It has been some time since I last posted an update here, and I apologize, but the last weeks were just crazy full of things that required my attention. During this time a lot of things were going and I’d like to recap some of it for you here, in case you missed it.

Fango 302 coverFirst and foremost, Fangoria issue #302 is out! On page 74 in the magazine you will find the first installment of the Jason Dark serial Food for the Dead that I write exclusively for the magazine. Over the next five months you will find a new installment in the serial in every Fangoria issue. so, if you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, run to your nearest newsstand NOW and get it. As you will see, “Food for the Dead” is truly in the vein of the other supernatural mysteries featuring this occult detective. It has the Victorian London setting, graveyards with the dead rising from their graves and it features a major cameo by one of the genre’s most notorious villains. Hey, how could you say “No” to that, huh? So, again, let me hammer thins into your heads… go, buy your issue of Fangoria before it disappears and you missed the first installment of the series!

Another interesting development over the past weeks was that I made another guest-appearance on thriller writer J.A. Konrath’s blog. As many of you may recall, in February I wrote a guest-blog for Joe, discussing how I promoted the Jason Dark series since its inception and how many of the promotional tools I had employed just didn’t work out the way I had hoped. The blog post generated a lot of feedback and as you know, I revamped Demon’s Night, the first Jason Dark mystery from scratch, taking many of the comments and suggestions that were offered in response to my blog post in an attempt to turn it into a better product. I also wrote about it in more detail here on my own blog.

Demon's night coverWith all that in mind I went back to Joe Konrath’s blog and outlined the changes I made and — since some time had passed since the release — I also detailed the impact these changes had had on the actual sales of the book. I am sure, many of the readers were surprised that the result was essentially zilch. Five weeks after the reboot of the book and the price drop to 99 cents, the book has generally not been selling noticeably better than before. Naturally, there was a large spike on the day of the blog post on Joe’s website that elevated the book up into the Top 5,000 for an hour or so, but just as quickly as it had spiked, it also reverted back. So, ultimately, I see the “Demon’s Night” experiment as a failure. While I am glad a did another revision of the book itself, resulting in tighter and better writing, all the effort I put into the creation of a new cover etc. was in essence wasted time. Time, that I could have put to better use, writing a new book. Well, hindsight is always 20/20, and it was definitely wroth the experiment, I guess, if only to support my theory once again that 99 cents is not a desirable price point.

Interestingly, during the time period that I revisited “Demon’s Night,” it was actually reviewed by Red Adept. Since the early days of the kindle, Red Adept has been one of the most visible reviewers of eBooks and over time she has reached a stature that is unique among eBook reviewers. I am no exaggerating when I say that I sighed in relief upon seeing the 4.5 star rating. See, I had sent the book to Red Adept for review about a year ago — yes, that’s how long the review queue seems to be — and as a result, it was the version before my rewrite. To see that even that version impressed a 4.5 star rating upon the reviewer, is more than I had hoped for. Of course, I wish she had read the new version, but such is life. The only criticism leveled against the book was in the writing of the book — all things I have thoroughly addressed in the recent revision. It makes me wonder if it would actually have been possible for “Demon’s Night” to get a full 5-star rating at Red Adept if the timing had been a little different. Ah well… 4.5 stars is pretty awesome, too, and I am a very happy camper.

If there are any reviewers out there, reading this, feel free to drop me a line if you are interested in checking out the new version “Demon’s Night” or any one of my other books.

It appears that my series on eBook formatting has become a major draw here on this blog and not a day goes by where I don’t receive an email or comment post with formatting related questions. Since this seems such a hot topic, and since a lot of people seem to come to this blog for that tutorial in particular, I have set up a box in the upper right hand corner that links directly to the tutorial, because with new posts pushing the eBook formatting series further and further back, it actually became a little tedious to locate. So, now you all have a nice quick link on every page. How do you like that?

The series has also led to a few contract projects. I have just completed an eBook formatting project for a major New York Times best selling author that I think looks like a million bucks. If you want me to handle your eBook formatting, feel free to get in touch and ask for a quote.

Now back to my current work in progress. Did I mention that I started writing a modern-day thriller? Well, now you know…

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The truth about Jason Dark

As you probably know by now, my Jason Dark mysteries are about a homeless Leprechaun who lays golden eggs and throws rainbows at people to make them go shave their heads so they can learn to inhale soup instead of eating it…

DraculaI’m just kidding, of course. I couldn’t fool anyone into believing that, but even though you know what my books are not about, it appears to me that many of you don’t really know exactly what they are about. So allow me to tell you a little more about one of my true works of passion.

When I grew up in Germany, horror movies were a rare commodity. Age limitations, which were rigorously enforced in those days, prevented me from going to see the latest bloodfests in theaters and the only way for me to experience horror movies were Saturday late night showings of classic horror films on TV. As a result, whenever a movie like “Horror of Dracula” was scheduled, that day was a veritable holiday for me. Even though I am dating myself now, please remember that this was in the days before home video or cable TV. Yes, such a time existed, in the not too distant past, actually.

EversonCombined with horror literature, this was the only way for me to experience horror in those days. I would pour over William K. Everson’s “Classics of the Horror Film” with its countless still photographs for endless hours, reading about the innumerable horror films I had never seen and those I had watched. The book was to me what the bible is to Catholics.

As a result I developed a deep and lasting love for classic horror movies — the great monster movies of Universal’s golden era, the German expressionist films by Murnau and Lang, the stylish films of Val Lewton, the work of Mario Bava, Roger Corman’s Poe-adaptations, Boris Karloff’s body of work and above all, the masterfully atmospheric Hammer Horror films. I literally ate these movies up and there is a really good chance that I could probably bore you to death with trivia details about films from that era.

This love for the classics of the genre has never abated and it was the forge in which the creation of Jason Dark, the hero of the many supernatural mysteries stories I have written, was shaped. But it actually goes a long way beyond that.

My love for detective stories and thrillers plays into this as well, along with a long-standing faible for a certain German dime novel series and my fascination with history.

When I began writing the first Jason Dark mystery, “Demon’s Night” I wanted to create something that has the intrigue of a detective story, the mystery of a classic horror movie, the emotional roller-coaster and action of a thriller and a dash of history.

But I can hear you — enough with the background, already, how did it turn out? What exactly can I expect from your books?

ripperThe Jason Dark mysteries are supernatural mysteries, period pieces, playing in Victorian England. To me the Victorian era is simply magical and the epitome of classic horror. I mean, look at the truly iconic monsters — Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll, Jack the Ripper… they are all creatures of the Victorian era. Even Edgar Allan Poe’s stories are mostly taking place during early Victorian times. For that reason I picked Victorian England as the backdrop for the Jason Dark books, and London, in particular, is the scene for many of the adventures, with its fog-shrouded nights and cobble-stone streets. Think of it as Sherlock Holmes on steroids, a super-sleuth fighting demons and monsters.

But there’s a lot more to it. Steampunk elements create an alternate world almost, in which Dark and his friends come up with magnificent inventions to track down evil.

Unlike modern day horror, the stories are not overly gruesome or gory. They use atmosphere to set the mood and give you shivers. I’m not a big fan of urban horror or splatter and to me it has always been much more fascinating to suggest horror rather than to explicitly show it. Nonetheless, there is plenty of blood in the stories to firmly place the adventures into the horror realm, but to me it is the traditional “gothic horror” of old rather than the cold, modern horror many people associate with the genre nowadays.

BathoryThe real spice in the stories, however, are the countless historic and literary references. It is hard for me to talk about these without spoiling the fun but you will find many, many names, locations and events that are rooted in actual history or are taken from literature. Don’t be surprised to stumble across people like Inspector Lestrade in a Jason Dark book, or square off with someone like the Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a notorious serial killer who killed over 600 people — I am not making this up. She was real!

There are tiny little breadcrumbs in every one of the books that readers can discover and even though each story is standing entirely on its own, when you read the books as a series, you will see how certain names and events actually lead up to others, how there is a recurring cast, how there are villains that just can’t be kept down, how there are world events that play in the overall narrative.

Van HelsingThe best thing I could probably compare the Jason Dark books to is probably Stephen Sommers’ 2004 movie “Van Helsing.” While purist horror fans may have wrinkled their noses at it, the fact of the matter is that it was a jolly good romp with great visuals, fun characters and action to boot. In many ways that is what my Jason Dark books are about, too, while always making sure not to take themselves too seriously.

Demon's NightSo, if you feel like this might actually be something that you would enjoy, feel free to head over to Amazon and grab a copy of
“Demon’s Night” for only 99 cents and give it a try. What do you have to lose, really? It’s less than a buck, less than a cup of Joe, less than a pack of gum… I mean, why not? If you’ve read this far in this blog post you’re obviously somewhat fascinated by the kind of books they are. I am pretty sure you’ll get some enjoyment out of it.

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Et tu, Brute?

Demon's NightAs you may recall I recently reworked Demon’s Night, the first supernatural mystery featuring occult super-sleuth Jason Dark. In the past days I have also created a new cover of Ghosts Templar, another one of the Jason Dark mysteries. This was also an effort to make the book appeal to a larger audience, hopefully, in order to generate more sales.

While I was spending all that time on reworking my books over the past weeks, the question “How can I get more people to buy these books?” kept going through my mind and with it an idea germinated in my mind. A focus group… well, kind of, sort of… let me explain.

I know that many of you visiting this blog have not bought any of my books, probably never even read the sample. How do I know this? Well, I really just have to look at my server statistics and unique user numbers and compare them with my book sales and it is immediately obvious that my sales are in absolutely no relation to my blog visitors. The same is undoubtedly true for my Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

Ghosts TemplarNow, I do not want to shame you into buying my books here — not at all. Instead, I would like to know, why you have never bought one of my books — after all there are ten of them and I am honestly curious about the reasons.

As I said, look at it as a focus group. You are an audience and I am trying to sell books. Help me to find out how I can make my products more attractive and better by telling me the reasons why YOU decided not to purchase one.

If you simply don’t read horror or supernatural mysteries, fair enough. That is a valid reason. I’d probably never buy a romance or a poem book. It’s just not my bag.

If the covers were simply not attractive enough for you to take an interest, fair enough, please let me know, or if customer reviews turned you off.

If you thought that I am writing merely for my spiritual enrichment and that money or sales are of no import to me, feel free to let me know, just as you should let me know if you feel that Jason Dark is just a boring dude with a bad name.

Evidently, there is a reason why you haven’t bought any of the books… some reason, even if it is hidden in the recesses of your mind, even if you might be weary to pull it out in the open and face the truth… there IS a reason for each one of you, and I believe it would be helpful for me to hear what these reasons are.

Just to be clear, I am not interested in generalizations, opinions or chatter why people may not have bought the book. These kinds of notions are bountiful across the web and really not what I’m after. I want to know exactly why YOU in particular did not. Search your soul, please, and try to let me know as best as you could.

Again, let me stress that I do not wish to shame you into purchasing any of my books. I love to have you around one way or the other, but I also hope that by following me you do take some kind of interest in my work and if I fail to deliver, I’d like to know about it.

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Cemetery DanceI feel kind of bad, and for some reason it feels weird. I am reading a book, you know. Not just any book. I started reading “Cemetery Dance” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, two of my favorite thriller authors. But that’s not why I feel bad. It is because I am actually reading it as a paperback!

I think I heard you gasp right there, did I not? Yeah, I know… It’s been moths since I read a print book. Many months. Many, many months, in fact — and it feels awkward.

I’ve been reading books on my Kindle for 2 years now and I have been editing and revising my own books on the iPad for months now. It’s all been digital and I am simply not used to reading print any more. If you laugh now, when was the last time you read a physical book?

It all came about because of Borders’ closing. Over the weekend I visited their Pasadena stores, which is scheduled to close, and began to browse their bookshelves. Everything 25 – 50% off! May books for as little as one dollar.

It was hard to resist, even though I didn’t really like the situation as a whole. See, I love Borders. Their warm, welcoming no-pressure atmosphere, complete with occasional live music and author readings, is just the greatest thing ever. Even after owning a Kindle I still visited their store frequently and gave them my patronage, buying books for my own research library, books for the kids, books to donate to the school library, anything I could do to help keep them in business.

Sadly all those buttheads leeching off the store’s generosity didn’t feel the same kind of obligation. Reading entire books for free, doing research, studies and homework for hours, days and weeks on end, checking out the latest magazine issues — all of it without ever actually buying a copy. Instead some of those morons even had the audacity to complain about the lack of free refills in the coffee shop.

It pains me to see how this company has been exploited by its own customers to the point of delinquency. It boggles my mind that people are so self-centered that they never seem to be abele to think beyond their own egoistical needs. Their sense of entitlement is bigger than their sense of responsibility. It’s every bit as retarded as the guy who cuts you off on the freeway and then flips you off when you give him a flash him as a warning to prevent an actual fender-bender.

I felt terrible, not only for the employees who kept diligently trying to keep the shelves in order. For some reason everyone seems to think this store is now a free-for-all and it is okay to just drop books on the floor or to shove them in any free shelf you might find. The store employees can barely keep up with the mess the riffraff leaves behind in their wake. Shameful!

But I also felt bad for purchasing the discounted books. Are you nuts? You might ask, but the problem is that in this kind of sale — remember Borders has filed for chapter 11 — the monies from sales are actually not going to Borders but to a liquidator instead. The liquidator’s job is to try and male as much money from Borders’ assets and inventory — and in a limited amount of time. The liquidator then pays the people that Borders is owing money to. Typically in proceedings like this, however they will only pay about 20 cents to the dollar. So, if Borders owed me $1,000, for example, I would get paid only around $200 even though I have provided services and products worth the full $1,000.

To put it in plain English — everyone gets screwed. Everyone except the liquidator who skims his own payment in full off the top — naturally.

That is why I feel bad when buying these discounted books, because I know that the authors, being the last link in the chain, will end up seeing even less of their minuscule royalties. I mean, A LOT less… Pretty much nothing, actually, as publishers typically have contract clauses in place that make sure they do not have to share revenues from such sales. As I said, everyone gets screwed.

I still could not resist and bought three books, but in all honesty, now that I think about it, I could have bought them as Kindle books instead — at the same price most likely — I feel even worse, because if I had, at least the authors would have made some decent money on the sales. Bummer… I apologize. I will restrain myself next time.

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The Emperor’s new Clothes

Occasionally it seems we all are apt to ignore even our own recommendations, somehow too occupied with what we’re doing, I suppose, to stop for a moment and analyze where we are.

Book covers are my case in point today. As many of you may know, I have talked about the importance of strong covers on numerous occasions on mailing lists, message boards and blogs, including Self-Publishing Review. At the same time, when I submitted my books to scrutiny on J.A. Konrath’s blog a little while ago, it became evident that my own covers do not quite meet the criteria I had set out for others. Or maybe they did, but they did rather put my books into too small a niche to become successful.

Demon's Night V1Here is a look at Demon’s Night, the first Jason Dark supernatural mystery I wrote. When I first published it in December 2009, I deliberately recreated the look and feel of the traditional dime novels I grew up with. I expected the print market to be my main outlet and in print, these covers work beautifully with their rich cover artwork and the unified layout the suggests a series.

With this being what they are, just as I released the book, the eBook market exploded and within months it became obvious that print is on its way out, while the Kindle and Nook now generate the majority of today’s book sales, particularly when you’re not published by a New York publishing house. While this is, of course, a very desirable development as it cuts down on production costs and increases revenues, I soon found that it also changed the way I had to approach the presentation of my books.

Some time last year my wife and I redesigned the covers in response to those changes in the marketplace. We needed to make sure that the covers work on computer displays, particularly as very small thumbnails. To accommodate that requirement the updated covers zoomed in on the key feature of the cover artwork and got rid of all the ancillary details, including the series logo and any unused space.

Demon's Night V2Here is a look at the updated version of the cover Thu-Lieu created specifically for the eBook market.

I liked these improvements quite a bit but I ignored one fact in particular until a number people pointed it out to me in plain English. The covers still looked “pulpy.” This, of course, has been my desire all along but as my friend Scott Nicholson put it to me, “There is a reason the pulp era ended.”

Wham! Can you say wake-up call? The funny thing is, that this was nothing new to me. I knew that, naturally, and I knew the risks going into it the way I did. However, what Scott’s remark did, along with the comments of some other people, was to remind me that it simply might be necessary for me to “unpulp” the look of my books to find an audience. While people may not mind to read a pulp-style novel, trying to sell it to them with a pulp fiction cover simply may not have helped my game.

Willie Meikle might be a perfect example of this. He is the master of modern pulp in many ways, and he sells very well. However, a quick look at this covers show us that his books look every bit as slick as any other authors. Aha… some cogs began to spin in my head.

Fortunately, in the digital world changes are easily and quickly made, and it is possible to evaluate the performance of a book cover fairly easily. With that in mimd I decided to try and take my books in a completely new direction and see what will happen. Time will tell if all of this is right or if this is just another harebrained attempt, but in all honesty, I do feel good about this.

Demon's Night V1 For the past days I have labored over the redesign of the cover for “Demon’s Night” and you can see the final result here.

So, what do you think of it?

It may look simple, now that it is completed, but it took some time to get to this. My first attempt at a new cover was uniformly panned by my wife and friends as still being too pulpy. I was hitting a wall and just could not get past my i initial concepts. It was only when I decided to completely forgo the original cover artwork that I finally felt some fresh ideas surface.

From there it became a very iterative process of trial and elimination. I tried different fonts, different colors, different layouts and spatial arrangements, different font sizes, different color themes and so forth, until I finally ended up with the cover you see above.

I am sure you will agree with me that no longer does this look like a pulp story but like a horror story. At the same time I tried to retain a bit of a series character by using a dimmed version of my London skyline, which also conveys the setting of the book.

Best of all, however, this cover works wonderfully as a small-size thumbnail, which I think is crucial to generate interest on sites like Amazon.

I am eager to see how this cover will perform. Combined with a new product description and a clear “Supernatural Mystery” moniker in the title I am hopeful that the book will now be able to carve out its proper space in the market. If things work out, I will redesign the other books in a similar fashion.

You can now find the new version of “Demon’s Night” on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, Apple’s iBookstore and other retailers for only 99 cents! Hey, I even updated the Smashwords version, which should go a long way to show you how dedicated I am to these changes because ordinarily I don’t do anything on Smashwords any more.

Clearly, there has never been a better time to check out one of my books, so please feel free to grab a copy!

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In the past weeks I have read two new books and I wanted to take a moment real quick to tell you about them because I enjoyed them very much.

As I pointed out on numerous occasions, I am a fan of Clive Cussler’s “Dirk Pitt” adventures but at the same time I do have to admit that I do find them a bit lackluster at times, without a whole lot of depth and occasionally rather forgettable plots. In short, they are to books what popcorn movies are to cinema. Entertaining but nothing really lasting.

In a thread on a message board recently someone was asking about good authors who write Clive Cussler-style stories and I followed the conversation with interest, checking out the books that were suggested in the discussion. One of them caught my attention right away — Rogue Wave by Boyd Morrison.

I read the description and immediately liked what was there so I grabbed a copy onto my Kindle and begun reading. It is a very cool book that gets pretty intense at times with emotion. Like a great disaster flick, the story revolves around a group of people as they struggle to survive the greatest tsunami ever to sweep the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

One of the fun things about the book was that I read the second half of it on my flight to… Oahu. Yes, you read that right. I stepped out of the airplane and immediately began to look for the landmark buildings described in the book. I checked out Waikiki beach and imagined seeing the humungous tidal wave on the horizon, trying to fathom what it would be like if a wave several hundred feet in height would in fact roll into this bay.
But even without all of that, “Rogue Wave” kept me on the edge of my seat. I don’t recall who suggested this books as being “in the vein of a Clive Cussler adventure” because it couldn’t be further from it, but I am definitely glad I did pick it up. So if you’re in the mood for some adrenaline-filled disaster story, take a look at this book.

Right after “Rogue Wave” I decided to finally read William Meikle’s Island Life. I’ve wanted to check out this book for the longest time and somehow always forgot. Now the time was right and it did not disappoint at all.

Think of “Island Life” as John Carpenter’s “The Fog” meets H.P. Lovecraft/Robert E. Howard and you get the idea. This is a rollicking horror tale that is a creepy as it is fascinating. Written in the true spirit of pulp fiction, the story is filled with cool characters that are killed off before you even know it, making the book a who-will-survive thrill ride from beginning to end.

The strongest point, however, is the book’s atmosphere. Like in John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” the fog enshrouding the remote island off the coast of Scotland is a central character that provides a brooding cloak to the mysterious — and deadly — events. Sprinkled with pagan rituals, strange creatures from a seemingly different world and wonderfully flawed main characters, this book is a pure joyride for genre fans. Again, I am glad that I have picked this book up because I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Right now I’m in the process of deciding what to read next. I haven’t made up my mind yet, because most of my reading time is currently occupied by reading and revising my latest Jason Dark adventure, but in a few days I will need a new book. I honestly hope that something will catch my attention by then, or I will be doomed!

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History can be fun… but not in school

When you are a writer, doing research is part of the job, and oftentimes it takes up a major portion of our preparatory time. If you are an author working on period stories, like I am with my Jason Dark dime novels for example, this research is typically even more encompassing. In order to ensure accuracy of the material presented to the reader and to give it more credibility I am oftentimes spending days on end researching history. In many ways I consider myself a history buff, which is kind of strange because, like virtually everyone I know, I always hated History in school. So where did the change come from?

To be perfectly honest, I think I’ve always had an interest in history, but the education system I went through in Germany did a fantastic job in maiming all and any such interest. I have never gone to an American school so I do not know how they treat history here, but my general understanding, judging by people’s overall state of education in world events, it seems even more neglected.

As I think about it, I believe there are two main reasons why history classes must be some of the most tedious and unattractive paths in school.

The first reason is the way the material is being taught. I don’t know about you, but I had to learn reams of dates by heart for years in a row. That, in essence was my history education throughout school. Every grade covered a different time period and we, the students, were expected to remember key dates and events which were prodded into us in lessons during which we would pour over stuffy explanations and date listings of said events. I mean, really, life doesn’t get any more boring than this. History out of context is as exciting as watching water evaporate; there’s just nothing there to hold your attention.

I honestly wish my history teacher would only have asked a question like “Imagine for a moment that you Lord Nelson and you want to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte at sea. How would you do it?” I am sure, it would have sparked an interest in the topic for a lifetime, instead of killing it off by forcing students to simply line up all the dates and events ad nauseam.

It would have gone a long way to show how certain people created certain events and how these events lead to other events, trying to engage the imagination, giving students the chance to connect the dots on their own terms. In the big scheme of things it is wholly irrelevant whether the Thirty Years War began on a Tuesday or a Friday. Unless you do a diligent study of the subject for a doctorate or so, it is entirely irrelevant whether Ferdinand kicked Mathias’ butt on a Sunday or Tuesday. And yet, we had to learn it all by heart. Every tedious little event, every name, every location, date and sometimes even the time of day. Boy, no wonder I tuned out every time…

To make matters worse, from my experience, history teachers are every bit as dry, boring and uninterested in the subject matter as the way they teach the material. In retrospect I realized that even my Latin teacher did a better job at instilling a love for history in me. He would take us on field trips to excavation sites and Roman monuments, allowing us to see first hand the influence and impact Roman culture had had on the world we lived in. This has instilled a love for Roman history in me that is still very much alive today.

When you look back, what was it that inspired your love in history? In my case it was movies and documentaries. Watching Holocaust in the late 70s was the first time I was really able to put real faces to the pain and horrors of the Third Reich. I began to associate real people with these horrendous events, not printed names, realizing that these were not just dry dates in a text book but the lives of people with hopes, lives, ambitions and love in their hearts. The series left me heartbroken.

There were many others and I’ve found that even the most romanticized Hollywood movie can make for a better history lesson than an hour with any of my history teachers. Some of these movies may not be entirely accurate, some of them may be biased, but the important thing is that people are becoming engaged in history and potentially interested, which is a lot more than what my text books and history classes did.

I’ll be honest with you; the Ides of March or probably the only historic date I remember from all the studying in school — and once again that comes courtesy of my Latin teacher and his way of playing out the assassination of Julius Caesar for us during a field trip to some Roman ruins. Other than that, I have zero retention of my academic history lessons.

Yet the events depicted in Holocaust or even Braveheart, Band of Brothers, I, Claudius, Elizabeth or John Adams have firmly become part of my historical vocabulary. I now know that William Wallace was one of the most passionate freedom fighters of Scotland and not, perhaps, the brother of mystery writer Edgar Wallace. I now know that John Adams was not only a president, but one of the key figures in giving us the freedom and union we enjoy every day, fighting for it on political turf instead of the battlefields. As a result of Valkyrie I finally saw a real person and his convictions behind the infamous attempted assassination of Hitler by the man whose wife and children used to live only down the street from my apartment. He became more than just a name in a book and a plaque and suddenly his efforts and sacrifice grew to dramatic proportions.

Strange as it may seem, Young Indiana Jones has been critical in generating interest in certain historic events in me that I then investigated further. As a result I came to understand how people like Lenin managed to get to power, among many other things.

So, you tell me, which one did a better job at relaying information… my school education or dramatized works of entertainment in the form of biopics and even fiction? I know there will always be the purists who clamor that the weather depicted in a scene was not accurate or whatnot, but in my opinion they are missing the point. History is worthless if no one takes an interest in it. In order to create interest, history has to be dramatized, which means that occasional liberties have to be taken.

Naturally, when I research my Jason Dark stories, my historic research is more topical and specific, but for the majority of people a general overview will usually do. In my case, when I write about the opening of the Natural History Museum in London in Dead by Dawn, yes, I want to make sure it happens on a Sunday in my story — Easter Sunday to be exact — because I want to lend credence to the fact, the event and the story. But you know, what? Most people couldn’t care less if it had opened on Good Friday…

These days I soak up history whenever I get the chance. As I get older I find it easier and easier to see how one event led to another, how people corrupted by power continually exploit others, creating intolerable conditions for the rest. History is every bit as much about strategy and political intrigue — both of which is typically filled with natural drama — as it is about dates and names.

It all holds a fascination for me that I just can’t escape and I enjoy every minute I can dig into historical research and uncover new facts and information that were previously unknown to me.

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The aftermath of the bloodletting

If you’ve been following the discussion on J.A. Konrath’s blog before the weekend where I guest-blogged about the success of my Jason Dark series — or its lack thereof — you will have noticed that there were a large number of comments, opinions and suggestions. In the aftermath of the public bloodletting I am currently in the process of weeding through these comments to separate the wheat form the chaff — to dig out the few gems that were there.

The idea of the guest-blog, for me, has always been to put my feelers out and see how other people perceive my books because as the author and publisher it is hard for me really see it in an unbiased way.

At the same time I am a very critical person, which can easily be evidenced by the way I conduct my business. Even J.A. Konrath took note of that, evidently, when he said “I’ve never seen a more professional self-published writer.” It was a statement that made me incredibly proud because it is exactly what I have been striving for for all this time. I see myself as a professional, not an amateur or hobbyist, and when I guest-blogged on Konrath’s blog, inviting comments, I looked upon it as a focus group.

I’ve been tallying up all the comments and sort of weighed them in my own mind. Naturally, there are some that I dismiss right off the bat others were truly thoughtful and offered insight into how other people look at books and authors they are not familiar with, even when that audience consisted mostly of fellow indie writers.

In response to the comments some of you might be interested to hear that I have already rewritten the opening of “Demon’s Night.” While I do not agree with all the comments that have been made on the subject of my writing, I did take Moses Siregar’s dissection very seriously and appreciated the time and effort he put into it. Since “Demon’s Night” was the first book I ever wrote, plus I rote it in English, which is not my native language, clearly there is room for improvement and I intend to take another close look at the story to see how I can make it a stronger contender in the field.

It also struck me that there seemed to be quite some confusion regarding the “series” character of the books, something I have noticed on a few occasions before. For some reason, people seem to be under the impression that the books are actually one big story arc that has to be read sequentially. I always felt that the fact that each adventure has its own title, a distinctly separate storyline that is outlined in the flap copy was enough to convey the episodic nature of series in which each story is an adventure of its own, featuring the same principal cast. Evidently, I did not do a good enough job because it became evident that the confusion was running deep.

As a result I will completely rebrand the way I am presenting the books. Each will be represented as its own, with a title that says something like Demon’s Night, a Jason Dark supernatural mystery. There will be no more volume numbers or overt references to the series as a whole as part of the book listings or descriptions and hopefully this will make it possible for people to hone in on individual books regardless for their place in the overall series. The subject matter – demons, vampires, angels or whatnot of each individual book will then become the focal point instead and hopefully this will give each book a better shot at its own life.

In the process the descriptions for each book will also be overhauled to make sure they are as crisp and gripping as possible — though that is a very malleable term all in itself.

In addition I will revise the covers of the books. I am not sure yet how to do this and which way to go, but the general idea is to create a signature look for the series to allow easy identification of the “Jason Dark supernatural mysteries.” In the process of this there is a good chance that I may steer away from the original cover artwork also, though, we’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, all the feedback I received as a result of the guest-blog has been tremendously valuable and I am grateful to everyone who made their opinions known.

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I just wanted to make a quick update before the weekend, to point out that I have been guest-blogging on two sites today.

The first one is over on thriller author J.A. Konrath’s blog where I discuss some of the strategies I have employed with my “Jason Dark” series in order to get it noticed. You can read about some of the efforts and how they turned out right here! And please, make sure to join the discussion and let have your thoughts on the subject matter as all and any feedback is tremendously welcome.

I am also guest-blogging at the horror site Fatally Yours today in celebration of “Women in Horror Month.” In my post I am talking about the tremendous influence female authors have had on the genre despite the fact that these contributions are all too often overlooked or belittled. Check it out. I am sure you’ll get a kick out of it, as it is not a straight-forward editorial but instead more sort of a story.

I’ve just finished two books I’ve read and I wanted to make sure to let you know about them, too.

First, I read The Heretic by Joe Nassise. I had some reservations at first and held out on the book for a while because of its catholic connotations, I guess. I’m not a friend of organized religion at all and I rarely touch books that have religious themes. Their moralizing simply gets on my nerves. However, in the case of “The Heretic” that was a huge mistake. Not only does the religious theme take such a backseat that it is virtually non-existent other than working as window dressing, but the story itself is such a riveting read that I had trouble putting it down.

Presenting the reader with a modern-day story in which Templar Knights are a Vatican-sponsored SWAT team to fight supernatural baddies, the best way for me to describe the book is one word: Blockbuster!

This is the kind of story you would find in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie – seriously – filled to the brim with large scale action but also offering enough depth and emotion to make the characters tangible. I loved the story and the way Nassise tells it in a very fluid way that is always serving the story and never distracts from the moment. Cade is a great character with a lot of potential and a lot to like about, helping to make the book memorable.

If you want some no-holds-barred reading material, “The Heretic” should go on your to-be-read list right now!

The other book I just finished is Scott Nicholson’s latest novella Crime Beat. Boy, what a fun little read. This one just grabbed me right away and begged to be read in two sittings. I don’t know what it is but Nicholson’s style in the book is almost whimsical despite the subject matter of the story – a serial killer making headlines in an American small town. I don’t want to give away too much about the story because Scott does a much better job at it than I would and part of the fun with this book in particular is seeing it unfold.

I love the characters a lot and Nicholson makes it easy to sympathize with them. Again, it is his observational aptitude that brings these guys to life as the mull over things that we all have had in our minds. Add to it the almost subliminal sense of humor that is sprinkled in throughout and you have the recipe for a perfect read.

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This is the ninth installment of a series of articles. To read the previous one, please click here


Okay, it is time for me to finally make good on my promise and turn your book’s HTML source file into a proper eBook. All we need is a little software called Calibre that you can download here.

I want to take a brief moment to point out that Calibre is a free software package and I cannot thank its developer Kovid Goyal enough for putting so much time and effort into this program. Not only is he putting all the effort into writing the application and improving it constantly, Kovid is also very active in his support forums and tries to help everyone with problems whenever he can. So, please feel free to support his restless efforts by perhaps donating a few dollars for the cause. You will find a button on his website and maybe you’d even be willing to commit a small amount every time you actually prepare a new book for publication using his software.

All right, now it’s time to get serious. One of the great things about Calibre is that it allows us to build a variety of eBook formats from the one source file we have so carefully crafted.

The first thing we need to do is to add our new book to the Library. Simply click on the “Add books” button in the upper left corner and select your book’s HTML file. A lot of people do not know that you can actually use an HTML file as a book source in Calibre, but as I pointed out, not only is it possible, it is, in fact, the most reliable way to create a predictable output.

Once you have done that you will see the book appear in the top line of the Library listing. It may have a strange name at this point – Calibre uses the HTML file name by default – but we will fix that in a second.

The next step is to edit all of our book’s meta data. Highlight your book in the Library listing and then click on the “Edit metadata” button in the toolbar at the top. You will now see an input form that allows you to insert all the relevant information about your book on the left side. Most of these fields should be self explanatory, though the “Author Sort” line might be confusing. It is used to allow you to use your last name for sorting. So, instead of “Guido Henkel” I would enter “Henkel, Guido” here.

The large “Comments” field at the bottom is used for your product description. Simply enter your whole flap copy here, your synopsis or whatever you want to call your product description.

Moving on to the right side of the input window you will see a block that is called “Available formats.” Currently it includes only a ZIP file, which is a zipped-up version of our HTML source. Do not do anything else in this block. We will get to it at a later stage.

Finally, lets include the cover of the book into the meta data. This is the cover that will be included in the front of your eBook. It is not the cover that is used by distribution channels to list your book! It is the actual cover image inside the final eBook.

I always create 600×800 pixel color versions of the cover for use here. Even though many eBook readers do not support color at this point this is nothing you have to worry about. The device will automatically convert this to a grayscale image for you. Purists may say at this point that you should actually create an optimized grayscale image for inclusion for better quality. For the most part I found this not necessary. While the end result might be a tad better – and I stress might here because eBook readers are still notoriously bad at displaying images in general – and while the file size might be reduced, I found the tradeoffs not worth it. Not only would you have to create separate versions for color and grayscale readers, but with the growing proliferation of color devices, you will make it possible for Kindle readers on the iPad, for example, to enjoy the full color version of your cover. That alone should be reason enough to stick with the color cover.

Select “Browse,” find your cover and make sure it displays properly in the meta data window. We now have all our meta data and it is time to click “OK” to make sure they are saved.

Next, click on the “Convert books” button in the toolbar at the top of the screen. This is where the rubber meets the road – from a technical standpoint. Here you find the modules that actually turn our source HTML file into the various eBook formats. While all the menu entries and names might seem extremely technical to you, I will guide you through here to make things easier to understand, especially since most of the technical parameters are identical regardless of the selected output format. Which reminds me… let’s select an output format.


In the upper right hand corner you will find a drop-down menu allowing you to select the output format you want to build. For our purposes right now, select EPUB, which we will be able to use for the Nook, the Apple store, Kobo, Google Books and other outlets.

On the left side of the input window you will see a column of icons. these icons give us access to the different settings for the ePub compiler. Most of these parameters we will leave untouched as the default settings that Calibre provides are real world common sense settings. In fact, we could already press the “OK” button at the bottom of the window and get a decent eBook out of it.

Perfectionists that we are, however, we want to take things a little bit further.

Click on the “Structure Detection” icon and you will see a series of cryptic-looking XPath instructions. Not to worry…

Calibre uses this section to determine your book’s structure so that it can format it properly. For example, this can be used to create page breaks before a new chapter. In fact, it is the default setting. The reason I am taking you here is because in case you do not want to include page breaks here, you will need to switch it off by selecting “None” from the “Chapter mark” drop-down menu.

Next stop, our table of contents (TOC). Select the “Table of Contents” icon so we can tell Calibre how to automatically build a fully linkable TOC and include it in our eBook.

Since we have been using a special stye in our HTML file to manicure chapter headings, we can now use this style to tell Calibre where each chapter starts.

All we have to do is enter

//h:p[re:test(@class, "chapter", "i")]

in the field for the “Level 1 TOC (XPath Expression)”. It tells Calibre to look for all instances where the style “chapter” is applied and add them to the table of contents. Calibre will automatically use the entire chapter heading text to display in the TOC, which means the entire block of text that is style with the “chapter” style. From my experience that is exactly what we want. If not, you could narrow the selection down further using XPath expressions to drill down further. If you want to learn more about XPath expressions, feel free to check here.

The last step before we build our book is found in the “EPUB Output” section. Select the icon in the left toolbar and you will find a checkbox entry that says “Preserve cover aspect ratio.” Make sure to select this as otherwise your cover will be disproportionally scaled to fill the entire display of any eBook reader. I am not sure why this is not checked by default, but so be it.

That’s it. Click on the “OK” button and you will notice that Calibre is doing some work in the background. It will tell you so with a small animation in the lower right hand corner of the Calibre window.

This will take a second or two, depending on your computer’s speed and the length of your book. But once it is done we are ready to save the finished eBook.

Click on the “Save to disk” icon in the top toolbar and select a location where you want the book to be saved.

Now it is time to take a look how things turned out – it is the big moment. While it is possible in to use Calibre’s viewer, I found that despite the overall quality of Calibre, the viewer is – at the time of this writing – not at all representative for what your eBook really looks and behaves like on a real reader.

For first checks I always use the software versions of the Kindle or the Nook reader or Adobe Digital Editions. These will immediately give you the results you’re looking for, especially since many people use these application to actually read their books on. However, you should always make sure to also load you books onto the actual devices, if possible, to see they behave properly. It is always better to make sure than to make assumptions and extrapolate from a software implementation running on a desktop computer.
When I load an eBook up for the first time, there are usually three things I checked first.

  • Does the cover display correctly?
  • Are there proper page breaks before chapters, and do the chapter headings display properly?
  • Does the book contain a complete and working table of contents?

Once you have made sure these are in order, you should begin to browse the book very carefully from beginning to end. Look particularly for passages where text switches suddenly to italic text. Particularly when have inserted the <i> tags by hand, it can happen all too easily that you accidentally forgot to close the tag properly, or you mistyped it. Only a visual inspection of the book, page by page, will make sure your text is in order, so take a few minutes and go through it.

If there are errors in your source file you will have to go back and edit the HTML file. What is important is that once you have made the changes, you will have to re-import the HTML file back into the Calibre book. In order to do this, click on the “View metadata” button again to bring up the meta data input form.


You will see that the box saying “Available formats” now also includes an EPUB entry. Delete all the entries here, MOBI, EPUB and most importantly the ZIP entry. Simply select them and hit the “Delete” key on your keyboard to get rid of them.

All we have to do now is bring the HTML file back by clicking on the icon with the red book and the plus sign in the right hand corner. Select your corrected HTML file and then go ahead and rebuild your eBook file. Save it and check to make sure the errors have gone.

Once you have confirmed that everything is as it should, it is time to build the other formats. Select MOBI from the drop-down menu in the “Covert books” form. chances are you will not have to change anything else, as the structure and TOC settings format independent, and because MOBI does not require any format specific adjustments. Build the eBook and save it.

Congratulations, you now have proper EPUB and MOBI ebook versions of your book that are virtually guaranteed to be free of the most common formatting errors found in today’s eBooks. To distribute your eBooks, all you need to do is send the .epub or .mobi file to your customers via email, or to upload them to Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or whichever outlet you want to serve. In case you were wondering, the eBook files contain all the graphics and images that are needed, so you will not have to send the JPG images with it. They are safely embedded directly in the files so that they can’t get lost.

I hope I have been able to help you with this series to understand that in order to create quality eBooks it is not only necessary to tackle the problems by their roots, but also that it is not nearly as intimidating a process as one might think.

Building an eBook from the manuscript to the final build can be done well under an hour if you’re familiar with the workflow. In fact, formatting my own “Jason Dark” titles, usually takes me no more than 15 minutes.

Let me know how this series has helped you, and let me also know there are subjects and issues that you’d like discussed in more detail. I’ll definitely see what I can do and highlight these issues in follow-up posts to this series.

In addition, if you wish to hire me to create your eBooks for you, feel free to send me an email.

Lastly, if you enjoyed this series and found it helpful, please feel free to support my efforts by purchasing one of my books. You can find them here at Amazon, Barnes&Noble or on the official Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter website.


Take pride in your eBook formatting
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ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.

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