Archives For Writing

The Lords of HarambeeAfter spending ten years writing it, self-publishing The Lords of Harambee was a difficult decision.  I poured my heart and soul into the book, and I want people to read it and be changed by it.  I believe it’s a good book, and the consistent 5-star ratings on Amazon seem to back that up, but even as I was writing it I knew that publishing it would be difficult.  Publishers are driven by the market, and generally expect books to fit neatly into genres that will be familiar to prospective readers.

The Lords of Harambee did not fit that paradigm.  It is a serious novel about contemporary issues, but is set three hundred years in the future.  It is about war, but is less about military action than about how a diverse range of individuals respond to the incredible traumas and pressures of war.  Although futuristic, much of the imagined world is deliberately low-tech.  The result is a novel that contains elements of literary fiction, war fiction, postcolonial fiction, military SF, and social SF, but doesn’t fit well into any one of those genres.  Selling it was never going to be easy.  When I submitted a few early chapters to a SF contest, the reviewer questioned whether it was really SF and condescendingly called it “Blackhawk Down in space”–which is exactly what I was trying to achieve.  I’ve since embraced that line, but even that misses the centrality of civilian families to the story and could potentially alienate readers who I think would love the book for its characters.  The agents I queried showed no interest.

In the end, I decided to self-publish.  It has been a rewarding experience, turning my manuscript into both digital and paperback books and releasing them out into the world. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and far more people have read the book than if I had left it to collect dust in a drawer.  I have no regrets.  At the same time, I am running up against the same obstacle that other self-published authors inevitably encounter: it is very, very difficult to get noticed in a saturated marketplace.  To put it simply, nobody knows the book exists, and it is very hard to get the word out because nobody will review a self-published book.  Times are changing, but self-published books still carry a stigma of being low-quality; unfortunately, too much self-published work justifies that generalization.  There is only one one way to successfully promote a self-published book, and that is through word of mouth.

So with that, I’d like to list a variety of ways that you–my readers–can help spread the word about my writing.  If you like the novel, or if you just like my blog and want to support my writing, consider supporting me in the following ways:

1. Read the Lords of Harambee.  Do you like character-driven fiction, science fiction, or international relations?  Give the novel a try, even if it’s outside your normal range of reading.  You can buy it on Amazon, or read the first five chapters for free.

2. Tell friends.  Spread the word verbally to your friends, family, or coworkers.  Share the link to the book or my blog on Facebook or Twitter.  Post a note on your blog or on message forums where you are active.  Follow me on Twitter.

3. Recommend the book to those with an online voice.  There are limits to how much I can recommend my own book; I’m not exactly neutral.  It is my readers who have credibility.  Do you know somebody who reviews books or has a website where a book mention might be appropriate?  Are you friends with an author or editor who might like the book?  Shoot them an e-mail.  My single biggest break came when a colleague recommended the novel to Instapundit; he mentioned the book, and I sold 250 copies in 24 hours.  These are the opportunities I am hoping to find, and the ones most likely to help the book break out.

4. Like the Facebook page.  It’s quick and easy to do.

5. Like me on Goodreads.  If you’re on Goodreads, you can view my author profile and identify me as a favorite author.

6. Write a review or recommend the book on Goodreads.  The Lords of Harambee has its own page, where you can rate it, write a review, or recommend it to friends.

7. Write a review on Amazon.  This is probably the single best way to help prospective readers decide if a self-published book is any good or not.  Don’t exaggerate or inflate; just write a truthful review, and show Amazon customers that the book is being read and is stimulating conversation.

8. Distribute the free sample on my Fiction page.  Copy it, email it out, link to it, post it on your blog, do virtually whatever you want with it (except sell it); the sample is meant to be shared as widely as possible.

9. Join my mailing list.  You’ll receive updates any time I publish new work, and you can opt out any time.

10. Say hello.  Did you read and enjoy the book?  I’d love to hear about it.  Hearing from enthusiastic readers is the single most rewarding aspect of publishing a book.

In closing, I am so grateful to all of you–my dear readers–who follow this blog and take an interest in my writing.  Thanks for making it all worth it!

The Lords of Harambee is now available as a trade paperback through Amazon.com.  I received the final proof last week, and am quite happy with the result.  I like my Kindle, but there is nothing like a holding a physical copy of my book in my hands.

In other news, I now have an e-mail list specifically devoted to my writing.  If you would like to sign up, you can do so at Building Peace or just click this link.  Messages will be infrequent; the list is primarily a means of announcing when I have new work available.

Subscribers to the list will receive free digital copies of two of my short stories: Conquering Europa, set on Jupiter’s frozen moon, won the 2001 Asimov/Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing.  Summit Dreams follows an American POW in Vietnam along his imaginative expedition to climb Mt. Everest.

 

If you’ve considered buying my political novel The Lords of Harambee, today would be a good day to do it.

I received a huge boost yesterday when nationally-known blogger Instapundit recommended the book.  In the past twenty-four hours I’ve sold enough copies to briefly make it onto Amazon.com’s list of bestselling political novels (currently #8) and science fiction adventure novels (#14).  After a couple months of struggling to draw any attention to the novel, I’ll admit that it’s pretty satisfying seeing my name next to Tom Wolfe, Joe Haldeman, Orson Scott Card, and George R.R. Martin.

Self-publishing has been an interesting experiment.  The publishing industry is rapidly changing and I believe that self-publishing will become an increasingly important part of the literary landscape.  However, the market is saturated with lousy self-published novels and there are few gatekeeping mechanisms to help prospective readers separate the wheat from the chaff.  To succeed, a self-published author must (1) write a good book and (2) help readers discover it.  Either that, or write a lousy novel and be a marketing genius.  Or write erotica.  About vampires.

I’ll leave it to my readers to determine whether or not my book is any good (free samples are available at the Amazon page).  I obviously believe in it.  The main reason I opted to self-publish is because my book is so far from genre norms that I anticipated trouble getting it published through traditional channels.  As the Instapundit plug noted, one reviewer disparagingly called the novel “Blackhawk Down in space”–which is exactly how I would describe it, except that I hoped it would be a selling point.

In any case, I’ve discovered that criteria #2–helping readers discover a book–is extremely difficult.  Breaking out is a chicken-and-egg problem.  A self-published book won’t be taken seriously without attention from gatekeepers, but the gatekeepers won’t pay attention to a self-published book unless it already stands out from the slush.  I’ve been scratching my head for the past two months trying to figure that one out.

But suddenly, for at least a brief time, the book is highly placed on a couple Amazon bestseller lists.  I would LOVE to keep that momentum going, so I encourage you to take a look at the product page on Amazon.  The book is only available electronically, but Amazon has free Kindle apps for almost every device you can imagine.  I am working on a print edition, which should be available within a few weeks.  If you did read and enjoy the book, tell your friends and consider writing a review on Amazon.com.  Thank you for all your support and encouragement!

My Novel is Available

August 1, 2012 — 3 Comments

Today I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my novel The Lords of Harambee.  It is available on Amazon for all Kindle platforms for $2.99.  Here is the plot summary:

The hostile world of Harambee was settled by refugees seeking a better life, with a little nudge from the Transsolar Corporation.  Now General Michael Sheridan commands an interstellar peacekeeping operation tasked with bringing order to a world torn apart by poverty, ethnic conflict, and foreign exploitation.  His estranged daughter Claire is an idealistic human rights lawyer who adamantly opposes the mission.  Njeri Omondi and Amazai Nebtomo are Harambean politicians of rival ethnicities, and secret lovers, who are trying to save their homeworld from implosion.  Their worst fears are realized when a coup topples the government and unleashes a horrific campaign of genocide.  These individuals must risk everything, and violate their most cherished principles, to stop the genocide–especially when Sheridan’s peacekeepers are ordered not to intervene.  As they strive to rouse an apathetic interstellar community, they have no idea how many great powers are manipulating the war to their advantage.  Among them is a utopian moon obsessed with achieving the Singularity–a technological leap forward into a posthuman future.

This is a huge event for me.  I spent a decade working on the novel, and have invested more heart and soul in it than any other project I’ve ever undertaken.  It has grown alongside me through my service and education as an officer.  I first conceived the idea while studying the Rwandan genocide as a USAFA cadet, and it has evolved to encompass many of my subsequent studies and interests.  Although fiction, it embodies my deepest reflections on human nature, international relations, and war.

Technically this novel is military science fiction, but it is substantially different from anything I’ve read in the genre and should appeal to anyone interested in history, politics, and war.  The story is set two centuries in the future, but it is really about the constancy of human nature and the eternal nature of war.  One reader told me it read like “Blackhawk Down in space”, which is exactly what I was striving for.

If you enjoy my writing, I invite you to take a look.  You can download a free sample before purchasing.  If you do read and enjoy the book, please spread the word–and be sure to let me know!  You can also help spread the word by liking the book on Facebook.

Why I am Writing

February 19, 2009 — Leave a comment

Now that I have a modest but consistent stream of readers, it is time I say a few words about why I am writing.

This blog is about my intellectual journey as a junior military officer who cares deeply about building a better collective future. I am not writing as a subject matter expert; I am writing as a student of the world. These writings are not my attempt to lecture. They are a record of my efforts to learn, to grow, to prepare myself for the hard work I anticipate in my future. I hope that by sharing them others can benefit as well.

On the evening of September 11th, as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I staggered to my desk and wrote a brief reflection that was later published in Checkpoints magazine. In it I quoted our commandant, who told us, “I know you’re all itching for a fight, but this isn’t your war. It’s our war. Yours is coming.” As hard as it was at the time, I took that message to heart. Later in the essay I wrote, “At the Air Force Academy, cadets are studying. Listening. Watching so that, when it’s our turn, we will give our nation’s enemies something to fear… And when my turn comes, when national defense passes to my generation, we will be ready. I can promise you that.”

The essay sounds quaint and naive now. Years of grueling warfare, failed foreign policy, and strategic miscalculation have ground down my triumphant idealism. I was appalled by preventable mistakes our country made. I’ve written before about my loss of faith in many of my leaders by 2006, which was only salvaged when a new breed of civilian and military leaders took the reins. While I was insulated from the worst of the fighting as a C-17 pilot, I still learned to despise war–even as I recognized its necessity. I flew blood and medical supplies into Afghanistan and Iraq and flew out soldiers so terribly wounded that one nearly died on my aircraft. I gave passage to a young bride who had just learned her husband was killed in Fallujah, and I flew home the remains of numerous soldiers killed in action–one shot by a Taliban fighter who was using his own wife as a human shield. In my International Relations courses I studied humanity’s collective moral failure in Rwanda, Sudan, and a dozen other countries most of us can’t point to on a map. I learned about AIDS, about boiling ethnic hatred and violence, about leaders who are willing to starve hundreds of thousands to cling to the feeble shards of power left in their shattered countries. I took these issues personally. Rightly or wrongly, I felt the weight of responsibility for them. While I’ve lost the idealism of my September 11th essay, my personal confrontation with war and foreign affairs crises only hardened my original promise: when my turn came to lead, I wanted be ready.

That promise set me on a journey. I vowed to gain the wisdom, knowledge, and competence necessary to lead effectively in the messy arena of foreign affairs. I earned a Master’s Degree in International Relations and worked extremely hard to compete for an scholarship to learn Arabic and live in the Middle East. I immersed myself in news, analysis, and books. I traveled whenever possible and searched out opportunities to cross cultures. I also began this blog as a chronicle of my journey.

That is why I write.

I am not on this journey alone. I’m thrilled beyond words that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have forged a generation of intellectually rigorous officers with the determination, competence, and realism necessary to lead in today’s world. My own voice is lost in the thriving online community where they learn, debate, and grind out ideas. That is a good thing.

Now, a word on what you can expect from this blog in the future. The blogosphere already has a vibrant counterinsurgency community loaded with experts on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. That is not my specialty and I intend to offer something different. I plan to focus on other areas that are of special interest to me.

First: my chief interest is building peace in the broadest sense of the word: integrating national instruments of power to build a stable, prosperous future–for both the United States and the world abroad. Anything even tangentially related to this goal is fair game for the blog.

Second: I have a special interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Western relations with the Arab world. During my 2+ years in Jordan I hope to develop as much expertise as possible in these areas and hope I can offer unique insights here.

Third: I have a deep, personal concern about the moral dimension of statecraft. Moral questions hardly register in the foreign policy community, which largely takes for granted that the pragmatic answer is the moral one. I constantly wrestle with foundational moral questions. To what extent are national and moral interests intertwined? To what extent can the United States realistically use its influence for moral ends?

Fourth: The Air Force is largely disengaged from the counterinsurgency community and has only a small online presence. In fact, as a matter of policy, it continues to firewall blogs entirely. Because of the deficit of Air Force voices online, I will write from time to time about Air Force issues.

Fifth: I am concerned about the limited interaction between various communities that have a stake in foreign affairs issues, such as national security professionals, development experts and NGOs, business leaders, environmentalists, and religious leaders. For example, the COIN community is fantastic, but it is a tight-knit community where most people read the same news, blogs, and books. To whatever extent it is possible, I hope to draw from all these different communities, bringing fresh perspectives into the military. I am less interested in saying anything new than in identifying and propagating the best ideas already out there.