My Favorite Indie Books

With Indie April now upon us, what better time to re-visit this Medium post from February?

Anyone who’s followed me for any length of time knows I’m a strong supporter of self- and independently-published authors.

Not just because I’m self-published myself, but because so many of my favorite books over the past several years have come from indie authors. Fighting back against the stigma indie books face means shouting from the proverbial rooftops about the books we love, so consider this my bullhorn.

NOTE: Where appropriate, I use a slot for an entire series; that way, entries from that series don’t overwhelm the list.

The Judah Black series by E.A. Copen
(Guilty by AssociationBlood DebtChasing GhostsPlaying with Fire)
I’m a sucker for female protagonists, particularly those who are in jobs where one would traditionally expect to see a man. Enter Judah Black, federal investigator who specializes in the paranormal. Oh, and she’s a single mom. This is a police procedural with werewolves and other such creatures, but whatever you think you know about the genre, there’s more character depth than you might expect. The monsters and the lore are just a backdrop; the real story is Judah and how she balances being a single mother with forging a relationship and dealing with the realities of her job (and I don’t just mean the monsters). Copen is quite the prolific writer (I think she published two more books while I was typing this), and I hope she returns to this series one day.

Floor 21 (series) by Jason Luthor
(Floor 21Floor 21: DescentFloor 21: Judgement)
I’ll admit horror isn’t normally my cup of tea, but this post-apocalyptic first-person trilogy was certainly an exception. Told, at least in part, through a series of audio recordings in a building that’s long been abandoned, but not really, Floor 21 is every bit as intense as it is gruesome. The violence comes in short bursts, and the true horror is developed in the quiet moments, when you realize how the characters got to where they are and how, at least on the surface, everything seems so damn hopeless. It’s not the fear of the monsters right in front of you, it’s the ones lurking around in the dark, in the inaccessible lower floors. What you can’t see is far more dangerous than what you can, and this is a trio of books you’ll be reading with the light on.

Untamed (series) by Madeline Dyer
(UntamedFragmentedDividedDestroyed)
More intimate in scope than most other dystopian novels, Dyer’s Untamed series rightly shifts the focus from the macro storyline (end of the world, possible human conversion that erases all negative human emotion) and puts it instead on the small ragtag gang of characters facing seemingly impossible odds. The series gets darker and more intense with each passing installment, but the focus on Seven and those closest to her never wavers. Most authors would fall into the trap of world-building at the expense of everything else, but Dyer never does — and the result is a quartet of books that never grows stale, never slows down, never relents.

Starstruck (series) by S.E. Anderson
(StarstruckAlienationTravelerCelestialStarboundEarthstuckInalieableDreadknot)
I’ve made it known several times that I think sci-fi as a genre takes itself far too seriously. There’s a place for the grim and the apocalyptic, no doubt, but sometimes, sci-fi needs to be goofy. Laugh-out-loud funny. It’s possible to be intense and action-packed and still bring in the laughs. Enter Anderson’s Starstruck series (which, as of Feb. 22’s release of Dreadknot, is eight books deep). Very much in the vein of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this series gives us something different each book. One’s a murder mystery, another’s a time-hopping adventure, the next is a coming-of-age…Sally is very much out of her element in each installment, and the result is a slapstick and adventurous romp through the galaxy, one I think every sci-fi fan would do well to have on their shelf.

Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
As vibrant and evocative and intense as many of the dimensions its characters inhabit, Dangerous Ways does for high fantasy what Virdi’s Grave Report series does for street-level thrillers. Virdi writes with a free-flowing, quick-witted first-person style that makes the pages fly by, so a book as large as Dangerous Ways doesn’t feel all that large. It’s not just a fantastic exercise in world-building, it’s also the perfect example of how vibrant, memorable characters can elevate a narrative. Mainstays Hawthorne and Cassidy are a delight on their own, but the supporting cast they encounter through several different worlds makes this book feel like a world all its own.

Aix Marks the Spot by S.E. Anderson
One author claims two spots on this list, and Aix Marks the Spot is every bit as worthy of its inclusion — even if it’s night and day from Anderson’s flagship series. This book is emotional and charming and funny and heartfelt in ways big and small. This is mostly a light read, a love letter to Provence, France, but there is a dark undercurrent throughout — one that in the hands of a less capable author could come across as forced or unnecessary. Anderson is at her best here, weaving a personal tale with luminary prose. The coming-of-age story isn’t my first choice — unless there’s superheroes or magic involved — but Aix Marks the Spot is the exception, and it’s one of the more surprisingly emotional books I’ve read.

A Country of Eternal Light by Darby Harn
This book is a masterpiece. It’s crushing and deflating and grim and it will gut you seemingly every other chapter — but it’s also the perfect encapsulation of the stubbornness of the human condition, and you’ll find yourself unable to put the book down. A Country of Eternal Light is spec fic that doesn’t feel like spec fic. It feels more like an exhaustive, raw study of the human condition — constantly asking the question “Why?” Why do humans keep pushing forward, even when things seem completely hopeless? Why keep going when there’s no longer any point? Harn’s focus on the people, not the disaster, makes for a book that’s impossible to put down.

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot
A gripping, disturbing read that is as enthralling as it is uncomfortable, Scot’s series debut follows Rune and Kyder, who are more or less opposite sides of the same coin in a post-apocalyptic world where freedom and power are often illusions. It’s dystopian spec fic that focuses on the two protagonists and their relationships (…such that they are, in Kyder’s case), and Scot showcases a deft pen while taking us along on a tale of violence, debauchery, heartbreak, rage, and pushing forward no matter how bleak things get. Because things are bleak. But Scot is a capable enough writer to not only handle it, but make it impossible to turn away. There are three other entries in the series (and on my TBR), and I don’t see how they won’t be every bit as engrossing (or just gross) as the original.

March 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last 30 days.

This might be a short post, because March is, by far, my day job’s busiest month. And I always overestimate my ability to do book stuff while also juggling the madness.

The only dance I know how to do.

Where’s the Beef?
No book reviews this month, because with the aforementioned March Being A Thing, I didn’t finish any of the books I’m reading. But I am in the process of reading Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot, Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson, and A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer. All are potential five-star reads.

End of an Era?
Don’t tell 20-year-old me, but I am giving serious thought to giving up video games and selling off my collection. I barely play anymore, and the industry has devolved to the point where none of the new machines or games interest me (even games like Gran Turismo 7, and I’m a lifelong GT junkie!). Spare time is precious to me anymore, and I find myself devoting less and less of it to gaming (and when I do game, it’s almost always the older stuff).

Ad Time
I tried another Facebook ad for Notna in March, since Facebook gifted me a $50 credit for a boosted post. I tried the same post I did back in January, but this time, I changed the Buffy comparison to Supernatural (to test my theory) and ran the ad for nearly two weeks (March 6-21), targeted a strictly US audience, and added target filters to include fans of adventure fiction, fantasy books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural.

In all, I reached 4,135 people and got 60 clicks (both increases over the first Facebook ad). The mobile app news feed and suggested videos feed gave me the bulk of my clicks, and almost 70% of my reach was men (…why, I have no idea). Texas and California were the states where I had the most reach, and the effect on sales was…negligible.

So, it’s looking like, while Facebook ads are great for getting eyeballs on my FB page, it doesn’t really do much sales-wise.

Your Mileage May Vary
Are books on writing worth the paper on which they’re printed? For the most part, I say no. Feel free to agree. Or disagree. But don’t use any adverbs, or Stephen King will come after you.

Where Are the Haters?
I was convinced this article would lose me followers, but it seems to have just been…largely ignored. On Medium, I wrote about why I write about the police in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yes, There’s a Difference
I recently wrote about the difference between inspiration and motivation. Yes, those are two completely different things, and they are often mutually exclusive from one another. It’s one of the more maddening aspects of being an author.

Is This Thing On?
I had written another essay for Medium, one where I examine creativity in a theoretical sense, and submitted it to the Writers’ Blokke publication. But…it’s still there. I know they’ve said they’re swamped with content over there, but this is by far the longest it’s taken one of my essays to get posted. Shame, too, because I was really proud of this one.

From the ‘Out of Your Comfort Zone’ Department:
I’ve written a children’s book. You can’t buy it, but you can read about what I learned through the experience.

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So. I Wrote a Children’s Book.

Don’t go looking for it on Amazon. It’s not for sale, and it never will be.

See, this children’s book was a gift. A bit of backstory…

Artwork by Mateo Astronauto

Last June, my boss at my day job announced that he was retiring. After nearly 20 years in his post, and in a decades-long career that was now seeing him inducted into seemingly every Hall of Fame known to man, he was hanging it up as of Dec. 31. When he was inevitably asked what he planned on doing once his life no longer revolved around football games and conference championships and meetings upon meetings upon meetings, my boss said he wanted to give back to school children.

Early childhood education, specifically. He was looking to volunteer his time to school children. So, when we as an office began planning a big get-together to celebrate his career (we settled on a roast), the idea of potential gifts came up…and one of my co-workers, knowing I’m an author, suggested a children’s book detailing our boss’s life and accomplishments.

I agreed, even though I’ve never attempted such a thing before–and at the time, we didn’t have an artist. Those are important when writing children’s books. Essential, even.

Still, I took on the challenge. Knowing full well this was never to be mass produced or made available for public consumption; this book was to be nothing more than a thoughtful gift celebrating everything our boss had done in his illustrious career. In the process of writing what ultimately became known as Little Dennis, I learned a lot about myself, creatively speaking.

First of all, writing a children’s book is not easy. It requires a completely different skill set than novels. Or even short stories. All prose is not created equal, and in the case of children’s books, it has everything to do with the target audience.

See, children’s books aren’t 75,000-word tomes. They’re not giant blocks of seemingly endless text. They’re not an exercise in people trying to impress others with what they think is a massive vocabulary.

Children’s books are short. Colorful. Dramatic. They’re vibrant, quick and to the point.

There’s rhyming. You have to keep the art into consideration (not unlike my first creative love, the comic book). I had to make sure I wasn’t using words small children wouldn’t understand. I wanted to make sure my lines rhymed (even though I know that’s not a requirement for children’s books, a lot of them I know of do rhyme), so in a sense, I was flexing poetic muscles I didn’t realize I had.

And I had to do it all to sum up the life and career of a man who’d accomplished a great deal in almost 50 years.

Amazingly, I had a draft in three days. A draft that, miraculously, didn’t require many edits. We found an artist in short order, and before I knew it, I was looking at a full-fledged art and all draft of Little Dennis. I had somehow managed to check children’s book and biography off my book-to-do list, in one fell swoop, and the reception to the book was overwhelmingly positive.

My former boss loved it when we presented it to him at his roast. Those in attendance also received a copy, and they were as effusive in their praise as he had been.

Don’t look for me to ever write one of these things for the purposes of selling it–writing children’s books is a specific artform, one I don’t think I possess the tools for. This was an exciting challenge, the rare opportunity to stretch my capabilities as a writer, and while I’m proud of the finished product, I don’t think I have anymore of those in me.

Especially when I still have so many ideas that need my attention in the world of novels.

If nothing else, I’ve come to appreciate children’s authors even more. They are magicians with words, in ways those of us who write for adults are not, and I am in awe of anyone who can churn out more than one of those things at any given time.

If nothing else, I get the satisfaction of knowing that every time my former boss reads Little Dennis to a classroom full of schoolchildren, he’ll be showing them my words.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to my superheroes and fight scenes.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Awesome Recommended Indie Reads 6

Lee's Hall of information

Its been a while since I last did one of these but I have been reading again, and most of which were indie books. Let us dive in and take a look at some recent awesome indie reads that I recommend!

Fee Simple Conditional by H.C. Helfand

A gem of a read about life, love and land…

Full Review

Escaping First Contact by T.S. Beier

Original and imaginative space sci-fi full of depth and immersion

Full Review

The Art of Reading: How Reading Can Help You Become a Better, More Productive Writer by J.D. Cunegan

A relatable and open guide about reading to improve your writing…

Full Review

The Art & Business of Writing: A Practical Guide to the Writing Life by ChrisJones

A valuable easy-to-read resource for the modern writer

Full Review

A Twist in the Rift by Meg Radiant

Original page-turning sci-fi with unlimited portals of potential…

Full…

View original post 37 more words

Inspiration vs. Motivation

NOTE: This piece originally published on Medium.

On the surface, inspiration and motivation might seem similar.

While they share some qualities, the two words are actually completely separate things, particularly when it comes to creativity. Inspiration is more big-picture…macro, if you will. Which makes motivation more laser-focused, micro in nature. This also means having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the other.

Inspiration is the driving force that leads you to creating in the first place. A book you fell in love with, a movie that triggered something within you. Whatever unseen force sparked your creative fire and led you to a life of making things up — regardless of your medium of choice — is your inspiration.

Comic books are my inspiration; discovering superhero comics in middle school was the inciting incident that led to me becoming a writer. There have been other sources of inspiration over the years, but the first, everlasting stroke of inspiration came at the hands of Jim Lee and Chris Claremont.

Inspiration is lifelong and nebulous, and it can mean different things to you at different times. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton inspired me, but not in the I-want-to-write-a-musical or I-want-to-write-about-a-Founding-Father way. Instead, Hamilton inspired me to renew my creative efforts as a whole. Not just because Miranda himself is a prolific creator who almost always seems to have at least one iron in the proverbial fire, but also because the musical itself tackles the issue of productivity.

After all, Alexander Hamilton was, among other things, a writer.

The line “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” was key here — because frankly, I haven’t been writing like I’m running out of time, and it felt like Miranda was calling me out for it.

Let this be an example of inspiration hitting any time, from any source — even a piece of art from a genre or medium you’re not necessarily familiar with or a fan of. Plays aren’t my thing, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but every time I watch Hamilton or listen to Miranda speak, I’m inspired to grab my laptop and type away.

Which leads us to that pesky thing called motivation. If inspiration is the impetus for the overall desire to create, motivation is the day-to-day manifestation of that. It’s possible to be inspired, but not motivated — just as it’s possible to be motivated, but not inspired (i.e., “I want to write today, but what?”).

Think of it like this: if you wake up and decide you don’t want to do anything— like, say, go to work — you’re lacking motivation that day. Some days, I’m motivated to write. Others, I’m not. I’m still inspired, but for whatever reason, that particular day, I can’t be arsed to sit in front of the keyboard and peck away.

Some days, I wake up motivated to write. But real life gets in the way, and by the time I’ve taken care of my responsibilities, that motivation is gone. Replaced by exhaustion or frustration (or an ever-so-annoying combination of the two). I’m still inspired; I still want to create. It’s just not happening that day.

In my experience, inspiration is easier to come by than motivation. Maybe it’s simply a lack of discipline on my part, but I find I can’t simply conjure motivation out of thin air. If I’m not motivated that day, I’m not motivated, and trying to change that fact just makes things worse.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is everywhere. I’m inspired whenever I read a really good book (or sometimes, a really bad one). I’m inspired whenever one of my author friends completes a project or has a new release (I think E.A. Copen wrote and released a new book in the time it took me to write this blog post). I’m inspired whenever someone questions my creative bonafides.

I was even inspired when I was browsing the shelves at Barnes & Noble several years ago and saw a copy of Richard Castle’s Heat Wave sitting there. Because if a guy who doesn’t even exist can write and publish books in our world, then why can’t I?

(Never underestimate the inspirational and motivational power of incredulity and spite.)

When it comes to motivation, my only advice is two-fold:

  1. It’s okay to take days off if you’re not feeling it. Forcing it can make things worse, and there’s no hard and fast rule saying you have to write every single day.
  2. Think about what inspires you. Ask yourself why that inspiration still resonates, or if it doesn’t, examine why. Think about what else inspires you. Sometimes, taking a step back and questioning yourself will tell you all you need to know.

Creativity is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always easy. Understanding what inspiration and motivation are, how they relate to each other, and the role they both play in your creative life can make things so much easier for you.

Just remember to go easy on yourself if things aren’t flowing like they normally are; it doesn’t make you a failure and you’re not the only one struggling with it.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Books on Writing: Worth It?

Before we begin, a disclaimer:

The following is my opinion and my opinion alone. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay.

Now, with that out of the way…

I’ve said it before, but for the purposes of this essay, it bears repeating: books on writing, en masse, do nothing for me. The vast majority of them either bore me to tears or make the act of writing sound so intimidating that part of me wants to never see another keyboard.

There are a few exceptions—Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story and Stephen King’s On Writing are personal writing bibles, tomes I revisit when I need a creative boost—but for the most part, this sub-genre of the ‘how-to’ is a waste of space.

In my experience, most books on writing suffer from the same flaw: they typically act as if whatever writing wisdom they’re imparting is gospel. As if whatever they have to say is the only real right way to do things. Which…no.

Writing doesn’t work that way. No creative endeavor does.

You would never tell a painter there’s only one right way to paint. Same for a sculptor or an actor. The artist’s process is as personal as it is vital, and those who act like they know the one true way how to create are, more often than not, trying to sell you something. Something you’re better off without.

Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is guilty of this, on top of being a slog of a read. Remember what I said above about these things being boring? Same goes for Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey. I won’t begrudge anyone who gained something of value from these books, but they suffer from the same flaws in my eyes.

One of the reasons I enjoyed Damn Fine Story so much was because Wendig made it clear—early and repeatedly—that the vast majority of writing advice is bull. Even a lot of what he has to say. Wendig’s goal in Damn Fine Story was less telling you how to write and more getting the gears turning in your head.

Think less how-to and more make-you-want-to.

On Writing is largely the same way. Sure, King has his hard-and-fast rules—no adverbs (I disagree) and writers need to be readers (wholeheartedly agree)—but much of what he says about his own writing, he couches in terms of “this works for me, but it might not necessarily work for you, and that’s okay.”

The cardinal rule of writing is that there are no cardinal rules of writing. Aside from this:

Get the words on the page.

That’s it. It doesn’t matter how you do it. How often you do it. How well you do it. As long as you’re sitting in front of your manuscript, putting one word after another, your process doesn’t matter.

Writing isn’t a math equation. It’s not some paint-by-numbers or connect-the-dots exercise where you’re supposed to go from Point A to Point B to Point…you get the idea. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, and you’re better off wandering with one of those old-school folding maps than your smartphone’s GPS.

There is some value in books on writing that focus more on the structure, the nuts and bolts of writing. Story structure, character creation, the three-act format…there is educational value in that, but at the same time, I find most writers already know those things. Intrinsically. Without even realizing they know it.

Whether it’s something we absorb in reading or watching TV shows and movies, most writers already have some deep-seeded understanding of how stories are supposed to work.

Still, there is value in seeing those “rules” laid out (even if it feels occasionally intimidating). Especially if you’re one of those writers who likes to play with convention and subvert the reader’s expectations. After all, you have to know what the rules are before you break them, right?

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether books on writing are worth your time. Most of us are strapped for time, what with day jobs and writing and other interests…you should never waste your time with a book that doesn’t speak to you. And that includes this particular sub-genre.

Ultimately, these books are largely unnecessary, because the answer to the question “How do I write?” is deceptively simple:

You just do it.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

2022 Writing Snippet #5

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6). Pretty proud of this character moment for Det. Stevens.

Earl Stevens couldn’t remember the last time he was this angry.

Maybe when he was a linebacker at Nebraska and had been called for a facemask penalty that cost his team a spot in the Big 12 championship game (well before that nonsensical decision to join the Big Ten). It had been third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, with the Cornhuskers leading by two. He had sniffed out a slant route and tackled the receiver two yards shy of the first down — but his fingers had gotten tangled in the other player’s helmet, and he had twisted his head just so to give the refs the visual of the ball carrier’s head yanking to the side.

Whistle.

Yellow flag.

Fifteen yards and an automatic first down.

Seconds later, the football sailed through the uprights and Nebraska’s hopes for a national championship were done.

That night was the only time Stevens had ever felt the need to hit someone outside the confines of the gridiron. It hadn’t been his proudest moment, even as he did and said all the right things in the immediate aftermath. But merely thinking of lashing out against the referee had embarrassed Stevens, even though no one else ever knew what had been in his head. He had carried that memory throughout his law enforcement career, using it to keep him calm when dealing with uncooperative suspects or departmental red tape.

But right now? There was a dead body in a hospital within his precinct’s jurisdiction, and someone with the FBI wasn’t letting him by.

The FBI was keeping Earl Stevens from doing his job.

That was unacceptable. He didn’t care if federal law enforcement was around. He didn’t care if the body in question was an FBI agent, as was rumored. Stevens was a homicide detective, and the burly agent standing in front of the hospital room in question was not letting him through to do what he did best. He wondered how many years he would get if he simply drove the guy to the floor. His knees were shot, but Stevens figured he had one more tackle left in him.

What was that song Juanita said reminded her of Stevens? I ain’t as good as I once was…

“See this, hoss?” Stevens smacked his lips and waved his badge in the FBI agent’s face. Again. “This means I get to go in that room and poke the dead body.”

The agent, whose own badge read Bryant, stood motionless. Bulging eyes were hidden by black sunglasses, and his upper lip curled into a sneer. His shoulders lifted, then fell, and he stretched out his hands, fingers interlocked, until knuckles cracked in unison. “See this?” he asked, smacking his large thumb against the badge protruding from his breast pocket. “This means I’m FBI, which means I outrank you.”

“Yeah, but see…” Ramon Gutierrez seemed to appear out of nowhere, placing a gloved hand on Stevens’ shoulder before he could respond. “I’ve got one of those too, and as the lead investigator here, mine says the good detective here can poke away.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4

February 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last…however many days it’s been.

What? Math’s not my strength.

I Review Books Because Throwing Them at People is Frowned Upon
My second batch of book reviews for 2022 highlights a fantastic yet disturbing entry from Halo Scot, an entertaining, if forgettable, read from V.E. Schwab, and a re-read of one of the new Stephen King books I’ve read.

Progress! I’m Making Actual Progress!
Hey! I’m doing the writing thing again! No, really. I sent one of my manuscripts to an editor and hired a cover artist and everything. Plus, the other stuff I’m working on. Read about them here (warning: lesbians and assassins and lesbian assassins await).

Nikki Heat? That’s a Stripper Name!
From the “never underestimate the motivational power of spite” files, I detail how the television show Castle gave me the final push I needed to become a published author. And it’s not the way you might think.

There’s a Country Song in Here Somewhere
Last week, I re-posted an older essay I had written for Medium, in which I detailed the five things I wish I had known when I started this indie author journey. I’m glad I know these things now, but they would’ve saved me a lot of grief back then.

Remembering Kobe
Yes, I know this was posted in January. It still counts, and the message still resonates. Even for this decidedly unathletic author who has all the basketball skills of a sea urchin.

To Apologize or Not to Apologize?

Wares for Sale
I didn’t do any real heavy promotional work in February. Partly to study what I did in January and partly because the main focus was getting the manuscript for Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6) ready to be sent off. I’ll pick things up again in March.

Come On, Don’t You Guys Read? Redux
I pledged to read 35 books in 2022, and while I haven’t finished any books yet in February (how can a month with only 28 days be so freaking long?!), I am currently invested in two books:

Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot
A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer

Fresh Off the Press!
Congratulations to two of my author friends who had new releases in February: Halo Scot with the sci-fi/superhero novella The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams and S.E. Anderson with Dreadknot, the eighth entry in her hilarious Starstruck sci-fi series. I highly recommend picking up these new releases.

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I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

NOTE: This piece originally published on Medium’s Writers’ Blokke.

It’s been quite the journey since Bounty went live on Amazon in 2015.

I call it a journey because of how much I’ve learned in the six years I’ve been able to add the word published in front of author. Not just about the craft of writing, of storytelling itself, but the ins and outs of publishing. Self-publishing, to be specific.

See, the stereotype among the “self-publishing is bad” crowd is that we crank out any old dribble we please and upload it to Amazon without any care for spelling, grammar, or human decency. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we self- and independently-published authors put plenty of time, effort, and work into our stories far beyond the words on the page.

That said, I made a lot of mistakes early on. Chances are, I’m still making mistakes today. Truth is, being a self-published author is a never-ending exercise in learning. We hone our craft, we study market trends, we discover why even the prettiest cover might not work for our book and why the most expensive editor might be the worst one to read your manuscript.

So here are five lessons I’ve learned in the process of publishing six full-length novels, a collection of short stories, a non-fiction book, and submitting three short stories that wound up in published anthologies. Five things I wish I knew before I even started.

These seem obvious in hindsight, but…

You need to market your book before it’s published.

Remember what I said above about some things seeming obvious?

Yeah, well, I published Bounty with no announcement. No fanfare. No website. No social media posts. Nothing. I was on Twitter and Facebook at the time, but those weren’t outlets to plug my writing. I was just a rando with an @. I published Bounty on a whim, mostly to prove to myself I could do it…then I sat there wondering why no one was flocking to Amazon to grab their copy.

(Spoiler alert: it was largely because no one knew about it.)

This has obviously gotten better and easier as I’ve published more books and built up a fanbase of sorts (comparatively meager, though it may be), but it’s not as simple as “if you write it, they will come.” They will only come if they know about it, and hitting Publish in the dark of night and then going to bed isn’t gonna get the word out.

In hindsight, the website and social media should’ve come first. I should’ve set up my newsletter first. I should’ve worked out a marketing strategy of sorts to drum up interest for Bounty before it went live — rather than put it up for sale and try to play catch-up afterward. It wouldn’t have guaranteed anything, but my brand as an author would’ve been stronger if I’d put in the effort to build it beforehand.

Artistic purists won’t like to hear this, but the brand is just as important as the art. It needs just as much attention, if not more at times.

Do not neglect your cover. Repeat: Do NOT neglect your cover!

That old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” sounds great in theory, but in practice, everyone judges books by their covers. Even those of us who say we don’t…we actually do.

Part of the rush job I mentioned above in publishing Bounty included a last-second, thrown-together cover that looked terrible, gave no clue as to what kind of book I’d written, and no one could tell what the image on the cover actually was (and that image will never again see the light of day). My sales reflected this reality because, frankly, I didn’t know any better until I started talking to other self-published authors.

Personal photo from 2018 Tidewater Comicon — These covers looked good, but they weren’t right for my series.

Bounty has gone through three covers, because it took me entirely too long to realize that looking good isn’t enough. The cover has to also say something about what’s on the pages inside, and if you’re writing a series, then each cover has to be consistent enough visually that readers can tell it’s one of yours with just a glance.

Mine didn’t get right until I hired a cover artist who’s also a fan of the series. Sarah Anderson knows what makes my books tic, and she’s a great cover artist to begin with, so it’s a partnership I should’ve struck way sooner than I did.

Like it or not, the cover can make or break your book.

In marketing your book, less sometimes means more.

It can be tempting to shout your Amazon link to the world 15 times a day, every day, for an entire calendar year. Sometimes, it might even feel like that’s what you have to do. But that’s not necessarily true, especially on social media. In fact, social media users (and the ever-nebulous algorithms) detest that sort of thing; Twitter will actually suppress tweets that include links (this isn’t because the little blue bird hates you — it’s likely an attempt to get you to use Twitter’s [paid] advertising service).

Fact is, social media posts actively selling your work only work a small fraction of the time. The bulk of my success, marketing-wise, has come from 1) newsletters (mine and in paying newsletter services to have my work added to their content), 2) actually connecting with potential readers beyond simply plugging my book, and 3) creating more content (i.e., writing more books…keep this one in mind for later).

Endless hashtags won’t sell books. Endlessly posting your link in #writerslift threads might actually hurt your engagements. Even those who follow you because they like your books won’t want to see you hawking your wares 24/7.

Make sure you’re still presenting yourself as a person, not just someone desperate for a sale (even if you are, in fact, desperate for a sale).

Immerse yourself in the indie author community.

There are several reasons to do this. First and foremost, the vast majority of indie authors are kickass people, and who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with kickass people? You’ll also likely find a treasure trove of great books to read on top of all that. What’s not to like?!

Don’t expect all these other authors to buy your work, though. Some will, and some might become huge fans of yours, but consider anything like that a bonus.

Note the key word above: community.

Indie authors don’t have large publishing houses supporting us; most of what we do is all on our own. That can be great in many ways, but it can also be a pain. An expensive pain. Immersing yourself in the indie community can help with that; you might find a cover artist willing to work for a discount or an editor who accepts payment plans or you might find an author you can trade services with (i.e., I’ll edit your manuscript if you do my cover art).

I offer freelance editing services for a fraction of what other editors charge for just this reason; I want to help other indie authors get their stories out in the world.

Who would know your struggles as an indie author better than other indie authors? We don’t view each other as competition, and the vast majority of us are glad to help out any way we can (even if it’s something small, like retweeting your book link).

Sometimes, your best marketing tool is to keep writing.

There’s a saying that the best way to promote your first book is to release your second. There’s a nugget of truth to that, because from what I can tell, the authors with the largest libraries tend to be some of the most popular.

Imagine you stumbled upon a book you loved. You tore through it in a day and then you went to find the author on Amazon, only to discover…what you read was all they had, and there was no sign that they were working on anything else (even worse if that book was supposed to be the start of a series).

Before publishing Betrayal in April 2020, I had gone nearly three years between releases, and I truly think that was part of my issue. I wasn’t putting out enough content at a consistent rate, and with my series in limbo because of this…

Some writers will complete several books before releasing any of them; that way, they have a backlog of content they can release at whatever interval they choose without worrying about what happens if the words suddenly dry up for no reason. Whether you do that is up to you (that’s the beauty of the indie author game), but keep in mind productivity might be your best friend from a marketing perspective.

That’s not to say you need to release something every month. But whatever schedule you choose — a new book every six months, one new release a year — try to keep that consistent, so your fans know what to expect.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if I had known these five things before I published Bounty, I think that book launch would’ve been much more successful and I might be a better, more popular author today.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Project Updates: February 2022

Progress! Is being made! It’s a thing! Promise!

Exclamation points!

(Okay, I’ll stop. Maybe.)

Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6)
Revisions are complete, and the manuscript will shortly be in the hands of my series editor once logistics and payment are sorted out. I’ve also solicited the outstanding Sarah Anderson for the cover, so be on the lookout in the coming weeks and months for a cover reveal, a blurb, and possibly even a release date. All signs point to the longest, most intense, and violent book in this series hitting (virtual) shelves sometime in 2022. Then work will start on book 7 in the series, tentatively titled Big Apple, and the plan is to not wait two or three years before that one’s out.

Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries
I’ve begun my third attempt at a full first draft of the closest thing I will ever write to a true love story. My 2020 NaNoWriMo project had a lot of potential, and most of the words from that go-round have survived (largely) intact, but I think I’ve found a much more streamlined way to tell this story of lesbian assassins and all the naughty things they do (maybe so streamlined that this will become a standalone novel, rather than a duology or trilogy). There may or may not also be a cover of sorts in the works, but I’m going to keep the lid on that at least until I have a completed first draft. I’m excited for this project, have been since the day it first popped into my head. Now I just have to, you know, write it.

Prelude to Hellion
This short story collection, meant to launch a brand-new series, is roughly 3/4 done (in fact, newsletter subscribers have been receiving an exclusive sneak peek into one of the stories that will be in this collection; if you want in on goodies like that, just sign up for my newsletter). The stories within will set the stage for the new series, while taking concepts from both Notna and the Jill Andersen series, and some of these stories, on top of being fun to write, will also be crucial building blocks to the world these characters–new and familiar–inhabit.

Land of the Free (Hellion #1)
The first book in a series I’m dubbing West Wing meets Supernatural began as my 2021 NaNoWriMo project, and while I fell way short of the 50,000-word goal, it’s not because I didn’t know what to write. The story is there, the characters are there, it’s simply a matter of me putting together all the puzzle pieces in a way that will satisfy those who’ve been with me from the beginning, while also enticing new readers. I’m really excited by the potential this series has, even as time is making parts of this series far more relevant than I’d like.

Y’all have no idea how great it feels to have actual progress to share. I came into 2022 with the intent of getting back on the proverbial horse, and so far, that effort is bearing fruit. Maybe not fruit that’s edible any time soon, Bitter End aside, but rest assured the words are being typed and the creative juices are flowing.

Which, after the past two years, is all I can ask for.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.