Friday Update #11: NaNoWriMo, Christmas, and the Cover Story

The end of the year is coming, and with it, some news. Let’s dive in, shall we?

NaNoWriMo

Every November, writers and aspiring writers set aside time to pen their masterpieces-in-the-making, committing to writing as much as 50,000 words or more by the end of the month. Each year, I say that I’m going to participate, and each year I let other things get in the way. Well, not this time. This year, I joined the party, and I knocked out a cool 34,000 words on a novel that combines thriller and coming of age genres together with kind of a Bill & Ted vibe. Now, the work I’ve done was for a first act only, and 34,000 words is a large chunk of work for just one act, so I’ll likely be cutting much of what I wrote from the final draft or move it if I determine that’s necessary. But that’s what I managed to accomplish this November. I’ll announce the book another time, as the additional work I put into it will also come at another time, but I do hope to have the first draft finished by summer and a release sometime by the end of 2018 or mid-2019.

Christmas

Now that I’m on vacation, I have more time to focus on marketing, revisions, and even new work. I’ll talk more about that stuff in a moment, but I wanted to talk about Christmas first.

Two years ago, I released my Christmas fable “The Fountain of Truth” as an e-book and packaged it with two new Christmas stories, “Christmas Log” and “St. Nick’s Gym.” Last year, I started working on a new Christmas story and got about halfway through when the season ended and there was no more point to release it.

This year, I’ve gone back to that story, Snow in Miami, and there’s a good chance I’ll have it ready in time for Christmas. As of this writing, I have just a few more scenes to write.

Snow in Miami follows the tradition of The Fountain of Truth by telling three stories in one, but it goes the extra mile by tying all three stories into a single story about addiction, family, and, well, Christmas. The stories inside include:

Unexpected Weather: The story of how climate change and the creation of the first Christmas tree are related, and how addiction has a hand in both.

A Black Friday Tale: The story of how the early bird gets the worm, while cheaters never prosper, and crime doesn’t pay, and good things come to those who wait.

The Pear Tree: A police procedural about the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Development on this story has been slow, and I certainly haven’t had much time to review or edit what’s already been written, so I don’t know with 100% certainty that I’ll release it before Christmas, or if I’ll release it at all in 2017. But, it is a goal. As of now, I’ve got about 14,000 words written for it. I expect the final version to come in somewhere between 18,000 – 20,000 words.

If I don’t have it ready in time for Christmas, I will be releasing it next year, in which case I’ll have to remind you about it then.

When it does go live, it will be sent to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and most other major e-book retailers (though, because most of them receive e-books through a distributer and the blackout dates for those stores are already passed, only Amazon is likely to have it before Christmas). It’ll retail for $1.99.

In other news, I’m coming up on the 10th anniversary of writing the first chapter for the A Modern-day Fantasy series (then called Modern Day Fantasy: Cannonball City). For five years straight (2007-2011 inclusive), I started a new A Modern-day Fantasy story on Christmas Day, and this year I’ll be doing it again by writing the first chapter for the prequel series Pawn of Justice. I will be spending much of 2018 writing a Pawn of Justice trilogy (probably as one megabook that I’ll split into three parts next year), and I hope to start releasing them by next Christmas, or by May 2019 (in time for Avengers 4). Expect more news on that as it develops.

New Covers and E-book Versions:

Perhaps the biggest news to come from my side of the world in 2017 is the rebuilding of my author brand, and I’m happy to say that the tracks are now finally being laid.

Kicking off the journey is the redistribution of Eleven Miles from Home and Cards in the Cloak with new covers, new supplements, and in the case of Cards in the Cloak, new scenes. Both stories now come with a “Readers’ Group Discussion Questions” section, a feature I’ll be including in my other books throughout the rebranding period, and a redesign of front and back matter elements. Most readers won’t care about this, but it will do more to inform readers how to help me keep my author brand alive, so they should care.

Old Covers:

New Covers:

One factor here in this rebranding effort is the inclusion of e-mail list information. I still don’t have an official website (outside of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm) to advertise my books, so I don’t have any fancy buttons for e-mail collection yet. However, the books will now come with information about how to connect with me and how to join my list in the meantime, which I hope will be good enough for those who want to help me launch my January 2018 newsletter and keep in touch with me about news and offers, as well as to support me during book launches.

For anyone reading this update, I’m encouraging people to email me directly at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up” or some derivative that will let me know of the reader’s interest, along with a quick note verifying that interest.

Unless I get no signups between now and then, I plan to launch the email newsletter on the third Tuesday in January, with two letters a month to follow.

But, that’s what’s happening with my current books. As of now, the updated versions are available at Smashwords, and I expect to have them up at Amazon this weekend. Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and others will probably receive these updates after Christmas. It depends on when Smashwords sends them the updates.

I will also be updating and releasing When Cellphones Go Crazy with new scenes, deeper themes, tighter organization, and a new title before 2017 ends. When Cellphones Make Us Crazy (new title) will be released with a Readers’ Group Discussion Questions section, most likely by middle of next week (December 27th or 28th). The work I need to do for it is mostly finished. I’m just working through the loose ends.

Old Cover:

when cellphones go crazy cover
When Cellphones Go Crazy Cover Image

New Cover:

when cellphones go crazy v2b

Again, like the abovementioned stories, each of the following stories is getting a new cover and description, as well as new interior elements. Expected updates include:

Shell Out (January or February, with new scenes)

The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky (summer, upgrade to novel length)

The Computer Nerd (summer, new scenes and characters, under the title Gone from the Happy Place)

I will also be updating Gutter Child to a full novel, with the current story serving as a subplot, and changing the title, but I don’t know yet when that will happen. Probably not before 2019.

Lastly, I’m toying with the possibility of extending Lightstorm to a full-length superhero mystery novel. Not sure when that will happen, either, but I am thinking more and more about it.

E-book Prices:

I’ve got more to talk about regarding my new brand, which I’ll likely save for next week as a farewell to 2017 or the following week as an introduction to 2018, but I wanted to mention now that most of my free e-books will no longer be free after Christmas. I’ve already attached a $3.99 price tag to Cards in the Cloak to match its new content, as well as raised the prices of The Computer Nerd (now $3.99), Zippywings 2015: A Short Story Collection (now $6.99), and both annuals for the A Modern-day Fantasy series (now $7.99 each). Eleven Miles from Home and Amusement will both (likely) remain free, and Shell Out will remain free at least until I add its new content. Everything else will go up to at least $1.99 after Christmas, so if you wanted any of these stories for free, now is the time to get them. I’ll explain my reasons for the price change in my next update.

So, I do have more to talk about regarding production and other things, and I’ll likely be giving a postmortem on 2017 after the New Year. But, for now I wanted to say thanks for your support, and to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and let all be well with you and your families.

P.S. I’m creating my mailing list, with or without an official website, so if you would like to receive a more focused letter about writing topics, book topics, reviews, and offers, including freebies and exclusive freebies, please send me a private message at zippywings[at]hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Put me on your mailing list, please,” “Sign Me Up,” or something similar, and I’ll add you to the list. I want to send the first newsletter out around the third week in January. The free stuff will have to come later, as I still need to create a delivery system and a plan. Again, more on that later.

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Am I Any Good at This?

It’s a Sunday night, and I’m going through my e-mail, checking out some of the offers for free courses that would turn into paid premium courses that I can’t afford if I go deep enough down the rabbit hole (I think this is how cults work, but I digress), and one 2:16 video I just finished watching is about branding and determining your brand, and watching it has given me introspective questions I figured I’d ask publicly.

The speaker is a pleasant middle-aged dude who says that he “built and sold two businesses” and wrote a book about branding to help entrepreneurs and authors launch their brands, and at a recent speaking engagement he had sold out of these books and managed to double his post-conference sales without having listed them on his site or on Amazon.

My first thought is that it must be nice to have so many people want to read something that he wrote. But my other thought is that most authors with audience support have to build that audience through products that they want. Branding is part of establishing an identity, but that identity only works if the attached products are products people want to invest time and money into, and that puts a big question mark on the kind of time it takes to produce these things.

The hard reality about branding is that it limits experimentation. Creativity can still come into play under certain conditions, but with limitations. Experimentation, however, is much more difficult. Imagine, to the dismay of thriller fans, Lee Child writing Jack Reacher: The Musical. Not sure that would please most of his fans. He might do an awesome job with it, good enough to attract anyone who likes a good musical (I myself don’t understand them, but that’s me). But the people who enjoyed Jack Reacher: The Musical may not enjoy The Midnight Line (the most recent Jack Reacher novel) quite as much. Even though Lee Child is a millionaire author with a millionaire brand, his ability to stretch that brand is still pretty limited, it seems.

So, one of the advantages of being an unknown is that I still have time to craft my brand and figure out who my core readers are. The disadvantage is that once I find that core, I’m probably stuck writing for them, and only them, unless I want to come up with a pen name and write all of my other stuff under that name even though I kinda like my regular name. I like seeing it on book covers, at any rate.

Then I think about writers who are successful with every book they write, like Carl Hiaasen, who has his weird Florida thrillers like Lucky You and Nature Girl, and his kids’ books like Hoot and Chomp, and I realize that they can still write in multiple genres and not lose an audience (with Hiaasen, we are talking adult thrillers vs. middle grade environmental stories), and that branding is a general idea and not a concrete rule. And then I remember that all of Hiaasen’s stories take place in Florida (pretty sure that’s true), and I’m back to thinking, oh….

Branding doesn’t scare me, though, because I see myself as a quirky writer who writes in the thriller and/or coming of age genres, and I have a few series books in the making or in mind that keep to these genres and styles closely, so finding my audience doesn’t have to be a challenge.

The problem I face, in reality, is that I just don’t know if I’m actually any good at this. People say I am, but those same people haven’t bought any of my e-books. They read snippets, or they’ll read printed manuscripts I happen to have with me when I see them, and they’ll say, “Hey, this is good.” But will they spend their money to support me? Very few have. And, that’s what makes me ask the question.

I’m at a point in my life where I have to start evaluating my resources for generating traffic, interest, and sales for my stories. That means figuring out where to cast my net of investments. I don’t really want to buy any more books or courses on the topic of success (or related fields), as those are just educational resources and not practical applications. I want to start spending it on the tools that will actually allow me to convert these casual travelers into readers and fans. That means getting an official website, and an official emailing list, and an official delivery system for bonuses to subscribers, all of which go beyond the scope and freeality (made-up word alert) of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm and its free WordPress host. Without a professional presence, I can’t expect to have readers take me seriously.

Investing in my future is scary because I don’t know if mine is the kind of work that people would want to pay money for or come back for seconds. I think it is, but I haven’t heard from any readers who agree. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, of course. One of the problems with having no official point of contact is that I can’t really know how people perceive the stories I write. I have no way of knowing how they feel about it, or if it’s even something they’d want to read. Investing in these tools of contact and advertisement is vital now.

There is a service that opened this week called Author Cats that would actually be helpful for my brand, if I had the $497 to spend on it between now and December 5th. If I wait until after, then I have to spend that each year. If I get it before then, I only have to spend that once. But, I still have to tie it into a website I own (which could cost me up to $25 a month), and link it to an outside mailing list I port in from elsewhere (which can also cost me a monthly fee if I go with anyone other than the unwieldy MailChimp). Is it worth it? Well, it doesn’t matter because my author career has so far prevented me from affording the tools that will help me make it better.

Brings me back to the question: Am I any good? Specifically, am I good enough to support these costs?

This is what every author struggles with, even those who have been doing it for a long time, and even those who have managed to attract a few fans. Every new work is a reset button waiting to happen. The poor opening of Justice League proves that even tried and true brands aren’t guaranteed success, at least not right away. Of course, critics say that the movie is made for fans and fans think it’s “pretty good.” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it myself, and I’m a fan of superhero movies. Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, while both enjoyably bad movies, have made me not care much about this franchise, at least not enough to spend $15 on the theater ticket and $22 on the Blu-ray in a few months. I’d rather just get the Blu-ray.

The question, then, I guess becomes, “What do readers want?”

I hope my answer to that question is both true and proves profitable soon. I have stories in the works that I want to share, and stories past that I’m updating for 2017-2018, and I want to start adding price tags to each of them in the next month or two.

But more on that later.

For this point in time, I’m still doing what I can to tell a good story, and then follow that up with another good story. That’s the best I can do for today.

That said, I finished NaNoWriMo at nearly 34,000 words, and I’m working on a Christmas story that I started last year (and had intended to finish, but couldn’t due to reasons I’ve since forgotten), and hope to release it in time for Christmas this year. I’ll talk more about both my NaNoWriMo and Christmas stories soon. I think they’ll be good.

P.S. I will be creating my mailing list soon, with or without an official website, so if you would like to receive a more focused letter about writing topics, book topics, reviews, and offers, including freebies and exclusive freebies, please send me a private message at zippywings[at]hotmail[dotcom] with the subject line “Put me on your mailing list, please,” or something similar, and I’ll add you to the list. I want to send the first newsletter out around the third week in January. The free stuff will have to come later, as I still need to create a delivery system and a plan. Again, more on that later.

Cover Image: Pixabay