Updated draft of the cover! We’re making progress, slowly but surely. You can see it has the prison camp now and we got rid of the “Squire Chad” bit, so all it has now is the Solomon Code Series. Much better. I actually thought of “Solomon Code” before any of the individual books—just because it sounded cool and biblical. I didn’t even know about the legends with Solomon and the Nephilim. Crazy how things work out.
It’s not final. We need to tweak the symbol more—thinking of getting rid of the lower diamond and adding the Hebrew for “Nephilim” up there. And we’re getting rid of “Afalstein” and just changing it to JD Kloosterman, because exotic pen names are overrated and there’s no point in hanging onto an old Fanfiction.net username based off a misspelled version of an Ivanhoe side character.
If you want to read the book early or are just into free copies, you can go here for an Advance Reviewer Copy. If they’re gone (there’s only 20 copies available there) you can reach out to me some other way. Just be aware that it’s got high-schoolers talking like, well, high schoolers. https://booksprout.co/arc/45049/the-nephilim-protocol
So in a bit I’m going to share the second chapter with you (the first chapter is here, or you can follow along on Wattpad here), but also, because I’m desperately trying to turn this into a book blog in the course of two weeks, I’m going to talk a bit about self-marketing.
I hate it. It’s terrible.
My creative writing prof at university warned us. He said, “I spend about as much time on marketing my writing as I do on the actual writing.” And I believed him, but it’s one of those “you need to get hit by a brick to understand how much it hurts” things.
As a writer, you have this notion that, oh, if I’m good enough, people will just naturally read my book, so really writing is all I need to know. And that’s wrong, of course, because there are millions of things being published these days. Amazon will literally let whoever can upload a document publish a book. I know because that’s what I’m doing. Even if you’re traditionally published, publishing houses often won’t waste much time/money promoting you, for basically this same reason. (I’d assumed this was the big advantage of traditional publishers, but according to multiple sources, unless you’re already famous or likely to win them actual money, they don’t want to spend a lot on you.)
So you need to self-promote.
And this galls me, because promotion is not my thing. It’s not just me, the career advisor at the college I went to often lamented that the biggest difficulty he had was getting all these Christian students who’d been taught to be chronically modest to actually sell themselves in interviews. I hate being that friend who says “Hey, I published a totally-not-mediocre story, you should buy it to prove you’re my friend.”
But I’ve been trying. This blog is one example. I’ve also been posting old fanfics around anyplace I could, with taglines in the bottom advertising for my book. As much as is possible within the rules, I’ve been promoting my blog in different fangroups on Facebook. I’ve been posting pictures on DevART like no one’s business.
Good grief, just saying it aloud sounds ridiculous.
Anyway, there’s a lot of stuff I wish I’d done sooner—one of which is this blog, because ha you can’t build up an audience in two weeks. And because nearly everyone I’ve met wants to publish a book some day (or release an album, or make a viral video, or…), I thought I might as well talk about what I wish I’d done earlier.
Amazon/Goodread reviews are the lifeblood of authors; the best way to get noticed. And the quicker you get them the better, because Amazon’s algorithm naturally rates a book that’s got 50 reviews in its first week higher than a book that’s gotten 75 over several years. So what a lot of authors do is give out ARC’s (Advanced Reader Copies) to people for free. You can’t buy reviews, but giving books out for free gets your book into more hands, and doing it early makes it more likely that you’ll get some reviews very early in the process.
What this means is that you need to get them to people quickly and give them a concrete deadline. I screwed this up. I got them to my readers (mostly long-suffering friends and fellow writers) at the start of the month and told them that I’d be publishing it at the end. Then I changed the date to Sept 7th. Partly because ARC websites, which coordinate anonymous giveaways, usually require more time Booksprouts can fit it in in two weeks (or says it is), but Booksirens take some time to check the book over before you can submit it. And Hidden Gems requires a year-long advance notice (at least for YA books) Most, too, want the copy you’re handing out to be more or less print-ready, which means you need to get other stuff in order first, like…
If you’re going to promo your book at all, you should have the cover already set. It works as attraction to the promo itself, and it also shows people what exactly is going to be on the shelf. So if you’re doing a Kickstarter or something, people are more likely to fund a book with an actual cover, and even just looking at the cover is a bit of hype building. (A couple published friends of mine said their agent had them set up their own Kickstarters to help cover expenses—another thing I thought traditional houses do) Same goes for ARC appeals and “Reader magnets”
Then there’s other promo stuff that you actively need the cover for. Facebook ads, book trailers (which still strike me as a weird idea and I have my doubts about their usefulness, but eh), promos to post on your blog, say. One writer swears by little bookmarks that you can leave around libraries. You need visuals for that, and they should be the actual copy, not these altered ones I keep showing around.
I talked about “pre-made” covers last time, and I imagine if you go for one of them you get a pretty quick turnaround, but custom jobs take time if you want to get it right. I commissioned mine (thinking to get a pre-made which turned into a custom) at the start of the month, and we’re still working on it–mostly because I keep altering stuff. We’ll get it done, but I wish I’d started sooner.
Social Media following
This is the bit on traditional publishing that really gets me. Traditional publishing houses recommend that artists “build a social media following” to promote their book. Which, okay, every little bit helps, I’m sure. But it really seems like 90% of publishers’ jobs are telling authors to do stuff themselves.
(I might possibly be bitter about no agent or publishing house picking up my manuscript. Sort of a “fox-and-the-sour-grapes type scenario.)
But again, how do you do this? “Get a social media following” seems akin to “become really popular,” which is beyond most people–certainly most writers. As I said in an earlier post, I spent most of my childhood being deliberately introverted. Now I’m like that guy who runs around trying to talk to everyone at a party, desperately trying to make friends.
Nobody likes that guy.
I know I have to do it. But I wish I didn’t. I wish it could be as simple as writing a good story. That, I do know how to do, because I’ve been working at that for forever.
Anyway, here’s the second chapter of the novel. It’s much shorter than the first, though the warnings about language still apply. Again, if you’re interested in the full novel, you can currently get a copy for free either by going to this website or talking to me.
My eyeballs feel gummy. Like specifically, my left eye feels like it’s actually made out of mushy glue, and I’m pretty sure if I open it something’s going to tear. My whole body has a curious warmth to it, and my mouth feels dry and pasty.
Also I really need to pee.
That’s what makes me finally open my eyes, because gummy eyeballs or not, it’s impossible for me to go back to sleep, however much I might want to. I’m also slowly becoming aware that I’m being shaken about, like in a very bad bus ride, and that there’s a dull roaring sound. It’s all forcing itself through the gumminess of my head, and the whole thing is so weird I just have to open my eyes.
Except when I open my eyes, the only thing I can see is a gleaming gun barrel.
“Crap, the neff’s up!” There’s a voice somewhere behind the gun barrel. “Where the hell is that syringe?”
“We’re out, sir! We were only fitted for the other three, we didn’t expect a fourth. We spent the backup already!”
“Shit.” I’m starting to see the speaker. His red goggles have a faint glow to them, enough for me to make out the blue camo and the dark little goatee. His grip tightens on the gun in his hands. “And Wolfe’ll have my balls, I show up with one of these dead.”
I can’t move. I’m wrapped in some sort of straitjacket–or maybe just a giant sleeping bag of some kind. It feels like there’s giant metal bands tightened around my arms.
“Listen up, neff” the man with the goatee says. “This airplane is nearly a mile up in the air. You try to break out, there’s nowhere to go but down, and hitting the ground WILL hurt.”
My eyesight’s starting to come back. I can see now a long corridor of metal, with benches lining the side and the occasional glass porthole in the wall. Cargo netting is hanging from the walls, and opposite me are two giant gleaming bags, like huge leather sausages.
There’s also about ten men, in the blue-camo uniforms from before, on their feet with guns drawn, pointed at me.
I lick my lips. “Hi?” My voice cracks, a little. Like I said, my whole mouth’s dry.
The men do not relax. One of them looks to the man with the goatee. “Pilot says fifteen minutes to the drop zone, sir.”
“Fine,” Grim Goatee says. “Just wonderful. Any chance of us being out of this storm by then?”
The man winces. “No sir. Should we abort?
Grim Goatee gives him a glare. “We got four ANIs on board here. You really wanna take them back towards civilization?”
A new look enters the man’s eyes, and his jaw juts out. “No sir.”
Grim Goatee gives a nod, as if he expected this answer. “Half-measures aren’t an option here. If it needs to be done, we do it.” He looks back at me. “Five-man teams to each ANI. Dog Team will jump with me on this guy. Wolf Team stands by for containment protocol. Have the cockpit sealed off and tell the pilots to monitor the jump.”
“Yes sir.” The guy moves off.
Grim Goatee is still studying me. “You’re holding still, so I’m guessing you’ve decided to be smart about this.” He relaxes, slightly. “You weren’t supposed to wake up for another hour or so, but I guess that’s the price of having another neff dumped on us in an emergency.”
“Neff,” I say. “ANI. The ‘N’ stands for ‘neff?’”
His smile disappears fast. “Hey.” His teeth glint in the darkness beneath the red goggles. “Aren’t we a clever boy? Come on, let’s get you strapped up.”
They leave me in the big black cocoon and more or less haul me over to the back of the plane, right in front of the big bay doors in the back. I see them getting the other cocoons off the wall, along with a third I hadn’t seen before. There’s… helmets on tops of the bags. No, heads. Wearing helmets.
“All right, just stand here for a bit,” says Grim Goatee. He goes behind me. “Ever been skydiving before, clever boy?”
“No.” I used to dream about flying a lot, but that was years ago.
“Well, this should be fun then.” I hear him say. Something tightens on the back of my cocoon. Another soldier is fitting a helmet over my head. “You know how they sometimes do those jumps where the dumb tourists ‘jump’ with actual professionals hanging onto their backs?”
“Yeah?” I say. Something else tightens. I notice the other cocoons each are strapped to a blue-camo guy—strapped to their front like a baby carrier. It looks oddly hilarious—or it would if I wasn’t suddenly getting a very bad feeling about this.
“Well, anyway, here’s the relevant detail.” Grim Goatee says, from somewhere just over my shoulder. “The parachute’s actually attached to me, not you. So if you try to throw me off, you drop like an overly-tall weak-chested bodybag of rocks. Clear?”
I try to twist around to look at him. “You’re not seriously saying…”
The doors drop open to the howling darkness. A red light on the side turns green, Grim Goatee yells something, and suddenly we’re hurtling out the doors into empty air.
Bizarrely, I can’t even scream. I don’t even really feel the desire to. It’s a world of darkness and I’m just rushing downward. You know when you jump out a window and there’s a horrible second or two before you hit the ground? This is like that, except it just keeps going.
There must be some sort of night-vision goggles in the helmet. I’m starting to see things better. Off to our right are five other guys. Off to the left are four others. There’s one below us… probably a few more above that I can’t see either.
Wind catches us and we flip over in mid-air, momentarily. I see the airplane above us holy shit that’s so small already. There’s some sort of bright light like a flame hanging over it. It’s just a glimpse and then we’re whirling around again.
“Damnit, these winds. Squad, wait to deploy,” Grim Goatee says, his voice terse. “Tango, I said wait!”
The guy below us gets flipped over backwards, once, twice. I’ve seen videos of skydivers doing all sorts of tricks, but this looks a bit… different. His arms and legs are flailing.
“Foxtrot, you’re drifting… Foxtrot keep formation! Charlie, dive, Foxtrot’s…” Grim Goatee jerks above me and I get a sudden wide angle view of the guys on the left.
They’re clearly in trouble. The wind’s playing with them like ragdolls, and just as I look over, I see one of the parachuters slam into one of the others, bodily. Both of them go limp and start to tumble around in the air.
“Damnit! Baker, rendezvous with Charlie and Foxtrot, get their chutes deployed! The rest of you, keep formation! Watch your partners! We’re almost to… Tango!”
The backpack of the guy below us blossoms outward, and suddenly there’s a huge black rectangle blotting out our view of the ocean. We rush toward it horrifically fast, but Grim Goatee does some acrobatics and rolls us off to the side just in time. As we shoot past, I get just a glimpse of a body, caught up in cables like a web.
“Tango, you fucking…” Grim Goatee is swearing. “No one deploy their chutes! The next man to deploy their chute before they reach altitude, I will personally drag their ass in front of Wolfe!”
We’re falling to our deaths, and he’s threatening them with a performance review?
Two other guys shoot past us. They’re angling their bodies downward, in a dive—to get out of the wind as soon as possible, I guess. One at a time, their chutes are deploying below us. Grim Goatee isn’t yelling, so it must be where they’re supposed to be.
“Fuck, you shit-ass little deadweight,” Grim Goatee says. I assume he’s talking to me. “If it weren’t for you I could get out of this cloud too and—damnit!”
I see what he’s swearing about. One of the parachutes below just got twisted up like a plastic bag. There’s something struggling around inside it. Two of the others don’t look right.
“Sierra, Tango, cut loose your chutes and go to backups!” Grim Goatee snaps off orders. “Whiskey…” He bites off whatever he was going to say. There’s a jerk behind me, then a great yank upwards under my armpits, and suddenly I’m falling much more slowly.
I look upwards. I don’t exactly see the parachute, but there’s a part of the sky that’s noticeably darker than the rest.
“Stop squirming, neff!” Grim Goatee slaps me on the helmet. Probably doesn’t hurt as much as he means it to, but it’s a bit of a shock.
I can’t see the other parachutes anymore. I feel Grim Goatee twisting around behind me, but he doesn’t say anything immediately.
A fresh gust of wind hits us, and I almost throw up. Falling through the air is one thing, but this feels like being on a giant yo-yo.
“Fuck!” Grim Goatee is twisting like mad. “Be advised, be advised, updrafts, updraft winds by north cape, bear west, bear west!”
The island is coming up awfully fast. I can make out the ridges of mountains, now. Not many trees.
“First chute error, switching to second chute!” There’s a jerk, and the island is suddenly rushing at us again. Then another upward jerk, and again we’re drifting down. But we’re drifting… faster, I think.
“Sierra, Tango, status report!” A short silence. “Whiskey, report in!” Somewhat longer silence. “Shit.”
The next fifteen minutes is something of a blur. The wind tosses us up, back, and sideways, and things are swirling about too fast to see. At one point I get a bizarre image of one of the parachuters standing in the air, but then we whip away and it’s gone. The helmet gets jammed over my eyes and I can’t see anything for at least five minutes until it gets dislodged again and I can see.
I see the ground. It’s white, full of trees, and it’s coming up fast.
“Neff, we’re coming in fast,” I hear Grim Goatee say. “This is going to hurt really bad if you don’t do what I say. When I tell you, stick your legs out and keep them out. If you don’t, we’re going to flip over and you’re going to faceplant in the ground, and that will fucking hurt. So do what I say.”
“Got it,” I manage to say.
“Right.” Another gust of wind hits us and the landscape suddenly flies away under us. “Shit shit shit… now! Legs out, now, damnit!”
I stick out my legs, and almost immediately we crash into snow, plowing through it, sending it flying up in plumes of white.
“Keep those legs out!”
“I am!” I shout back. “Where do you get off…”
Out of nowhere, there’s a gust of wind. Something lifts up under my armpits and suddenly we’re sailing upwards through the air. I get a few flashes of the landscape—upside down, sideways, backwards–before everything goes black. I just have time to realize that’s because I’m looking at the sky before the back of my head slams into something and pain explodes white across my vision.