Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Michael R. Hicks - HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Science Fiction & Fantasy Author Michael R. Hicks. He is a bestselling author of the IN HER NAME Sci-Fi and HARVEST Thriller series.

Author Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Thrillers

Website: Michael R. Hicks
Author's Blog: Michael R. Hicks - I enjoy writing so you can enjoy reading!
Blog: Google +
Twitter: @KreelanWarrior
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Author Description:
Born in 1963, Michael Hicks grew up in the age of the Apollo program and spent his youth glued to the television watching the original Star Trek series and other science fiction movies, which continue to be a source of entertainment and inspiration. Having spent the majority of his life as a voracious reader, he has been heavily influenced by writers ranging from Robert Heinlein to Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, and David Weber to S.M. Stirling. Now living in Florida with his beautiful wife, two wonderful stepsons and two mischievous Siberian cats, he lives his dream of writing full-time and spends as much time on the road in the family RV as possible...when he's not at the beach!

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

Now that we have Forged In Flame out there, what’s next? Rumor has it that you have a couple of books on the horizon. One called Mistress Of The Ages and the another called Reaping The Harvest. Can you tell us the timeline for their releases and give us a little tease?

Those are no rumors! Mistress of the Ages is the working title of the next book of the First Empress series, which is set in the very beginning (well, story-wise) of the In Her Name universe. I had planned for that book to wrap up the First Empress saga, but there's a LOT of material to cover between the end of Forged In Flame (book two, after From Chaos Born), that there will likely be at least two more books to round out the story of how the Kreelan Empire came into being, leading to the conflict that is eventually resolved in The Last War and Redemption trilogies.

In the meantime, I've already started working on Reaping The Harvest, which will be the final book of the Harvest thriller trilogy. The story is going to pick up only a few days after the end of Bitter Harvest, and I'll be frank: things are looking pretty grim for the home team in this one!

I hope to have Reaping The Harvest out by early summer, and Mistress of the Ages (or whatever The First Empress, Book 3 will be called) in early winter.

You have a great Twitter following. How important have your social media relationships been? Do you see a carry over to your writing success? How much has it changed your book launch process?

Social media - and Twitter, in particular - has been absolutely critical to my success, so much so, in fact, that I wouldn't be where I am today without it. I don't think there are any specific relationships I've had through social media that have been especially advantageous. For me, it's really more a numbers game, with the great bonus of meeting a lot of interesting people, a number of whom have become good friends over time. But every person I meet on Twitter is a potential reader, and quite a few have snagged one or more of the books I offer free to check them out.

I have to confess that book launches for me are sort of a haphazard affair. I know that a lot of folks have a carefully orchestrated process, but, well, I don't. I give periodic updates on a book's status as it goes through the writing and prepublication review process, then within a week or two of when I know it should be ready I fix a date. After that, I periodically tweet about it, giving a countdown or some such. Then I kick it out the door! Once it's out and available, I gather up the links for the various retailers and send an announcement to my mailing list (which is about 2,500 people now), update the web site, and roll out periodic tweets about it. Once I'm past that point, I'm usually deep into writing the next book!

Do you do book signing, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?

I'm easy to find on-line: I'm on and off of Twitter pretty much all day, even when I'm writing. It's pretty much the same with my Facebook page, and folks are always welcome to contact me through my web site.

In person "events" are a bit of a different matter. I don't routinely do book signings, because the ones I've done in the past have typically been wastes of time. I don't mean to say that they're a waste for everyone, but they haven't really worked out for me as a promotional opportunity. Of course, I'm always happy to meet with fans when the opportunity presents itself!

That brings me to the summer tour that I'm planning for this year, which is a bit of a different matter. I'm planning to get together with several author meeetup groups through the Southwest in June and July, and also hope to have some fan meets, as well. For those who want to keep abreast of those plans as they develop, I'll be posting updates on Facebook, Twitter, and my blog.

You have unique covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

I've created all my covers myself, using stock royalty free images from Dreamstime.com that I swirl around in Photoshop. Each series has its own distinctive base look, including fonts and iconic graphics (like the sword for the In Her Name books, or the biohazard symbol for the Harvest series), and I add a new look to the template for each new book.

I have involved readers a couple times in the past when I was banging my head against the wall, but most of them I come up with myself (usually with my wife, who's a Photoshop guru-ess, giving me thumbs up or down). For those where I got feedback from readers, I used Facebook as the "gallery" to display candidate covers. I picked the "winning" covers based on whether my Facebook friends three tomatoes or roses at them.

You have a great book trailer. (See links below.) Do you know how much impact they have had on your book’s success? Tell us about the process that you used to create your trailers? They look very professional. Do you use the book trailer in your character development? Are the pictures and background the way you see your characters and scenes?

I have to confess that the one book trailer that's out there was really only an entertaining experiment. I have no idea if it's helped sales or not, but it was fun to make. Creating it was actually absurdly simple: I just used one of the built-in templates in Apple's iMovie app, adding in some music and various stock images. It would have been tons better had I any custom artwork of the In Her Name universe, but maybe someday. But while it was fun to make, I don't have any plans to make any more at this point.

Between your book writing, blogging, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?

This is something I constantly wrestle with, more now that I'm writing full-time than when I was working a full-time job, too. When I was at my old job, managing my schedule was pretty easy: work took up about ten hours, door to door; sleep usually took about six hours; subtract out the time for the evening meal on weekdays (and the equivalent on weekends); at least some family interaction; and everything that was left I devoted to writing (with very little promotion) for most of three years. Work plus writing totaled anywhere from twelve to sixteen hours a day, usually seven days a week. I was exhausted a lot of the time, and didn't get to do a lot of what I would have liked. The only thing that I tried to keep above water was time spent with my wife and kids, making sure I was at all their events and just trying to be there for them in general.

That was exhausting, but easy to manage. Writing full-time now isn't exhausting, but it's a lot harder to manage because I have very few external constraints on what I do during the day. It's easy to say, "You know, I just feel like wallowing in the pool all day today" (we live in Florida now, so it's easy to do that almost any time of year!). It's nice to have the freedom to do that now and again, but it's definitely a double-edge sword. I also spend a lot more time in promotional activities, Twitter in particular, than I was before.

In the end, I suppose it evens out. I do have a lot more days now when I don't get a lot done, but I also have more days when I'm writing - at least intermittently - from dawn until late at night. But now when I feel like taking a nap, I can just flop into bed, rather than snoozing in the car in the parking lot at work during my lunch break!

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, your marketing and the relationship with your readers and fans?

Ebooks - Kindle books, in particular - have changed *everything*. I wouldn't be here right now if Jeff Bezos hadn't started the stampeded in the ebook revolution that opened the doors for wannabe authors to publish their work. I'd still be back at my old job, slowly going insane.

I don't think ebooks have changed all that much for authors in terms of marketing and relationships with fans: those things are still pretty common across all the publishing media (print, ebooks, audiobooks, etc.). I'd say the one area where it makes things a lot more convenient is in terms of giving away free ebooks, but even if we were still in the peak of the dead-tree book era, we could still send around PDF files.

The real change has been the ability of independent authors and small publishers to get their books in the hands of thousands of people at reasonable prices (or free), without having to go through the shenanigans of trying to get picked up by a traditional publisher.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

There's a long-running debate about freebies. Some authors think giving books away devalues their work, or is creating a reading population that will refuse to spend money on books.

The truth of it is that, when used effectively, it's hard to beat freebies as a promotional tool. Last year I gave away over a quarter million books, which helped me sell about eighty-five thousand. And I know many of those sales were generated by freebies, because I've had a lot of people say, "I would never have tried your books If I hadn't picked up one of the free ones - then I bought all the rest!" Bingo.

It's like going to one of those places like Costco or Sam's club where they have little booths out with food samples. I like munching my way through the store. Some of the stuff I didn't like. Some of it I did, but I was content with just the sample. But some - like the crab dip at Costco - hooked me and I went and bought some, when I wasn't even thinking about getting crab dip (and haven't had any in years). Freebies are hooks to get people invested in your characters and stories. If they like it, they're going to be happy to pay money for your other books.

You have a great blog. You do a good job keeping readers informed, marketing your books and providing useful information to other writers. What is your primary goal? Do you find your readers visit your blog frequently?

Thanks! My primary goal is just to have a virtual living room where people can come in and flop down on the sofa for a while and paw through the books scattered on the coffee table. If I was smart, I'd probably put a lot more effort into blogging like John Scalzi does, but I haven't gotten there yet. But I can't complain with 600 or so visits a day on average. I'm sure I sell at least some books through my web site, but it's really just there as a place for folks to go who want to find out more about me and my work.

Reading some of your blurbs, are you sure the world you’re writing about isn’t somewhere in the Superstitions? Esah-Zhurah and Keel-Tath sound like some chicks that I have seen in Apache Junction. How much did the desert influence your vision of the other worlds?

Ha! Probably a lot, although I've never really thought about it. But if you meet either of those ladies, you'd better start running the other way!

Author's Book List
Forged In Flame
First Empress saga,second book
Keel-That, the child who would unite her people, as foretold by an ancient prophecy, has grown to be a young warrior in the confines of the Desh-Ka temple, where she has been sheltered by her old friend and mentor Ayan-Dar from the clutches of Syr-Nagath, the Dark Queen. But when Keel-That is forced to choose between sanctuary and her honor, she goes into exile, leaving behind a broken-hearted Ayan-Dar. Captured and bound in chains by those who serve the Dark Queen, she is rescued from an unspeakable fate by a warrior from the shadows. Thus begins Keel-That’s perilous journey to the ends of her war-ravaged world, through deadly wastelands and even deadlier seas, unaware that some of those she holds most dear stand ready to betray her…


Keel-That climbed and stumbled through a forest of mineral deposits and rock, following the call in her blood. She did not know how she knew they were dead, but there was no doubt in her heart or her mind. Who they were — had been — and how she could possibly hear them, she could not fathom. Ayan-Dar had said that some of those in the priesthood could sense the spirits of the dead, but it seemed to be a vague sense of their existence beyond the barrier that stood between life and what lay on the other side, not a palpable presence in her blood, a song that here was more powerful than the living who followed behind her, shouting their warnings.

A stream blocked her path, but she ignored the potential danger of creatures lurking in the water and waded in without a thought. She heard the shouts of the others behind her, but paid them no heed. If there were deadly creatures in the water, they let her pass.

Beyond the stream was a natural stairway of slick stone, narrow and steep. She tossed her torch to the top, then followed after it, digging her talons into the soft stone for purchase as she pulled herself upward.

At the top was a narrow hole that was just wide enough for her to squeeze through, laying on her belly and wriggling like a fish. Her father’s sword, still strapped to her back, caught on the roof of the tunnel twice, but she managed to free herself and continue on.

She emerged in a vast natural cavern, whose far side was lost to her vision in the light of the guttering torch. Sliding down a long cascade of mineral formations, she stood at the edge of what must have been the tributary of the river that Dara-Kol said they must cross, and that fed the waterfall that roared in the darkness.

Walking quickly beside the water, she came upon enormous blocks of stone, most of which had been fused over long ages to the softer rock of the cavern. It was part of one of the seven tunnels that had collapsed. She climbed over the stones, her heart beating rapidly. She was close now, very close, to whatever called to her.

“Mistress!” Dara-Kol’s shout was barely audible over the sound of the rushing water. Keel-That paid her no heed.

She vaulted to the top of another huge block of stone, expecting it to be level at the top, as had been the others. Instead, it was shorn off at an angle, like a badly worn tooth. With a shout of surprise, she lost her grip on the torch and fell into the darkness…
Bitter Harvest
Harvest Trilogy, Book 2
A year has passed since the Sutter Buttes incident. Jack Dawson and Naomi Perrault, having failed to find the elusive bag of lethal New Horizons seed, are fired and the secret agency established under President Curtis to study the harvesters is shut down.

As the harsh controls on biotechnology and genetics research imposed under President Curtis are rescinded by the new President, Naomi is recruited by a self-made billionaire in the pharmaceuticals industry who wants her to continue her original work in developing a food-based delivery system for vaccines. She is thrilled until she discovers that her new colleagues have made far more progress than should have been possible, unless they had samples of the seed from New Horizons to reverse engineer.

While Naomi confronts a horrifying revelation in Los Angeles, Jack heads to India to discover what happened to Dr. Vijay Chidambaram, one of the Earth Defense Society scientists who returned to his homeland after the organization was disbanded. Left in critical condition after a hit and run accident that killed one of his colleagues, Vijay sends Jack to a remote village where he uncovers a terrifying secret.

And in Russia, Army Captain Sergei Mikhailov and his men are sent on a mission into the heart of the country’s grain belt to find out what happened at a shadowy facility where everyone has mysteriously disappeared.

None of them understand the true extent of the horror that is about to be unleashed across the globe, a nightmare they may not be able to stop…
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
In Her Name: Final Battle
In the final book of the first trilogy of the epic In Her Name science fiction & fantasy series, Final Battle picks up where Confederation left off: Reza Gard awakens in a hospital on Earth after having been in a coma for months.

Charged with murder and high treason, he finds himself the scapegoat for a daring plot to assassinate the President of the Confederation. Escaping with the help of Jodi Mackenzie, who is now hunted for what she knows about the death of the president, Reza discovers that something is deeply wrong with the Empire: the warriors have lost their will to fight. Compelled to step into a trap set for him and Jodi, the two once again find themselves bound for Erlang. But this time it is to meet Tesh-Dar, who has been captured. Captured and sentenced to death, they can only watch as a human armada gathers for a strike against the Kreelan homeworld. But the human fleet - and humanity itself - will be doomed to utter annihilation unless Reza can reach the Empress in time…
Book Trailer: In Her Name: Final Battle
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
In Her Name: Empire
In the first book of the epic In Her Name science fiction & fantasy series, EMPIRE is the coming-of-age story of Reza Gard, a young boy of the Human Confederation who is swept up in the century-long war with the alien Kreelan Empire. Nightmarish female warriors with blue skin, fangs, and razor sharp talons, the Kreelans have technology that is millennia beyond that of the Confederation, yet they seek out close combat with sword and claw, fighting and dying to honor their god-like Empress.

Captured and enslaved, Reza must live like his enemies in a grand experiment to see if humans have souls, and if one may be the key to unlocking an ages old curse upon the Kreelan race. Enduring the brutal conditions of Kreelan life, Reza and a young warrior named Esah-Zhurah find themselves bound together by fate and a prophecy foretold millennia before they were born.
Book Trailer: In Her Name: Empire
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
From Chaos Born
In Her Name: The First Empress, Book 1
For millennia before the bloody first encounter with humanity as told in FIRST CONTACT (In Her Name: The Last War, Book 1), the Kreelan race has been ruled by war. Countless civilizations have risen and fallen back into savagery, with total annihilation averted only by the warrior priests and priestesses of the ancient martial orders.

Near the end of the Fourth Age, a powerful warrior from a brooding fortress deep in the Great Wastelands began her bloody rise to power. Syr-Nagath, known as the Dark Queen, began a brutal war of conquest across the face of the Homeworld, secretly planning to destroy the martial orders and resurrect the dark ways of her race’s apocalyptic past.

What the Dark Queen did not anticipate was the birth of Keel-Tath, a child unlike any other. A child foretold in an ancient prophecy, who was destined to wield the powers of the ancient orders and unite her race.

A child the Dark Queen must kill, no matter the cost…
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
The Journal Of Avery Moore
In a delicious horror novella hearkening back to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum, Avery Moore, a good-hearted man working as an attorney, wakes up to find himself in a stark white room, naked, bound to a table, and his lips sewn shut. The nightmare becomes a terrifying reality as he realizes that he’s being used as an unwilling blood donor to keep a sociopathic physician alive, while the man’s psychotic and sexually deranged sister delivers unspeakable cruelty with each of her torturous visits. As Avery endures the endless torment, only one thing keeps his sanity from slipping away entirely: the hope, vain that it might be, that he can somehow escape before the life has literally been drained from his body…
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Dead Soul
In Her Name: The Last War, Book 3
Three years after the brutal first contact encounter with the alien Kreelan Empire, the human Confederation is desperate for a victory. With over a dozen worlds under siege by legions of Kreelan warriors, President McKenna orders the Confederation military to deliver a victory to give humanity hope.

Ichiro Sato and his wife Steph, Roland Mills, Valentina Sikorsky, and the irrepressible General James Sparks are once again at the sharp end of the spear in a mission to take back the colony of Alger’s World from the alien invaders before the Kreelans have exterminated the human population.

But the overwhelming firepower that they plan to bring to bear on the Kreelans may not be enough. For leading the invasion of Alger’s World is Ku’ar-Marekh, a warrior priestess who is feared even among her own kind. With her spirit trapped between life and death, she is called Dead Soul…
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
The Path To Self-Publishing Success
You dream of having a full-time career writing novels, but you're not sure how to get there, or if it's even possible. Maybe you've played the lottery with the traditional publishers, submitting your work over and over again to publishers and agents, only to receive a pile of rejection notices. You've looked at self-publishing, but are leery of it, or maybe you've embraced the idea but don't know where to start because you have no background in the publishing industry. Or maybe you're one of the many who's jumped into the self-publishing pool and splashed around, but haven't made the kind of progress you wanted to achieve.

If that sounds like you, then you need to read this book. Michael Hicks has been self-publishing since 2008, and through trial and error found his path to success in early 2011 when his books hit the Amazon bestseller lists. A few months later, he kissed goodbye his day job of twenty-five years to write full-time, a move that completely transformed his life. He had never been previously published, and had no background in publishing or marketing. Yet he succeeded.

You can, too.

This book tells you how he did it. By sharing what he learned from sometimes painful experience, you can avoid many of the pitfalls that self-published authors may encounter, and maximize the potential to achieve your own success.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Season Of The Harvest
Harvest Trilogy, Book 1
You Are What You Eat

At a genetics lab where a revolutionary strain of corn is being developed, FBI Special Agent Jack Dawson's best friend and fellow agent is brutally murdered, his body torn apart.

Jack is convinced that Naomi Perrault, a beautiful geneticist and suspected terrorist, is behind the murder. But when Jack is framed for setting off a bomb that devastates the FBI lab in Quantico, Naomi becomes Jack's only hope of survival.

Confronted by the terrifying truth of what the genetically engineered seeds stolen by his friend are truly for and who is really behind them, Jack joins Naomi in a desperate fight across half the globe to save humanity from extermination…
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Legend Of The Sword
In Her Name: The Last War, Book 2
Six months after the alien Kreelan Empire launched its invasion of human space, the Confederation of Humanity, a coalition of human worlds banding together for self defense, is rapidly growing.

Unfortunately, not all human worlds want to join the Confederation. Some, like Saint Petersburg, don't believe the tales of alien invaders, and think that the formation of the Confederation is nothing more than a veil over Earth's expansionist ambitions. With a powerful navy built in secret and armed with nuclear weapons, Saint Petersburg is preparing to launch their own offensive against Earth before the Confederation becomes too powerful.

The Confederation heavy cruiser Yura, commanded by Ichiro Sato, is part of the fleet the Confederation sends to preempt Saint Petersburg's attack. Drawn into a deadly trap, the Confederation fleet and its Marines are fighting for their lives when Kreelan warships, led by the enigmatic warrior priestess Tesh-Dar, materialize out of hyperspace.

As Tesh-Dar and her warriors wreak havoc on the two human fleets and Saint Petersburg itself, Ichiro, Roland Mills, and a Confederation spy known as SCARLET are faced with desperate choices from which they learn the true meaning of sacrifice.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
First Contact
In Her Name: The Last War, Book 1
Young Midshipman Ichiro Sato joined the Terran Navy to escape a tyrannical father and find freedom among the stars. He had no idea when he boarded the survey starship Aurora for his first assignment that he and his crew would make humanity’s first contact with a sentient alien species. In an uncharted star system where Aurora’s crew discovers two planets inhabited by a non-human civilization, Aurora is disabled by gigantic alien starships before she can escape. Boarded by nightmarish blue-skinned warriors with claws and fangs, the aliens learn all there is to know about the ship, including all its stored information about humanity, before the crew is slaughtered in a series of ritual combats. Ichiro, the sole survivor, is returned to Earth as a messenger to warn of the aliens’ coming invasion of human space.

For that is the Way of the Kreelan Empire, an ancient and dying race that has waged war across the galaxy for a hundred thousand years, slaughtering every sentient species it has encountered in a desperate search for the One, a savior foretold in an ages-old prophecy who can rescue them from looming extinction. For the Kreelans, who will die out in a handful of generations, the conflict with humanity will be The Last War.

With Earth leading a fragile coalition of military forces to mount a defense against what many believe is nothing more than a hoax, Ichiro again finds himself at the sharp end of the spear aboard a Terran destroyer. Together with journalist Stephanie Guillaume, Legionnaire Roland Mills, and the irrepressible General James Sparks, Ichiro and the other men and women of the coalition put their lives on the line against an enemy none of them could ever have imagined.
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
In Her Name: Redemption, Book 2
In Book 2 of the In Her Name: Redemption trilogy, Reza Gard has been banished from the Kreelan Empire and is once again a stranger in a strange land as he returns to the human Confederation. Befriended by a marooned Confederation naval officer leading a desperate fight against the Kreelans on a distant colony world, she reunites Reza with Nicole Carré. With their help, he fulfills his childhood dream of becoming a Confederation Marine.

Reza will need all the help he can get, for dark forces are at work at the heart of the Confederation, and Reza becomes a pawn in a lethal power struggle that leads him back to the planet Erlang. There, a heartbreaking reunion awaits him, along with the discovery of an ages-old power that the Kreelan Empire will stop at nothing to control.
Book Trailer: Confederation
Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the HBS Author's Spotlight plus the blog: eBook Author’s Corner.
Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.

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