Launch Day

It’s raining here in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had trouble sleeping last night which isn’t entirely unusual. At midnight, I couldn’t resist posting on my personal Facebook page that I’d received a notice from Amazon that The Wheel Mages went live although it wasn’t part of my “launch plan”. Sometime around 3 or 4 am, after I’d fallen asleep to the glorious voice belonging to Sir David Attenborough, my German shepherd, Gabi, had a dream so intense she “ran” herself right off the bed.

I woke to the sounds of yipping and a struggle with the sheets as she tore them trying to cling to the bed. She couldn’t hold on and fell with a dramatic thud. I spent about half an hour trying to convince her to come out from under the bed. That incident combined with the rain made me a little apprehensive about launch day, I’m not gonna lie.

But you know what? So far, it’s been splendid. I got up as soon as my alarm went off and sprung to action. Facebook posts, messages, and texts flooded my phone. I didn’t realize I had so many people cheering for me. It made me feel immensely blessed. I almost cried. Only almost, though, because there’s still work to be done!

I hopped onto the computer to throw out some tweets and make an announcement on my official Facebook page. Everything is falling into place. Except the print version of the book—that isn’t ready yet. Remember how I said you shouldn’t throw last minute plans on your designer? Uh huh.

It’s all right, there’s still time. As my dad always says, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.”

When I checked out my book on iBooks (figuring out how to link to an app was not something I was expecting to deal with this morning, by the way), I saw it was related to Game of Thrones and Tolkien. No lie, look!

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One of my friends sent me a picture of her electronic copy sitting spine to spine with Harry Potter. Wow. I’m still reeling. I’m a published author y’all. Published. The dream I’ve held since I was old enough to grip a pencil has finally been realized. After years of struggle and dozens of manuscripts, after hundreds of thousands of words and tens of journals filled to the brim with writing, I’ve finally done it. What an incredible feeling.

You know, when I started this post, I planned to write about how I got here. I was going to lay out the whole process of writing leading to publishing but I’m having difficulty finding the technical words when I’m so overwhelmed with emotion. That post will come but for now, I’m simply going to bask in this feeling while it lasts.

I hope you all enjoy The Wheel Mages. I know I enjoyed writing it.

❤ Aimee

P.s. In honor of Giving Tuesday, 50% of launch day proceeds will be going to HeARTsSpeak, an international organization I’m a member of which is dedicated to helping artists connect with shelter animals to improve their chances of finding a furever home.

Sneak Peek (Chapter 1)

It’s less than a week away y’all! 6 days! And in celebration of the holiday weekend in which I have many things to be thankful for, I thought I’d share with you another little tidbit of my debut novel The Wheel Mages. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(P.s., if you haven’t read the Prologue, get it here)

Chapter One

The Inner Sanctum was silent and dark. Walking into the room made me feel like I was walking into a cave and despite the high ceilings and openness, my chest tightened. I felt caged and though the cage was beautiful, with its tall granite pillars and fine marble floors checkered black and white like a chessboard, it was still a cage.

I shuddered and stared down the long gold-and-silver aisle runner that stretched forward into the epicenter of the room.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the poor light provided by a single fire pit in the center of the room. Behind the fire pit sat four intimidating figures, each perched upon a marble throne. And at the top of each throne, carved into the stone, was an emblem outlined in jewels.

I walked forward, eyes wide with fear and awe. My knees trembled and my muscles felt like wobbling plates of jelly, making it necessary for me to check my footing with every step I took. Stop, I silently scolded my knees, but they weren’t to be controlled. My stomach sank. Then, at least, please don’t let me fall. If I fall, I’ll be an embarrassment. Gods, please don’t let me embarrass Nikolai.

As I continued to move forward, I tried to distract myself from my fear by looking over the Sanctum’s Four. To my far left, sat Master Bartholomew Johnson. He was from an isle in the western region of the Trade Nations, an independent, wealthy country called Glasland. The powerful island was famous for its agriculture and navy and had helped to lead the civilized world into the industrial era. Out of the dark and into the light, the Glaslandish proclaimed.

My lashes fluttered against my cheeks while I focused on my breathing. When your emotions start to overwhelm you, focus on the little things, Nikolai had taught me.

Bartholomew wore a fine red silk vest with a pocket on the right. It was fashionable and well made if a little tight. While I honed in on the exquisite stitching of his black tailcoat, my muscles solidified.

My gaze moved from the ebony, ruby-topped walking stick propped alongside Bartholomew’s throne and up to the top hat sitting upon his sand-washed hair. Above it, emblazoned into the marble behind him, was a single lick of fire decorated by rubies—fire, my opposite.

To Bartholomew’s left sat Lady Maria Garivaldi from the southern nation of Vinostio, famed for its exotic creatures and deeply religious subjects. Maria’s light brown skin was complemented by her deep green gown. Her black hair was styled atop her head in a complicated arrangement, and within it rested a lightweight tiara made of golden grapevines set with emeralds. Her throne boasted a single ivy leaf, also bejeweled with emeralds. Earth, like my master.

To Maria’s left was Master Albin Ahlberg, an imposing man whose hair was long, straight, and white. He wore tall white socks, short leather breeches, a silk shirt, and a long blue overcoat accented with green trim. His homeland was a nation made up of frigid, secretive islands in the far west called Drifafell, and the wave and sapphires on his throne announced that he was a water mage, like me. Maybe one of the last of our kind.

I stared at the sapphire-encrusted wave on his throne. If I passed the Tests, I might one day occupy that spot. I wondered, not for the first time, if Albin was the reason why the Four had been so desperate to find me and hide me away, keeping my existence secret from all but their most loyal mages. The Four all seemed wise, but Albin was by far the oldest, and peeking through the wisdom, I saw strain and fatigue. Not even a mage could keep himself alive forever, no matter how strong his will might be.

After a thorough investigation of Albin’s stoic, gray eyes, I let my gaze fall to the final member of the Four, Master Stefan Volkov, a native of Ledenstaza, the eastern seat of the Trade Nations and the home of the Sanctum. He was so swallowed by a gray fur coat and a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows I could barely see his face, but the two diamond-accented swirls of air on his throne would have told me he was an air mage even if I didn’t already know.

When I reached the edge of the fire pit, I fell into what I hoped was a graceful court curtsey and stayed that way, my gown spread out beneath me.

I didn’t need to turn and look at Nikolai, I could feel him bow and take a knee behind me. I listened to his breathing to calm myself. It was steady, strong; he was sure of me in a way I wasn’t sure of myself. He always had been. His confidence warmed me, and my shaking knees stilled.

“Rise, Nikolai Sokolov, and present your apprentice.” The voice was lilting, feminine, and dripped with a songlike accent. Maria.

“Masters, Lady, may I present Alena Kozlov of Ledenstaza and mage of water.” Nikolai’s voice was formal, but I heard the pride in it.

I smiled at the marble floor, and a trickle of warmth touched my cheeks. All I’d wanted almost from the day I’d become Nikolai’s apprentice was to make him proud. Even when I’d shunned him, fought him, distrusted and disbelieved him, there had still been a part of me that wanted to please him. He’d saved my life and though he’d never demanded anything in return, never even seemed to expect anything, I’d always wanted to repay him. Making him proud, becoming the Sanctum Mage he’d always wanted me to be, was my way of doing it.

“And do you find her worthy?” The scathing voice was Bartholomew’s.

“I do,” Nikolai answered.

“Then rise, Miss Kozlov, and face your Tests.” At the sound of Albin’s voice, I rose. My legs were cramped from holding a lowered position for so long, but I ignored the discomfort and focused my attention on the Four.

“Master Nikolai, you’re dismissed. You may return to your chambers and await the return of Miss Kozlov.” Maria flipped her dainty wrist forward, and I heard Nikolai drop his head in an informal bow and turn. I wanted to look at him, to get one last encouraging smile, but I forced myself to keep my eyes forward. Nikolai had given me strict instructions not to watch him go. “I will leave,” he’d said, “and you might be tempted to turn around, but Lena, my sprite, you must not. You must show them only strength.”

I held my blink for a moment longer than was natural, and my stomach clenched from the effort it took to hold back the overwhelming and sudden sense of despair that had set upon me.

Nikolai’s supple leather boots barely made a sound as they brushed the marble and too soon, I heard the wooden doors of the Inner Sanctum groan as they shut behind him. I was about to face the Tests of the Sanctum’s Four. And though I’d known all along I’d have to do it alone, there was a strange finality to Nikolai’s departure. No matter what happened, when this was over, I’d no longer be his apprentice.

The Wheel Mages is available for preorder on Amazon Kindle here. Keep your eyes peeled on November 29th for iBooks and print releases! 

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Why I Chose Indie

Before I started this journey, my publishing knowledge centered around traditional publishing (being published under the name of a publishing house). While I didn’t hear much about publishing during my studies at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, what little I did hear was all about traditional publishing. “When you’re ready and your craft is honed, write a query letter, find an agent, and he or she will find you your publisher. But you’re not ready yet.”

When I decided it was time to get serious about The Wheel Mages, I assumed I would be traditionally published. To my knowledge, it was simply the way things were done. So I did what I’d been taught to do, I prepared a query letter and hunkered down for the long process of first finding an agent, then waiting, hoping, praying, stressing, and worrying about whether or not my agent would be able to find me a publisher.

As I researched ways to polish my query letter, articles popped out of the rabbit hole that is the internet—articles about a different form of publishing—self-publishing. To be honest, I wasn’t sold. A bias I didn’t know I had surfaced. Self-publishing must be for people who can’t get a publishing house to take their work, I thought. Not for me.

I silenced the nagging voice telling me to give self-publishing a deeper look. I wanted the gatekeepers in the traditional publishing world to hand me the key. I was desperate for them to tell me I had the right to call myself an author. I believed that being an author was so sacred I couldn’t bestow the title upon myself. It had to come from them. Anything else would be too arrogant, too much like Napoleon crowning himself.

But the articles continued to appear, and to silence the nagging, I read them. And the more I read, the more I started to think: Huh. You know, this is something people do and do successfully. Maybe the game is changing, maybe I shouldn’t dismiss this.

I started to open the door to the self-publishing voice’s cage. “Okay,” I said to it. “Prove it to me.”

I was sure I would defeat this defector, but after a lot of research, it won out. And, in list form, here are the top three reasons why:

1. Self-Publishing is faster

Self-publishing isn’t a quick process by any means, and I’m still leery of those who say it is. It’s taken me about a year to publish The Wheel Mages, from writing the first words to e-book launch. I imagine that as I get more accustomed to the process, it will speed up, but I don’t see myself ever being able to write, edit and launch a book in 60 days. Still, self-publishing is a lot faster than traditional publishing which takes closer to 2 years (when all the stars align). And while faster isn’t always better (I won’t sacrifice quality for speed when it comes to my writing), it is a great boon to the most important people in an author’s life—her readers.

All authors are readers first, and we empathize with the struggle that is waiting for a new book to come out. And while that may not be as much of an issue with a debut novel or a standalone, I was aware of what the struggle could be with a series, and I wanted to start down a path that would get my second book into my readers’ hands as quickly as possible.

2. Collaboration is Awesome

It’s not that authors who are published traditionally don’t collaborate, they certainly do, but one thing about self-publishing that really appealed to me was the ability to choose who I collaborated with. That was exciting (also nerve-wracking). I got to choose the designer of my cover art (Fiona Jayde Media) and the host for my website (WordPress) and my content editor (Katie McCoach Editorial) and my copy editor (Nikki with Katie McCoach). My hands are all over this book, every facet of it is sealed with some part of my blood, sweat and tears. But the marks of those who have touched it are there too, making it a unique creation.

3. Self-Publishing Pays Better

I write because I love writing. If no one read The Wheel Mages, I would still write. No one has read many of the manuscripts sitting on my hard drive, but that never stopped me from creating, and it never will. I am the best version of myself when I’m writing.

I publish to make money. It sounds harsh and unromantic, but it’s authentic. I have to pay my bills, the same as anyone else, and if I can do it with writing, that means I have more time to do what I love, which is writing and connecting with my readers.

In traditional publishing, writers can expect to see about 15% royalties (with a good deal). That means that if your publisher sells your book for $10.00, you’re only going to see $1.50 of that. In reality, a $10.00 book is probably a paperback and royalties on paperbacks are more like 10%, so the author is only going to see $1.00 of that. To make $50,000 a year (a round number for illustration), an author needs to sell 50,000 copies of his/her book.

The royalty rates in self-publishing are much higher. If an author uses Smashwords, for example, he/she gets 60% royalties (4 times more than a traditional publisher, for those keeping track). That means he/she can sell his/her books cheaper. (Bonus: This is also awesome for the reader). If the author price points his/her book at $5, he/she gets $3 of every book he/she sells. That means he/she can sell under 17,000 copies and still arrive at the same $50,000 per year.

The difference is huge.

Now, none of this means that I wouldn’t consider accepting a traditional publishing deal in the future. I don’t want to burn any bridges, or close any doors, but for right now, self-publishing is what works for me! And I hope it’s what works for you too!