IAM Guest Post…The Joy of Sampling


Guest Feature

Today on Indie Author Month we welcome author Sara Zaske as our guest. Sara is an expat American writer living in Berlin, Germany. Her debut novel, The First, is available at all places that sell fabulous books. She’s currently revising a scorcher of a second novel called, Spitfire. You can visit her book blog at YA Fantastic Book Review.

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The Joy of Sampling

I’ll admit it. I’m a serial sampler.

I often cruise Amazon or Smashwords to download free samples of books. I probably have hundreds on my Kindle. Of course, I’m a book blogger, a writer, and an all-round reading addict, but I think every reader should sample books with the same abandon.

Why sample? Because you can. When you pick up a book at a bookstore, what’s the first thing you do? Look at the cover? Read the flap stuff? I open it and read the first line or paragraph. For me, it’s the only way to tell if it’s going to be a good book. Usually though, I like to read 10-20 pages before I decide to get it. But by then, the bookstore employees are looking at me funny.

With ebooks, you can read the first couple chapters of nearly any book that catches your eye and read them at your leisure. This is one of the best ways to discover Indie authors because let’s be honest, there’s a lot of chaff out there in both traditional and Indie publishing world. And who wants to spend time and money on a dud?

No Kindle? No problem. Even if you don’t have an ereader, you can sample books on your computer, iPad or smartphone. Smashwords allows you to sample books in almost any format. And Amazon has free apps that will turn almost any device into an ereader. (So does B&N, see the image next to Nook book buy link: example.)

Of course, sampling is super easy if you have a Kindle or a Nook. Just click Send sample on the right of a Amazon Kindle book page (example), or the Get Free Sample link next to the Buy Now button on Barnes & Noble (example).

What to look for in a sample? I probably don’t have to tell you. You know it when you read it. But here are some of the things I look for:

Grabber opening—Sets up an interesting problem from the get go, usually in the very first line

Great character— A main character who is sympathetic but flawed (problems are always more interesting than perfection)

Voice—A confident storyteller who makes no mistakes, earns my trust, and generally gives me the feeling that my imaginiation is in good hands

Start Now! A great place to begin sampling is right in front of you: this very blog. Cruise the Indie author postings from this month, click their links, download free samples, and start reading.

The First by Sara ZaskeI’ll give you a taste right now. Here are the opening lines from my YA urban fantasy novel, The First:

“I should have never gone to the new girl’s house. The walls didn’t need to melt, and the ground didn’t have to disappear under my feet to know that I should have stayed far away from Violet Starkey . . .“

Want more? Download a longer free sample of The First from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords)

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Just Finished…The First by Sara Zaske

   What a great and unexpected book!

I’d read – I think – that The First was a dystopian and so I’d left it in my Kindle dwindling having had a good dose of dystopia recently. And then I began reading it (after pressing the wrong button on my Kindle) and mistakenly thought I was reading a book about vampires and at around 15% in was wondering how the hell the people with power over nature were going to have anything to do with vampires…what can I say – I don’t always pay attention!

So – back to the book. There are dystopian elements to The First, but it would only be a dystopian book if you are one of the First People – if you’re a human, like me, then the environmental indiciators in the book are a nice nod in the direction of dystopia, but it’s not the end of the world, but a little journey down that path0. The environmental message is handled really well in the book, so it isn’t overbearing, but there are lots of good pieces of information to get you thinking.

The characters, dialogue and writing are great – very engaging, perfect pitch for a YA (I would also suggest this as being suitable for MG audience as it is clean, quirky and fun on the whole). The character voices feel authentically teenaged and the pitch, pace and action are all perfectly balanced with the motivations of the individuals. For me it felt a little like a fantasy cross-over in parts – the powers of the First People and their approach to life certainly had those elements, but it worked very well in the contemporary setting. I also liked the family/military references, which are outside the main plot, but I felt were very ‘real’ to life for anyone who has been in those situations.

Overall Thoughts: 4* – I think this was a great read. It is a nice length and paced so well to keep you reading – I got through it in four days, which is quick for me as I don’t always get too much time to read. I think the story was also very original and quality of writing was good. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure story with interesting characters.

Thanks very much to Sara for releasing this free at Amazon on Earth Day, as that’s where I got my copy.

Indie Author Spotlight…Sara Zaske

Indie Authors Spotlight is a BRAND NEW weekly meme that will be held on every SATURDAY in the month. It is hosted by Beckie @Bittersweet Enchantment & CYP @A Bookalicious Story.
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The Author…This week’s spotlighted author is Sara Zaske.
Sara Zaske has lived a variety of places including eight years in Oakland, California where The First is set. A former journalist, she currently works as a freelance editor and writer in Berlin, Germany. She also hosts the book blog: YA Fantastic Book Review [link: http://sarazaske.wordpress.com] Occasionally, she still dreams of California.
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The Interview

Your book sounds like a genre-bending read – where did your inspiration for it come from?

I wondered how ticked off dryads, mythical tree spirits, might be if I dropped them into the the modern world. But dryads in Greek myths are kind of wussy, always running away from lustful gods and turning into things, so I took it up a notch and made up my own more powerful group of magical people who are closely connected to nature.

The genre smash is my attempt at better defining the book. The term urban fantasy doesn’t tell you much: all it means is there’s a magical element, and it takes place in city. By eco-thriller, I mean that the book centers around the theme of environmental responsibility and then, I threw in a lot of action and life-threatening peril in the story–you know, to make it fun.

Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.

Magic, romance, friendship, wild animals, environmental destruction–all under the golden glow of the California sunshine–what more could you want?

Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?

I am revising my first novel (Yes, ironically, The First is my second novel). It’s about a girl with an uncontrollable fire talent who gets abducted by a dragon.

Then I have a really scary ghost story in my mind that I need to get on paper, so I can stop thinking about it. It’s kind of creeping me out.

What inspired you to want to become a writer?

Fairy tales. My mother read to me every night, but after she left and turned off the light, I’d still want more stories, so I started making up my own.

What’s one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Seek out and learn to use criticism. Find people–not relatives, spouses or good friends–who will read your work and tell you honestly what they think. My writing group continues to help me really grow as a writer.

Which authors have influenced you most and how?

Two of my current heroes are Ursula Leguin and Margaret Atwood.

I love the way Ursula LeGuin uses fantasy and science fiction elements to get at larger issues in the “real world.” Plus she’s simply a great story teller. Margaret Atwood has a fantastic, sharp sense of humor, and she’s not afraid to write in any genre.

I can only walk in their shadows, but I strive to be like them by incorporating important issues in my stories while placing a premium on humor and story telling.

Give us a glimpse into a typical day in your day starting when you wake up till you lie down again.

Oh no, it’s too boring. Just cut to the montage of a typical working mom juggling caring for kids, editing for clients, housework, writing, errands, etc. Life is full. Some days I don’t get to actually sit down at the computer and write–fiction anyway. But I make a conscious effort to write in my head during every spare moment. That way when I do get screen time, I know what I want to say. It does make me a bit dreamy sometimes though, and I’ve been known to get on the wrong train and go several stops without noticing.

Finish the sentence- one book I wish I had written is….

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. Not that The First is like this book. It’s not. But I love fairy tales and Valente does something very unique in her book. I envy that fact that she got to spend her days writing in that imaginative world.

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The Book 

young adult urban fantasy/eco-thriller, The First, follows 15-year-old Cassie Craig as she discovers that the strangest girl in her class is more than just a little weird. She’s part of a group of people who were here on earth long before us. Powerful people. And they aren’t exactly happy with the way we’ve been treating their planet.

The First is available for a free download on Earth Day weekend, April 21-23! Available on Amazon – so don’t hang around – grab your copy today!! 

[link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007UZ72K4]

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Want to know more? Check out the links!

Book Links: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007UZ72K4

Website: http://sarazaske.wordpress.com