Newsletter 4/19/2016

I want to take a moment to extend a warm welcome to all the new readers who've subscribed to this humble little newsletter. Over the past year we have more than quadrupled and now these missives go out to 2,863 folks. A lot of newcomers have arrived after coming across my first book, Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0. I love hearing from all of you and it's been a true delight to see a community start to build around the stories...

Cumulus coming out May 5th

I'm excited to share that my next novel, Cumulus, has an official release date: May 5th! You can check out the gorgeous cover design here. The Kindle version is available for preorder here.

Cumulus is a standalone novel set in a near-future where economic inequality and persistent surveillance push Oakland to the brink of civil war. Feedback has started to roll in from advance readers and I'm really excited about how the story came together. Here's the very first blurb:

"Cumulus is a prophetic Bay Area thriller, a Jason-Bourne-meets-Silicon-Valley story of escalating technology, inequality and a crumbling state. When a former CIA-operative-turned-hired-gun joins forces with tech giant Cumulus, cracks in the digital facade emerge, laid bare by a powerful and simple analog alternative. In today's world where intimate personal details are just another row in someone's 'big data,' Cumulus is a stark reminder that data are power--and absolute data corrupt absolutely."
-Andrew Chamberlain, Ph.D., Chief Economist, Glassdoor

The last edits have been submitted, the typography has been set, the formatting is complete, and the final files are being prepared for distribution. I can't wait to get it into your hands.

How to build an organic fanbase if you write novels

You’ve written a book, but who’s gonna read it?

Now that I’m working on my fifth novel, I get a lot of inbound questions from aspiring writers. Some ask about craft. Some ask about inspiration. Many ask about building an audience for their own work.

I’m usually hesitant to dispense advice because every creative person makes art in their own way. Despite that, we all love directives, especially in list format. They force the writer to form strong, concise opinions which we can quickly identify or disagree with. So here we go. Here are some simple tips I give aspiring novelists looking to attract readers:
  1. Write. A lot. It’s funny how many writers don’t actually spend much time writing. Write. Write Write. It’s the only way you’re going to hit your 10,000 hours and really hone your craft. In fiction, the rule of thumb is that you start getting good after your first 10 novels.
  2. Write a book you love. Hopefully, others like you will also fall for your story. Fans who truly love your writing will champion your work. I don’t buy books because of banner ads or billboards. I read books because people I trust recommend them. Word of mouth is the way good books find new readers. It’s not about shouting as loud as you can to try to reach new people. It’s about delighting people that are already enamored with your books and stoking their enthusiasm even more.
  3. Read. Challenge yourself. Read books that make you think. Read books that make you feel. Read the best books you can get your hands on. Share your favorites. We want to know what piques your fancy. Always be reading.
  4. Do things that improve people’s lives. If you share your book on social, invite people into your life rather than plugging your book. If you go on a podcast, don’t just talk about yourself. Instead, think about what you might be able to share that would make a real impact for listeners. If you write a guest post, don’t just try to drive traffic to your work. Craft something that’s valuable on its own as a piece of evergreen content. Put the interests of your readers ahead of your own.
  5. Fans are humans, so treat them like people. Don’t think of them as metrics, customers, engagements, or anything else. Even if you only have a few readers, do everything you can to make their day. Don’t force email blasts into their inboxes. Send them personal, substantive notes that show how much you appreciate and respect them. I respond to every single email from folks who subscribe to my author newsletter. The more we treat each other humanely, the more we earn each other’s respect.
Wait, not so fast! Don’t browse around for another article to read. Write the next chapter instead.

This article ran in The Writing Cooperative.

3 quick writing tips for novelists

A friend who's in the middle of drafting his first novel just emailed me asking for a few writing tips. I fired off a response and then realized it might be worth sharing here. Now that I'm working on my fifth novel, I've found that fiction is mostly a "learn by doing" craft. Prescriptive advice can only take you so far. That said, here are a few things I try to keep in mind:
  1. Only write the important/exciting/dramatic/conflict-filled bits. A story is just a series of extremely brief snapshots into a character's life, the reader fills in the rest in their head. So skip the boring parts, even if they feel necessary.
  2. Think of your characters as friends, not fictional figments. They're real people with real lives that extend far beyond the confines of the story. If you drop occasional random details from the rest of their lives, we realize they're humans rather than dramatis personae.
  3. Pour your whole self into your writing. It's tempting to try to save your best work for a key moment or future scene. Instead, pack your pathos into everything. The more you give, the more you make yourself vulnerable, the more the story will resonate.
Finally, write. Novelists are in it for the long hall. Writing when you feel inspired is easy. Writing when you feel uninspired is what distinguishes novelists. When you look back on your own work later, you probably won't even be able to tell the difference between pieces you wrote with the muse whispering in your ear and those where inspiration abandoned you.

This article ran in Life Learning.

What's the deal with VR?

Trying to figure out why VR is all the rage right now even though you probably haven't tried it? A few weeks ago I got to try an pre-release "room scale" VR rig at a secret lab down in SoCal. After donning the goggles, my immediate reaction was "WOW." I was suddenly standing in another world, a world in which I could spray paint in 3D and walk through my own creations, a world in which I struggled to fix a mad scientist's robot before it exploded. The part about experiencing VR that's impossible to capture in an article, photo, or Youtube video is that you feel like you're really there.
Luckily, our friend Josh Anon just wrote up this comprehensive guide to understanding what the deal is VR and why everyone seems to be freaking out about it. Josh spent 10 years at Pixar, knows pretty much everyone working on VR, and is the most knowledgeable human I know on the subject. If you're curious, his guide is a good place to start:

Reading Recommendation: Antifragile

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an acerbic, thought-provoking book about things that gain from disorder and volatility. Taleb mixes refreshing pragmatism with profound skepticism and is ruthless in his arguments against the fundamental inconsistencies baked into everything from financial speculation to medical research. Antifragile is jam packed with ideas. Although I disagreed with some of them, the overall package is stimulating and not-to-be-missed.

Audiobook of Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 is now available

Audiobooks hold a special place in my heart. Since I was a kid, I've always loved listening to stories. My parents entranced me with bedtime tales and one baby sitter read me The Hobbit over the course of a number of extended sessions. As I got older, we started to listen to books-on-tape on family road trips. If I came home from school early, my ritual was to munch on chips and salsa while listening to an audiobook borrowed from the Oakland Public Library.

That's why I'm so delighted to share that the audiobook of my first novel, Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0, is now available. You can find it right here:

Audio is becoming a richer format than ever before. Podcasts have exploded in popularity, especially since Serial captured the attention of the nation. Audiobooks have been on the rise and are a big growth factor in the book business as more and more people plug in earbuds to explore new worlds during their commute.

But producing an audiobook takes some doing. Drea and I reviewed over forty auditions from different voice actors and production companies before selecting the narrator who we thought best captured Mara and the spirit of The Uncommon Series. Jennifer O'Donnell did a fabulous job and The Brick Shop in Brooklyn was masterful in post production. Fun fact, it's less entertaining than you might imagine to listen to your own audiobook. I reviewed all the final files myself but I already knew all the spoilers!

Give it a listen and let me know what you think. I'm excited with the results and look forward to reading your reviews. Production on the audiobook for Uncommon Stock: Power Play will start soon...