emotions, instead of exposing them to my personal pain, I found a new opportunity. People will run into others they care about that are going through a terrible break-up (or dysfunction as a couple). The rewrite focused on Osuto and Rhysus Mencari’s observations about what was happening to Nikko and Cogeni, and talking about how to handle the situation. This included how to mitigate the impacts on the entire team… I enjoyed and appreciated the mature insights. My hope is it will help people understand a possible way to be navigate the muddy waters of others’ relationships.

And let’s be honest, no one needs to read things that tore holes in my soul. Some of it still smarts, now six years later. But I’ve decided it’s private and doesn’t need to see the light of day again.

Anyway, despite my attempt to cull the manuscript, it blossomed from 80,000 words (a modest starting size, thought nearly 16,000 words less than any of the other novels) to over 112,000 words! This was with content originally REMOVED. Yes, that means I wrote an additional 32,000 words while editing, and I still have content left for at least a short story (8,000 words), if not a novelette (17,000 words).

Characters demanded more time, scenes needed more action and detail, old story threads needed resolution, and once the half-way point in the story was hit, the rollercoaster of disasters that followed would not be denied their due space. So be it! I loved every moment of it.

The last chapter and epilogue clearly set up additional books. I already know what they are. In fact, I’m already working on the first book to the first spin-off series called “Weun Academy.” Yes, the same place that’s mentioned in passing in book three and presented in more detail in book four. You’ll have to wait for a future post concerning the numerous up-coming books.

I’m so excited to get this new book in your hands! I will say this, I am relieve to have the original manuscripts published. It’s given me a great sense of satisfaction. At the same time, as you know, I put a great deal of my own life into these stories. Sure, they’re set in the future, with fantastic characters and abilities. But at the heart of D’mok Revival lies human stories that everyone can relate to… Most are my own experiences, struggles, etc. But doing this comes at a cost, as you’re forced to relive what inspired you to write what you did as you review and edit the content.

Finally I get to be “me” again… Writing from my current context and place in life, no longer in the past. It’s one of the reasons Weun Academy is so fun for me to write! I get to weave my current life into my latest work!

I can’t wait to hear what you think about D’mok Revival: New Eden.

Arlene is working on the very final edit pass. The new cover is done from Glenn Clovis. I think we’re about two months out from a PRINTED release potentially. Though, I’ve been told this book is so solid I should shop it around for an agent.

Regardless, I’ll keep you posted.  That’s all for now!

P.S.  People have mentioned New Eden was not the original name for the fourth book, per my Author’s Note at the end of book 3. I’m changing the naming approach for this new trilogy, with subtitled that focus on the core object or thing discussed in the book as opposed to some over-arching theme.

Book 4’s Cover Design

Creating the fourth novel cover

So, here we go again!  After releasing two novelettes in 2015 which extended the D’mok literary universe, it’s time to tackle the next novels. These days, you don’t really “do” one book anymore. The expectations is TRILOGIES. Yes, this means there will be two more in the D’mok Revival series coming. 😉

I promise to write about the process of taking my fourth manuscript and evolving it into its final form in a future blog. This post is specifically about the new cover.

For some quick background, I am very proud of the five covers done to date. I’ve had the distinct honor of privilege of working with Glenn Clovis, an amazing 3D artist. He’s brilliant, incredibly talented, and PATIENT!  This is important, as working with “a client with a vision” (like myself) is NEVER EASY. Not to say I’m a high maintenance person per se, but I’m trying to create a specific look and with that comes some creative direction.

Here’s the first three novels:

book 1 coverbook 2 coverbook 3 cover

 

Here’s the first two novelettes:

mindwalk coveraloan conspiracy

 

I deeply respect and appreciate Glenn’s creative genius. I believe we iterate and evolve designs very well together. Sometimes it’s a suggestion on lighting, or transformation of a small part of something he’s already created. However, having “creative vision” is NOTHING without a creative master to make it manifest.

I’ve mentioned before the pressure that builds to have an impressive and more memorable cover book-over-book. I always want to push it and create something more amazing in the next round.

And so, here we are, “the next round.”  D’mok Revival: New Eden!

Novel number four represents a pivot in the D’mok literary universe. Many important things have changed since original trilogy, with ripple effects of how the Nukari Invasion came to an end.

So what should be on the cover?

I set forth a goal, what I wanted the cover to communicate:

  • It had to be familiar
  • It needed to focus on what New Eden looks like as it’s important the plot (starting in book 4 and moving forward)
  • I wanted to show the influence and adaptions being made based on exposure to Nukari technology
  • I wanted to represent the changing of the guard (leadership), in a way
  • I wanted the station to look capable, like someone wouldn’t mess with it, and would be able to destroy it if they tried

 

There’s a few things I knew already that would influence the visuals:

  • New Eden is not where Eden was, so the red nebula is out. A new location visual would be required
  • New Eden is the same “class” space station as Eden, just much larger, and enhanced
  • Examples of the Nukari technology are clearly illustrated on the third cover (the overlapping armor scales, and creature-esk look)
  • Books one and two featured a ship used by Mencari, so showing it again would create great consistency

 

The most important thing to “get right” was the station. There were many comments from the first book’s cover that I recalled.  For instance: “I’m not sure what I’m looking at? Is that a satellite or a weapon?” “It looks evil.” I didn’t want history to repeat. This time, I want to make sure people know what it is.

We looked at the source material.  First, the original space station:

original-stationoriginal-reference-for-email

Second, the Nukari ship (The Leviathan):

Dmok-CapitalShip

Third, the Nukari space gateway:

ring

 

So, here was the an early approach to the design of the New Eden station:

first station version

You have to start somewhere!  I loved the dome. The arms had segments, but they were very understated. The body looked still under construction to me, and I was looking for something more finished.

 

second version

That’s a leap! Loved the direction it was headed. The upper struts that connected the arms didn’t feel organic enough (something my test group also mentioned). I liked the reshaped arms, but wanted them even bigger!

 

third version

Another leap. I also loved the flairs put on the ends of the arms.  Those will come in handy later…  Though, my test group still didn’t get the direct connection to the Nukari technology with the overlapping tiles and such. There was a suggestion to change the light from blue to red like the Nukari, saying that would help create a stronger connection.

Interesting!  I LOVE feedback. Now, a quick aside, RED is usually used to represent bad things. This seems to be common across cultures in the world too. Even our own beloved scifi tend to follow this.  For instance, red blaster fire or Light Saber colors are used in Star Wars to represent the Empire or Dark Side. Hell is typically pictured as fire and red. Red auras are seen as people that have a “devil-may-care” attitude, are willing to try anything, and quick to anger. People with blue auras are seen as rare, bold, and charismatic, peacemakers with the ability to smooth out angry situations.

Based on this, I provided the feedback to Glenn, and this was the result.

 

fourth version

Amazing!

I reviewed this with my review team. They felt it was a HUGE leap in connections to the first and third books.

I placed it into my cover blocking and played with how to display the station with respect to position and size.  Placement actually was pretty easy.  I needed to follow the “Z” eye scanning pattern people unconsciously use to read in the Western culture.

perhaps-something-like-this

I also considered putting the original ship in the lower left, following the first book. I then added a small stream of ships headed to dock into the left-arm, and one slightly larger ship coming toward the viewer’s perspective.

However, when shown to my review group they felt it was a bit TOO similar to the first book.  Then I had an idea.  Going back to my “changing of the guard” display goal, what if a slightly larger ship heading at the viewer’s perspective was the original ship from books one and two? What if I had a new ship in the lower left heading toward the station?  I’d create the Z pattern, trigger the concept of being familiar, and present the changing of the guard all at one time.  It would be EPIC!

Of course, this meant I needed a new ship. It would need to be New Eden tech, with a similar Nukari influence.  We’d never designed New Eden tech before. Oh, the design challenges are endless (and awesome)!  So I mocked up a very crude concept for Glenn.

I’ll hold off on this ship for the reason that after coming up with an awesome design, the final cover composition worked best WITHOUT IT!  I know!  We spent so much time coming up with something so awesome. I’ll use it, just not for this cover. It’s the “Lexor Class” ship that gets mentioned starting in book 4, so there should be lots of opportunity to use it.

On to working on the final book 4 cover.  Together we mocked up a few different ideas (locations, angles, position of elements).

I wanted to go with a green and blue nebula. This would be distinct from the other major novel covers, and contrast with the orange-red glow from the station.

early rough

But one design really popped past the others. I loved (and so did my review team) loved the station on an angle, in a more ominous presentation.

Of course, this was just the beginning of the refinement.  Here’s a list of things we tweaked through numerous designs:

  • Presentation of the city under the dome (Rinow city)
  • Window placement on the station
  • Red glowing light from other places than the arm

Here’s the final version of the cover:

final cover

There’s so many fine details about this station and the surrounding area of space. For instance, the gleam off the dome, the trail of ships going into the arms, the windows on the station… I think it’s amazing and beautiful.

In the end, I believe I accomplished all my main goals for this with exception to a changing of the guard. However, one could argue that so much obvious Nukari technology shows something is up at New Eden…  Exactly what I want people (that are familiar with the series) to wonder about.

So, that’s the story about book 4’s cover development!

Inspiration from life

It’s hard to believe it’s the beginning of October already. I thought I’d post a quick update about progress on book 4, D’mok Revival: New Eden.  I’m just past the half-way point in the editing of the manuscript. My original goal was to be done editing before this point, but creativity ebbs and flows, and I’m a firm believer in not forcing my work if it’s not flowing on its own.

When an ebb happens, it’s a signal to me that life wants me to replenish a bit. For me, new inspiration comes from living life, having new experiences, meeting interesting people, soaking in the world around you.

I’ve spent a great deal of time with the Milwaukee Castaways Motorcycle Club. In fact, I’m currently a pledge, and will hopefully become a full member at the end of this month (October 2015). It’s an amazing group of guys who love being not just a social organization, but an entity that believes in community building, and raising money for philanthropies such as Camp Heartland (A place dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth and families facing significant health challenges or social isolation) and other well deserving local organizations.  It makes me feel proud to be a part of such a group. The experiences I’ve had getting to know the guys, going on “runs,” and the pledging process to become one of them, has been amazing and inspiring.

My son has also started third grade at a new school. It’s interesting to watch him step into a completely new environment. The initial social awkwardness, understanding the social positioning, getting locations and timeframes down, and integrating into the new environment has been equally insightful and fascinating.

At work I’ve also been moved from a centralized user-experience team into a decentralized model where I’m the lead UX person for all software “tools” (utility programs) for Johnson Controls B.E. division. Here too, there’s the awkwardness of getting to know an entirely new group, understanding how they work, not wanting to be too aggressive or suggestive in “how to do things better” until I understand how the team works today, and how things get done.

So how does all this help my writing? The heart of D’mok Revival is about the interpersonal dynamics of the D’mok Warriors, led by Rhysus and Osuto. There’s new members joining all the time, there’s new places and situations, in short, everything I’m going through in life can inspire what happens in the book based on an authentic real-world model.

While I’m focused on the fourth book, but I also am taking notes and writing short segments for the first book in Weun Academy series (that features Eisah, “the boy with the green eyes” starting at the academy). Here too, all of the things I mentioned about the Milwaukee Castaways M.C., my son starting at school, and the shift to a new team at work directly create a platform for me to authentically develop Eisah’s experience starting at Weun Academy.

As a result of “living life,” I’m finding a refreshed stream of inspiration flowing. I’m very happy with the continued evolution of the fourth manuscript.  My revised goal is to have it ready to edit by the end of the year. I’m also already working with Glenn Clovis on the new cover design.

No one likes delays, me included. But the resulting quality will be worth the wait.  I guarantee it.

As a final side note, it’s becoming clear to me that there needs to be another novelette to present the side mission Nikko, Dane, and Kiyanna went on to track down Tal. So, it appears that may be another project added into my queue. Perhaps I’ll wait to hear from fans about whether they are interested in experiencing that through a novelette.

Thank you again for your amazing love and support.  I greatly appreciate it.

The Next Two Novels (?!)

Where to begin? I’ll start at the very beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start.

My second novelette, D’mok Revival: The Aloan Conspiracy, is officially released!  Can you believe I had it mostly done back in January. However, my third novel and first novelette had released, and a lot was happening in my life. To be honest, I was a bit burned out. Three full novels of authoring, editing, marketing, promotions, etc. in about a year and half was a lot of work. I loved it, but it really taxed me.  Remember, this is my hobby. I have a fulltime job and son, and somewhat of a life too. Thank God for great friends and family that keep me mostly sane.

Honestly, I wanted to release the second novelette earlier than July! But a few things were happening.

  1. I started editing the fourth manuscript in the D’mok Revival series
  2. I started seeing all kinds of visions in the first spin-off series (that was already a documented part of my literary universe’s book plans), which led to starting to write the first volume in that series
  3. I wanted a life

Okay, and being honest:

4. I started taking some new medications for my arthritis which actually impacted my creative flow

Okay, okay…

5. The board game for D’mok Revival

I’m an over achiever, sorry.

The good news is now that the second novelette is out, I can really focus on the next big things. Sometimes you have to get rid of one of the balls being juggled in the air.

So, given I’m only one person, what’s the next main opportunities here? I have focused my work on one major effort, the next book in the D’mok Revival series (technically book 4, but it can also stand alone as the start of a new trilogy). It’s called D’mok Revival: New Eden (Note: the name changed from D’mok Revival: Reunification as noted in the Final Note section of book 3. It just didn’t feel right. New Eden sets the tone for things moving forward too.)

Back in 2010, at another major turning point in my life, I wrote a fourth book for the D’mok Revival Series. It picked up about a year after book 3, D’mok Revival: Descension. There were many things unanswered coming out of the Nukari Invasion Trilogy. This book not only answered them, but showed the impacts of a redistributed power base in the galaxy. The tone had been set for thing to come (namely the next two books in the D’mok Revival main series). Yes, this means there’s a new trilogy. ;p

The manuscript was around 80,000 words. After ripping out sections (The Aloan Conspiracy was actually the first few chapters of book 4), and making early revisions to the content, it’s already heading up towards 85,000 words. My guess is it will be as large as book 3 was in the end (around 94,000 words).

Remember the fourth manuscript was written before any of the editing changes happened in the first three books. My writing style has also evolved dramatically, so this rewriting process take time. The new medication I’m on for arthritis has also impacted my speed. I originally had two computers going in my brain full tilt with visions of scenes all the time. Now, I feel like an old Commodore 64 computer… lol.  Geek humor. I’m just not working with the same power and speed as before.  The good news is the content is better and more focused.

Then what is this about the “next two” novels?  Well, before I refined my focus, I started writing the first book in the first spin-off series called Weun Academy. Long story short, for those that have followed the main series, this new trilogy (yes trilogy) is named after Seigie Weun and follows the rise of prominence of “the boy with the green eyes.” I’ve mentioned a few more details in past blog posts, so I don’t want to be redundant with content. I have the outline for the entire trilogy, detailed notes for each chapter in this first book, and am about 60 written MS Word pages in. As soon as book 4 in the main series is done, I’ll move directly into this one and finish it.

It’s important to know that the prologues for both of these novels have been professionally edited by Arlene Robinson already. Why?  Good question!  I have include BOTH of them as sneak peaks at the end of the D’mok Revival: The Aloan Conspiracy novelette!  How cool is that?  You can get a look directly into the action of the next two FULL NOVELS right now!

I’m so excited to share these with you. Sometimes people don’t believe me when I talk about the full scope of the series. For the record, I’ve only told a few, because I don’t want people to think I’m just bluffing or puffing myself up. This story is very big. There’s so much to talk about. There’s also a reason I specifically said “the first spin-off…” But before I say more, I think I rather write the stories and then talk about it.

Keep sending me your feedback. What do you love?  What do you want to know more about? What things are slow, boring, not as interesting? Don’t worry, I don’t dramatically swing because of one person’s comments. I trend them and observe what the fans are saying overall. Regardless, your thoughts are precious to me, and they help me grow as an author and creator of this literary universe.

Thank you again for your ongoing support and thoughts!

D’mok Revival: The Aloan Conspiracy Novelette Cover Design

Readers always ask where the ideas come from for book covers. I’ve posted a number of times about the process I’ve used and the evolution of the various covers in the D’mok Revival series. I guess it’s important to keep that tradition alive.

For those that are current in the D’mok Revival series, you’ll remember Speru Chew’s world of Alo. It’s the first major adventure in book 3, D’mok Revival: Descension. Without spoilers, politics abound on that world. One of the pinnacle moments there involved the moon set ablaze with energy, and the resulting power burst that streaked away from it.  It’s certainly one of the moments that comes to mind when I think about Rhysus Mencari’s experience there. It seemed fitting to evoke the memory of that event, and provide a picture of what Mencari saw there.

This is a space opera series, so I went to the traditional presentations from books and television. Picturesque images are common place. So I created an initial sketch.

Crude mock-up for the second novelette

Crude mock-up for the second novelette

The blazing moon was peaking over the horizon of Alo. I sent it, along with some example photos (thank you Google Images) to my amazing illustrator Glenn Clovis. As a sidebar, I could never say enough about Glenn. He’s amazingly talented, a dream to work with, and makes manifest your dreams!

He sent back this amazing image.

First version of the cover based on my crude sketch.

First version of the cover based on my crude sketch.

Beautiful, isn’t it? It felt very Star Trek the Next Generation or Star Trek Voyager (which is great). Though, it felt very still. That wasn’t Glenn’s fault, it’s exactly what I asked for from him. It needed some type of action, something that would pull people in. Good covers make people go “oooh,” and also makes them ask questions—makes them want to be there.

Then I remembered “the streak” from the end of the chapter. I created a quick sketch and shot it over to Glen. The following is my original with Glenn’s response.

cover-thoughts untitled

You’ll notice the dramatic shift in design. How incredible. It really punched things up.  As always, I took it to my Facebook page to get feedback from my incredible fans and followers. It was received very well, though some people mentioned it looked like a highway of light more so than a streak. Fair enough!

I put another tweaked version out there, that was better received.

My "comet effect" version

My “comet effect” version

Glenn made a few adjustments, and BAM!  The final cover was ready.

Glenn's final version with the series branding applied.

Glenn’s final version with the series branding applied.

So there you have it!  D’mok Revival: The Aloan Conspiracy will be available on Amazon within a day!  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Don’t forget to post your review on Amazon.com as well.  🙂

The growing lore of D’mok Revival

Book number 4, along with the first book in the Weun Academy spin-off series are both moving forward. The second novelette, Aloan Conspiracy, is going through final editing and visual design. I’m hoping to get the board game design moving again too.  It’s very exciting!

What’s so amazing is now that I’m out of the first trilogy, book number four can do “new” things. At the same time, I’m building on the existing lore of the D’mok literary universe. This means I have to catch people that may not have read the first trilogy up. I need to provide some context for what’s happened since. There’s set up baggage that needs to be addressed. I’ve also found, on occasion, that I’ve had holes in my own information.  Sometimes it may have been from edits done that didn’t make it back to my catalog of characters, places, and things. Other times I’ve found I never gave a character a last name. Whoops. The good news is I’ve caught a number of things and have cleaned them up.

It’s been a lot of fun looking at how existing characters have evolved since the end of book 3.  For instance (no real spoiler here), what role is Eyani playing now? Has her title changed? How about Rhysus Mencari?

I also find it interesting working on both Weun Academy’s first book AND book 4 at the same time.  “Technically,” Weun Academy happens after book 4. Now, remember that I have an original manuscript for book 4 that I wrote back in 2010. I’m reworking it with updates based on edits done to the first three books, in addition to updating it with my current writing style.  What I’ve found is Weun Academy relies HEAVILY on what’s happening in book 4.  I’ve been literally writing them at the same time, striping back and forth with chapters and events. They both currently sit at 40 pages each. Something that happens in book 4 impacts Weun Academy, and visions of things that happen in Weun Academy feed back into set ups that are woven back into book 4. It’s all very fascinating (and convenient).

I’m having a great time with it. There’s new characters, new races, new places. The lore of the D’mok literary universe continues to grow! I’m glad to keep updated notes about the characters, races, worlds, etc. I need them!

When they’re released, I think you’ll be very pleased with the action focus and core drama presented.

As a side note, people have also been asking for an omnibus version of the Nukari Invasion Trilogy. I really need to get that out there. Perhaps by late summer I’ll have the time (with everything else I’m doing for the D’mok universe) to get it out.  I don’t want to simply slap together the original files and re-release it.  I’d like to add more insights, commentary, notes, etc. into it so it’s more of value (to both new readers and current fans).

The launch pad for D’mok Revival: Retribution (book 2)

Now that the manuscript for book two is in the professional editing phase I’ve begun working on the marketing materials.  Here’s a short list of the most important things in priority order:

  1. Book cover image (H U G E)
  2. Back-cover description text
  3. Reviews / quotes
  4. Web site updates / Social media
  5. Press release, magazine ads
  6. Amazon promotions / other partnerships
  7. Local launch planning and necessary supporting materials
  8. Give-aways
  9. National launch
  10. Contests

BOOK COVER

Following the pattern from the first book, the most important element is the book cover.  Glenn Clovis is already engaged and working on the new space scene. It’s important to remember that people DO judge a book by its cover, no matter how much “you don’t want them to.” Honestly, if you consider neuroscience it’s clear our brains are optimized to visually discern what we come across. We have near instant decisions made at our most instinctive level whether we like something or not (just by looking at it).

I know from my experience at Comic Con that even an unknown author with an unknown series can attract fans with a picture that appeals to their sensibilities. I was going to for science fiction fans, and space with stations and ships does the trick.

For the second book we’re going to use a different nebula since it’s in a different place, and I want the first three books to have distinct colors. Red was for book one. We’re considering more of a blue-ish for book two.  With respect to the location, Glenn is building out Osuto’s asteroid base floating in the asteroid belt. Currently we’re looking at using the same ship as the first cover.  Osuto’s asteroid base is a key location in the series, so that seemed important to show.  This was the same logic that put the Trading Post on the first cover (though one could argue it ‘could’ also be the sister science station). 😉

BACK COVER

Beyond providing some art direction, the first real book cover aspect I can do myself is the wrapper around his incredible images. Luckily I did a great deal of work in Photoshop for the first book. I was able to copy the document and start updating it directly. One of the weaknesses in the first cover was understated series identification. I used some key cover real-estate to herald “A Space Saga By Michael Zummo.” Sure, it was fun to make it seem like people should already know my name (an old Marketing puffery trick), but I want the work to speak for itself and not have people focus on me. So, the first change made is a larger presentation of the series branding.

Next I have the back-of-book text. This is important for sales at shows, displays at stores, and for your online description.  It has to be short, captivating, and leave questions in the reader’s mind to make them want to read and find out how the questions resolve. This isn’t easy. Well known authors and series can get away with a few sentences. Their audience already trusts them and/or understands a series in play.  D’mok Revival has over 2,500 readers that I know of (but that’s all right now). There will be plenty of people checking out this book that will not have seen the first one. Therefore, the back-cover copy needs a little information to get people up to speed.  I have copy that’s being vetted by my internal review group now.  I’ll be posting it to the D’mok Revival Facebook page to solicit opinions there.

REVIEWS

With respect to reviews, I’m going back to Reader’s Choice. Their program is fast, affordable, and simple. My series and current reputation are not strong enough to grab the attention of major reviewers. So I’m considering passing on the ARC (advanced review copy) versions of the soft cover book.

WEB SITE

Once those items are done I’ll update the dmokrevival.com site. I already have a design in mind to make sure it can support both books in the series. I plan on continuing to post to Facebook as well. I have great fans there and enjoy staying connected.

PRESS

With respect to traditional marketing, putting out a press release and placing ads in the SyFy channel’s official magazine really worked well.  Since the first book achieved a rank of #18 on Amazon’s best seller list in Science Fiction, I have a great promotion point now. I also have a 5 star rating from Readers’ Choice I can promote.

I plan on leveraging Amazon’s KDP programs so I can create buzz using their countdown promotions and new book communications. There’s an art to taking your back cover text and boiling it down to a few key statements for an ad. The right quote does wonders as well.

I’m continuing my partnership with the Stan Lee Foundation (which is still AWESOME)! They’ve been a great partner in promoting and distributing the soft cover version of the first book.

LOCAL LAUNCH

I’d like to do my local launch at Boswell’s Book store in Milwaukee off Downer Avenue again. In preparation for book signings and shows I’m going to leverage the picture-to-canvas approach from the first go-around. If you follow Amazon deals, LivingSocial, or Groupons, you’ll see the picture-to-canvas (or metal, or glass) deals come through. They are FANTASTIC deals!  Using them you can get solid promotional materials for your booth or book signing table.

I’ve already purchased a package of four 16×20 canvases that will be the Glenn’s image, the series logo, and book title. It only cost $99. That’s ALL!  I want to use at least 2 for the new book. I think I may update the first book’s cover with the revised branding and use the third one to create a print for that book. The last one I’ll either hold for book 3, or create a “give away” version. I also picked up 2 picture- to-metal prints (for $35) that I was use as give-aways.

GIVE AWAYS

FREE autographed books are always a great give-away.  When it comes to t-shirts, they were a nice-to-have item that people enjoyed.  However, I can’t directly correlate sales to them. They were also a high-ticket item. I will get a shirt for the launch, and maybe a few as give-aways, but not at the quantity I did before. The posters done for ComicCon were great attractors (when free not at a cost). I may do those as well since the cost was low.

NATIONAL LAUNCH

I’m considering a return to Chicago ComicCon. We’ll see how things are going and the budget I can dedicate as that gets closer.

CONTESTS

I’m also going to submit to the writing contests, though results from those tend to be very long-tail. In fact, depending on the cycle, it can be a whole year before the book is even evaluated.

After signing your audio book talent

This is part 2  to the audio book creation posting.

Part 1: Creating The Audio Book On Audible.com
Part 2: After Signing your audio book talent
Part 3: Your Audio Book is Live

 

In the end, 23 talented individuals auditioned for the audio book version of D’mok Revival: Awakening.

During this process I realized how little audition text you need to provide to actually tell if someone is right for the part. My big take-aways included:

  1. Include the introduction to your book
  2. Include sections with multiple characters that interact and converse
  3. Keep it only to about two pages of script

I was blessed that nearly each one of them did 10 minutes of audition time.  This is unheard of and made me feel so foolish, not to mention guilty when they didn’t get selected.

I reviewed each one, then sent the top submissions on to a team I assembled from series fans and friends. After gathering and weighting their feedback Kyle McCarley rose to the top of the list.

I sent a personal message to each and every person that submitted an audition.  I wanted them to know I greatly appreciated their effort. Due to the ACX agreements, they can now use that audition in their portfolio as an example of their work.  I completely understand and support this concept.  They put the work in after-all.

I was shocked when each person that I sent a reply to replied back saying how rare it was for them to hear anything when they were not selected, much less genuine gratitude and thanks. I felt both proud and saddened by this.  Authors–APPRECIATE everyone you work with. It’s part of being a professional (even if you, like me, are just entering this space).

Using ACX.com I send an offer to Kyle. We discussed a few details and decided not to go the profit sharing approach (that Amazon wanted to contribute $1000 up-front towards). We agreed to a per finished hour rate that works for the union he’s in. Based on our discussions he rejected the initial offer and I drafted the next one based on the agreements we discussed. He accepted the new one and we were off.

Kyle shared his approach and process to doing an audio book. I won’t share in detail but I wanted to offer at least some insight as to how to work with voice talent.

  1. Review of the manuscript
  2. Creation of the character list and samples of the voices for each
  3. Clarifications of how to pronounce names and addressing of any grammar issues found
  4. Sample 15 minutes

This is the stage we’re at today.

He’s been amazing to work with. Also, despite having spent thousands on editing, he’s finding a shocking (and rather embarrassing) number of issues in the book.  I’m thankful for how detail oriented he is, along with his amazing process. I’m going to update both the soft-cover manuscript for future prints and the ebook version on Amazon immediately.

In the next week I’ll get the first 15 minutes.  I’m really looking forward hearing his version of it.  It will be interesting to experience reviewing 10 to 11 hours of audio and providing feedback to him.

More to come!

P.S.  Book 2’s manuscript is in the hands of my internal review team. More soon on that as well!