Kevin Hoffman's Musings The musings of a writer who pays the bills by being a geek. Thu, 04 Dec 2014 01:17:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Preliminary Cover Art for The Blood Sigil Thu, 04 Dec 2014 01:17:11 +0000 Thanks to the efforts of an amazing artist, Eli Neugeboren, the same talented person who did the artwork and maps for The Fifth Vertex, I now have some preliminary cover art to show you for the second book in The Sigilord Chronicles – The Blood Sigil.

Check it out!

The Blood Sigil

The Blood Sigil

Are Your Characters People or Placeholders? Thu, 04 Sep 2014 18:52:14 +0000 I decided to write this blog post over on Medium. Click here to go read it!

Success Baffles Me Mon, 25 Aug 2014 17:21:38 +0000 I have always been my own worst critic. I grew up with self-esteem issues and a defense mechanism I learned at an early age was to always say worse things about myself than anyone else could. That way, other people’s opinions of me or my work wouldn’t hurt so much. Yes, it’s a terrible way to live but childhood is what it is, and we all learn coping mechanisms – some good, some bad.

When it came time to publish my book, I prepared myself for the worst. I imagined all the terrible, 0-star reviews that people would post about the book, the hate that would infect social networks about my miserable excuse for a fantasy novel. The apocalypse was about to happen, and it was my own fault.

But the apocalypse didn’t happen. All of the reviews of The Fifth Vertex have been positive, even those from people I don’t know, people without a vested interest in making me happy. People with absolutely no stake in the game genuinely liked the book. More than that, the book has actually been selling well.

Today, The Fifth Vertex is #10 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Epic Fantasy. It’s ranked 37th overall in Epic Fantasy, and 52nd overall in all Epic Fantasy books. As I sit and watch this happen, without me having done any serious advertising for the book, my only thought is what’s wrong? What mistake is happening to cause this? What algorithmic fluke has allowed my book to appear on the same page as a Robert Jordan book or Terry Goodkind and even Stephen King?

Trust me when I say this isn’t just humility at work. I genuinely cannot figure out why the book is doing so well. I am genuinely shocked when people tell me they liked the book. I was shocked when my stepdaughter loved the book so much she read it over, and over, and over again. She wants to make sure all of her friends read the book because she thinks it’s amazing. I honestly don’t know how something like that could have happened.

What I will do, despite my own doubts about the level of my writing, is continue on. I’m working on book 2, and I’m continuing to make plans for marketing The Fifth Vertex. While part of me waits for the other shoe to drop and the stream of unending bile and loathing to come from my readers, part of me has fulfilled a life-long dream of entertaining people with words and a story that I truly love.

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Goodreads Giveaway! Tue, 19 Aug 2014 23:59:30 +0000 Who wants a free, signed copy of The Fifth Vertex? The giveaway starts September 1st, so make sure you go sign up!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Fifth Vertex by Kevin Hoffman

The Fifth Vertex

by Kevin Hoffman

Giveaway ends September 08, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The Feels! Thu, 14 Aug 2014 18:30:08 +0000 The other day one of my readers, upon reaching the end of the book, exclaimed, “The feeellllsss!!!” If you’re not familiar with that particular meme, click here. To summarize, “the feels!” is what someone shouts when they’ve just been emotionally affected (strongly) by something done to them, something someone said, or, in this case, something they just read.

When a painter paints, they add paint to a brush and they make strokes, the aggregate of those strokes is some picture designed to evoke some response in the viewer. Authors are very similar, but the paints we use are the sum total of the reader’s life experiences prior to reading the book, and the strokes are our words. We use the words to pull up memories, to pull emotions and feelings to the surface as they read, taking our reader along for the roller coaster ride we have planned for them.

Writing is more than just telling a story. It isn’t just the mechanical action of relaying information, it’s the act of choosing the right words, in the right order, to compel your reader to feel what you want them to feel. If you want them to feel excitement during an action scene or sadness in another scene, joy somewhere else, then you must chose your brush strokes wisely and deliberately. Getting a reader to feel something while reading nothing more than “words on a page” is a difficult thing to do, because it feels (to the reader) like a complete accident, as though they were simply reading the words and they stumbled onto an emotional response along the way.

Needless to say, I felt a huge emotional response when I heard the shout of “the feeelllls!!”. Having someone say they like your story is one thing, but knowing that your words have had an emotional impact on a reader, that is the epitome of gratification for a writer, and I will never forget that moment.

Prepping The Fifth Vertex for Paperback Tue, 12 Aug 2014 12:45:31 +0000 Independent authors have to do and learn and worry about things that authors with publisher backing can safely let slide. This isn’t an insult or a slight against traditionally published authors. Believe me, if I could go it the “easy route” and have a publisher worry about all these things, I would have. But part of me, even knowing how much harder it is, wants control over the process and the property.

Compared to the paperback, preparing the eBook for Amazon was a piece of cake. That process was grueling as well, but there are just so many more details to worry about when preparing a book to be printed that writers who would rather worry about characters and plot and pacing just never think about.

The first thing I had to deal with was the cover. Everyone knows the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Unfortunately, most people do. We judge people by their appearance, and we judge books by their covers. So no matter how much we’d like to believe that people will judge our book solely based on the contents within, we all know that readers won’t even look inside and get that far if the cover is ugly or looks unprofessional.

Thankfully, I was able to get the talented illustrator Eli Neugeboren to do my cover art and my maps. The cover for an eBook just involves a single image and most of the time whatever reader you’re using can do a good job of scaling it to fit whatever form factor your device has. It’s software, and software can compensate.

Paper has no such compensation. When building a cover for a printed book, you need to know how thick the spine of the book is, and you need to make an image that starts on the back cover (far left of the image), goes across the spine, and then finishes on the front. You need to know exactly how many pages you have and how thick those pages are to determine how thick your spine will be. Thankfully, if you’re going the indie route, services like CreateSpace will help you figure this out and give you templates, but it is definitely not work for the feint of heart. If I didn’t have an IT background and the help of an artist, I would’ve thrown my hands up in the air and run screaming for the hills.

Now comes the truly insanity-inspiring process: the inside of the book. When you’re building an eBook you don’t have to worry (much) about things like font family and size because eBook readers let the reader choose those things. In a printed book, everything has to be perfect up front. So I had to make sure all the fonts in all the chapters were perfect. Then, I noticed that in some of my chapters, the tab stops were .025″ off from the other chapters. I don’t know if anyone else would have noticed, but I noticed it, so I spent hours manually correcting all the tab stops because the software I was using didn’t seem to want to automate that process.

Next, there’s a detail that we all notice unconsciously when reading printed books but we probably don’t spend much time thinking about it. This detail is that when you’re looking at a book, the printing on the left side page and the right side page is subtly different. In fact, there are even names for the left and right side pages: recto and verso. On the verso side, out of convention, I have the title of the book at the top and the page number at the bottom. On the recto side, I have the author name at the top and the page number at the bottom. However, if the page is a chapter starting page, I can’t have anything on the top. Further, I can’t have anything on the top or bottom in the front matter like the maps, dedication, etc.

The important thing about details like this is that readers don’t notice them or really care much about them when they are done properly, but they will notice when it’s wrong. They might not be able to articulate the reason why, but screwing up a detail like this will pull readers away from your pages just as easily as would a gaping hole in the plot.

Then, after all that effort and submitting the material to get it reviewed and proofed, one of my readers pointed out the only error he could find in the book: an incorrect word in one of the final chapters of the book. I could have just said “screw it” and published anyway. Hardly anyone would have noticed… except me. Knowing that word was wrong would have kept me awake at night, so I pulled the material back down, made that one word change, and resubmitted, knowing it could cost me another 24-48 hours before the paperback would be in the pipeline.

So now I sit and wait for the proofs to come back and hopefully this time I won’t find any details that need fixing. As I’ve said a million times before – if it would bother me as a reader then it’s unacceptable as a writer. I refuse to publish something knowing I could have fixed a problem.

Amazon Enlists Help from Indie Authors Against Hachette Sat, 09 Aug 2014 12:23:15 +0000 Last night I received this e-mail from Amazon, addressed to “KDP Author”. The short summary of the e-mail that I have included in its entirety below is that Amazon is embroiled in a battle with Hachette. Those of you who watch the Colbert Report may know about this battle, and about Colbert’s efforts to circumvent Amazon that resulted in putting a newbie author’s first book on the NY Times Bestseller list.

Personally, this letter felt like I was getting a letter from BP asking me to help them fight the environmentalists, but I don’t know. I haven’t stewed on this problem enough and I don’t feel informed enough about both sides to really know what’s actually going on. What do you think?

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

Copy us at:

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at

Communication by Meme Fri, 08 Aug 2014 14:11:01 +0000 Lately I’ve been noticing a trend in the way people communicate, at least in the way they communicate online. The only way I can describe it is “communication by meme”. The more time people spend online and the more their online activity becomes a part of their lives, the more they build up shared context, the meaning of which can only be derived from exposure to similar online activities.

There are languages where communication shortcuts are available and encouraged, all based on shared context. For example, in Japanese, if two people have already established that they are talking about “the soup”, that object can then be omitted from virtually all other sentences in that conversation, unless I need to explicitly differentiate a person from the soup (Am I delicious, or is the soup?)

What I have found fascinating is that the Internet is allowing for the buildup of a tremendous amount of shared context, of backstory that can be left out of conversations and replaced with nothing more than a meme image.

There is an entire subculture of shared context built up among people who frequent Internet forums, comments on videos and Facebook, etc. Memes appear out of nowhere and within days it seems as though all of your friends are communicating in a completely foreign language … until you figure out the source of the meme, and then suddenly it all makes sense.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes: Darmok. In this episode, Picard meets an alien who communicates in metaphor. Everything that is communicated is a reference to the meaning or feeling experienced in some prior event.

That’s how you communicate, isn’t it? By citing example… by metaphor!

Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

I can’t help but draw connections between the way this alien species communicates and some of what’s happening online. We communicate by meme, by sharing a reference to something that once was funny or once had meaning online. Because we all shared the experience by seeing that same YouTube video or watching that one cartoon that went viral, we all know what it means when a still picture from that video appears as the only information contained in a comment. We know what it means when someone drops an animated GIF of someone eating popcorn in a comment thread, or a picture of a troll hiding under a bridge.

Brace Yourselves

Brace Yourselves

It has even become commonplace in office communications. A picture of Ned Stark (Winter is coming!) is often placed in an e-mail that warns of bad news on the horizon. The e-mail never says anything like “prepare yourselves for bad news” … It’s just a picture of Ned Stark. Everyone (well, almost) knows that when they see that picture, they are to brace themselves. Why? Shared context, communication by meme.

The real question I have is what does this mean for the future of communication between people. Are we headed for a future where we do nothing but exchange images of memes to convey meaning intermingled with emojis and icons, and nobody actually exchanges words or complete sentences ? Is the use of memes and shared context for communication contributing to the “dumbing down” of average people?

More importantly, what impact will this have on books? You already see more and more contemporary references to things that might be funny to readers of the time appearing in books (which will, of course, mean nothing 5 years from now). Will books of the future be nothing more than a bunch of meme images pasted together like an old ransom note?

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The Fifth Vertex Is Available!! Mon, 04 Aug 2014 10:35:55 +0000 As of yesterday afternoon, The Fifth Vertex was available in the Amazon Kindle store for purchase. It is also available in the Kindle lending library and is available as one of the titles in the “Kindle Unlimited” program.

Seeing my book in the Kindle store is an amazing feeling, but I also realize that this is just the beginning of the journey. I need to get my book into as many hands as possible. So if you are reading this, then please go buy the book and make sure you tell all your friends to do the same! :)

Click here to buy the book! The Fifth Vertex

Pushing the Big Red Button (Publish) Sat, 02 Aug 2014 15:08:32 +0000 I sit here at my desk, an edited manuscript taking up most of its free space. I look at my Kindle bookshelf and marvel at it. All of the details are there, the “back of the book” blurb is there, I’ve chosen categories and keywords. The cover art is magnificent, the maps are inspired and beautiful. I’ve uploaded the Kindle-friendly file that will eventually make its way to all kinds of devices and browsers. All that remains for me to do is hit the button, to enter the launch codes and push the big red button.

But I can’t bring myself to do it. The Fifth Vertex, my first fantasy novel to be published, has been floating around in my head in various stages of development for several years. Some pieces of the plot came from ideas I had 10 years ago, other pieces of the plot didn’t occur to me until I was sitting at the keyboard, typing out bits of unrelated dialogue. As any author will tell you, the story is a part of the writer. When we write, we imbue the story with a part of us. That’s what makes the writing process so vulnerable, and so frightening. It is also what makes for a compelling story – A story whose author doesn’t care about it will have readers who care even less about it.

We aren’t just letting people read some story in which we have no stake, we are exposing ourselves to the world. We are letting people see parts of us, through fiction, that even our loved ones may never see. When I hit that button to publish it, I am removing the safety of isolation and working in a vacuum. All the air from the outside will rush into my tightly controlled, airtight chamber. I will lose control of my creation, and I will be unable to do anything about who reads the book and who doesn’t. People will like my story, and people will hate it and there will be nothing I can do about that except sit back and watch while I work on the second book.

The big red publish button is an irrevocable action. Once I launch that missile, it cannot be unlaunched. The consequences, good or bad, will be out of my control at that point. When I finally do push that button (likely this weekend after I’ve double-checked a few details), I feel that it will have taken more courage to click on that one button than it did to write the entire book.