Book Review: Tomorrow War by J.L. Bourne

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A while back when J.L. Bourne tweeted that his new book, Tomorrow War, was going to be a lights out societal collapse novel, I was immediately intrigued. His previous series, Day by Day Armageddon, is a very enjoyable zombie apocalypse series, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he went with another (but more realistic) TEOTWAWKI universe. A few days after release, I picked up the hardback and dug in. So what did I think?

First, I must take you back to 2008 when I read this little book called World War Z. I read it back when I was working for id Software and was getting a little bit of inspiration for the project I was working on. WWZ has a significant, permanent place in my heart because it was the first full-length novel I read as an adult. Sad, I know, and I hate admitting it, but as a game developer (especially an artist) you tend to get wrapped up in more visual medias like games and movies. But the reason WWZ was so significant is that it was a literary gateway drug for me. Suddenly, reading books could be as fun, if not more fun, than just watching a movie or playing a game. I quickly became hooked and found myself at book stores as much as a GameStop or Best Buy. World War Z, with it’s journalistic first person writing style and various entries ranging from a few hundred words to a few thousand words, engaged me in a way a book had never done before. It truly was a book that I “couldn’t put down,” and despite many of the incredible titles I’ve read since, I’ve not really found another book that I could honestly say I couldn’t put it down…Until I read Tomorrow War.

If I had to guess, I’d say that I read through Tomorrow War in fewer sessions than any other book (including WWZ). When I actually got time to sit down and read this book (not always an easy task with a toddler and an infant), I became immersed. I saw the world the characters saw, I felt the pain, anger, and fear the characters felt—I was a fly on the wall during the collapse of the American society, and based on the events that occur in the book, I think I’d prefer being the fly. Bourne does an excellent job with an elegant, but very readable writing style that brings the universe to life. There are some books that truly have one-dimensional characters and a smorgasbord of cliches intertwined with a series of “WTF” moments that make you wonder how this author even got published. But fear not! You will not find any of these in Tomorrow War. Also, Bourne does go into some technical detail about guns/gear, but nothing too over the top. And when he says something without a clear explanation, he uses context to do the explaining for you. As a gun/gear guy myself, I really like reading about these types of things, but if you’re not into that stuff as much, it should still be pretty clear what he’s talking about.

As I did with my last review (and what I will continue to do here), I will not go into too much detail about the book’s premise or story elements out of respect of the author. The last thing I want to do is spill beans the author intended to be left in the can until the readers experience it for themselves. However, the elevator pitch for this story is that through unexpected events (to the main character), the “just in time” network of food and supplies the majority of Americans rely on for their very survival is disrupted. The instant communication, the on demand entertainment…All gone in the blink of an eye. This book showcases just how devastating this would be for most Americans today, and speculates at the horrific lengths individuals would be willing to go in order to get their block of government cheese. There were no fewer than a dozen times when I shuddered at some of the events described, not because they were gruesome (though there is plenty of that), but rather because none of it seemed far enough fetched to think “that would never happen.” Several sobering scenes in this book that will make everyone reading this review thankful for this cozy world we currently live in.

I will be transparent here: While I was intrigued with this book when Bourne announced it, I was a bit hesitant at the same time. I’ve tried prepper books in the past, and…Well, please refer to my comments above on one-dimensional characters and cliches (DISCLAIMER, not saying all prepper books are like this, but many of the ones I’ve read are). I wouldn’t say this is a full on “prepper” book—there is quite a bit of it towards the earlier half, and admittedly I was vicariously living through Max [Redacted] as he extravagantly purchased thousands of dollars of goods and supplies before things went down—but this book moves past that in favor of developing the story further. Some people really enjoy just the prepper stuff exclusively; to each their own. I for one am glad Bourne didn’t go this route. He gave it the appropriate amount of time needed (certainly emphasizing the importance of such preparations), and then moved on. Well done!

I think I tweeted this statement before, but I had this book listed in my top five favorites. Honestly, it could probably be top three, maybe even taking a close second behind World War Z. I really enjoyed this book, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I flipped the last page and saw the acknowledgements. I was not ready for this story to end. I want more, and I hope that this talented author continues writing, he has a knack for it. And to be honest, between World War Z and Tomorrow War, I am pretty inspired to do some writing in a similar fashion sometime (First person, journal/log entries).

Tomorrow War is, in my opinion, a stronger showing than the Day by Day Armageddon series. Bourne takes his writing to the next level, and I am excited to see what he does next.

Final thoughts: This was a great book, and I highly recommend it. The situations were not always pleasant, and the whole concept is downright scary (society collapse could occur in countless different ways), but as Bourne states in his acknowledgements, let’s hope this kind of situation stays where it belongs—in a fiction book.

You can pick up Tomorrow War at pretty much every book retailer, but here’s a link directly to Amazon. You can also visit his website at www.jlbourne.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Kindle Unlimited 2.0—Fair? Or Conniving Plan?

At the beginning of the month Amazon switched over to what many authors are referring to as Kindle Unlimited 2.0 or (KU 2.0). The change was simple, but significant: instead of a flat royalty rate when someone borrows your book, you now get royalties for every page of your book that is read. See? Simple. But also significant.

I admit, when I received the e-mail alerting me to this new plan I was very skeptical at first. Even though I was only making about half the amount on a borrow as I would on a sale, it was still nice that this was a guaranteed royalty rate(so long as the reader made it past the sample 10% of the book). So when I saw they were changing it to be pages read, I got nervous. With the old plan, if someone borrows my book, but doesn’t like it, I still made the money on it. But now, if someone borrows my book and reads only a few pages before tossing it, I might get a couple pennies. This would drastically change my royalties earned being enrolled in KDP Select, which made me decide that I was not going to re-enroll in the program for another 90 days. But then the strangest thing happened—I stepped back, looked at this change after my knee-jerk response had settled, and realized it’s actually not only fair, but if my books are good then it has the potential to pay far better than the old plan.

Though I was skeptical of KU 2.0 after reading the email, I think I really got jaded after I saw the reaction from many in the indie author community. A reaction that seemed to be filled with nothing but moans and groans about how Amazon was screwing them over again. It was then I realized how we were complaining about the very company that made it possible for authors of all types of skill sets and stories to actually get their work in front of readers. When I started looking at it that way, I was shocked (and still am) at how much some folks complain about Amazon. How Amazon doesn’t care about indie authors, how they are greedy, conniving, yadda yadda yadda. These people have already seem to have forgotten that Amazon has not only given us all publishing deals (deals far more favorable than most traditional publishing deals), but that they are the pioneers for this indie author boom we live in. Without Amazon, many of us would have a lot of words written in a file that is collecting digital dust for no one to enjoy. So to those people, I say show a little appreciation for what Amazon has done, and stop expecting them to just give you more. Which leads me to this stunning realization…

Amazon is giving indie authors more! But there’s a caveat—you have to give more. The people pitching the biggest fits (at least from what I observed) were those who have quite a few short stories published, many of which were listed at 99 cents, and taking advantage of the blanketed borrow royalty. Weren’t we just talking about conniving? Time to do some math (don’t worry, it’s not too hard).

When you list a book at 99 cents on Amazon, you earn about 35 cents per sale. However, under the old KU plan, all borrowed books, regardless of sale price or length, earned the same amount or royalty. Amazon KDP select has a pot of money each month (KDP Select Global Fund), and the amount of borrowed books was divided up against that pot. The average was around $1.35 per borrow. That meant a book that would normally yield the author 35 cents per sale (if listed at 99 cents) would make them a dollar more if it was borrowed. And since the only requirement to earn a borrow royalty was for the reader to get past the sample 10%, this method was quite effective for books that were 40-50 pages long (meaning the reader just needed to get through 4-5 pages in order to earn the author the $1.35). Do you see where this starts to become a little lopsided for novelists? So someone who writes a 40 page short story or novella in a month or less would earn the same amount my nearly 700 page book, As the Ash Fell, would earn on a borrow. But all of that has changed. Now, if the estimates are accurate, and Amazon will pay $.005 per page read (that’s a half a penny), then my book would earn $3.5 for a borrow that someone reads cover to cover, while that 50 page book would earn a quarter. So, as I said, a simple, but significant change in how things work.

My biggest worry about this, in terms of negative impact, is: what if my book stinks, and every time it gets borrowed only a few pages are being read? Well, if that’s the case then I have bigger problems to worry about. If people are buying/borrowing my book, but not reading it, then fixing that issue is my biggest priority as a writer. Thus far, I have been pleased with the results from the KU page count on As the Ash Fell—in fact, it’s trending to exceed my expectations by nearly double this month. The only thing I wish Amazon would add (and perhaps it’s in there somewhere and I haven’t found it yet) is to let me know how many people make up my total pages read, so I can know how many people finished the book versus how many people stopped halfway through, etc.

Another benefit to KDP select, which hasn’t changed recently, is the Kindle Countdown deal or free giveaway. I recently ran a countdown in the US that ran for a week. And in that week alone I had more sales than my first month total, and darn near cracked the top 100 in Post-Apocalyptic genre (which is no easy task).

So, for the people fussing about Amazon not caring about the indie authors, I would fully disagree. In fact, to me it sounds like they are looking out for the indie authors, keeping things balanced with the people who were capitalizing off of the flat borrow rate from before. They’ve honestly created a platform that has the potential to get out as much as you put in. That’s about as fair as it gets.

So to summarize: write good (ugh, my wife/editor is going to kill me for that one), write long (whether you take a year and write one longer novel, or crank out 10 short stories), do your best to let the world know about your book, and KU 2.0 will benefit you. On the flip side, if you write the literary equivalent of click bait that is only a few dozen pages, it may not pan out so well.

So if you decided not to enroll in KDP select so that your book will be available to other folks like Nook, iBooks, etc, then I salute you—may your book do extremely well on those other platforms. To those who do it just to “get back” at Amazon for making things “so terribly unfair”, I say “Thanks for making the KDP global fund a little bit bigger for the rest of us.”

I will now go hide and wait out the inevitable assault from those I have angered with this post.

Fourth of July Sale

It’s been too long since my last post. I know, I know, I am pretty bad about these things. But I figure most people would rather me be working on my next novel than posting every day on my blog. However, I do plan to post a bit more frequently in the future. Having said that, I would like to take a moment to announce that As the Ash Fell is currently on sale for the Amazon Kindle for US customers. 99¢ for the next two days, then it will move up to $1.99, then $2.99 and then back to the normal price of $3.99. So get it while it’s cheap!

Also, I plan to be making an announcement about my next book in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. If you haven’t signed up for my mailing list yet, just simply submit your email address on the right for book updates, exclusives, and even some prizes!

Have a Happy Fourth of July everyone! Be safe, and enjoy time celebrating our nation’s independence!

 

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AJ