Three Great Books for Aspiring Writers


In a literate society, most everybody can read and write. Inevitably, when word gets out that someone is an author, someone else will inquire about how to go about doing what an author does.

I have found three books that make for a great recommendation list for any aspiring author. Combined, these three will guide the would-be scribe all the way from idea to finished product to marketing on Amazon.

First, the aspiring writer should learn how to write. The classic for this pursuit is Stephen King’s On Writing. Part autobiography, part “how-to” manual, King walks the reader through everything a good writer needs to know. If a college kid asks about writing for a living, this is the first book I point them toward.

Next comes the question of publication. These days, a new writer can make far more money as an independent than trying to spend years finding an agent and getting a contract with a traditional New York publishing house.

But, being an indie author who actually makes some money beyond enough to buy a six pack of soda each month takes planning and work. Lots of work. The best “how-to” book I’ve come across for this line of work is Write. Publish. Repeat. The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success by Platt, Truant, and Wright. These guys run the Self Publishing Podcast, among other things, and the book is full of practical information for indie authors. (Find current episodes on iTunes.)

Finally, a great book to fine tune your product is Chris Fox’s Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells. If you enjoy writing, and you want people to pay you money for what you write, then you have to write to market. You should approach novels with a plan, and Fox details what is needed for success.

There’s tons of other books out there to help people learn to write, write better, and sell what they’ve written. But these three are the essentials, in my opinion, to do well as an independent author.

Phasers in the Wild West

I still get hits to an article I wrote a while back, Lasers vs. Lead in Science Fiction: Pew-Pew or Pow-Pow?

In it I explored the use of gunpowder weapons in science fiction, notably in the movie Aliens but also on occasion even in places like the original Star Trek (where admittedly, they were described as antiques).

These thoughts were running through my head while writing the first Redwood book, which takes place on the second-farthest planet from Earth. At that distance, technology has to be super reliable, because fixing things that break becomes problematic. Consequently, a lot of the technology in that book is relatively simple.

I’m reminded of the whole discussion again thanks to my new work in progress, which is an alternative history where technology is about 200 years or so farther along than in our timeline, but most of the key events remain the same. The American Revolution was televised. Drones and AI played a role in the American Civil War, etc.

So yes, in this book, cowboys on the plains get to shoot “pew-pew” weapons at each other.

If you’d like a sneak peek at a rough draft of the first couple of chapters, jump on my mailing list and I’ll send it your way.


photo credit: DAKKAR via photopin (license)

Advertising for Indie Authors Part 3: Twitter

Running an ad campaign on Twitter provides some interesting benefits. If you’ve ever tweeted something out and wondered how successful it was, once you become a Twitter advertiser you’ll get tools that let you see performance stats on all your tweets. That alone is worth the price of admission, in my opinion. Once logged into Twitter, under your Profiles and Settings, click Twitter Ads to get started.

Twitter provides some good info on what people do with your tweets. Under the Analytics page, you can see your most popular tweets, find the number of impressions they made (number of times they showed up for other people), the number of engagements, and the engagement rate percentage. Obviously, those tweets with a higher engagement rate are more successful than others.

Engagements include detail expansions, likes, when a user clicks on your profile from the tweet, retweets other users give you, clicks on links in the tweet, number of people who decided to follow you after reading the tweet, hashtag clicks, and engagement with media linked in the tweet.

Under Promotions, Twitter lets you pay to keep a tweet active. For instance, it can show up in your followers’ tweet streams or stay near the top of a hashtag list. Twitter will offer goals for your tweets, such as link clicks, or additional followers. These vary by price. The more you pay, the longer the tweet stays active, and the greater number of results. Ten dollars is a reasonable sum to play around with to get a feel for what you’re doing.

Twitter ads can easily get expensive, but they do seem to be one way to spread the word about a book. Again, book sales seem to be a numbers game. If a hundred people look at your book’s page online, maybe a few will buy it. Paying too much for people to look at the page will quickly outstrip the royalties received from sales.


The allure of dystopia in fiction

Many young adult novels these days seem to be set in dystopian near future worlds. Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent spring to mind. So, what is the allure of dystopia, and why do so many speculative fiction authors set their works in such worlds?

Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia. Wikipedia has a nice entry:

… a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is literally translated as “not-good place” … Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. Dystopian societies appear in many sub-genres of fiction and are often used to draw attention to real-world issues regarding society, environment, politics, economics, religion, psychology, ethics, science, and/or technology, which if unaddressed could potentially lead to such a dystopia-like condition.

I think, for a writer, dystopian settings allow them to explore worlds that are familiar, yet different enough to engage the plot in compelling ways. Since the world is messed up, and the powers that be are making a mess of things, the protagonists can figure out ways to excel in the fractured environment while hopefully changing it for the better.

Check out my list of the top 10 best dystopian novels here.


Read for free the first five chapters of my book Redwood: Agent of the State, a science fiction adventure thriller, on Goodreads or get the complete Kindle ebook on Amazon for only 99 cents

Lasers vs. lead in science fiction: pew pew or pow pow?

I recall watching Alien the first time. The late 70s were a grand time for science fiction movies. Star Wars took the world by storm, with light sabers and laser guns. Alien was different, though. Instead of zipping through space at warp speed, Ripley and friends stayed in animated suspension until arriving at their destination. Also in the movie and its sequels, traditional bullet-firing guns took out the aliens rather than futuristic laser guns.

Does a science fiction book or movie have to always use laser guns? Certainly Ripley’s guns, especially in Aliens, the 1986 sequel, were more traditional lead and gunpowder based, although they looked futuristic.

Sometimes traditional guns may appear in a futuristic plot as an anachronism, like in the Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun.” Other times, they may prove integral to the plot as in Star Trek’s “Shore Leave.”

There’s actually a lot to be said about lower level technology playing a role in a futuristic setting. Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction novel Time Enough for Love was set in part on a “pioneer planet” where low tech was used for initial human settlement. Most famously, mules were used in place of modern engines. M.U.L.E. became an early educational videogame based on the idea.

So, sometimes a science fiction writer doesn’t have to incorporate high tech futuristic items. I think technology should fit well in the story. If that means less “pew pew” and more “pow pow” to make the plot go forward, all the better.


Read for free the first five chapters of my book Redwood: Agent of the State, a science fiction adventure thriller, on Goodreads or get the complete Kindle ebook on Amazon for only 99 cents

Three ways for handling interstellar travel in speculative fiction

When preparing to write a science fiction novel, I had to choose between ways for my characters to travel between worlds. This is, I believe, critical to deciding even before writing. So as food for thought, here are some of the ways speculative fiction writers can handle interstellar travel in their works.

1. Warp drive – Perhaps most famous thanks to the Star Trek and Star Wars series, in this method space ships able to travel faster than light can flit between the planets in a matter of hours. While convenient for moving the plot, Einstein had some things to say about speeds faster than light. But hey, it’s fiction.

2. Cryogenic sleep – In the Alien movies starring Sigourney Weaver, the characters remain in a deep sleep as their ships travel at realistic speeds. Sometimes hundreds of years pass before the ships’ computer awakens them and the action commences.

3. Star gates – In fiction such as the Stargate movies and television series, a wormhole or portal of some kind allows instantaneous travel across vast distances of space. In my own Redwood novels, manmade gates orbit around planets allowing relatively easy travel between worlds, although it still takes a couple weeks to get a spaceship out to the gates. A recent Tech Times article discussing the movie Interstellar notes this mode of travel may be possible.

There are other methods of moving characters around, teleportation between planets for instance. But, these three seem to me to be the most common.


For a selection of how I’ve tackled the issue, please check out my Amazon page at