Self-Pub 101: Lessons Learned (Part 1)

This is the third in a series of blog posts where I talk about my experiences with self-publishing and learning how to be an indie author. This post in particular was prompted by a question my friend J asked me: “Did you learn anything publishing Stormsinger that you’ll do differently in future?” Did I ever. This is just a partial list, because I’m sure there are things I’ll think about after this is published. I’ll be doing a Part Two next week, and I’ll probably have Parts Three through Six after I’ve got a couple more books published.

Cover art

If there’s one lesson I learned about cover art, it’s this: Fall in love. Honestly, for an 8-hour e-book, I think Stormsinger has a great cover. I remembered a photo I had liked from a stock photo website. I cropped it the way I liked it (not the standard size, unfortunately), and slapped the text on there in Photoshop Elements. Book cover of STORMSINGER with a sailing ship's rigging and sunsetWould I do it again? If I were constrained to 8 hours for writing, editing, formatting, and publishing, sure.

But the thing is, people judge books by their covers. You do it. I do it. It’s instinctive. And while I’m perfectly open to reading work by indie authors these days, I have a knee-jerk reaction to cover art that screams self-pub. If an author doesn’t care enough to get the cover right, I figure he or she doesn’t care enough to get the inside right either. Do I know that authors have more control over words than art? Of course! I routinely doodle things and wish I were good at drawing. But while I make a decent teammate at Pictionary, I would never beat a fifth-grade art student in a contest.

So no, it isn’t easy to get good cover art for your book. But it is necessary. So when I decided to invest more money and effort in Stormshadow, I spent several hours on websites like DeviantArt, looking for art I liked and scrolling through each artist’s portfolio. I bookmarked those who were available for commission, but when I found Phuoc Quan, I fell in love. His style, his subject matter, his color palettes, they were all exactly what I wanted for my book covers. Thankfully, he was available for commission, and on top of that, he’s a dream to work with.

Here’s another piece of advice regarding cover art: If you can do the actual design work yourself (text, spine label, back matter, bar code, etc), do so. But get the cover dimensions right. Either download a template if possible (CreateSpace has them for their print covers) or at least check the preferred dimensions of each e-book retailer. Derek Murphy over at CreativIndie has compiled those. He does a lot with book covers. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the design work, check out his premade covers. And if you can’t do the design work yourself, either barter with or hire a graphic designer to do it for you. Like I said, I’m totally judging your book by its cover.


Along with cover art, I should mention, at least briefly, font choice. Others have talked about this with more knowledge and depth (Derek Murphy at CreativIndie, for one), but I have two specific pieces of advice.

Make sure you understand the license of the fonts you use. Just because you’ve chosen to self-pub, you aren’t entitled to ignore copyright laws. Make sure the font you’re using is one that you are licensed to use. If it’s one you’ve downloaded from those marvelous font repositories, it probably came with a TXT file outlining what you may and may not use it for. Full disclosure: I used the Angelic War font on both Stormsinger and Stormshadow. It wasn’t until I was formatting Stormshadow that I thought to check the license and realized I had used it for a commercial project without purchasing it. I purchased the license that day, but still felt guilty.

Make sure you love the font enough to keep using it in your series. When I published Stormsinger, I didn’t know it was going to demand an immediate sequel, but I did know there would be books set in that same world. I still love Angelic War. I also love its partner Angelic Peace. And I would choose them again if I had it to do over. But there are some fonts out there that just don’t make for a good series font. Okay, I guess I have a third piece of advice. Avoid Comic Sans.


Make use of styles. I formatted in Word, and Smashwords has a great walk-through guide in how to format for their “meatgrinder” e-book creater. What I didn’t know when I did Stormsinger was that Word styles can be a great way to format print books for CreateSpace as well. This is a lesson I got from Laura VanArendonk Baugh, who even formatted her nonfiction book in Word.

Look at traditionally-published books. This seems like a no-brainer, but maybe it needs to be said. When I began working on the print formatting of Stormshadow, I flipped through several books from my bookshelf. I didn’t choose them at random. I picked books in the epic fantasy genre, books that were published in the last ten years, and primarily looked at hardcover and trade paper. Writers are used to manuscript format by now–double-spaced, typed, 1-inch margins, yadda yadda. But we don’t think much about how an actual book is constructed. Some books actually have information about the typeface in them (Elizabeth Moon’s most recent in the Paladin’s Legacy does, for instance). But here are a few things all books have in common:

  • Title page (with publisher logo)
  • Cataloging & ISBN information page
  • Dedication page
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • Some (mostly nonfiction) also have a table of contents and index

The more of these common elements you have, the more your self-published book will look like an “actual” book. Pay attention to line spacing, font size, and justification, too. Traditionally published books have full justification and are printed at maybe 1.5 spacing, but probably less. And the font size is smaller than you think it should be, too. This is one of those places where you can be creative and please yourself, but keep in mind, other people have to read it. If you’re writing a book that mostly appeals to people who need large print, by all means, go for it! But if your demographic is YA, you might want to reconsider.

Cathartes Press logo designed by me

Cathartes Press logo designed by me

In the bullet list above, I mention having a publisher logo. Derek Murphy wrote a great article at CreativIndie about this that got me thinking. I consulted a couple of people, looked into the process of creating a business in Indiana (not hard), and decided I would become Cathartes Press. I took a photo, vectored the crap out of it in Adobe Illustrator, and presto! I have a logo. Do people know who Cathartes Press is? Nope. Do they care? Also nope. It looks legit, simply by virtue of having a logo. Seriously. Read Murphy’s post.

To Be Continued…

So there you have it. Some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past eleven months since I started on my indie odyssey and became a self-published writer. Next week I’ll talk about pricing and marketing, which are topics so broad others have written entire books about them. In the meantime, what lessons have you learned from self-publishing?

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Self-Pub 101: Online Resources for Indie Authors

I read a lot of blogs. Fortunately a lot of those blogs are things I first stumbled on in the course of my day jobs (which involve lots of social media marketing), and I can still make a good case for reading them at work. I use Feedly to aggregate all my blog feeds into one easily-checked list, which is a huge time-saver.

For today’s post, I wanted to share some of the experts I pay attention to online on a regular basis.


I read agent blogs partly because I’m still open to being a hybrid author instead of straight-up indie. I also read them because agents know a lot about marketing and how to make a story stronger and what pulls readers in.

Book Bloggers

If you’re not reading book blogs in your chosen genre, you’re making a big mistake. This is a great place to keep up on what’s popular now, what isn’t on the market, what book bloggers like or don’t like. The ones I’m listing are my favorite fantasy book bloggers, but there are lots of bloggers in every genre.

Business Advice & Info

  • Author Earnings – To be honest, I haven’t read all of this and don’t understand all that I’ve read. But if you’re good at math/financial stuff, you should read this. If you’re not, you should try to read it. Or find someone smarter than you at business to read it. (That’s what I did.)
  • Creativindie - Later in this series, I’ll also be reviewing CreativIndie’s book
  • The Savvy Book Marketer


  • Jane Friedman – Jane has all kinds of great information for writers, whether they’re self-publishing or pursuing traditional publication. Her post What Every Self-Published Author Needs to Know About Taxes is a great example of the value she provides to authors!
  • Nathan Bransford - Nathan used to be a literary agent. Then he started writing Middle Grade fiction. He still blogs about the publishing industry and writing.
  • Query Shark – If you want to be traditionally published, you should be reading this. If you’re interested in self-publishing, you should still read it. Good queries make good back cover copy.

Social Media Marketing

Writers – Indie

  • CJ Lyons No Rules, Just WRITE! – Probably the top blog that Indie Authors should be reading.
  • David Gaughran - Another very rabidly anti-legacy publishing blogger, Gaughran nevertheless has a lot of good information for the self-pubbed.
  • Kristen Lamb’s Blog - Kristen Lamb has also written books, which I’m planning to review later on in this series.
  • Laura VanArendonk Baugh
  • Lindsay Buroker - Lindsay blogs about all kinds of great information for indie authors. She recently posted about pricing for e-books, and she talks a lot about financial and business stuff.
  • Must Use Bigger Elephants - Patty Jansen posts a little bit of everything, including some amazing photography of Australian landscapes. Just last week she posted “Why I self-published in 2011 and why in 2014 I’m still glad that I did.”
  • A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing – J.A. Konrath’s blog is the reason I’m an Indie Author today. He’s very rabidly anti-legacy publishing, though, so take him with a grain of salt. :)

Writers – Traditionally Published

Writing – General


Add to my list

What about you? Do you have favorite blogs or websites to read? Podcasts? I don’t listen to podcasts myself (very little of what I do allows me to listen while working, and I can’t afford the time to only listen and not multitask), but I’d love to add some to my list.

Comment and let me know!

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First Look Friday–To Sow the Wind

I’m super excited! In a couple of weeks I’ll have a novella, To Sow the Wind, available in a different world than the Storms in Amethir series, and just this week I got the final art from my phenomenal artist, Phuoc Quan! I’m going to tease you all with a glimpse of the art:

To Sow the Wind novella cover hint

Stay tuned for more information! To Sow the Wind has a planned publication date of August 3–and if you sign up for my newsletter here, you’ll be the first to see the full cover when it’s ready!



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Get Stormshadow free on Digital Book Day!

Everyone loves getting a free book, right? Well, what about lots of free books? Even better! So get your mouse-clicking finger in shape and check out Digital Book Day this coming Monday!

Digital Book Day square logo

Author CJ Lyons decided it was time to free the Bastille books for a day, so she organized Digital Book Day as a place for all kinds of authors to offer a single title for free for one day only.

My book Stormshadow will be available there, as will my friend Laura’s book Con Job and many, many others. As I write this (several days in advance) there are almost 300 titles there in genres ranging from science fiction and fantasy to romance to mystery/thriller to nonfiction to historical to young adult to general fiction. It’s pretty safe to say there’s probably something for everyone.

So go browse, but the links won’t be live until tomorrow, and tomorrow only!


ETA: Hopefully Stormshadow will be there. I just realized my application didn’t go through and I had to try again, but it was after the deadline to sign up. I’m hoping it will work.


ETA2: Actually looks like their servers are overloaded today, so download the PDF here.

Invalid download ID.

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Book Signing Saturday

I have two events scheduled for this coming Saturday, so if you’re anywhere in central Indiana, you can swing by a couple of places to get a copy of Stormshadow and have it signed by yours truly!

Local Author Fair, 10 am – noon

Crawfordsville District Public Library
205 S. Washington Street
Crawfordsville, Indiana

Come find me and a bunch of other local authors (including my friend Laura VanArendonk Baugh) at the Pavilion behind the library building. If it’s raining, we’ll be signing books in the library basement.

Robots and Rogues, 6 – 9 pm

Robots and Rogues New and Used Books
531 Main Street
Lafayette, Indiana

Robots and Rogues will be open late as part of Lafayette’s monthly Mosey Down Main. There will be live music, food, entertainment, vendors, and I’ll be signing books along with Brad Lamar, author of the Celtic Mythos series.

I hope to see you there! :)

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Self-Pub 101: An Indie Author’s Introduction to Self-Publishing

I’ve mentioned before how I sort of fell accidentally into the self-publishing world. (Or, more accurately, how Laura VanArendonk Baugh pushed me into the self-publishing world.) I’ve never really talked about why I made the decision to go for it, what resources I used, what I wish I’d known beforehand, and what I’ve learned from the process.

I have a close friend who is contemplating going the indie route with her LGBT urban fantasy novel, and she’s asked me some good questions that have me thinking about this. At the same time, I have another friend who has pointed a couple of young authors to me for advice, or at least commiseration. So I got to thinking, why not create a series of blog posts about my thoughts on indie publishing?

I know I won’t be covering any ground that hasn’t been covered before, and probably better than I can. But on the other hand, I’ve had an excellent mentor in the indie business, and if I can pass along anything from my own point of view to someone else, I’ll feel like I’m paying it forward, so to speak. Plus, I have an academic background, where we learn early to credit our sources. So I’ll definitely be linking to my favorite resources as well.

Some of the questions I’ve been asked:

  • What did you read to get yourself ready to publish?
  • Are there any good books/articles on self-publishing?
  • Did you learn anything publishing Stormsinger that you’ll do differently in future?

Some topics I’m thinking of covering:

  • Favorite blogs by indie authors, traditionally published authors, social media marketing experts, book reviewers, and agents.
  • Cover art
  • Books to read
  • Networking
  • Marketing
  • Formatting
  • Financial/Business stuff
  • Mental and Emotional crap involved with self-publishing

To answer my friend’s questions flippantly, I read all the blogs. Yes, there are good books and articles on self-publishing, and of course there are lots of things I have done different with Stormshadow and plan to do differently with To Sow the Wind and other future books.

But before I go into any details (that’ll be in a later post), I’d like to talk about the gradual progression that led me to choose indie publishing.

My Journey to Indie-dom

I’ve been reading blogs about the publishing industry for at least five years now, and reading books about the publishing industry for a couple of decades. For most of that time, I felt like legacy publishing was the only way to go. I wasn’t interested in vanity press or anything so desperate as self-publishing. Self-publishing, in my mind, was only for people who couldn’t hack it in the traditional publishing system.

I was acquainted with Elizabeth McCoy via a mutual friend, but I assumed her self-publishing success was due to her background in the gaming world. She must have a good platform and connections, but it seemed unlikely to me that I could ever achieve that.

Then a couple of years ago, I met Laura. She happened to be Tweeting interesting stuff from Midwest Writers Workshop, and I followed her on Twitter. We Tweeted back and forth for a couple of months and realized we wrote the same sort of stuff and didn’t live too far from each other, and eventually made plans to meet up.

After we met, I read her historical fantasy Kitsune-Tsuki and I was hooked. I didn’t realize at first that it was self-published. It was good, it was interesting, and when I finally cottoned on, I realized I didn’t care who published it. I just wanted more.

At the same time, I was beginning to see more talk on the blogs about self-publishing. I had been at a workshop where Jane Friedman discussed how easy it was to publish something on Amazon, thanks to e-readers gaining in popularity.

All of this combined to make me much more open to the notion of indie publishing when Laura told me about Joe Konrath’s 8-Hour e-Book Challenge. I’ve blogged elsewhere about the challenge, so here I’ll just say that was the tipping point. I decided I might as well give it a try, and if I failed, I was only out the price of the stock image I’d used on the cover and eight hours of my life.

Turned out, I had a blast with Stormsinger. Has it had phenomenal sales? No. It’s a short, and the bulk of the copies “sold” last year were on the free days coinciding with the challenge. But it gave me a taste of the process. It whetted my appetite. And the more I dug into new ways to promote my work, find more readers, and sell more copies, the more I enjoyed the marketing work.

For one thing, I do a lot of marketing as part of my day job. I’m our webmaster and social media manager (along with lots of other things–it’s a tiny museum, so we all wear many hats). For another, ALL authors, whether indie pubbed or traditionally pubbed, are having to do a lot more marketing. If I’m going to have to do the work anyway, why not be an indie author, where I control every step of the process and get better royalties?

Does all this mean I’m opposed to being published by a traditional publisher? No way!

I’ve got a novel out on submission right now. Partly because, as much as I do enjoy the marketing, it also takes away from my writing time. Right now, I’m working 40 hours a week between my two part-time day jobs, and then I’m working two part-time night jobs being a writer and a book marketer. If I could turn some of those duties over to people who are better trained than I am, you better believe I will! It doesn’t mean I won’t do the work–it just means I want to learn better ways of doing the work from people who know more.

But at the same time that I’m submitting that novel, I’m also prepping my next project for publication. I’ve sent cover ideas to Phuoc Quan, I’ve got two critique partners looking at my most recent draft (number four or five, I think), and I’m planning to release To Sow the Wind in early August.

Are you an indie author? What did your path to self-pub look like?

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Storms in Amethir Maps

I recently had a Twitter conversation with Nat Russo and Jackson Dean Chase about Campaign Cartographer 3, which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post maps of Amethir and other countries in my Storms in Amethir series. (I’ve been meaning to do that since Laura VanArendonk Baugh and I had a mapping work session almost a month ago!)

These maps aren’t complete. There are areas of the world I haven’t mapped, and there are areas in the mapped sections that aren’t complete. So you can expect me to update them from time to time as the series continues.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck, playing in Campaign Cartographer with the mapping gives me ideas–ideas for new stories, ideas for events in current stories. Sometimes it even answers questions I didn’t know I had. I knew why the kingdoms of Tamnen and Strid  were fighting over the Kreyden District, but I didn’t know how that would impact the inhabitants of the region until I started looking at the geography, for instance.

Amethir and Ranarr

Map of Amethir from Stormsinger and Stormshadow by Stephanie A. Cain


Front Map from Stormshadow

Stormshadow map


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Stormshadow Cover Reveal

I am so thrilled! I’ve been showing this to my friends in person, and I have it as my computer wallpaper, but finally I can share with you the cover design for Stormshadow! The artist is the phenomenally talented Phuoc Quan, who is not only a great artist but a delight to work with. He took my descriptions and created a gorgeous image that looks just as I imagined it–except better!

Are you ready?


Cover of Stormshadow by Stephanie A. Cain, art by Phuoc Quan


What do you think? Isn’t it amazing?!

Want to be notified when Stormshadow is available? You can sign up for my email newsletter in the “Sign Up for Stephanie Cain Author Newsletter” link to the right.

Princess Azmei of Tamnen has a decision to make, and she doesn’t like either option: marry Prince Vistaren of Amethir–a man she’s never met–or let her kingdom’s war with Strid go on with no end in sight. Seeing no alternative, she agrees to meet Prince Vistaren, with the caveat that the marriage treaty won’t be ratified until then.

Azmei knows she is sailing into a precarious situation. After all, the correspondence she’s traded with Vistaren doesn’t guarantee he’ll be a man she can respect or love. She can’t stand the thought of seeing her generation decimated by the bloody conflict with neighboring Strid. Yet while she has sworn to serve her brother, the heir to Tamnen’s throne, Azmei isn’t certain this is the best way to do so.

What Azmei doesn’t know is that her new friend, Orya, is not who she seems to be, and that Prince Vistaren has secrets of his own. And on top of that, there are those who will stop at nothing to prevent the alliance between Tamnen and Amethir…

There is a storm on the horizon, and its shadow may grow to cover the whole world.

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Blog Chain: My Writing Process and Current Projects

People who read my blog probably already know I’m a huge fan of Laura VanArendonk Baugh, who writes fantasy and historical fantasy and also happens to live close enough to me that we hang out on a regular basis. She just recently revealed the cover of her forthcoming novel Con Job, and I’m thrilled to say I am one of the lucky beta-readers for said novel. You can see the cover, but I know what happens! ;)

All gloating aside… Laura asked me to be part of a blog chain she’s doing, and she didn’t even have to bribe me to get me to agree. (Though if I’d really thought about how difficult some of these questions are, I might have at least demanded chocolate.)

So let me start off this post by telling you a little about Laura:


Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame her childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth and unable to walk, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer.

So last week, Laura posted her own answers to the questions I’m about to answer, and this week, it’s my turn!

What am I working on?

Do you mean what am I actively working on, or what am I letting simmer on the back burner while also tossing ingredients into my main dish?

I am actively working on Stormseer, which is the sequel to Stormshadow, a novella that is with my beta-readers in preparation for publication early this summer. Stormshadow is, in turn, the sequel to my published novelette Stormsinger which I wrote sort of by accident for J.A. Konrath’s 8-hour e-Book Challenge last August.

The reason I say accidentally is that at the time he issued the challenge, I was working on The Weather War, an epic fantasy novel about pirates and civil wars and weather magic. When I heard about the challenge from Laura (who is clearly an enabler as she not only turned me into an indie author but also has me blog hopping), I decided to write a quick story set in the same world as The Weather War. About 8500 words later, I had a story that demanded a sequel. So about 50,000 words later still, I’ve admitted this is a trilogy of prequels.

Of course, I have other projects in various stages right now. I have an urban fantasy novel set in Illinois and involving various Fae characters currently on submission. I have an epic fantasy awaiting feedback from a couple of last-stage critical readers before I polish it for submission. And I have an epic fantasy novella in the last stages of editing for publication late this summer.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m a fan of strong female characters.

Okay, I can’t keep a serious face when I say that distinguishes me from others. But let me explain. I’m a fan of strong female characters who are real people. That is, they don’t walk around thinking that “strong female character” equals “I will punch you in the face if you piss me off”.

Strong female characters are characters who are three-dimensional. They know being female isn’t a dichotomy between virgin-in-need-of-rescuing or slut-who-uses-sex-as-a-weapon. They are women who think for themselves, sometimes do resort to violence, usually don’t resort to violence, feel sad and cry sometimes, fall apart over losing a loved one, pick themselves up after losing a loved one, and continue on from day to day.

I believe the strong in strong female characters refers to female characters who are strongly portrayed–three dimensional rather than two dimensional. They’re female characters who know they aren’t defined by being female.

Also, I write about female pirates and whales. Do you know anyone who writes about whales these days? :)

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I like to read. I like stories about people who are like me in some way. They believe in what’s right, or they like to spend time outdoors, or they get bored with social conventions. I also like stories about people who aren’t like me–they’re royals or nobility, they’re used to violence as a way of life, or they have magic powers.

A lot of it goes back to my childhood. My parents are both readers, and my dad, in particular, was a fanboy. He played 1st Edition D&D and Traveler, went to GenCon 20 years before it moved to Indy, and read out loud to me. The books my dad read to me were things like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Stephen Lawhead’s books, and other classics of fantasy.

I got hooked early, and I had the good fortune of having Tamora Pierce come along with Alanna: The First Adventure when I was ten and starting to read more than just horse books. As much as I love Lewis and Tolkien, they probably haven’t influenced me as much as characters like Alanna and Daine and Robin McKinley’s Aerin and Harimad-sol.

How does my writing process work?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Real writers write every day.” Eeennnnh! Not true. I work 40 hours a week, have cats to take care of, spend time with friends, and have social and family obligations that sometimes take precedence over writing. I wasn’t born independently wealthy, so there are some days I just don’t have enough hours to fulfill all my obligations, get a semi-decent amount of sleep, and write.

How I work - a sample of some of my index cards

That said, I do try to write every day. My goal is 500 words a day. I have a spreadsheet from the fantastic Jamie Raintree that I use to track my writing. If you ask her nicely, she’ll probably email you a copy too. When I look at my speadsheet for this year, I can see that I’ve written 48,872 words as of today, April 9. When I divide that by 99, which is today’s number, I see that I’ve averaged 493.6 words a day. Not bad, right? I haven’t written every single day, but I’ve still managed a decent number of words.

So how does my writing process work? Not daily, but then again, I frequently have days when I write upwards of 5,000 words a day. As long as I’m making steady progress on my goals, I’m fine with that.

I became a plotter over 10 years ago when I did NaNoWriMo for the first time. I use index cards to plot–colored ones for character information like physical description, motivations, personal quirks, etc; and white ones for plot, one per scene. Ever since, I’ve plotted like that for anything longer than a short story (I’m still very bad at short stories. Even the keeping them short part.)

My writing process changed dramatically about two years ago when I encountered a blog post by Rachel Aaron (which she has since turned into a very useful writing book). She was writing about going from 2k words a day to 10k words a day. That wasn’t really an issue for me–ever since that first NaNo, I knew I was capable of 8k days. But being excited about it? That was where the blog post helped me. She talked about a triangle of knowledge, enthusiasm, and time. At that time, I was working part-time and trying to finish a novel, and my enthusiasm was significantly flagging. I learned from Rachel’s blog how to recapture my enthusiasm, for which I will always be grateful.

Who’s next?

You can probably tell, I don’t write much short stuff. And I like talking about myself. But I have someone else I want to talk about before we’re done here. I’m not the last person in this blog chain! The next person who will be posting about this is another friend and writer I enjoy, Elizabeth McCoy! Elizabeth writes all kinds of great speculative stuff, but my favorite work of hers is Queen of Roses, a fantastic science fiction story about an AI accountant who suddenly finds herself running a ship and dealing with passengers run amok! Look for Elizabeth’s blog post a week from today.

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