Indie Feature Friday: Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat

I’ve gone and lost track of days again, so let’s just start out by pretending it’s still Friday!

In the last few weeks I’ve been working my way through my collection of Indie Cyberpunk Novels and I have been so pleasantly surprised by all the great work in this genre.

First was Grinders by C.S. Boyack, which is the perfect blend of cyberpunk and detective tropes. I was instantly hooked by the glittery high-tech world and the perfectly balanced dynamic between Jimi Cabot and her partner on the police force. I couldn’t put it down. Although it is different in tone, Grinders is the novel that inspired me to write my own cybernoir detective series, and is directly responsible for the birth of Bubbles in Space. I cannot recommend it enough!

Next I read Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin, which is a quick, easy read with great world building and a diverse cast of characters. It’s the kind of book you can pick up and devour in a single sitting when you just want some fun, action packed entertainment. Sci-Fi flavoured candy at its best!

And now we have something a little bit different again.

This one is a serious page-turner…

Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat

The Plot

In a future world ruled by warring mega-corporations, cyborg Nephilim believed she was fighting a righteous cause.

As a powerful, genetically and cybernetically enhanced elite soldier her brutal and violent life is not truly her own – until one day, a simple glitch separates her from the grid.

For the first time in her young life, she is free…and she has doubts. Doubts that bury deeper into her psyche when she meets Jake, a mysterious, 100% bio-human.

He opens her neon-blue eyes to the lies she had been exposed to all her life. Questioning everything she has ever known, Nephilim resolves to take a stand. To hold on to this freedom, she has miraculously discovered. But can one person, no matter how strong, beat an all-powerful system of oppression? Soon, Nephilim finds herself hunted by her own people in a deadly game of survival…

For fans of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Altered Carbon!

My Review

This book has been on my radar for a while, as I follow Anna Mocikat on Instagram and Twitter. Behind Blue Eyes has been consistently well placed in the Cyberpunk charts and fans literally RAVE about it at every opportunity.

So, I admit, my expectations were pretty high going in.

Mocikat does not disappoint!

Behind Blue Eyes is fantastic. It manages to hit all of the major genre themes, and still to be completely different from the last two indie cyberpunk novels I have reviewed. It is dark, gritty, and violent with a strong sexual undertones. A very different mood than Grinders or Into Neon.

There is quite a bit of world-building at the beginning of the novel and it took me a few chapters to get into the flow of the story, but once I did it was like being caught in a riptide.

Mocikat is a masterful plotter working in an intricate world with complex characters.

One of my favourite things about Behind Blue Eyes is the evolution of Nephilim’s character as the secrets of her world are revealed. She is a seriously badass cyborg warrior, and this could easily have turned into a Mary-Sue type character who just can’t seem to do anything wrong. But Mocikat manages to bring Niphilim’s humanity front and centre, and the plot focusses on her vulnerabilities rather than her physical invincibility, so that even though she’s literally built for world domination, she is constantly coming up against conflicts she isn’t prepared to handle.

I also really appreciate that, although there is a romantic subplot, and there are a lot of sexy themes being explored, Mocikat never delves into “steamy romance” territory. Full disclosure: I am not a romance fan. Really detailed sex scenes always make me cringe, and books with too many of them usually end up in my DNF pile. Mocikat handles it very well, and I think the sexual themes were all the more titillating because they were hinted at rather than being shoved in your face. I mean, sex is everywhere in the book, and the blasé attitudes of the characters toward it was refreshing in itself. But Mocikat leaves the actual squidgy parts up to our imaginations (thank you!)

In Nephilim’s exploration of her humanity (as a genetically engineered cyborg) Mocikat really digs into one of the most interesting themes in cyberpunk literature: where do we draw the link between (wo)man and machine? What makes any of us human? This really added a layer of emotional satisfaction to Nephilim’s character arc, and I will absolutely be diving into the next book, Fallen Angels.

If you love books and don’t have time to read these days, Mocikat has just dropped the audiobook for Behind Blue Eyes on Amazon’s Audible, and it’s been getting awesome reviews as well.

Discussion

Have you read Behind Blue Eyes? What did you think? Is this one you’ll be adding to your TBR list? If you have a favourite cyberpunk novel, please share it in the comments!

New Feature at scjensen.com

Greetings!

This post is for the book worms (and the book dragons!)

If you read books faster than you can earn money to buy them, I have a gift for you…

How to find FREE and Discount Books at scjensen.com!

There are almost always free and discount book promotions going on around the web. There are many sites dedicated to just this service. But if you don’t want to hunt them down yourself, I’m offering a new feature right here which you might be interested in!

I have a new page called the Free Book Bonanza! This is where I will be linking all the free and discount book promotions that I come across (and participate in). There will be a section for FREE books, Kindle Unlimited books, and deeply discounted books for all your bargain hunting needs.

You can find the link to the Free Book Bonanza in the drop down menu. It will be updated regularly so all the deals found on that page will be currently running with the dates clearly marked.

Check it out!

Why not head over and let me know what you think? Which genres would you like to see represented here? Do you prefer FREE books (usually requires signing up to the author’s mailing list), Kindle Unlimited books, or discounted books?

Let me know in the comments!

Indie Feature Friday: Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin

You know those moments you just want a quick and easy read? Nothing too heady or heavy, just a book to kick back and relax with?

I have the book for you!

I’ve been working through my collection of Indie Cyberpunk Books and recently finished reading Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin.

It was such a breath of fresh air after reading Neuromancer! (Read my review of the classic cyberpunk novel here)

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced read with great characters and a heist-style plot, you will not be disappointed by this book.

Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin

The Plot

When a corporate lackey has the rug pulled out from under his illusions, will his hidden fire flicker or ignite a rebellion?
Orphaned and alone, Moss is happy to have found a place in the world. But his humdrum working routines take a terrifying turn when a mysterious woman breaks into his apartment and hands him a data chip from his dead parents. Suddenly hearing messages revealing his benevolent employer has a far darker side, he braves the dangerous megacity streets in search of the truth.

Surrounded by outcasts and criminals and running on instinct, Moss stumbles onto a rebel group intent on exposing their corrupt oppressors. And though he fears for his life when his old boss has put a price on his head, the naïve man believes the key to taking down the enemy may lie inside the high-tech device… and his own cerebral cortex.

Will Moss’s attempt to fight the power cause him to terminally short circuit?

Into Neon is the electrode-laden first book in A Cyberpunk Saga science fiction series. If you like everyman heroes, futuristic tech, and immersive dystopian worlds, then you’ll love Matthew A. Goodwin’s mind-expanding epic.

My Review

I’ve been reading a lot of cyberpunk novels lately, and trying to mix up the classics and traditionally published fan favourites with my indie author brothers and sisters, and I have to say…

Indie is where it’s at.

Is it just me? Maybe my tastes have changed. My brain is admittedly more primed for fast-paced, bite sized, binge-worthy media.

I used to love reading epic SF&F tomes that transported me to another world for days on end. I loved that feeling of lifting my head after a long book or series was finished and feeling like I didn’t know how my life was going to go on without this world or these characters.

But my life has changed.

My husband and I run two businesses, I homeschool three kids, I write full time. There are never fewer than four people in my house and usually five or more. Not to mention the mountains of dishes and laundry created by having a full house 24/7…

I do not have peaceful, interruption free stretches of time anymore. I do not have the mental capacity to completely immerse myself in another world.

And I know it’s not just me. That was a rhetorical question. Most of us are dealing with similar situations these days.

You know who is serving this newly expanding market of easy escapism literature?

Indies.

Indie authors are hitting a note that traditional publishers are just missing out on these days.

Sometimes I just want to be entertained without needed to read and reread obtuse “literary” passages or search up scientific terminology to understand what the hell is going on.

I have a degree in English Literature and I specialized in Literary Criticism. I’m no lightweight when it comes to academic chest thumping.

But I can’t help but feel that traditional sci-fi is trying way too hard to impress me some days.

Sorry, boys. I’m not here for it.

Bring on the guilt-free entertainment. Bring on the pulp!

Bring on Into Neon!

I had so much fun with this book. It’s fun and easy to eat, Popcorn Lit!

Compared to something like the tech-heavy Neuromancer, Goodwin’s Into Neon is definitely more like cyberpunk lite. But I mean that in the best of ways.

Sometimes you want to explode your brain with mind-bogglingly intense science fiction and sometimes you just want to eat some sci-fi flavoured candy.

This is the candy.

Goodwin plays on lots of the standard cyberpunk tropes and has created a fascinating and frighteningly plausible future world, but you don’t need to have a dictionary handy in order to understand it.

Moss is a naïve, cog-in-the-machine type character who has no idea how his life is about to change. When the veil is lifted and Moss is thrown into a dark new world I couldn’t help being sucked into his story.

I’d classify Into Neon as geared toward an older Young Adult or New Adult audience, though it does have some strong language and mature themes.

The writing is simple and straightforward. The character development starts off quiet strong and is a little rushed near the end, but not so much that it interferes with the enjoyment of the plot. It’s really a coming of age novel with a cyberpunk back dropdrop.

Two things I think Goodwin does really well are:

  1. Maintaining the “punk” aspects of cyberpunk. This book’s main theme is rebellion against the government and corporate overlords. It’s about the underdog’s fight against oppressive power, which a lot of so-called cyberpunk these days seems to have forgotten.
  2. Great, inclusive characters. Goodwin uses characters of all backgrounds and fleshes them all out equally. There are no cookie cutter, tokenized characters, which I really appreciated.

So, if you are looking for a light, entertaining read with fabulous characters and an action-movie style plot, I highly recommend Into Neon! I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

Discussion

Have you read Into Neon yet? Do you have recommendations for other fun, entertaining, light sci-fi reading? Hit us up in the comments!

FREE Cyberpunk and LitRPG Books from the Mysterious IASFA

Juicy news!

I belong to the International Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors (IASFA) and they are putting together monthly lists of free books from some of the biggest Indie authors in the genres.

Each month, the IASFA releases a collection of limited time FREE books from one SF&F subgenre.

This month it’s Cyberpunk/LitRPG/Gamer Lit, for example. And next month is post-apocalyptic.

If you are an SF&F author you can join the community here –> https://iasfa.org/join-iasfa/

If you are a reader, you can sign up to receive free books every month here –>  https://iasfa.org/get-free-books

Now, check these books out!

Here’s a note from the IASFA about the promo:

From May 11th through the 15th, pick up enough free LitRPG/GameLit/Cyberpunk novels to fill your summer reading needs.

Play the game, win the prize, or die.

Dakota Krout had this to say about the genre: “LitRPG is progression fantasy or science fiction bound by the rules of a video game. It uses a hard-magic system that allows the readers an in-depth look at those rules, which ensures consistency and allows for the mitigation of power creep.”

Available only from the mysterious IASFA.

This link takes you to the sign-up, where there are a few more steps because the evil internet trolls have attacked and we must hold them at bay.

1) click this link https://iasfa.org/get-free-books

2) Become an Insider by filling out your name (or online persona) and email address

3) Answer the math problem because we know trolls suck at math

4) Check your email – you should have received a confirmation email thanking you for subscribing, but you have to click on this to confirm your confirmation because we know that is the kiss of death for trolldom

5) Your subscription is confirmed! Go back to your email for the final confirmation which, during the free promotion period, will include the super-secret link that takes you into the back-end of the site where you can find incredible titles from some of the top names in the genre as well as well-established newcomers. If you join before the promotion timeframe, then you’ll get an email on the first day of the promotion with the super-secret link.
Find your next favorite author right here, right now.And next month, get ready for the end of the world as we know it – Post-Apocalyptic titles will tease your reading fancy from June 9-13.

Cyberpunk Book Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Do you ever find weird gaps in your literary or pop culture knowledge?

You think you know what you’re talking about and then you get blindsided by some fact that is so obvious that people have stopped talking about it. But somehow you just didn’t know?

That was me this year.

I’ve loved cyberpunk books and movies for ages, but I never really dug into the genre until I decided I was going to start writing it and then… BAM!

Suddenly I’m looking into the gap… NAY! The wide, gaping chasm! of stuff I never knew I never knew.

Did you know that The Matrix movies are based on the classic cyberpunk Sprawl series by William Gibson? Probably. Everyone but me knew this, apparently.

Until a couple of months ago, I had never even read William Gibson, who is like the All Father of the cyberpunk genre.

My dad, who is THE LEAST cyberpunk person you could ever meet, has read Neuromancer.

This is just embarrassing.

So, uh… better late than never, I guess…

Here’s my review of William Gibson’s Sprawl #1 Neuromancer.

WOW!

That was my first impression as I started reading this classic cyberpunk novel. First the dry, gritty, cybernoir flavour of the writing. Then the intense complexity of the world Gibson imagined. Then the twisting turning plot.

This is a book I will read again, probably more than once. The first time was just to get acclimated. The second time will be to start piecing together all the bits I missed the first time around. There is a lot going on under the surface of this novel, and Gibson isn’t spoonfeeding any details. Modern audiences will be a bit adrift in this world, but all the answers are there. The reader just has to work for it.

I loved that.

But let’s talk a bit about the book.

Setting/Themes

Neuromancer came out in 1984.

It’s kind of interesting that Gibson wrote this book–which prophesizes many things that have come to pass, like the internet and virtual reality and advanced cybernetics–in the same year that George Orwell set his own classic dystopian science fiction novel in.

1984, which Orwell wrote in 1948, in turn had prophesized things like the large colour telescreens and facial recognition, speech to text software, and an all-observing government bodies.

And it’s the year I was born.

So we kinda nailed it. 1984 was a good year.

But it is strange to read books like 1984 and Neuromancer from the present day, or rather “the future that wasn’t, quite.” Many of the things that Gibson predicts with computer usage is eerily accurate. We use words like cyberspace because of Gibson, for example. The high-tech, low-life dichotomy imagined in Neuromancer is very much representative of the massive income/class divides we see between first world and developing nations, and even within our own societies. As Gibson has said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

But some things, like the way Gibson’s imagined “grid” (does he even use that word, or is that just how I imagined it? now I have to check) is more like being inside a 1980s video game than the high-def 3D virtual reality we have now. When reading, I was picturing Tron more than The Matrix.

This doesn’t detract from the book at all, of course. The vivid settings and characters and the complex heist-style plot more than make up for any of the retrospective anachronisms. Chiba and the Sprawl have become iconic of the cyberpunk aesthetic–rainy nights and neon lights–which were echoed in the 1984 Blade Runner movie, based on Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I have read that when Gibson saw Blade Runner he was in a panic because he thought people would think his book, which he’d spent years writing, would be seen as a rip off of the movie. Fascinating that both Blade Runner and Neuromancer tapped into the same neon noir vibe at the same time.

But I’ve recently been reading Larry Niven’s Flatlander stories and I actually see a lot more of Niven in Blade Runner than Gibson, with the pyramidal cities and off-world colonization that shaped Ridley Scott’s interpretation of Dick’s fantastic novel.

The more I think about it, the more I realize all of my favourite books and movies have been circling the same themes for decades… I guess it’s no surprise that I started writing in this genre, too!

As far as themes go, the most prevalent in Neuromancer (and most cyberpunk) are: the struggle against a vast economic inequality, the way technology doesn’t make life better for everyone, and the inevitable corruption of governments and corporations that run the world.

Characters

Gibson’s character development, like that of PKD, is often subtle when it is there at all. Neuromancer is not a character driven novel. He writes fascinating, larger than life characters and throws them into intense situations, but don’t expect these characters to change.

I actually like this.

I love a good character arc, don’t get me wrong. But not all stories are about people growing and changing. Sometimes we just want some fast past action, intricately twisting plots, and mysteries to solve.

In this way, Neuromancer is very much like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Flatlander, as well as the hard-boiled noir writers who came before them, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

And there’s a kind of statement in writing a character like Case or Molly, that they can undergo something like this and come out unchanged. No everyone gets better. Not everyone breaks the cycles that keep them trapped in their own lives. I felt that way about Deckard at the end of DADOES, too. Was he changed in the end? I’m not convinced.

So, Case isn’t a very dynamic character. He’s more reactive than active. But that’s okay. It works.

Plot

I have to admit I lost the thread a few times while reading this book. It’s not the kind of novel you can pick up and read with half an ear on your kid’s latest tale of woe or excitement. Neuromancer demands your full attention. When I couldn’t give it that, I moved very slowly and had to go back and re-read.

Gibson leaves clues to what is going on throughout the book, but they are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention! So I will definitely have to go back and reread this one now that I know the big picture plot. I’d love to go back and dig into the details.

Conclusion

I gave this book 4 stars, which is kind of cheeky of me, since it’s clearly a classic. But, I mean, once a writer hits the kind of fame and critical acclaim that William Gibson has, I feel I can be a little harder on him than I might be on an up and coming or indie writer.

I might change my tune once I’ve re-read the book. But part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to read a book twice in order to get it. It’s a great story, but it’s a bit obtuse.

It could be the fault of me as the reader, too, in that I wasn’t always 100% committed to the page as I was reading. I don’t often get to read in peace and quiet without interruption.

So I will re-read it when the kids are visiting their grandma sometime and I will come back to this review.

Have you read Neuromancer? What did you think?

Other Reviews

Read more of my classic SF reviews here:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

Brave New World by Aldus Huxley

S.C. Jensen Author Update

Greetings, strangers!

I’ve been busy, busy getting lots of fun new stuff ready for you.

I have two more books in the Bubbles in Space series coming to you this Spring and Summer.

I have some book reviews I’ll be posting in the coming weeks.

I’m tossing around the idea of serializing my HoloCity Case Files novellas… Is that something you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments!

I will also be re-releasing my dystopian science fiction trilogy, The Timekeepers’ War, after receiving some bad news earlier this year.

More on that at the end of the post. Now for the fun stuff!

Upcoming Posts

I will be doing reviews on the following cyberpunk and cybernoir novels in the next few weeks:

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Noir by Christopher Moore
  • Liquid Cool by Austin Dragon
  • Into Neon by Matthew A. Goodwin
  • Behind Blue Eyes by Anna Mocikat, and
  • Flatlander by Larry Niven

There will be more to come as I finished reading though my list of Indie Cyberpunk books, check it out –> HERE <–

Bubbles in Space Update

Things are starting to ramp up for my new sci-fi series Bubbles in Space. I just got Book #2 in to my editor last month and it will be out at the end of May. I’m done plotting Book #3, and will be diving into drafting ASAP once my edits are complete on #2.

I’ve got a really aggressive (for me!) release schedule planned this year and everything is on track, which means you will get your Bubbles fix right on schedule!

The HoloCity Case Files are a parallel series of mystery novellas, which I’ll be publishing along side Bubbles in Space. They can be read in any order, and you do not have to read them in order to read Bubbles in Space.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s everything you need to know:

Prequel Novella — Dames for Hire: HoloCity Case Files #1

Dirty jobs call for dirty dames.

But this is a bit much…

After a suspicious accident costs her a career, an arm, and nearly her life, Bubbles Marlowe needs all the help she can get.

When a friend asks her to do a little dirty work on the side, Bubbles isn’t prepared for just how dirty it’s going to get.

An arrogant scientist, a young heiress, a gambling king pin, and a few too many hired guns…

Can Bubbles finish the case before it finishes her?

HoloCity’s femme fatales are out in full force in this cybernoir detective thriller.

And these dames don’t mess around.

Join S.C. Jensen’s VIP Readers Club and read Dames for Hire for FREE! –> Join Here! <–

Or, you can buy it on Amazon for $0.99! –> Buy Now! <–

Or, when I start the serials, you’ll be able to CLICK HERE to start reading on the blog. (Coming soon!)

Tropical Punch: Bubbles in Space #1

Strippers, Drugs, and Headless Corpses…

All in a day’s work for Bubbles Marlowe, HoloCity’s only cyborg detective.

What do an anti-tech cult, a deadly new street drug, and the corrupt Chief of Police have in common?

It’s a question Bubbles can’t afford to ask. Last time she got curious it cost her job, a limb, and almost her life.

She vows to stay out of police business. But with a newly minted cybernetic enhancement, a semi-legal P.I. licence, and a knack for asking the wrong kind of questions…

Vows are made to be broken.

But as the body count stacks up, Bubbles realizes she’s made a terrible mistake.

Can she figure out who is behind the murders before she loses her head?

Read for FREE in Kindle Unlimited or Buy Now from Amazon for $4.99! –> Get it now! <–

Chew ‘Em Up: Bubbles in Space #2

She didn’t ask for this…
Now, there’s no going back.

Bubbles Marlowe prefers to stick to the shadows. But when one of her cases blows up in the media, the private eye is thrust into the public eye.

The timing couldn’t be worse.

Her best friend is on the run for her life and she needs Bubbles’ help!

Now the wrong kind of people are sitting up and taking notice… And the clock is ticking.

The friends will do anything it takes to get out of HoloCity. Even if it means leaving the planet.

Forever…

Can Bubbles survive her newfound stardom long enough to save her best friend?

Or is HoloCity going to chew them up and spit them out?

Coming May 31st, 2021… Pre-Order today for only $2.99! –> Get it now! <–

Pop ‘Em One: Bubbles in Space #3

You win some, you lose some.
And sometimes you lose everything…


Bubbles Marlowe is lost.

Lost in space, lost in love, lost in life.

After a contract to protect her best friend goes horribly wrong, things go from bad to worse.

Her best friend wakes up from a coma… changed. Rae has crucial information locked inside her brain, and she’s not talking.

Bubbles’ ex-partner and would-be lover has been kidnapped and brutalized by the megacorp, Libra. They want to exchange Tom for Rae, but she needs to save them both.

On top of all this, she finds herself the de facto property of an asteroid mining company! (Don’t even ask.)

They want to use her to start a war.

Bubbles has no choice but to follow orders…

It’s the only way she can keep Rae safe and save Tom’s life.

But can she pull off the heist without getting herself and everyone she loves killed?

And if even she can, what’s the point of saving them all if it means starting a corporate war?

Coming August 2nd, 2021… Pre-Order today for only $2.99! –> Get it now! <–

Spit ‘Em Out: Bubbles in Space #4

Coming October 2nd, 2021

Cherry Bomb: Bubbles in Space #5

Coming December 6th, 2021

HoloCity Case Files

I have another 2-3 novellas planned for release this year, alongside the Bubbles in Space series. I will be finishing them up in my downtime between drafts and don’t have a set release schedule for them. But they will all be available for FREE to my VIP Readers Club, for $0.99-$2.99 Amazon Kindle, and possibly as serials on the blog (if you guys are into it!)

UPDATE: The Timekeepers’ War Trilogy

As many of you know, March 2021 was supposed to be the release of Ghostlights: The Timekeepers’ War Book 2. It’s been a very long time coming, since The Timekeepers’ War Book 1 came out in 2014!

I was really excited about the release, and in the meantime have finished the final installment in the trilogy, Weirfall, anticipating a 2022 release.

Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.

My publisher, David G. Barnett, passed away suddenly in February. This was very sad news for me. I never met Dave in person, but he was instrumental in getting my author career off the ground.

When I was querying The Timekeepers War, my first ever novel, I was initially surprised by how well the novel was received by agents and publishers alike. I got many requests to read longer and longer excerpts, but ultimately each of these flickers of hope were snuffed out by rejection.

I couldn’t figure out why such positive responses were going nowhere.

I would probably have given up if it weren’t for the feedback I received from Dave.

He gave me actionable advice on how to make my manuscript where it needed to be. I followed his advice, worked with a developmental editor, and ended up cutting almost 50K words from the book! When I was finished, I asked Dave if I could submit it to him again.

He said yes!

I signed on with Bedlam Press only a few months after my twins were born.

I became a published author because Dave cared enough about my story to reach out and help me. And he continued to be a great support over the years, even while it took me so long to finish book two with three little kids running around my feet. Dave had a passion for great stories and he really cared about the authors he worked with. He will be sorely missed by me, and all of the other author’s he took a chance on.

With Dave’s passing, Necro Publications and Bedlam Press are being dissolved. So as the company’s assets are being sorted through, the trilogy is in limbo.

I do plan on self-publishing the books myself and re-releasing them next year.

So, to those of you who are still patiently waiting for Book 2, I promise you’ll get it! And Book 3 shortly after that.

If you haven’t started the series yet, please hold off on buying it until the new version comes out.

Thanks for reading!

Tropical Tuesday Cover Reveal: M.J. McGriff’s The Secret Library is almost here!

Tropical Tuesday Cover Reveal: M.J. McGriff’s <i>The Secret Library</i> is almost here!

Steaming jungles, huge slithering snakes, and a mysterious prophecy…

Oh, and pirates! Don’t forget the pirates!

Spring has only just sprung here in the Great White (Brown?) North but I’m so ready for some summery beach reads.

Don’t get me wrong. I love springtime, but it takes a touch of the tropics to warm my bones after a long, cold winter.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce the new cover and upcoming releases of one of my favourite indie fantasy writers, The Secret Library by M.J. McGriff!

I have met a lot of fantastic indie writers over the years and I’ve read a lot of fabulous indie books. And M.J. McGriff is one of the most fantastic and fabulous. So I’m thrilled to be able to share the release of her second novel in the Magian Series, The Secret Library.

McGriff writes YA fantasy adventure novels full of swashbuckling pirates, magical prophecies, and tons of sassy dialogue. The Magian Series Book One: Macario’s Scepter is a fast-pasted, rollicking fun book that I read in a single sitting. And I was thrilled to be able to be an advanced reader for it’s sequel, The Secret Library.

If you love Indian Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll love these books!

Happy cover reaveal, M.J. McGriff! It looks amazing!

The Secret Library by M.J. McGriff

When a surly pirate and a treasure-hunting nun fall into a cursed jungle with the Order captain tasked with their capture—what else could possibly go wrong? 

Seraphina Davalos left her seminary and inserted herself into Captain Mari Adlam’s pirate crew to gain passage to a mysterious isle said to hide a secret library. In this library is the knowledge her twin sister—the one chosen by the gods to wield Macario’s Scepter—needs to defeat the awakening monsters and stop the end of the world. 

No big deal, right? Unfortunately, Captain Luis Fozo is much less concerned with taboo myths and impending doom. He’s determined to exact revenge on the pirates responsible for his brother’s death. 

His plan goes sideways, however, when he falls through an ancient portal and is forced to work together with Seraphina and Mari to survive sirens, harpies, diabolical traps, and whatever else the cursed jungle conjures on their path to the library—and escape.  

Their alliance is only temporary, though. He doesn’t believe their conspiracy theories about the world ending in the slightest. And he certainly, most definitely—without question—is not falling for a brave, naive nun who’s as intelligent as she is beautiful.  

It’s only a few days, a few monsters, and a few curses. How bad could it be? 

A funny, page-turning adventure great for fans of Indiana Jones with a dash of Pirates of The Caribbean.

Pre-Order Today and Swag Away!

You can preorder this tropical adventure right now at major retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more! When you do, you can score awesome preorder swag that gets you ready for warmer weather. Just visit @mj_mcgriff’s Instagram bio to preorder the book and submit your receipt for swag!

Discussion

Have you read any good pirate tales lately? Share them in the comments below!

Creative Business 101: How to Build an Author Newsletter in 5 Easy Steps

Author Newsletters.

Everybody tells you we need to have one.

Every author will spend months, and years refusing to believe it.

I addressed some of the concerns writers often have about the value of the newsletter and why I think every writer should have one in Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Three – Newsletters, in which I was apparently attempting to win the “longest blog title of the year award.”

But that’s a different story.

(Did I win?)

Next to the question “Do I really need an author newsletter?” the most common question that I field from my fellow authors is this: “I know I need a newsletter, but where do I start?”

How to Build a Mailing List in 5 Easy Steps

I’m taking a break from refreshing my KDP dashboard to check my pre-order numbers in the last few hours before Tropical Punch goes live on Amazon, to bring you my answer to this question.

There are a lot of different ways to build a newsletter. I’m not going to try to tell you all of them. I’m going to keep things as simple as possible and tell you what I did.

#1 Think of All the Reasons Why a Newsletter Will Not Work For You

Go ahead.

I’ll wait.

I bet you have a list of them ready to fire off at me right now.

I know, because I literally spent years refining and reinforcing this list in my own mind and avoiding what I knew needed to be done.

It’s too hard. It takes too much time. Nobody will read it. Everyone hates junk mail. I don’t want to give away my hard work to freebie seekers.

Are you done yet?

Now, write them down on a piece of paper.

Crumple that paper up into a ball.

And light it on fire.

We’re done with that now. We’re going to commit to giving this a solid effort for 6 months before we give up.

Deal?

Okay then. Now, onto…

#2 Choose a Reader Magnet

A reader magnet is the cookie you are going to use to entice people to join your mailing list.

In order to get the most out of this newsletter experiment, this must be chosen strategically.

Reader Magnets for fiction writers can be: sample chapters, short stories, novellas, or full length novels.

For non-fiction writers: sample chapters, how-to-guides, collections of your favourite blog posts, essays, or complete books. (One marketing expert I follow swears by quizzes as the best magnet for non-fiction writers and other creative businesses. I have no experience with this myself but it’s intriguing! Check out Nikki Clark here.)

I’m going to deal with fiction writers for the most part, but most of these points can be adapted.

Your Reader Magnet Should:

  • Be connected to your other work.
  • Be professionally edited.
  • Have a professional cover.
  • Be a complete story or guide rather than a sample.
  • Have a link in the backmatter where readers can buy the next book.

Let’s break this down a bit.

If you are going to give away for free something that you have put your blood, sweat, and tears into, you want to expect a reasonable return on that investment. The goal of the reader magnet is to lead readers toward buying your other books.

If you are still working on your magnum opus, you can still start building a mailing list. Arguably the best time to start your list is BEFORE you publish anything beyond the reader magnet.

A strategic reader magnet will help you build an audience before your first book even comes out. That’s gold.

EVEN IF YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN ANY OTHER BOOKS YET!

What is a strategic reader magnet?

Ideally, it will be connected to your other work. Best is a direct connection, like a prequel, origin, or backstory for one of your characters. At the very least, it must be in the same sub-genre as your other books.

(Note: If you have more than one series, you can use more than one reader magnet. In this case you will likely need to run two separate mailing lists, unless they genres are closely related. We’re just starting out, though, so pick one.)

In my experience, and from the vast amount of research I’ve done reading about other people experiences, the ideal reader magnets are complete.

Yes, you can make samples work if you end on a great cliffhanger or call to action, but it’s risky. Some people will be annoyed by this, and we don’t want to annoy our readers.

The time they spend reading our work is an investment and we need to treat them with respect.

Where are you in your writing career? Are you still working on your first novel or do you have multiple series under your belt? If you are writing in multiple genres or write standalone novels, the newsletter will be more challenging. But you can still make it work, so long as your reader magnet is designed to attract you ideal reader and it links to the book you want to drive that reader towards.

Choose wisely.

But don’t stress too much. If at first, like me, you use a less than ideal cookie, you can always cull your list later. That’s a good problem to have, trust me!

#3a Set up Your Email Service

MailChimp or MailerLite or whatever other newsletter service. There are dozens.

MailChimp is what I use. I went with MailChimp because it has a higher threshold before you have to pay.

However, there is no customer support with the free version, the program is bloated with a bunch of stuff I never use, and the subscriptions once you do have to pay are much higher than with MailerLite. I will likely switch at some point, as I’m not enamored by the Chimp.

Do some research, but don’t get too bogged down by the options.

At the free level they’re pretty similar and that’s all we need right now.

Before we get started, I have two bonus tips for you:

  1. Consider using an email address connected to your website rather than a generic gmail, outlook, hotmail, yahoo, etc. account. This will increase your odds for landing in people’s inboxes. Plus it looks more professional.
  2. Decide on a name for your mailing list. Don’t call it a newsletter or a mailing list when you’re talking to your readers. We associate this with junk mail. If you call it a Fan Club or a VIP Readers Group or a Reader Club, your readers will feel more like they belong to something special and intimate. And that’s exactly what you want your newsletters to feel like. You are not going to spam them! You are letting them into your world.

On your newsletter service you will:

  • Create a landing page to collect email addresses from your website. Not the “blog follow” emails that send people a notification when you put up a new blog post. This is for your VIP Readers. Organic email address collection from your website will typically be the most engaged people on your list. You may want to create a separate audience for these organic sign ups. Check out Newsletter Ninja: How to Become An Author Mailing List Expert by Tammi Labrecque for more details on this.
  • Create a simple welcome email automation. This is triggered any time someone joins your list. Keep it simple, remind them who you are and why they are receiving this email, request they add you to their contact list, provide a link to follow your preferred socials, or if you have a Facebook Group. One link is best.
  • [Extra Credit] Create a cookie email automation, either with a link to your reader magnet or to another freebie. Reward them early for opening your mails. This can be triggered to sent a couple of days after they sign up.
  • [Extra Credit] Create a series introduction email automation, if you are a series author. Let them know what you’re working on, provide links to your most recent work. Keep the tone friendly and informative, not salesy. This should come a couple of days after your last email.
  • You can make this onboarding sequence as simple or complex as you like. Multi genre authors might get fancy here. In my opinion, simple is better. You only really need the welcome email, and maybe the cookie.
  • Set up BookFunnel (#3b, below) and integrate with your newsletter service. You can integrate with as many sites as you use to collect addresses from. Follow the FAQs of your chosen service. It’s pretty straightforward.

#3b Set up BookFunnel

Yes, there are other newsletter builders out there. Story Origin. King Sumo. There are lots.

I recommend BookFunnel, not because it’s the best or only, but because I have personal experience with it and I feel confident in my recommendation. It costs $100 a year, and is well worth it. You can use it for sending out encrypted Beta and ARC copies as well, which is fantastic.

On BookFunnel you will:

  • Create Your Reader Magnet: Upload the cover file, and the mobi, epup, and PDF files for your manuscript. You can create this using a number of free programs. When I don’t pay for professional formatting, I use Draft2Digital.
  • Create a Landing Page that requires email opt-in.
  • Set up Integration with your Email Service, the FAQ is very helpful if you have troubles.

You can also:

  • Create ARC campaigns.
  • Create Landing Pages that do not require email opt-in, or which can only be accessed by folks already on your list (helpful for when you want to give a freebie to your list but don’t want them sharing that freebie with other people)
  • Gift books to people.
  • Create Printable download codes for in-person events or bookmarks, etc.
  • Lots of other stuff

But the BIG ONE is this:

  • Check out the Promotions tab and join some promos for your genre! It’s so big, in fact, that this is step #4

#4 Join Promos

In BookFunnel you can browse promotions by genre, or by promo type. The two main types are Sales and Newsletter Builders. When you are first starting out, you will be using Newsletter Builders.

What is a BookFunnel Promo?

A Promo is essentially a landing page with a grid of reader magnet books from all the authors who have joined the promotion. Whoever creates the promo will have a particular theme (Witches and Werewolves, or Christmas Horror, or Sweet Country Romance, or whatever). These themes can be broad (SF&F) or very narrow (SF with Strong Female Leads).

When you join a promo (check the guidelines to make sure you’re a good fit) you will agree to share the promo link in your newsletter on a particular day of the promo. You may share as many times as you like on social media, etc. but you must share with your newsletter on the date you say you will. You will be provided with a trackable link, and when the promotion is finished you will be able to see how many people clicked the link. At first, it won’t be a lot because you will have a non-existent list. That’s okay. The important thing is to keep joining promos, and keep sharing on the dates you say you will. The number of promos you have joined and the number of links clicked become your “reputation” and having a higher rep will unlock higher end promos.

That’s a lot of info. Don’t worry about it too much. Here’s how it works:

  1. Join a Promo (I usually join 3-4 that overlap and commit to sharing them all on the same day). Pro Tip: If you are just starting out, you will want to pick a date near the end of the promo if possible, because then you will have some people on your list to click those links when you write your newsletter.
  2. Follow the link to each promo and save the header image/banner image, or create your own in Canva or BookBrush if you’re handy at that kind of thing. Better images get more clicks. Experiment!
  3. On your share date, create your first email campaign. This is just a fancy way of saying write your email. At the bottom of your email, you will post the promo images with your tracking links. This provides value to your readers! Not sure what to write about in the rest of the email? I’ll cover a bit more on that at the end.
  4. Share your images/links as many times as you like on your blog and social media. You can even do a $5 boosted post on Facebook to get more clicks and improve your rep. The more times those links get shared by all authors in the promo, the more eyes are on all of the books. Sharing is caring!
  5. Repeat. With a good cover and joining 3-4 promos a month, you should start seeing a couple hundred newsletter signups a month!

#5 Newsletter Maintenance

You don’t need to make this a full time job. Commit to writing one email a month to share your updates and promo links. Unless you have a rabid and highly engaged audience you don’t want to send out more than two a month. Big authors can get away with one or two a week. But start with one or two a month. It’s more than enough.

What Should I Write About in my Newsletter?

Check out my suggestions here or do a bit of searching on the interwebs. There are lots of lists!

The important things to remember are:

  • Keep it casual and friendly in tone.
  • Use your “natural” voice, be yourself. If your books are full of smut and cursing, you don’t want your emails to be too prim and proper. You want people who don’t “get you” to unsubscribe. Yes. I said that. You don’t want deadweight on your list. You have to pay for those people! Be yourself. If anyone doesn’t like that, they can take a hike. That makes room for someone who does like you.
  • Don’t try to sell anything, yet. You can use your mailing list to shout out new releases and sales, but try to keep it at an 80/20 ratio. 80% of the time you are providing value to them. 20% of the time you can ask them to do something for you, a gentle ask. In my opinion, one email for e-book pre-orders, and one for launch day is plenty. If it’s been a while between releases, you can use your 20% to remind them of an existing series.
  • Provide value. I know I just said that, but it’s important enough to say it twice. Give your readers something. Tell a funny story, share a relevant meme, or pictures of your pets (these will get more engagement than anything, I swear! we love our furbabies!), link to your most popular blog posts that week. Share your BookFunnel promo links.
  • Build engagement. Take a poll, ask to see a picture of their pets (seriously, try it), ask an open ended question and ask readers to “hit reply” to respond then share the results of those responses in your next email (this is great social proof, when people see that other readers are engaging with you they want to be part of the inner circle too!) Engagement helps your emails stay out of the junk mail. Win win!

Extra Maintenance

Keep an eye on your open rates and click rates. This can give you a good idea of what kind of Subject Lines get the most engagement.

You can get fancy and run A/B testing (send half your list one email and the other half a different one and see which performs better)

I don’t. I just mess up and let people unsubscribe.

If they don’t unsubscribe but they haven’t opened one of my emails in the last three months, I unsubscribe them myself.

I would rather have a small, highly engaged mailing list than a big bloated list of people who never open my emails. I aim for an open rate of 50% or higher. If my open rates drop below that, I cull my list. It’s not the only way to do it, but it’s my way.

And I have a great little list!

Unexpected Benefits of Having a Mailing List

These are some of my happy discoveries. My mailing list has:

  • Helped me find new beta and ARC readers.
  • Started some great conversations.
  • Given me motivation to keep writing when I start to feel like no one cares.
  • Given me a place to ask questions and bounce ideas when starting a new series.
  • Helped me find my superfans (it’s a small, but growing list!)

Additional Resources

I highly recommend these books:

Discussion

Do you have a newsletter yet? If so, do you have anything to add to this list?

If you don’t have a newsletter, did this post help answer some of your questions or ease some of your fears?

What else would you like to know?

Dirty Deeds call for Dirty Dames…

There are only two more days until the release of my new cyber noir detective novel Tropical Punch!

To celebrate, I’m giving away Dames for Hire, a prequel novella to the Bubbles in Space series.

Bubbles Marlowe is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written. She’s tough, snarky, and most important of all (to me!) she’s sober! Bubbles is the first sober character I’ve written since I quit drinking three years ago, and I didn’t realize until I started how much I needed to write her.

I’ve long been a fan of hard-boiled detective novels and noir stylings, but these books, many of which were written during and just after prohibition, are steeped in alcohol.

It’s a tradition that has been carried forward into modern detective novels, too. It seems impossible to find a private-eye who doesn’t evade past trauma by diving into the bottom of a bottle. Worse are the novels that glamourize alcohol abuse in such a way that it makes it seem that our heroes thrive because of their addiction rather than in spite of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love me some Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

But I wanted something else, too. I wanted to write a character who reflected not only my own struggles with alcohol, but my freedom from it. I wanted a character who proved you can be sober and a badass!

So here it is…

Click the link to join my VIP Readers’ Club and claim your copy today!

Dirty jobs call for dirty dames.

But this is a bit much…

After a suspicious accident costs her a career, an arm, and nearly her life, Bubbles Marlowe needs all the help she can get.

When a friend asks her to do a little dirty work on the side, Bubbles isn’t prepared for just how dirty it’s going to get.

An arrogant scientist, a young heiress, a gambling king pin, and a few too many hired guns…

Can Bubbles finish the case before it finishes her?

HoloCity’s femme fatales are out in full force in this cybernoir detective thriller.

And these dames don’t mess around.

You’ll love Dames for Hire because it’s got glitter and grit, mystery and hard-boiled badassery.

Get Tropical Punch For Free!

Click the image to Pre-Order your copy today!

Get ready to get PUNCHED

I’m giving away 100 review copies of my new cyber noir detective series on Goodreads!

If you love Sci-Fi and are looking for something fresh and fun, this is the book for you.

Tropical Punch is packed with glitter, grit, off-the-wall humour, and plenty of fast-paced action. You will not be able to put it down!

Enter Today!

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tropical Punch by S.C. Jensen

Tropical Punch

by S.C. Jensen

Giveaway ends March 29, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway
https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/widget/321163

Click the link above to enter the Goodreads Giveaway today! Or, if you want to guarantee you get a copy, you can always pre-order it here.

Winners will be announced on launch day, March 29, 2021.

Do You Love Goodreads?

I have recently restarted my Goodreads account after years of neglect. But I’d love to have more friends over there. So if you’re active on Goodreads, please add me so I can creep your bookshelves and check out what you’re reading and reviewing.

Reading Goals for 2021

Goodreads Reading Challenges have become a big motivator for avid readers and book reviewers in a lot of the online book clubs and groups I belong to, so this year I decided to set a challenge for myself.

I want to read 40 books this year.

I’m already 16 books into my goal, so things are looking promising! This is not including the middle grade and young adult books I read out loud to my kiddos (we do about 1.5 books a month with bedtime reading.)

What’s your reading goal this year? Tell me in the comments!