Kirkus Review of The Autumn Republic

Another review is in for The Autumn Republic! This time it's from Kirkus, who have given the third book in the Powder Mage Trilogy a starred review. I'm very happy with this one. I've quoted the best bit below, or you can read the whole thing here.

"...fully realized characters contend with a stunning tangle of plots, counterplots, perfidies and conundrums against a highly textured backdrop. The action sequences that intersperse all this are as ferocious as ever, and it’s so inventive that it sometimes seems as though McClellan’s doing it just because he can.

A slam-bang conclusion to an outstanding trilogy."

Yeah! I'm so excited Just eight weeks from today until The Autumn Republic hits shelves.

Kinnen Hotel Hardcover

I got the proofs of the hardcover for Murder at the Kinnen Hotel this week. After a little bit of color adjusting, I've approved the proofs and sent my order to the printer. That means I can put the hardcover up for pre-order!

Here's how this is going to work: the first 100 hardcovers will be signed, dated, and numbered. Once again, these are first-come, first-serve during the pre-order phase. Once the numbered editions are sold out you'll just get a signed and dated edition. Numbered editions are not guaranteed, so get your order in quick.

If you got one of the initial batch of 100 of Forsworn and Servant of the Crown, you have until the 19th of December to request the corresponding numbered edition of Kinnen Hotel. The logistics of this are a bit overwhelming, but I'm going to do my very best to match these up for people.

The hardcovers of Kinnen Hotel will ship by the second week of January (but quite possibly sooner). PRE-ORDER NOW.

Publishers Weekly on Autumn Republic

I'm very pleased to report that one of the earliest reviews of book three in the Powder Mage Trilogy, The Autumn Republic, is a glowing piece from Publishers Weekly! The paywall may prevent you from seeing the full review here, so I've quoted some tidbits below:

" and moving conclusion to McClellan's French Revolution-inspired fantasy."

"McClellan is unafraid to show tragic consequences and he wisely resists tying up his plot into a too-neat conclusion, allowing some character deaths and glimpses of the unending work of nation-building."

"...will please fantasy readers with a historical bent and a taste of the bittersweet."

The Autumn Republic is out February 10th! Find out where you can pre-order here.

Final Deal of the Year

The Black Friday sale for my website store finished this morning, but people are still doing their holiday shopping, so...

Between now and the 26th of December, you can get 30% off all copies of Promise of Blood in the store with the code BLACKPOWDERCHRISTMAS. You can now also get the entire collection of Powder Mage short fiction in just one download for $9.99 ($12 if you buy them separately).

Happy Holidays everybody!

And for your viewing pleasure: a Lego Field Marshal Tamas sent to me by a fan!

Weekend Buys: Black Friday Edition

Here are some book recommendations for the Black Friday shopper out there on the interwebs. Instead of my usual "three books" post, I'm just throwing up some cool deals for books/series/authors that I enjoy and letting you guys go to town.

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth - $24.99 - What's this doing here? It's not a book! Well too bad, because it's my blog. Civ: BE has gotten mixed reviews but I know a lot of people have been waiting for it to go on sale to give it a try. Personally, I'm a big fan and since it's 50% off, you should hop on.

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Boxed Set - $15.00 - The Mistborn Trilogy in mass market paperback. It's a staple fantasy read these days, and this would make a great gift for the budding fantasy reader.

Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance ebook - $3.75 - The second book in Brandon's Stormlight Archive mega-series. Good time to grab it if you've read the first and been waiting to get this one. Or get them both together. Way of Kings is only $7.68.

Sam Syke's City Stained Red ebook - $1.99 - Sam is a friend and fellow Orbit author, and this book is the first in his new series. I loved it enough to give it a blurb.

James S.A. Corey's Cibola Burns ebook - $3.75 - The latest in the Expanse series. The best space opera has to offer. Seriously, I love this series and if you haven't started reading it yet you should do so now. Book one, Leviathan Wakes, is just $5.99.

Printing and Distributing a Hardcover as an Author

Ever since I self-published the first powder mage short story as an ebook, I've had people asking me if there will be print versions of my short fiction for their bookshelves. From the beginning, I kind of waved it off as something I'd like to do eventually but which sounded like a giant pain in the butt. I had novels to write, after all, and I don't like to spend more than 2 weeks worth of work time on any of my short fiction.

I went on writing more, and longer, short fiction, and I'd still get the question about print versions rather frequently. It was pretty easy to brush off over Twitter or Facebook. Then I went to Salt Lake Comic Con, where I sold a lot of books and interacted with a lot of fans and was asked about the short fiction way more than I had ever been online.

I was sharing a booth with Schlock Mercenary and was able to talk with Howard and Sandra Taylor about self-publishing print books. That made the whole idea sound way less intimidating so when I got home, I started to figure out what needed to be done.

My first decision was what, exactly, to publish. At this point I had three short stories and two novellas out. The short stories were too short to print individually. I didn't like the idea of an anthology because I enjoy putting out short fiction set whenever and wherever I feel like in the Powder Mage Universe, and I felt that an anthology should have some sort of theme or set or be providing closure to a particular time period. Basically, I want each story to still be read on it's own (some of you may find this reasoning stupid, but it's how I feel for now). But I realized the two novellas (Forsworn and Servant of the Crown) are each just big enough to make cool little chapbook-type things.

I did a little informal polling on twitter and got some initial cost estimates from online printers and decided to do go with a more expensive, but nicer and more collectible, hardcover.

I met with a locally-headquartered printer that I happened to have a personal connection to (HF Group, who I recommend) and talked through some of my concerns about quality control. Feeling good about the process, I emailed with their production people. I found out what they'd need from me and the printing costs involved.

We had to turn the ebook cover on the left into a print cover on the right.

At this point I had a formatted ebook and an ebook cover. I needed to get both of these turned into print-ready PDFs. Maybe I could have done that on my own, but I don't hate myself so I contracted it out to people who did this kind of thing professionally. That process took a week or two.

The printer took my files and sent me a proof of each book. This showed me what they'd look like, and I was able to see for myself the pros and cons of glossy vinyl versus matte covers (I went with matte). I talked through a couple of changes with them, and the books were sent to final printing.

Once I had proofs (and not before), I felt pretty confident about taking orders on the novellas. I was selling signed, dated, and numbered editions for the first hundred so I sold them in a bundle to make my life easier. Luckily, I already had a store set up to sell print copies of my novels and ebooks of my short fiction.

The ordering was a bit hectic. I ran a small advertising campaign on Facebook and Twitter (nothing paid, just outreach to fans), and sent out a newsletter. The numbered editions sold out in two days, which was a way better response than I'd expected. Fans asked a lot of questions during the process.

Printing had a few kinks, which we managed to work out but that set shipping back by an extra week. That meant answering several emails about when the books would be sent out.

Then came the shipping. Oh, the shipping.

Signing around 250 books and personalizing about fifty of those, and then packaging and addressing them took almost as much of my time as the entire rest of the project together. I'll admit I could streamline the process quite a bit - for instance, I had to hand address every package because Squarespace's system was being a jerk with every label printing software I tried.

Finally, the post office. I had to eat some extra cost on several international shipments because I was an idiot. And I couldn't figure out how to get a ship-from-home option to work for media mail so I wound up spending an hour checking out at the post office.

Some things I discovered:

  1. Everyone I had working on the different aspects of the hardcovers were people I already had personal or profession relationships with. That made the entire thing SO much easier (and cheaper) than it would have been.
  2. Selling via Amazon just wrecks the profit margins on these. I still haven't decided whether to put them up there or not. Increased visibility versus losing the majority of the profit on each book. Also, I'm required to buy an ISBN which I don't need for the ebook. Amazon still hasn't answered several inquiries about getting an exemption.
  3. I should have bit the bullet and paid for a membership to to aid with shipping. I learned this too late for my first shipment, but I'll use it in the future. More intuitive than the USPS option and lets me select media mail.
  4. You have to decide where you draw the line at pleasing fans/providing something cool and unique versus convenience for yourself. The numbered copies were fun and I think people really enjoyed them, but making sure I had them all stacked and organized and paired properly took a ton of time and energy. And people will want their matching numbers for future novellas.

Final thoughts: Stretched over the course of about about two months, the whole project took me the equivalent of around four working days to research and coordinate the printing and then to do all the signing and shipping. That might not sound like much time in total, but It's a lot of logistical stuff to keep track of for one person and many uncounted hours of agonizing over little tiny things. In the end it was worth it. Fans have received their books and seem to really love them.

On a purely mercenary level, I made enough money for me to do it again, and having extra things to sell at conventions will be very nice. I already have the cover and print-ready PDF prepared for the printer for the next Powder Mage novella, Murder at the Kinnen Hotel. Pre-orders for that should be up mid-December.

Proof for the next Powder Mage Novella hardcover, out by the end of the year. In ebook now.

Murder at the Kinnen Hotel

The newest powder mage novella is now on sale! Here's the cover copy:

Special Detective Constable Adamat may be the most capable young investigator in all of Adopest. He's sharp, thoughtful, and his particular sorcery gives him a flawless memory. A transfer to the First Precinct seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase his abilities and advance his career.

But things work differently in the First Precinct. The murder of a businessman's mistress quickly pulls Adamat into an unexpected world of conspiracy and politics where he's forced to use all his wits to stay one step ahead of unseen enemies and keep his friends—and himself—from the guillotine.

Occurs twenty-two years before the events in Promise of Blood.

An End to Every Kerfluffle

As many of you have heard, it was announced yesterday that Amazon and Hachette (my publisher) have finally come to an agreement that will end months of bickering.

This is a huge relief to myself, as well as the other authors published by Hachette, and takes a giant weight off my shoulders going into the holiday (ie, selling) season.

For those wondering how this changes things for the reader:

The price drops, at least for now, are rather significant and I suspect will result in a reasonable jump in interest for the series over the holidays. More importantly, pre-orders on Autumn Republic will likely make a huge difference for how well the book launches come February 10th.

Thanks to all my awesome readers, and to the people at Amazon and Hachette for finally getting this thing hammered out!



Quick update on the status of the novella hardbacks:

There was an issue at the printer where the art on the cover of Servant of the Crown did not align with the spine. They're reprinting the covers and they plan on having the books to me by early-to-mid next week. Forsworn was fine and should arrive this afternoon.

I'm hoping to have everyone's books, including the signed Promise of Blood and Crimson Campaign copies you ordered, by the end of next week.

Thanks everyone for your patience, and if you'd like to pre-order the novellas we still have some available here.

The Economics of a Book Fair from an Author's Perspective

A couple of days ago, I spent the better part of the morning and afternoon at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, Ohio. I did a lot of smiling and hand shaking, and spent a lot of time tweeting about the way old people tend to nod condescendingly when you tell them that you write epic fantasy.

See, I have a love-hate relationship with book fairs. I spend most of my professional life chained to my office chair, hammering away at the keyboard, so when there's a book fair or I'm invited for a signing or some such thing, I tend not to stop and wonder if it's really worth my time. I get excited and go and pitch my book to strangers and, quicker than I care to admit, my patience for telling middle-aged men that no, it's not a historical novel about the Civil War tends to wear thin.

By the time the book fair is over, I'm tired and I don't sell that many books so I tell myself there's no way I'm coming back next year. Then next year rolls around and I remember the tasty free lunch and the way it felt when I did successfully pitch my book, so I sign up to do it again.

On the way home from Wooster this year I began to think about the economics of the book fair. Forgetting the positive or negative emotional impact, I wanted to take a look at whether this was actually paying for itself for me, the author.

First, a couple thoughts.

  • I don't think Adult SFF is a best-selling genre at these book fairs. I've noticed that the big sellers tend to be inspirational, local non-fiction, mystery, and sports. Even better if the books hit more than one category. YA also sells fantastic, but that's it's own beast. So if you write one of those (or even if you write SFF) your experience may vary WILDLY.
  • Book fairs will likely be different depending on where they're located. This one is out in farm country Ohio, so local non-fiction and sports are the headliners. I did quite a bit better at Books by the Banks in downtown Cincinnati last year.
  • I don't have solid numbers on attendance at this book fair, but I'd guess a couple thousand readers and (I was told) around 85 authors of all genres.

Next, the numbers:

This year, I sold eighteen books. Fourteen of those were Promise of Blood in trade paperback and four of those were Crimson Campaign in hardcover. I make 7.5% of the cover price of trade paperbacks and 10% for hardcovers. Let's ignore the fact that these are royalties against an advance, which I've already been paid and will not earn out for a while. Our math will be percent times cover price times units sold.

  • .075 x 16 x 14 = $16.80
  • .1 x 26 x 4 = $10.40
  • Total royalties: $27.80

The event itself was six and a half hours, and we were asked to be there a half hour early. The drive from my house was an hour and a half each way. That's ten hours of my time. It was a 78 mile drive each way, at an assumed 25MPG, at an assumed $3/gallon of gas for a cost of $18.72 in gas money (which is tax deductible).

I made $9.08 in profit over ten hours. $.91 an hour. So, uh, not looking so good for the use of our time is it?

Let's take this a bit further. I'm going to share a few anecdotes:

  • I had three people come up and tell me they had my books on ebook and loved my work and didn't know I was here and would look for me next year for a copy of Autumn Republic.
  • I had one guy come up who bought Promise of Blood as a gift for his son when he attended last year. He said that he was going to buy Crimson Campaign this year but noticed just that morning that his son had already bought and read it on his own. We chatted and I told him he could pre-order Autumn Republic and he picked up a signed book plate.
  • I had two people who bought the book this year that remembered seeing me last year, being interested, but not having the money.
  • Of the half dozen or so people who came by that had already read my books, every one of them mentioned how they had been telling their family and friends about me. Several had hooked at least one other person on the series.

What I'm getting from all this is that these book fairs, beyond the cold sale of eighteen copies, have a ripple effect that is utterly impossible to predict. Adult SFF, perhaps even beyond other genres, depends on word of mouth to create a successful novel.

I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that those eighteen sales could very well, over the next year, result in another forty or more sales. In fact, let's say that's the case. Assuming an average royalty of $1.75 a book times 40 books, I'll add another $70 to our $9.08 for a profit of $79.08 or $7.91/hr in royalties.

Ew. That's still not looking that great.

Okay. So book fairs are, financially speaking, not that awesome of a time investment. At least not for me. I could have made a lot more money staying at home and working on the next powder mage novella. The only thing I can do is file that financial report away in my brain next to all my other experiences and impressions from the book fair and look at them all in one big lump to decide whether it was actually worth my time.

Overall, I sold to new fans and connected with current ones and deepened my impression on the reading community, which can't really be quantified.

The final question is whether I should go back next year and I'll be honest: I have no idea. It'll probably depend on what kind of mood I'm in when registration opens up because I'm an author, damn it, and I'm fickle as hell.

A last anecdote: it was around 12PM, less than half way through the day, and I was already tired and grumpy. Then a girl shows up and begins to absolutely bubble about my books. She adored Promise of Blood, I'm up there with GRRM in her mind, she's part way through Crimson Campaign. She's wore a cool Adran uniform-esque jacket just to meet me and she wants a picture.

It made the whole trip worth it.

Novella Hardcovers

Orders are now open for hardcovers of both powder mage novellas, Forsworn and Servant of the Crown. They will be signed and dated. Orders are open as a bundle first.

*The first first run has sold out. I've ordered another run of each and restocked the store, but this run will not be numbered. Thanks to everyone who ordered!*

For more information, read below the cut.

For those of you that follow me on Twitter, I've been talking about turning the novellas into hardcovers ever since Salt Lake Comic Con, where I received a huge number of requests for physical copies. Well, the proofs have finally landed on my desk!

In the above picture, Servant of the Crown is a textured glossy and Forsworn is matte. I like the feel of the glossy, but it shows imperfections easily and it's already showing a crack along the spine, so the final of both books will be matte.

Weekend Buys 10/17/2014

“Each weekend I recommend three books. Some are books I’ve read and some are books I want to read. Some have been written by my friends. Or maybe I’ll just post a good deal I saw online. Just a little something to expose you to the kind of books that interest me.”

My current read is a book called How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. I'll start out by saying that I've only read the first section (on glass), and I paid for the hardcover, and I already feel like I got my money's worth.

It's truly fascinating and will appeal greatly to the type of people who like to watch Dirty Jobs or How It's Made and other fascinating "behind the scenes" kind of science and industry. As I said, the hardcover is well worth it--but the ebook is also only $4.99 right now, so yeah. Grab it.



You know how I'm always going on about my "to read" list? Well, here's another that's been on it for quite a while. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin has been heaped with all sorts of awesome praise. It's on sale for $1.99 right now, and we share a publisher which is always fun. For an extra bonus, the entire trilogy is finished already. You can get The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods without having to wait for release dates.



I think I've visited Terry Pratchett before on Weekend Buys, but you know what? It's my website, I'll do it again if I want. The first Pratchett book I ever read (and still one of my very favorites) is Mort. It's the story of a hapless young man who becomes apprenticed to Death. It's hilarious, I think a great entry into the Discworld books if you've never read them.

t's just $3.79 right now and it appears that many of the other Discworld ebooks are also sitting at bargain price. Two of my favorites are Going Postal and Night Watch.


Novella Giveaway!

Been a while since we had a giveaway around these parts, and I woke up feeling like this would be a good week for it. So here's what we have for today:

Forsworn is the first of two novellas I've written in the Powder Mage Universe (the second being Servant of the Crown). It follows the plight of a young Kez powder mage about thirty-five years before the beginning of Promise of Blood. Here's the cover copy:

Erika ja Leora is a powder mage in northern Kez, a place where that particular sorcery is punishable by death. She is only protected by her family name and her position as heir to a duchy. 

When she decides to help a young commoner—a powder mage marked for death, fugitive from the law—she puts her life and family reputation at risk and sets off to deliver her new ward to the safety of Adro while playing cat and mouse with the king's own mage hunters and their captain, Duke Nikslaus.


You can download a zip file of the novella that includes a PDF, mobi, and epub, by clicking RIGHT HERE. I'll leave the download up through this Saturday, the 18th. --GIVEAWAY OVER--

If you'd like to go ahead and purchase Forsworn, just follow this link. You can also get your hands on Servant of the Crown and the rest of the Powder Mage short stories including "The Girl of Hrusch Avenue," "Hope's End," and "Face in the Window."

Oh, and what the heck. Here's a coupon for 10% off signed and dated copies of Promise of Blood in my store. Just use the code FG1014.

Weekend Buys 9/26/2014

Haven't done a Weekend Buys for a while, so thought I'd throw one up.

“Each weekend I recommend three books. Some are books I’ve read and some are books I want to read. Some have been written by my friends. Or maybe I’ll just post a good deal I saw online. Just a little something to expose you to the kind of books that interest me.”

You might remember that back during the spring, when I last did these Weekend Buys updates, I mentioned Stephen Blackmoore's Dead Things and how it looked awesome, Stephen was a cool guy, and I wanted to read the book. Well since then I have read Dead Things as well as the sequel, Broken Souls, and both books are really freaking awesome.

I will give a content warning. The series is about a necromancer in LA, and all the horrible things that go with it. Lots of gore. But it's SO GOOD. Get both Dead Things and Broken Souls. They're $5.99 each, which really is a steal for an afternoon of fun.

This summer I took a big chunk of time to catch up on my reading, including the aforementioned Dead Things. One book I haven't gotten to yet, which I really, really need to get to, is The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley. Not just because he spells his first name right, but because everyone I've talked to who read it has really enjoyed it. Right now is a good time to get your mitts on the ebook of Emperor's Blades, because it's only $2.99. I have no idea how long it'll be that price.


Finally, we'll take a look at a book most of you have (or should have) already read. Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book in Brandon Sanderson's first trilogy and it's currently on sale for $2.99. I read this book for the first time while taking his class a bajillion years ago and loved it enough to get in hardcover even though I was a poor college student. For those keeping score, the whole trilogy (Mistborn, Well of Ascension, Hero of Ages) has been out for some time, so you won't have to wait for a conclusion.






Review of the Short Fiction

Over the weekend, Fantasy Faction had a great write-up and review of all the Powder Mage short fiction so far. There are plenty of people still on the fence about whether to get into them, so this might help sway you!

Someone made a comment on my Facebook page that they'd love to see prequels to the Powder Mage Trilogy. FYI, the short fiction pretty much are the prequels. I don't know if I'll ever expand to novel-length works during that time period of the universe, but I'll definitely be writing more novellas. I think they work better for the purpose of expanding the universe.

Audiobook for The Autumn Republic

Audiobook listeners will be pleased to hear that Orbit will be doing an audiobook of The Autumn Republic. It will be read by Christian Rodska and released February 10th.

These things are always up in the air pending sales of the previous audiobooks and availability of the reader, so I'm very happy that this is the case. Everyone I've talked to has absolutely loved Christian's reading.

Don't forget that you can pre-order signed physical copies of The Autumn Republic directly from me through my store, as well as regular signed copies through a number of other venues as found here. I'll update that list as it grows.

Honey Harvest

Today I'm going to step away from your regularly-scheduled writing and Powder Mage updates for something a little different. As many of you know, I keep a hive of honey bees. Yesterday was our fall harvest and I thought I'd walk you all through it. If, like me, you find this kind of thing interesting then read on! If not, go grab a Powder Mage novella and read quietly in the corner.

The hive I harvested was a first-year hive (the hive from last year was sick this spring and has now died off completely). A first year hive means they have just a couple thousand bees to start off and probably won't make a lot of honey. We ended up having four (out of possible 6) medium supers filled, and I left three of those for the bees to winter over. That left me with a single super, plus a couple of choice frames from the next one down because I'm greedy.

Getting equipment ready. Plastic jars (in the bag), extractor, 5-gallon bucket, and uncapping tank..

Getting equipment ready. Plastic jars (in the bag), extractor, 5-gallon bucket, and uncapping tank..

A super full of honey.

A super full of honey.

I got stung once pulling the top super off the hive and emptying it of bees. One girl climbed up my pantleg and stung when I tried to gently shake her out. Sadness. Everything else went smoothly and I brought the whole thing inside!

A frame full of capped honey. Pretty much the ideal frame.

A frame full of capped honey. Pretty much the ideal frame.

Doing the cleanup work.

Doing the cleanup work.

The first thing you do is uncap the honey. You can see my uncapping knife in the picture below. One of these days I'll spring for an electric uncapping knife. The one I use has to be dipped in hot water between frames so it's hot enough to cut through the wax. I also use an uncapping scratcher to pick the caps off of any cells that the knife missed.


Uncapping knife in action.

Uncapping knife in action.

I'm getting better. The last harvest (two years ago, as last year was a tough time for the bees) I wound up just butchering the wax. You can see below what it looks like post-uncapping. You do this to both sides.


Once I have three frames decapped on both sides, I put them into the honey extractor and give them a spin. If the weight distribution is even it's a breeze. If it's off a little, the whole thing wobbles and shakes all over the place and I have to hug it close.

This is the best part of the whole process because you suddenly go from having a wooden frame full of sticky stuff you stole from a bunch of bugs to a drum full of gorgeous honey.

Once you've spun the extractor for fifteen seconds or so in each direction, you lift the lid and check the frames. If they're clean, take them out and move on to the next trio. My extractor lets me get through six frames before it's too full to spin, at which point we open up the cap in the bottom and let it filter through a sieve to get all the bug bits and wax out.

Above you can see a video of the honey pouring out of the bottom of the extractor. Very satisfying moment! Once we've gone through all the frames, it's time for cleanup, wax processing, and honey bottling.

All the honey dripping out of the wax cappings. Saved a good two pounds of honey this way!

All the honey dripping out of the wax cappings. Saved a good two pounds of honey this way!

The final result after all the filtering. About three gallons (36 pounds) of gorgeous wildflower honey.

The final result after all the filtering. About three gallons (36 pounds) of gorgeous wildflower honey.

After the extraction, I put the empty frames outside in front of the hive and the bees come and clean them all up for me so I can put them in storage for the winter.

After the extraction, I put the empty frames outside in front of the hive and the bees come and clean them all up for me so I can put them in storage for the winter.

The final product!

The final product!

Signing in Willoughby

Local friends!

I'm participating in an "Author Expo" at the Willoughby Hills Community Center in Willoughby Hills. That's happening this coming Saturday, September 13th, from 11AM to 3PM. I'll be hanging out signing books and chatting with fans. There will also be several dozen area authors in attendance, if you're looking to support the local crowd and find something new!

They'll have copies of Promise of Blood and Crimson Campaign. Drop by and get a book or just say hi!