Author Archives: Cy Wyss

Cy Wyss

About Cy Wyss

I am an author currently residing in the Indianapolis area. I write and review mysteries, thrillers, and science fiction.

review of The Gwythienian by Savannah Goins


★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Enzi is a seventeen year old outcast, uncomfortable in her own body ever since she was attacked and grossly scarred at the age of ten. We never really find out what happened to her, but someone named Caleb was at fault and still walks around in her town a free man. Hopefully, we’ll never meet him outside of a morgue. Enzi is a likable character, in spite of being overweight and having no obvious special talents. I wish the author had given her something besides pure pluck, like making her good at math, or an amazing artist. In spite of this lack, I found myself rooting for Enzi from the get-go, always a sign of a good story.

And, the story is very good. It kept me interested. I was hardly able to put the book down once Enzi met Gaedyn the Gwythienian. I think everyone will be a little in love with Gaedyn, not just Enzi. This is a story that’s been told before, of a special stone and it’s “Possessor,” a guardian and an unwelcome human in a fantasy land. Still, Goins tells her version with obvious love for her characters and an unusual sensitivity to their predicaments. I especially liked that Enzi suffered a particular “female problem” during her quest. I’ve never seen that in any other book with a female hero, and it’s always on my mind because (spoken or not) every woman has to deal with it. That and Goins’s general attentiveness to detail really carry the book. I recommend The Gwythienian to anyone looking for a YA adventure that’s easy to get into and hard to put down.

review of Abandon Hope by Michael Decamp

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Hope is a thirteen year old girl who disappears from the tiny town of Cutter’s Notch, Indiana. Nightmare scenarios run through the minds of all who know her. The story is laced through with paranormal activity, from dark spectres to elves and flying reindeer. I feel the heroes are perfect as middle grade youths, because kids at that age are still open to magic. Any older, and their acceptance of the unlikely phenomena threading through their adventure would rank over the top for implausibility. In some ways, the bleak setting of Cutter’s Notch was incommensurate with the overall positive vibe of the book, however the main characters’ strength more than made up for the discord.

I found myself constantly wondering what the author would throw at his characters next, which is to say I was gripped by their plights. The eponymous character, Hope, (gratuitous title pun notwithstanding) is a very likable and capable young woman, not the wimpy victim of older fables who waits to be rescued by her hero. Hope’s supporting cast is dynamic and believable, each contributing his or her own power to the situation. The elves seem like something of a cross between Keebler and Tolkien, an unusual mix of pettiness and spirituality. I enjoyed the book and found it an easy read, with a minimum of inconsistency or errors. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys a light middle grade thriller or a fun spiritual twist.

review of Circumstantial Truth by Ian Welch

circumstantialtruth

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Circumstantial Truth is the story of Zach Carmichael and, to a lesser extent, his dog Shadow. Shadow is the loyal friend who stick by Zach during some tough times, including betrayal by the people he loves most. One day, Zach finds a dead body. He can’t help but go to the police, including a police detective who becomes suspicious of his find. Zach is then framed for the murder of the man, someone he’d never met. Zach spends much of the book in prison, where a series of coincidences has him meeting people who eventually lead him to the real killers. With the help of his cellmate’s sister, Zach works to clear his name, in spite of the police detective getting in his way.

I found Zach a little too passive, and the coincidences of meeting people who know each other to be too many. Surely New Zealand isn’t that small. And the setting is New Zealand, which took me a while to figure out. Their gun laws differ from those in America, they are much stricter. The book could have used some editing, as there are errors that will pop you out of the story now and again. Much of the story takes place in a tiny town away from Auckland, as well as in Auckland itself. The characters were interesting and fairly well drawn. Sometimes their motivation was a bit sketchy, and the main villain was more of a caricature. The story is what really carries the book. You want to know how Zach will clear his name (or even if he’ll clear his name), with so much stacked against him. Overall, a reasonable work with a measured pace.

review of Dream Faces by Steve Shanks

DreamFaces

★★★☆☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Dream Faces is the story of artist Mark Stephens, a man blessed (or cursed) with foresight as he dreams of missing girls and paints them, months before they’re declared missing. Both the police and the bad guys (some small-time Russian mobster and his incompetent henchman) are very interested in Mark’s ability. Mark is just an ordinary guy, by his own admission not even a weightlifter or martial artist of any kind. How will he be able to stand up to the mobster and help the girls? The book is unpredictable, which makes it fun. I won’t spoil the ending by saying whether it is happy or not, but during the ride at least one unnecessarily grievous event occurs. The girls in Mark’s paintings are only thirteen, so putting them in peril is dangerous for the author as well as the characters. (I’m still of the old school thinking that children shouldn’t be unduly harmed in a story.)

There is a lot wrong with Dream Faces. I don’t feel the addition of angels and demons was necessary. Their antics mostly missed their mark with me. I guess the idea of allegory is interesting, but nowadays a more nuanced view of good and evil is expected. Also, some characters didn’t seem to have these guardians, most notably the police officers. The cops themselves are two-dimensional and their actions highly improbable. The bad guys are also shallow, without subtlety. The book needs editing, both in terms of grammar and diction.

In spite of all of this, I found Dream Faces impossible to put down. This is what critics or writing gurus mean when they say “story trumps all.” For, despite its shortcomings, Dream Faces is a good story. You can’t help but root for the girls and the artist, and wonder how the bad guys will be defeated. (Or even whether they’ll be defeated.) So if you’re willing to ignore some obvious structural and technical errors, get Dream Faces. On balance, I think the story is worth it.

advertising your free book: a case study

In July, I took advantage of KDP Select and had three of my books free for 5 days each. I wanted to experiment with advertising these books, and here is what I found.

FreePromotion2016

I used three avenues of promotion: Facebook, the Book Marketing Tools submission tool, and BKnights from Fiverr. Here’s what I found.

Facebook is hit or miss

I used Facebook for all three of the books. Basically I just posted that the book was free, with a link to the Amazon page. For Eyeshine, I got a couple shares from influential friends, which seemed to make a real difference. The momentum (as you can see from the picture above) kept going for the whole five days. For Polygraph, there was little to no effect. For Bloodless Mask there was also little to no effect.

So, basically it seems like Facebook is hit or miss. It probably depends on who they choose to show your post to that day. Of course, it also might be that Polygraph and Bloodless Mask are less attractive than Eyeshine. (Eyeshine is a full-length novel whereas Polygraph and Bloodless Mask are short stories.)

the BMT free submission tool is a dud

If you go to Book Marketing Tools (BMT) one of their tools is a free submission tool. You do have to pay to use the tool, the “free” in its name refers to the fact you’re using it to advertise free books. Basically, the tool takes your information for $15 and uses it to submit to several sites that offer advertising for free books, like eBook Daily Deals and Frugal Freebies.

I found little to no effect from the BMT tool. When I offer Polygraph for free with no advertising, I get pretty much the same results as I got above. Interestingly, Facebook didn’t work for Polygraph either.

BKnights works but is short-lived

BKnights of Fiverr cost me $15 (normally it would be $10 but I submitted fairly late so paid an additional $5 to have quick service), the same as the BMT tool. You can see from the graph above that there is a distinct spike for Bloodless Mask on the day of BKnights’ promotion. This didn’t seem to translate into any momentum, as then downloads distinctly trailed off, but it was interesting to see that BKnights really does work. For Bloodless Mask, I felt there was little to no effect of my Facebook promotion.

a ton of free advertising sites are out there

That summarizes my adventures with three of the free advertising sites out there. But there are a ton more. I list a few below, that friends have claimed they got good results with.

Most of the above are premium sites, where you pay to have your free book listed. I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand, more downloads is more exposure. On the other hand, it’s a guaranteed financial loss. I guess, on balance, I would prefer not to spend money advertising my free books. It just seems counter-intuitive.

What about you? Are there sites you’ve had a good response with that I haven’t listed? Do you think it is worth it to pay to advertise your free book? Let me know in the comments below.

review of Sasha: the ROE Chronicles Book I by Sean M. Campbell

sasha

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Sasha Malenkov is a stunningly powerful telepath as well as teleporter, empath, and seer. The first book of the ROE Chronicles is her story. Sasha was kidnapped at age 6 by unknown forces. Twenty years later, a new breed of naval ship is created, one capable of traveling great distances by teleport. What does Sasha have to do with this? A doctor, Robert Wraith, aboard the ship has distressing teleportation dreams, which lead him to the incredible truth about the ship he’s on. To free Sasha, he would have to cripple the ship and enlist help. How he does this is the subject of the first quarter of the book, approximately.

Sasha is an interesting book. The author has chosen to restrict the main action to about the first quarter of the book. I would have expected an entire book for this. Yet, the book goes on for the next couple hundred pages, with small challenges and encounters fairly easily solved. The problem is, Sasha is so powerful that everything falls to her quickly. In spite of this somewhat unorthodox tack, the remainder of the book is highly readable. Even everyday life is interesting enough to form good stories. What unfolds is a utopic vision of what life could be like with what is (essentially) a benevolent dictator at the helm. The setting in space with advanced technology is icing on the cake. Campbell’s universe is part Babylon 5, part Star Trek, but unique enough to hold your attention until the end. I liked the book a lot and was sad when it ended. I only give it four stars because the last three-quarters, while eminently readable, were somewhat slow for an action-themed novel. Don’t let that stop you, though, especially if you like reading about fun and compelling world-building.

review of Augment by Heather Hayden

Augment

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Vicissitude (Vicki) Wandel is a sixteen-year-old runner with a loving family and an unusual computer friend. Her government mandates that augmentation (by changing your genetic code) and upgrades (artificial implants) must be distinct: if you have augmented, you must not upgrade, and vice versa. Vicki has upgrades on both legs and in her brain after a terrible accident when she was younger. The upgrades have always worked well, so why are they now suddenly failing periodically? And why does her blood test indicate augmentation, when she was always listed as natural?

Augment is not a long book. I found it a bit slow in the beginning, but by the middle it went faster, and by the last third I was genuinely thrilled. Vicki is a sympathetic heroine and her adversary, Agent Smith, is also sympathetic, which made the conflict interesting. Other characters aren’t as well developed, but nonetheless managed to hold my attention. The plot is good, especially once things start happening in earnest. Overall, I liked this offering very much and don’t hesitate to recommend it.

marketing: the impossible problem solved in 3 simple steps

Marketing is one subject of perennial interest to me. It also causes a lot of consternation. I don’t understand marketing. I’m not a sales mentality person. But, being a self-publisher, learning something about marketing is essential. I do have a little (very little) money to put toward it, but where would that do the most good? Recently I’ve read or watched several works on marketing:

So what did I learn? Too much, and not enough. Here are my takeaways.

successful self-publishers have a ton of books

The 3-step formula from Write, Publish, Repeat is in the title. Their (rather sanguine) hope is that if you just publish enough, you’ll win the lottery with something and people will suddenly start buying you like crazy. I like to think of this as the “Hugh Howey” method. He was publishing short works on Amazon, not having much success, and put Wool out there and forgot about it. Before he knew it, Wool was selling like hotcakes. I guess I could also call this the “no marketing is good marketing” approach.

This also seems to be a common theme in the Gaughran book, at least in the author testimonials at the end of the book. Gaughran found 30 successful self-published authors. A theme seems to be “I did nothing but people suddenly bought my book and I woke up one morning to find success had found me.” Sometimes their first book performed like this. Well, I guess it can be interesting to read about, but I don’t find it helpful in terms of “do this and you’ll have a shot at success.” The advice on the whole amounts to “keep buying lottery tickets.” Someone will win, just not me.

there is no failsafe marketing approach

Also in Write, Publish, Repeat, there is a theme of “nothing replaces hard work.” It was good to see this, especially after the (slightly shady) webinars I watched promising me bestsellers up the wazoo if only I give them $500 or more dollars for their online course. One of the webinars seemed to be advocating seeing what was bestselling, slapping together a similar work, then putting it out there. Advanced basket weaving might be bestselling right now but I’m not going to be able to contribute much there. As with most authors (I think), I write what I like. It’s mainstream enough that I believe there is an audience out there, but it’s not likely to be the hottest topic of the week or month in any given time period.

If there’s no marketing that works, what is a self-published author who’s not selling to do? Fortunately, there are sources that are more optimistic about marketing efforts.

no…wait, there is a failsafe marketing approach, just give me money

There is a certain type of webinar aimed at self-publishing authors. It promises to reveal the secret formula to selling (say) 10,000 books and making 100,000 dollars in 18 months. Or was it 1,000 books a day for 90 days? Anyway, the promises are big and enticing. The webinar is disappointing, though, as you realize near the end they haven’t actually given any workable means of doing anything. The webinar turns out to be a half hour (or hour) long advertisement for their larger online course. These courses can have eye-watering prices, too: $500 and up.

I was thinking Nick Stephenson fell into this category. But then I realized that, no, he was actually giving actionable items in his 3-video mini-course about marketing. More on this next.

the 3 steps I’ll be attempting

Stephenson has hit the jackpot himself, clearing 7 figures in 2014. (Must be nice!) His videos are well-produced and easy to follow. Best of all, they’re free. Although he does have a premium course, you don’t get the feeling you absolutely have to buy it to hear some of the meat of what he has to say.

He has a 3-step process to getting tons of sales.

  1. Offer something widely, like a free book, giveaway, etc.
  2. In the offer #1, include a link to what you want the potential readers to do, whether it’s signing up for your email list (recommended), or buying a book.
  3. Offer something of value for doing what they’re supposed to in #2, like something else free, and good content, stuff like that.

He puts it more succinctly, but you’ll have to check out his videos for that, I don’t want to steal his thunder.

So, I’m going to try this. I already offer Sinking for free for signing up for my mailing list. So my idea is to make Polygraph (another Richter short story) free and include links to a sign-up page. That’s it. Stephenson says such a plan will make passive income with all the people signing up to your mailing list (people you can then contact when you have book launches, ad campaigns, etc.).

Will it work? I have to say, it seems like a sensible approach. But I’m also not expecting much. Stephenson says hundreds of people tend to get free books, and a certain (low) percentage of them will click the link and sign up. I’m going to take a guess and say that I’ll be surprised if I get a handful of signups a month this way. That’s a far cry from his 10,000 readers. On the other hand, it’s better than I’m doing now with about zero sign-ups a month.

Stay tuned! I’ll keep you posted about my marketing endeavors. What do you think? Have you heard about any marketing methods lately that made sense to you? Let me know in the comments!

review of Ogden by Cory Abernathy

Ogden

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

A lab assistant accidentally pricks herself with a syringe that contains an experimental drug. This seemingly harmless incident leads to a deadly infection that turns people into zombies bent on consuming human flesh. The infection starts with one or two people and quickly spreads exponentially, leading to hordes of infected zombies staggering down the streets of Ogden. Law enforcement is at a loss for how to deal with such widespread devastation. One law man, Detective Desmond King, gets embroiled in the Ogden mess and tries to save as many of Ogden’s 1,200 citizens as he can.

Ogden was a fun read, if somewhat clichéd. I found the simple prose easy to get through, and the style improved as the book really got going. The cast of characters was believable, although the part of William Decker, the maniacal National Guard leader stretched reality perhaps a bit too far. Still, every book has to have a villain, and Decker made for a decent, if overdone, bad guy. People have commented on the King’s two dogs, as they are almost the only domestic animals seen in the book. The dogs provide a bit of relief from the heaviness of the story and it is fulfilling to see them play a large role by the end of the story. I do have one question, though. What happened to the cow? Other than that very minor (and largely tongue-in-cheek) concern, the book has a satisfying ending. A reasonable read for a summer afternoon.