Category Archives: Discussion

This is where general thoughts about the process of writing may go, including reviews for various books on writing.

The Writing Workflow for Plotters, Pantsers, and Whomever Sits Between Them

Writing a novel is no straightforward process, in spite of what the “experts” may say.

Okay, the experts, whoever they are, make no actual claim that writing a novel is straightforward, though the pantsers (like me) will argue that it comes pretty close, given that we start at the beginning and drive toward the ending, discovering as much as we can along the way (hardly straightforward, even though the momentum is almost always forward). In reality, of course, writing a novel takes planning, dedication, and follow-through, with a heavy dose of insanity—I mean organization—and reaching its proper ending will require seeing it at both the big picture level and the micro-scenic level. In short, writing a novel means you gotta have some foresight. There’s no way around that.

But I didn’t always have a problem with that.

For years, I would just open a document in Microsoft Word, crank out a chapter in a day or two (or sometimes a week if I let it get too large), and move on to the next one, making sure to save it in a folder dedicated to the novel. Once I’d finish the last chapter (usually six weeks to a year later, depending on the novel), I’d read what I have, take notes on what I like and what I don’t, and then move on to the next revision. Then somewhere along the line I’d decide that something doesn’t work, at which point I’d start adding, moving, or removing scenes, relabeling my documents to something better reflective of its current state, and make such an atrocious mess of my work that nothing would make sense anymore, yet I’d somehow bring it back together, and then I’d shelve it for a few years until somebody would ask me if I’ve written anything lately, to which I’d say no, then go back and see if I actually like that old novel that I blew up in the rewrites now, because, hey, somebody reminded me that I should really finish what I started because, hey, I’m not exactly starting on anything new. At that point, I’d take note of the scenes I like, try to rethink the ones I don’t, and then shelve the thing yet again for another few years because now I have no idea where to begin fixing it.

(Okay, I’m referring specifically to my first thriller, Panhandler Underground, which I wrote in 2005 but put on the shelf until a time I could make sense of the main character’s profession. Fortunately, I’ve ordered my copy of the Occupation Thesaurus, out now, and should receive it in the mail soon, so maybe I can finally sort this dude out and get his story back on its proper track.)

Nowadays, I find that organizing a novel is as difficult as writing it, especially when I go back and try to repair the damage I’ve already done to an existing novel, so coming up with a plan to make sense of it all is necessary. But merely going back through all of my Microsoft Word documents and trying to remember where everything is supposed to go is madness when my memory is so bad that I often read a story I like, check the author to see if he’s got anything else I might enjoy, and discover my own name on the front cover. (Okay, this doesn’t happen with my published titles, but it definitely happens with old stories I find in my documents folder. The fact that my name is on it is the only proof I have that I wrote it because I don’t remember a thing about it.) Because this is no way to work, I’ve decided it’s time to implement a new system for organization.

This is where I’ve decided to integrate multiple resources into my writing workflow, each one dedicated to a particular function within the writing process, and each one designed to keep me on track.

For the record, I just put together a video about this, which you can watch for more information, but the short version is this:

  1. If I’m writing a novel from scratch or nuking a story that no longer works in favor of starting over, then I’ll want to begin conceptualizing with the Snowflake Method and using the software dedicated to the Snowflake Method, Snowflake Pro, to accomplish this goal. This will allow me to develop the idea and move it through all ten steps toward a fully-fledged outline.
Writing Workflow Slide 1
Snowflake Pro in Action
  1. Next, I’ll want to develop the flowchart and additional character and/or scene details (like setting or items) that Snowflake Pro doesn’t visualize for an alternative way to see the story from a bird’s eye view. I can use Plottr or Campfire Pro (or Plot Factory or some other story planning software) to create the visual map, as well as fill in the additional details that Snowflake Pro doesn’t cover. If I use actual maps (created with Campaign Cartographer 3+, for example), then I’ll want to use a program like Campfire Pro to tie my maps to their descriptions. Using these programs, I can create the world and backstory I need to understand my characters and their motivations better, as well as to keep track of the nitpicky items in their lives that I’ll want to remember and quickly access at some point.
Writing Workflow Slide 2
Outline Tool in Plottr
Writing Workflow Slide 2a
Character Builder in Plottr
  1. Once I have a clue what the story is about, then I can start writing my scenes in Microsoft Word. Or, if I’m revising an existing story, I can write whichever scenes are still missing.
Writing Workflow Slide 3
Writing the Scene in Microsoft Word

Note: If I’m revising a novel, which is my case for The Computer Nerd, I probably won’t use the first two development steps unless I need to go for a complete rewrite, which is currently my case for The Fallen Footwear. The exception would be if I wanted to create an outline or summary or synopsis of an existing novel for verification of its integrity or for various marketing purposes. I would also map an existing novel if I know I’m going to write a sequel, as having a snapshot of the previous story would be immensely helpful in developing a new chapter for its characters, because, you know, my memory sucks.

  1. Once I’ve written my scenes, I can move them into Scrivener, where I can then write notecard summaries and provide status labels to help me determine whether the scene is in its proper location and achieving its proper goal. From the notecard view, I can make a more informed judgment about whether the existing work is, in fact, working.
Writing Workflow Slide 4
Creating the Novel’s Assembly (or Repair) in Scrivener

So, that’s the current workflow I’m using to either write or revise my novels. Are you a writer? What’s your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.

The Real Advantage of Freewriting

Nearly any activity that contains the word “free” as a prefix will likely function in this same way. It’s a method that leads primarily to the clarity of ideas.

Quick question: When was the last time you got in your car and drove around town without a goal? How much gas did you spend on completing the circuit? What about time? Did you stop anywhere for a sandwich? Did you meet anyone interesting along the way? Would the drive have been any better or worse if you had a destination in mind?

If you’ve ever gotten in your car and drove without a destination, why?

Take a second to think about that.

Now, I know that driving without a destination has a similar emotional purpose as going for a walk or painting a picture or doing anything that allows you to clear your head. It’s therapeutic. But where did you go? Anywhere? What does your painting look like? Any progress to show for it?

Even though walking has its primary goal rooted in exercise and painting has the purpose of creating art, these activities also have the secondary purpose of offering you clarity of a situation, especially when freethinking during the core activity leads to new ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a bonus side effect to the therapeutic goal you’re trying to achieve, which is to make yourself or your art look better. Now you can also think better.

If you’ve done any amount of relaxing activity, you know this is true.

So with that said, here’s a free idea to think about:

Nearly any activity that contains the word “free” as a prefix will likely function in this same way. It’s a method that leads primarily to the clarity of ideas.

Freewriting is one such activity that carries this exact purpose. Makes the practice attractive to most writers.

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Image of fountain pen on lined paper, taken from Pixabay.

The problem, however, is that most writing instructors teach freewriting as an exercise for oiling the writing engine, as a means to get into the mood before getting into the project or as a means for figuring out what you want to write about, and not so much about what makes freewriting useful. It sounds noble on the surface. But it can also sound like a waste of time if you misuse it.

Now for a confession. As a writer, I must say that I hate freewriting. I often find that there’s not much point to it. If I want to write, I go right for the story, just as I would go right for my destination when getting into the car and turning on the engine.

But as a writer, I also find that some efforts to write compelling prose goes wasted because I haven’t developed the proper skill that would allow me to keep the prose effective. This is where freewriting might serve a useful purpose.

Case in point: To this day, I still have trouble showing character emotions through any action not involving the eyes or the mouth. In the heat of developing a scene, I want to capture the thrill of the moment without obsessing over the character’s reactionary expressions, and the eyes and the mouth are the cheapest sources to exploit. Once the scene is finished and I have time to review each character’s actions and reactions, I realize that I have nothing new to add. It’s not because I don’t need to make changes—I always need to change something—but it’s because I haven’t developed the skill to make that specific improvement.

For example, according to The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, a reaction to fright (under the definition for “fear”), which I might show through “widening eyes” or an “agape mouth,” can also be shown through clammy hands or a move toward escape (and whatever props are necessary to convey this), or any number of additional actions or reactions that are specific to that character.

 

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Cover image for The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Of course, in the heat of writing, I might not initially think of this, nor would I likely crack open The Emotion Thesaurus to find the proper expression to add authenticity to the first draft of the scene. But at some point I need to go back and add in the detail that best shows what the character is feeling rather than simply telling the reader what he or she is feeling.

While it’s certainly valid to practice this skill on my actual novel, just as it’s valid to practice my driving skills while trying to get to a particular destination, there’s something to be said about using freewriting as the canvas for developing this skill, since freewriting has no other purpose but to generate thoughts and ideas prior to committing to the project.

For example, if I want to get better at creating character expressions, I can start by writing a disembodied scene that features a character I know nothing about who emotes really, really well, and learn from the experience. I can even use The Emotion Thesaurus to help me craft the scene:

Bob drove his fingernail under the edge of the envelope and cracked it open. Ignoring his impulse to rip the whole thing apart, he merely peeked into the gap and caught a glimpse of something pink. He flipped the envelope over. It was his name on the front. But he didn’t recognize the return address.

The envelope leapt out of his hand and landed on the desk. Or maybe he tossed it. But whatever happened, Bob pushed himself away from the desk and considered leaving the room.

The problem was that today was his birthday, but he didn’t know the person who was sending him the birthday card, nor did he know why they were sending it to him. The fact that it was his birthday wasn’t good enough for him to trust the source. Was he being watched somehow?

Hopefully the emotion is clear: I’m indicating Bob’s suspicion of the sender (and the card).

My impulse is to give him “narrowing eyes” when he stares at the card. I’ve got plenty of examples where a character has this exact reaction to something equally suspicious. In fairness, The Emotion Thesaurus lists this “narrowing eyes” expression at the top of its action list for “suspicion,” maybe because it’s the most obvious character response. But it also lists “retreating or keeping at a safe distance” as a possible reaction. For some characters, this might be a ridiculous reaction. For Bob, it’s a perfectly suitable one. And that’s the point, and that’s why I use it instead of “Bob narrowed his eyes at the envelope.” This reaction is not only used less often than “narrowing eyes,” but it says something about Bob’s response to items he doesn’t understand. I could use this example as a baseline for additional reactions to other items or situations throughout the story that Bob may interact with. In short, Bob is jumpy, and now I know that. If I saved this scene for the heat of the moment, I might’ve missed that idea and found myself writing an inconsistent character when, in the next scene, he sees a suspicious object and runs toward it.

Freewriting a standalone scene that has no stake in my story won’t move my story forward, but it can at least help me understand my character better.

So, my message today is simply this: If you lack a particular writing skill, use freewriting to fine-tune it. It’ll make implementation into your important projects much easier and you less prone to stalled writing as you try to think of the perfect way to communicate an idea. Because, let’s face it, sometimes we can’t recapture the heat of the moment in the rewrite, no matter how good we are at faking it.

And for one more note of clarity: You don’t really need to use freewriting for any other purpose. If you can’t warm your engines on your actual novel, then maybe your novel isn’t ready to be written.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check out Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi’s thesaurus series to improve your knowledge base. They’ve got a new one about occupations coming out in two weeks, and like their other thesauri, it looks promising. I highly recommend their books.

I also highly recommend that you subscribe to this blog because you learn things here. Usually. Sometimes.

Cover Image: Pixabay

The Coming of NaNoWriMo 2019

I just posted a video about NaNoWriMo 2019 and how we can prep for it with Scrivener. This comes with the idea that I may actually record my writing progress this month, for those of you who want to see a story written in real-time.

Will this likely end in disaster?

Probably! So, now you gotta watch, right?

In the video, I reveal two new templates I’ve developed this year: one for planning a story (and is still a work-in-progress), and the other a basic template for NaNoWriMo that includes options for journaling, tracking progress, and writing a postmortem when all is finished.

If you’d like to use either template for your own prep or writing adventure, you can find them both here.

If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, then comment below and talk about it.

Good luck!

The Audiovisual Book Experience, an Experiment

Today on YouTube, I launched the beginning of what could become my next big feature: “The Audiovisual Book Experience.” The premise behind it is that people don’t read anymore, but they do listen. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from people who listen exclusively to audiobooks and podcasts and can’t be bothered with an actual book or blog post. I think these same people watch YouTube videos on occasion.

I confess that I don’t get it. And, I do think the information is a little suspect. Of course people still read. I’m a person, and I read! I read books and blogs. I also write both. If you’re reading this blog, then you’re a reader, too. Already, you’re proving them wrong.

But, I also see the point they make. The people who prefer audio text to visual text are the people who are too busy to sit down with a good book; they probably spend more time looking through their windshields, making sure they don’t hit something or someone than they do staring at the pages of a paperback or the screen of an e-reader. Of course, they still stare at their phones for some reason, on the road and off. But it makes you wonder: Has no one told them they can read a book on their phone? What else are they going to do at a red light?

Okay, they shouldn’t read a book while driving. Point made. Audiobooks are much better for that. And they’re also much better for running. I’ve tried reading a book while running a few times. It’s definitely too shaky to concentrate. An audiobook would’ve been nicer for that scenario. If these people are so active that they can’t even spend a few minutes in bed with a good book, then perhaps the audio version is necessary.

But what of the people who want both, the reading and the listening experience? Haven’t we all started our reading lives by reading with an adult, where the adult reads out loud while we follow along and try to understand each word? Would it be so odd if we were to read along with someone else again, but as adults?

Maybe. Probably. But we’re going to try it anyway!

And that’s the point of the Audiovisual Book Experience, to allow YouTube users to read a book while someone else narrates it to them. That way, if they need to, they can do other things while the book is “playing.” Or, if they’d rather follow along, they can see each word in its book form. This gives each reader the option of reading the book however he or she wants. For free!

Is it a good idea? I don’t know. That’s why it’s an experiment. But, if it does generate interest, I’ll likely do another. If not, then I’ll commit my time and energy to something else.

I do wonder, though, how other authors with better voices than mine could make use of an audiovisual book experience. It might be worth it for them to give it a try for their own books.

That said, I’m launching my own experience with Amusement, a short story about a businessman who must confront the corporate entity responsible for the faulty product that ruined his life.

The overview video has already launched. The introduction and legal information video will launch at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday, September 23, 2019), and “Part 1: Professionalism” will launch immediately after, at 1:15 p.m., both Eastern Standard Time. Each additional episode will launch on consecutive days at 1 p.m. until next Sunday when the final episode, “Part 7: Crash,” airs.

The entire audiovisual book will be curated into a playlist that you can run at your leisure.

If you decide to check it out, please let me know what you think, either here or on YouTube. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

Quality Products and Ethical Practices

Every so often I like to visit The Book Designer to find out what’s new in the world of indie publishing because trends change, people change, yet books are forever, except for when they’re banned, and it’s important to keep up with it all. It is through this channel that I discover not only ways to maximize my social media outreach, but also how to avoid or address problems like predator publishers, “Cockygate,” or anything that convinces me that no one is looking out for my best interest.

Yesterday, I read an article through The Book Designer’s weekly wrap-up about Amazon’s new terms on content-stuffing, or the practice of packing e-books with “bonus materials” that equate to having multiple books in one in an effort to game Kindle Unlimited’s system that pays according to pages read, a practice which may ultimately result in “authors” directing readers to click to the end of the digital brick for some kind of bonus item (and force Amazon to pay the author as much as $15 for the click1, per the policies on pages read, or credited as read, and subsequent payment), and it left me with some opinions. In short, it’s a smart system for lazy people, and one can hardly fault the scammers who figured that out, but it’s also a harmful system for those who are actually trying to make a living on their art. The end result is that Amazon has finally banned this practice, after numerous complaints2, as it is unfair to other, more legitimate authors who want to make an honest buck.

Of course, I doubt fairness is the real reason they banned the practice. At best, responding in fairness may be counted as a positive side effect to the solution to a greater business problem. No, we’re talking about Amazon here. Prevention of bad practices, it seems, stems first from a loss, and losing authors is not the sort of thing Amazon would ever need to worry about. I have a feeling the change in Amazon’s Terms of Service for Kindle products is related more to money than to author servicing, and, in this case, authors are there to make them money (while trying to also make themselves money, which is admittedly harder to do). How well authors make Amazon money is the topic of another discussion, and, well, money in general is the topic of another discussion. What I do want to talk about, however, is service, and, in this case, the product is the service.

When we buy a book, we usually buy it to read it. Sometimes we’ll buy a paperback because we need something for the bus or the beach, and sometimes we’ll buy a hardcover because we need something to keep the door open. But, we buy electronic books, or e-books, because we need something to occupy our time without taking up much of our space. And, Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s exclusive subscription site for indie authors and readers, is a purveyor of electronic books large and small (more large than small) that readers can consume quickly and cheaply without any bookshelf clutter whatsoever, and it provides these books on an exclusive basis, exclusive in the sense that these books are available only on the Kindle platform. For readers who don’t mind reading books by unknowns for a monthly fee (so, not exactly free but close to it), Kindle Unlimited is a great platform. For authors whom these readers read, Kindle Unlimited is an okay platform (if they don’t mind getting paid by the page read, which can be very, very little3).

I understand why someone would want to game a pay-by-pages-read system. It changes the value of the book from a standard cost of purchase regardless of quality to cost of purchase or borrow (and worth) based on quality. Not everyone will have that book that everyone will want to read until the end, as much as we may want to believe the opposite. For me, I’m the type of reader who will generally read a bad book to the end to find out if it gets any better, and because I paid for it, I’m gonna finish what I paid for, dangit. But, if I’m not paying anything but a monthly service, then I’m much more likely to abandon a bad book in favor of searching for a better book, and if I get a bad book for free, well, I’m not reading that one, either. So, if I’ve written a bad book, it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve spent precious time writing that bad book, and I’d still want to get paid for it. Gaming the system to get something for that book is certainly tempting.

But, it’s not ethical, especially if the money is coming out of a pool4 set aside for all authors enrolled in the KU program, especially if those authors are writing good books that deserve to be read and deserve adequate compensation for each page read. If we were to consider the proverb, “Do unto others as we’d do onto ourselves,” then we shouldn’t even be tempted by this practice of tricking readers to click to the end of the overstuffed book, especially if the book is larger than The Lord of the Rings Trilogy because it includes content that can also be bought separately from the tome in question. But, apparently some fake authors haven’t gotten that memo.

My argument goes beyond the ethical issue, however. In fact, I shouldn’t have to explain why this behavior is unethical, or justify any time spent discussing it. The facts speak for themselves. Cheating legitimate authors out of fair compensation by tricking readers to click on a link that takes them to something else lame is just bad all around. No, my issue is with these fake authors’ unwillingness to present a quality book, both in appearance and in content. That’s the real crime. Well, it’s kind of a crime. The fraudulent practice of gaming a system for money is still the worst. But a bad book…that’s nothing to slouch at.

As a consumer of literature, both fiction and nonfiction alike, I want to enjoy the experience of reading as much as I want to enjoy the story itself. This means I want to appreciate the feel of the book in my hands (so, no crappy paper textures, please). I want to find the textual layout pleasing to the eye. Even the typography should leave me with a positive feeling. I’m a fan of the Garamond font, just as I’m a fan of matte covers and embossed titles. I like chapter headings that punctuate the story. I even like chapters that add something extra, like famous quotes, illustrations, or even in the case of The Impossible Fortress, lines of computer code that not only combine to make a functional game but also summarize the plot points of the chapter for a truly complex approach to storytelling. As a reader, I want to like the book I’m reading. As a writer, this means I want to deliver a positive customer experience, too.

When I wrote The Computer Nerd three years ago, I had what I thought were three great ideas: A homemade cover featuring my real-life desk and coffee cup, a computer-based font for the title and chapter headings, and a “post-credits scene” to give voracious readers a special surprise for reading the entire book. As it turned out, my cover was too dark for print and a bit out of standard for a thriller, and the font was way out of standard for a thriller. And that last scene? I never did get feedback on it, which makes me wonder if anyone ever saw it. My first review, most likely from a reader looking for a book on programming, not a marital thriller, came back with a single star. It was nearly the reason why I rethought the story’s entire premise and every “wise” decision I thought I had made about it. The stuff I learned afterward is what convinced me to rewrite the book under the title Gone from the Happy Place. I thought it was time to brand it as a new product. I even want to change the publishing elements to match the professionals closer. I care about my books. I care about my products. I want readers to like them as much as I do, and I want to like them, too. I rushed The Computer Nerd out the door, and the quality, while not awful, still kinda shows. I definitely would’ve done things differently in retrospect. It’s the reason that Gone from the Happy Place is even in-production.

Personally, I think these book-stuffers and Kindle-gamers are hacks. These are not the kinds of people who care about products. They’re driven by the money, but they don’t realize that the money is only as good as the customers’ tastes, and a bad product will lose the customer. It’s too bad that e-books don’t come with return policies, especially in Kindle Unlimited, because return policies force proper customer targeting and the creation of competitive products. This isn’t to say that I like return policies for my products, and I certainly don’t love the idea of including one, but I still think they’re necessary for all content producers, as return policies keep us accountable to our work. If enough people return my books, I’d know there’s a problem with them. Either that, or readers think a store is a library and are basically jerks, too. But, I wouldn’t expect that from my readers. My readers are good people, wink wink.

To get notifications on more articles like this one, please hit the blue “follow” button at the bottom of this page. I try to post a new article at least once a year. Maybe twice in a leap year, if there’s also a full moon.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Footnotes:

1. Nate Hoffelder. “Amazon Updates KDP Rules to Discourage Book-Stuffing.The Digital Reader. July 12, 2018.

2. This is a guess, but probably true, as it wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise.

3. Derek Haines. “Is Kindle Unlimited Pay Per Page Read Fair For Authors?Just Publishing Advice. June 21, 2018.

4. Nate Hoffelder. “Kindle Unlimited Per-Page Rate, Funding Pool Up in September 2017.” The Digital Reader. October 15, 2017.

2018 New Year News

Happy New Year to each and every one who reads this update. Hope your year turns out great and that success finds you, whatever that may look like.

Now for some news, both book-related and life-related. Read to the end for the full picture.

E-book Updates:

I’ve been on Christmas break since December 18th, and I’ve been updating some e-books during my break. Three of my books now include a section for readers’ group discussion questions because I want to be pretentious and believe that people would want to talk about my stories. These books include Eleven Miles from Home, Cards in the Cloak, and When Cellphones Make Us Crazy. Each of these also has a new cover and updated interior content for your packaging enjoyment. Cards in the Cloak has been revised from its earlier version, and When Cellphones Make Us Crazy is a remake of an earlier book I published in 2015 called When Cellphones Go Crazy. All of these have been updated on Amazon if you’d like to give them a look.

Also, it’s important to note that some of the prices on my other books have changed to reflect the times. You can still get a few freebies at Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, etc., and $.99 versions of those books on Amazon (the lowest I can set them without asking Amazon to price-match, which I WILL do once I’ve finished my rebranding process, but I think they price-match anyway because I have yet to see a dime from them). But, those that are still free won’t likely stay free forever, just FYI.

The updates still have to make their way to Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc., as the holidays tend to slow them down, but Amazon has them all. I expect everything to be up-to-date in the next few days.

I’m providing links to these stories to get you in the supportive spirit. I could use help getting the word out about When Cellphones Make Us Crazy, Cards in the Cloak, and Eleven Miles from Home in particular, but help supporting any and all of them would be awesome, as it would add some general momentum behind my writing career. If you do pick up any of my books at any time (now or in the future), please leave an HONEST review. Books that have no reviews also tend to have no sales. I’ve got 15 books on Amazon that prove this. The “biz” calls it “social proof.” Without it, an author’s career dies on arrival. That’s been my story so far.

Oh, and if you decide NOT to pick any of these books up for yourself for any reason, please tell me why. I’m curious about what prevents readers from getting certain books. Your info would be immensely helpful for the future, and you would have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped out your fellow human being (and writer) without spending a dime!

Mailing List:

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears mentioning again: I’d like to start sending out some newsletters and special offers to my mailing list soon, but to do that, I need subscribers. I don’t have any fancy buttons to get your attention or landing pages to keep distraction at bay. I know how authors are supposed to invite subscribers to their list, but those methods cost money I neither have nor can get without an active readership, so rather than dazzle you with costly bells and whistles, I’ll just simply say I’d like to share with you exclusive news, information, offers, etc. about twice a month directly to your electronic mailbox, topics about reading, writing, characters, movies, useful things I’ve learned to better my life, exclusive and special offers, and so on. I’ll provide an opt-out button if it becomes something you no longer want to read, but I would still like your support during its launch and a fair chance during its development. Again, the plan is for two letters a month. Please subscribe and share!

If you would like to join the list and receive the newsletter, please message me at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up,” or something that’ll alert me that you’re interested in joining, and I’ll put you on the list. Be sure to let me know inside the message that that’s what you want, just so there’s no confusion.

I want to start sending the letter out on the third Tuesday of this month (January 16th), but if I don’t get any subscribers by then (or too few), I’ll be pushing it back to the third Tuesday in February (February 20th). The first letter will be an inauguration letter, but the second (to be released on the first Tuesday in February or March, depending on how many subscribers I have by then) will cover our first discussion topic: Why fiction is an important part of life.

To join the discussion, or to simply read about why it’s important, join my mailing list as soon as possible!

2018: A Projection:

Because I’ve spent so much time relearning how to edit and market the last year and a half, my writing time since May 2016 has suffered. But, I’m steadily moving back into a rhythm, and I hope to start releasing new titles this year.

However, before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to point out the plans I have for the near future and whether or not they’re realistic.

Snow in Miami

I didn’t finish this in time for Christmas in 2016 (the original planned release date) or in 2017 (which was honestly unlikely to happen given certain conditions in my life, though I was optimistic), but I have gotten pretty close to finished. I still aim to finish the first draft either this week or next, and I’ll probably post it on FictionPress or some free reading service for feedback shortly after. But, I won’t likely post the e-book until September 2018 at the earliest. I want to make sure I have time to properly review and edit it, as well as create adequate packaging and release it when people are more likely to discover it (research shows that October through December is a bad time to release a book if you’re competing with commercial publishers; otherwise I’d just wait until December). I don’t think 2016 or 2017 was ever realistically on the table given all of the things I’ve been juggling behind the scenes. A 2018 release is extremely likely, though, so keep watch for it (or subscribe to my mailing list to find out when it goes live and where).

-My NaNoWriMo Novel-

The novel I worked on for National November Writing Month (the thriller involving two dumb high school kids uncovering a subversive plot to zombify their town and doing their part to stop it—basically if Bill & Ted were a crime thriller) will be picked at throughout 2018, but I don’t foresee releasing it before 2019. At some point I want to give Kindle Unlimited a try, and I think this will be the perfect story for that platform. If it’s successful, I’ll try it with other books. But, only if. I may finish it this year, but I think summer of 2019 is more likely. I’ll talk more about it the closer I get to finishing it. I’ve got 34,000 words devoted to it so far.

Pawn of Justice

On Christmas 2017, which was the ten-year anniversary of the day I started writing the A Modern-day Fantasy anthology, I began the first chapter of Pawn of Justice, the prequel to A Modern-day Fantasy. I will be putting most of my writing focus into finishing the trilogy by next Christmas, and start pushing them off to the public by May 2019.

This is realistic, as I plan to write it the same way I wrote the other A Modern-day Fantasy stories: as one singular story split into multiple parts, taking up about a year of the characters’ lives.

Unlike Cannonball City and Superheroes Anonymous (the currently released anthology entries), Pawn of Justice will not follow Jimmy Knightly as its main viewpoint character, but instead follow FBI agents Joyce McKinley (viewpoint) and Thomas Sturgeon (lead protagonist) as they uncover mysteries linking the underground mafia with a growing presence of superhumans, all leading up to the arrival of the Spotless Cowboy and an introduction to New Switzerland. The third book will provide a clean ending while opening the door to the Jimmy Knightly stories. And, I do not plan to add any fan service by projecting future events that current readers already know about. I hate it when movies do that, so I don’t plan to do that here.

I’ll talk more about this series the closer I get to finishing it.

Once they’re released, I’ll start releasing the official versions of the A Modern-day Fantasy books, beginning with Fallen Stars, Cannonball City, Risen Ordinaries, Rebellious Sidekick, and Superheroes Anonymous, which retell the stories presented in the first two Annual Editions (online now at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but in an even better way.

Gone from the Happy Place

I’m still deciding whether I want to wait until I can afford my own ISBNs before moving forward on this one—I may just release the e-book on Amazon for now—but I’ve created a potential cover for it a couple of weeks ago (which can still change depending on feedback), and I pretty much know what I need to do to finish it. It really shouldn’t take me long. I might have it done as early as February, but I won’t be aiming to release it before June. If it gets released as early as February, it will be released to Amazon only, and for $4.99.

But don’t count on it coming out that soon. I want to avoid the mistakes I made with its earlier version, The Computer Nerd. I’ll update you when it’s near release, and I may provide a 40% discount to subscribers to my mailing list (preorder only).

I’ll have to work out the logistics with pricing, though.

gone from the happy place concept 3.png

The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky

As I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier announcement, The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky will be getting a novelized version sometime this year. Again, I’d like to release it by summer, but it depends on how quickly and efficiently I can get my other projects finished. But, either way, I think it deserves a full work devoted to it. The more I think about it, the more I like the story and want to expand on it. Again, the tracks are already in place, so I don’t foresee it taking long to develop. I’ve already got a new beginning written, and most of a new ending. The majority of work I’d still need to do is with structure and pacing, which will be the hardest part of the process.

-Other Books-

I know I still have some outstanding titles to work on, including Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, Zipwood Studios, Figments of the Imagination, and My First Mullet, along with other novels that I’ve written or started years ago (like Panhandler Underground and Botanical Rush to name a couple), and the more time that passes, the more it seems they’ll never make the light of day. Rest assured, though, these are still on the list for release.

Teenage American Dream, in particular, hit a development snag last year, and I’ve halted it for now until I can figure out how to correct it. One of the problems with writing “by the seat of one’s pants” is that snags happen, and even if you have a plan (as I did for this one), organic development can still sneak in and change the course of things while uncovering the secrets of others. I like what I have so far (which is almost 75% of the book, or nearly 70,000 words), but I’ve reached a point where I think I need more knowledge or understanding about a specific topic that I don’t yet have and would need time to research, which I think is important, to continue it, and making that time has been a challenge lately. But, I’ll get there. Also, the title will be replaced with something else, as “Teenage American Dream” was originally given to the 2006 short story I wrote for Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk, Volume 3, using the same character, and I’ll probably want to rerelease that story, with that title, as a side-chapter during its promotional phase.

Sweat of the Nomad and Zipwood Studios will eventually undergo the same decision: their short story versions will retain these titles and the novels based on these stories will have different titles. I have no idea when I’ll get around to updating these, though. Probably not before 2019.

Figments of the Imagination has actually undergone some development in 2017, but I stalled when NaNoWriMo started. I’ll be getting more of it done in 2018, but I have no idea when I’ll have it ready for release. I doubt it will be finished in 2018, and I wouldn’t even expect it for 2019. It’s going to be a big story with big world-building, and I want to get it right. I’m going to aim for 2020 for that one. It’ll be a lot fun, though. My plans for it are pretty awesome. The first chapter for it can be read at the end of Cards in the Cloak.

My First Mullet has stalled simply because it’s a niche product, and I don’t expect much of a market for it. It’s more of a passion project that I want to finish for myself and its cult followers, and I think I can take my time with it. It’ll be finished eventually. I haven’t been in a hurry, though. If you don’t know anything about it, it’s essentially a collection of poems and short stories about the war between man and his mullet. A few of its entries can be found on this blog. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Panhandler Underground is a novel I wrote in 2005, but I never did anything with it because I needed to redevelop it to better fit the way government institutions would actually operate (albeit in a satirical way). Once I’m comfortable with the progress I’m making on Pawn of Justice, I plan to revisit this story by creating a trilogy out of it (well, an anthology where it would be the third book in a series but not the last). I’ve already outlined the two books that’ll come before it, more or less, so I don’t expect it to take long to develop once I get going on it. But, I can assure you that this will be a fun one. The current 12-year-old manuscript is a big hit with the people I allow to read it. I expect the update to be better and slightly more believable.

Botanical Rush is another passion project I started in 2007, but stopped when A Modern-day Fantasy took over my life for the next five years. I’ll get back to it one of these days. I did a lot of research for it, so I’d hate to waste it. I also stalled because I didn’t think the inciting incident was good enough, and I still haven’t thought of a way to improve it. I will. Eventually. I’ve got eleven chapters written for it already. Again, I’d hate to waste it.

So, these are my likely releases in the next couple of years, with a few maybe taking until 2020 to finish. I still want to update Gutter Child, too, so that may or may not happen before 2020. I think that’s plenty to think about, though. Oh, and I want to write and release one more Christmas story after Snow in Miami to round out my Christmas fable trilogy. That’ll likely happen in 2019, as I plan to write it now to make sure it gets done.

The Main Obstacle to These Goals:

My job has been emotionally challenging lately. I make about $15,000 a year doing it, even though I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and the degree is related to my field. The job is no longer what it was when I started, though, and I don’t know if it will ever go back to being the good thing that it was. I’m beginning to sense that my skills are going to waste and the money has been too low for me to really improve my life. I started publishing e-books as a way to supplement my annual income, but I haven’t really been selling any of those, either, so I’m still struggling financially, and, in turn, emotionally.

I’m looking to make a change in 2018 for the better, financially, socially, and even spiritually, and I don’t think it’s going to happen if I stay where I am. So, I’ll be devoting a good chunk of my time trying to also rebuild my career goals and hopefully find myself in a different and better place by this time next year. I don’t know how this will affect my writing or my story goals, but I wanted to alert my readers that this is something I’ll also be working on, and it may or may not shift some of my above goals around. That said, your support is appreciated in any form, including prayers, so if you’re still reading, thanks for coming with me this far.

Another Newsletter Reminder:

Again, I hope you all have a great 2018 ahead.

Remember, I’m looking for new subscribers. As I slowly phase Drinking Café Latte at 1pm out from being my primary news source, the best way to get updates and exclusive offers from here on out is to subscribe to my mailing list. Message me at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up” to get on the list to join. Don’t wait for the fancy buttons to be incentivized! Remember, joining will give you access to exclusive newsletters about reading, writing, things I’ve discovered that you should know about, free offers, etc. If all that sounds questionable, remember, it’s a newsletter I’ll send out approximately twice a month and it won’t take up much of your time, so there’s no reason not to join. Again, contact me at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up” to get on the list to join. It’ll be fun.

Take care and until next time….

 

Rush to Preorder: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 3

Missed a part? Play catchup here.

“Rush to Preorder”

In August 2015, I gave my novel, The Computer Nerd, a preorder date for October 20, 2015, the day before Back to the Future Day. Then I started to write it, or add to its existing short story form, rather. I thought this was a good idea. I was on such a hot streak that I thought two months was plenty of time to produce a great title. I thought wrong.

I had just finished and uploaded the revised version of The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, a novelette that I’d written as a simple short story years earlier (and am currently in the process of revising again to include more story and less fable, but more on that another time), and because I was trying to keep my release momentum up to one new title a month, it was time to get my next e-book title in motion. I was planning on revising and releasing the short story version of The Computer Nerd, which was only about 6000 words and ended with the protagonist taking a chance on his wife not murdering him in his sleep by going to bed with her, but I decided rather quickly that the story was just a first act and really needed more. So, by the second week of August, I ditched my progress on Teenage American Dream, which was supposed to be my next title at the time, and went to work crafting a novel out of that single-act short story. By September 9, 2015, I finished the first draft of the complete novel, and I was happy with it.

I’d set the preorder date for October 20th, because I thought that would give me plenty of time to revise it and get enough beta readers to tell me how to make it better, even though setting a preorder for October 20th meant I’d actually have to have the whole thing done and uploaded by October 10th. But I couldn’t get the beta readers I wanted even though I asked. I got one reader and two advisors for certain moments in the story to cover my every question. Hardly enough feedback to tell whether the story truly worked, or if it was even any good. Had I given myself, say, six months, I might’ve gotten more feedback, or even given myself enough time away from the story that I could read it with greater objectivity and see for myself what works and what doesn’t. Had I given myself that kind of time, or even a year, I’d have been able to learn enough about editing for genre that I could clearly see what was off about the story and worked to fix it before anyone in the public eye would ever see it.

But I didn’t do that. I obsess over most of my stories, which is evidenced by the fact that I keep going back to stories I’ve written more than ten years ago to see if I can improve them, but I didn’t give myself time to obsess over The Computer Nerd. In fact, as I write this two years later, I still don’t know if my ideas for improvement are actually good enough to make it worth public attention even now. All I know is that my plans for its revision are better than what I actually published in October 2015, as a preorder, in an attempt to publish something new every month.

In Part 1 of this unintended series (I thought I would tell this story in one part, not three), I mentioned my plan to rerelease this story with new content and a new title. This is why the planned update for a “finished” novel that people have bought on Amazon or downloaded for free at Smashwords during promotion seasons. I rushed the current version without giving myself enough time to really let it sit with me. I rarely rush through anything without giving myself adequate time to meditate on its details and fix whatever doesn’t work. But the conventions of indie publishing pushed me in ways I wasn’t ready for, and I broke my own personal conventions (and convictions) to see how the story would perform in the marketplace. The result of that performance was poor to say the least. I had no sales at Smashwords or its affiliates, short of a couple hundred free downloads during my I-no-longer-care phase, which aren’t sales, and may not even be reads, and only a couple on Amazon, the first of which yielded a one-star review. The print book never sold. As of this writing, I have the only print copy in existence, and I don’t get far into reading it without cringing. It’s not bad, but I know I can do better.

I intend to do better.

And I wish to do so by giving it a new identity, hence its retitle to Gone from the Happy Place. I want to make sure that readers get the story they deserve and not the one I felt obligated to rush out the door. I still have logistical questions to answer, like whether or not I want to change the opening, or even scrap the original first scene (my gut says yes), but I also have to consider conventional rules for its genre and figure out how best to incorporate those ingredients that the current version lacks, like, say, adding a new character who complicates everybody’s relationship to each other by simply being in the same room as they (because she’s trying to arrest two of the three characters while stealing the third away as a romantic interest even though he’s married to one of the two she’s trying to arrest, and you get the idea…spoiler alert).

The end result of this tale is that each of my stories are now under scrutiny, and some, like Gutter Child, as much as I like their current versions, still need more to become competitive in the marketplace. I can’t save every story or turn them all into blockbusters. But I can still do my best to give each one a proper foot forward, and that’s why I no longer wish to rush anything I write, even those stories I need to rewrite. Gone from the Happy Place is “finished” already; at the same time, I haven’t actually begun the version that will earn its new name, and I won’t start it until I’m satisfied with my rewrites for The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, Shell Out, and whatever else needs my attention. And even when I do finish it, I won’t release it until I can get proper marketing in its fuel tank. I want to have a better launch for its next version.

So, if you’re wondering why my publishing pace has suddenly slowed to a crawl, or why I’ve produced nothing commercially since May 2016, that’s why. I believe in quality over speed. I ignored it in 2015. I won’t do that again. It’s the same reason I don’t blog all of the time. I’d rather spend my writing on novels than on lectures.

But thanks for reading this all the same! Please come back. Next time I’ll write about…er…stuff, I guess. You won’t want to miss it!

Note: You can find links to most of the books mentioned in this series as thumbnail images to the right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you can find the links at the top. Alternatively, you can wait until I release the revisions and just subscribe to this blog for updates instead.

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

Cover image by Pixabay

The Experts Aren’t Always Right: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 2

Missed Part One? Play catchup here.

“The Experts Aren’t Always Right”

As an independent author, when it comes to writing and selling books, I have to take matters into my own hands. As much as I would love to have someone else handle my marketing, cover design, copywriting, actual writing, etc., I don’t have that luxury. If I want people to read my stories, I have to get the word out on my own, or convince others to help me by convincing them that what I have to share is worth reading. And to convince them to read my work, I have to market to them, which means, ultimately, the cycle is unavoidable, and I’m responsible for getting the word out regardless, help or not. If it’s near impossible to get any reader interested in reading my work, then it’s even more nearly impossible to get them to market for me. If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done, and the book will undoubtedly flop.

But even if I do get readers, and even if I can convince a few of them to help me get even more readers, it doesn’t mean my career is set and ready to launch. I also have to figure out how to get and retain fans, which is even more nearly impossible than the even more nearly impossible task of getting a support system to help me find those fans.

But nearly impossible isn’t the same as impossible. Fortunately, impossible is a dead adjective in independent publishing. Okay, more like an animated corpse that seems lifelike. But it’s still dead.

Through traditional publishing, authors have a chance to get their books displayed on a shelf at a bookstore, and by proxy, open an avenue for exposure that indie authors often don’t have. This doesn’t necessarily improve the author’s chances at discovery, as any book that’s displayed with the spine out is no more likely to get discovered than a specific crack in a sidewalk in the heart of a beautiful park would get discovered. But even shy people can discover that crack in a sidewalk if the alternative is to make eye contact with other people, so at least it’s an extra opportunity.

For an independent author, that chance for discovery is almost entirely limited to marketing, whether via e-mail, or word-of-mouth, or blast system like Bookbub or Instafreebie, which tends to succeed only when the author already has a following or fat marketing account and strong copywriting and cover design, and getting a sale through that market or discovery is dependent on whether or not the moon passes by the sun at the precise time a chicken crows while a dog pees on its head, which is, to say, not easy.

And that’s just for one book. What happens when the independent author writes another one? How many times does the moon eclipse the sun? (At the time of this writing, the total eclipse is scheduled to begin in Oregon and proceed through the heart of the United States and into South Carolina in a few hours, so, timely! But by the time this goes live, it’ll be long gone, so ha ha, you gotta wait another 18 months for the next one! But I digress.)

Because it can be difficult to build an audience, and even more difficult to retain one, independent authors are often encouraged to write books quickly (one every month or two) to earn enough income to write full-time. And this is assuming they have at least 3000 e-mail list subscribers who are ready and willing to buy every book the independent author writes, or tens of thousands of subscribers that can balance the odds enough to glean about 3000 loyal readers from the list. With the average $2.99 e-book earning its author 70% of its sales, 3000 loyal readers can earn him over $6000 a book. And that’s great…if he can pop out a new book every couple of months on average.

Traditional authors can’t do that because the industry takes about 18 months to contract and release a book via publisher (the length of time you’ll have to wait for the next total eclipse to happen after today, August 21, 2017, aka the day I’m writing this post, not necessarily the day I’m posting it). But independent authors can release books as quickly as they can write them, which is awesome for anyone who writes quickly and cleanly and doesn’t mind ignoring his loved ones most days.

The key idea here being how quickly one can write, edit, market, and release a full-length book of about 200 or more pages (50,000 words or more) and still be good enough to keep the reader coming back for more. Is one-to-two months for each book really long enough?

I guess it could be. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in the summers he spent at Goldeneye, his home in the Caribbean (Jamaica, I believe), and spent the rest of the year working as a real spy, leaving his publishers to take care of the rest. That’s about two months per book for his part. I don’t know if he had to do anything more than just write the books. But even still, at that rate, he produced just one book a year. You could say he spent the other ten months researching.

I’d argue that producing a new book every one or two months is beneficial for keeping readers’ attention, but it may also be too much for those who feel oversaturated by reading books only from a particular author who, for some reason, is more prolific than even James Patterson or Stephen King. Ian Fleming had a dedicated readership, and even though it took him just two months to write each novel, it took about a year for his readers to get each one. In spite of the gap between stories, they came back anyway. They had other authors they could read in the meantime.

Indie authors don’t have to wait a year to get a book they’ve spent two months writing into their readers’ hands. But is that a good thing? I have authors I’m subscribed to that I still haven’t read because I simply can’t keep up with their pacing. It seems like every time I think about starting one of their freebies, they’re pitching me a new book. I’m not ready for it yet! Of course, it’s not their fault I’m not ready for it yet. I’ve just got so much else to read. Maybe a year between releases isn’t so bad. But, for the indie author, a year between releases is the same as starving. Seems like neither party really wins here.

I don’t know how involved Ian Fleming got with his books after he submitted them to the publisher, and it may be that two months dedicated to his author career was plenty, but independent authors don’t have the luxury to stop at the writing process or spend two months a year on a single book. They have to maintain the editing process, as well, and that can cost time and money. If an editor charges between $1000 and $2000, for example, then that reduces the author’s $6000 in sales profit to just $4000. And that’s not including cover design costs ($300 on average), marketing services (conditional, but probably more than $100 and upwards to about $600), and any subscriptions to web hosting or e-mail list providers ($100 a month or more), and now the author is down to earning an ROI of about $3000 or less for his book, and that’s assuming he’s grossing $6000, and if it took him two months to produce that book from zero to hero, then he’s earning about $1500 a month as an author, which is about what I make tutoring college students how to write.

It’s not a lot when you crunch the numbers. And it takes a long frickin’ time to get enough subscribers and fans to produce those kinds of numbers in the first place.

Now, these are estimated costs based on research and not based on experience. In contrast, based on experience, each book earns about $3 a year. This is without a mailing list, or marketing system, or editing service, and so on. This is based simply on writing and uploading a book to Amazon or Smashwords and crossing my fingers (what all writers wish they could do successfully) and seeing what happens. This is based on zero reviews, or a three-star average thanks to a one-star review cancelling out a five-star review, and, while I’m at it, wishing upon a star.

And that three-star average is based on cranking out a book in two months without editing, marketing, or having any real beta reading support, save for a single reader who says the book is “pretty good,” which isn’t the same as saying the book is “freaking amazing.”

It’s also based on beating a preorder deadline on the advice of experts who say preorders increase first-day sales and that preorders should be given to all books. No, I’m gonna have to disagree here. Preorders are yet another marketing stage for increasing exposure on a title that needs marketing to get that exposure, but it’s only helpful if the author produces a book that readers would actually want to read, which usually requires something called quality, which is hard to achieve on two months’ worth of writing, marketing, etc. I’ll cover that in more detail tomorrow.

But everything about writing and publishing independently comes down to costs, both in money and time, and neither produces guarantees for success, even though more of each increases the odds.

Now, there are things in my life I wish I could reset like a videogame, most of them having to do with career choices or women, but I don’t regret giving independent publishing a chance. What I do regret is rushing through my titles in order to match the speed that some authors claim they need to produce their own success. It’s that regret that has led me to the decision to otherwise disown the current version of my novel, The Computer Nerd, and seek to revise and release the story under a new title, and to do so at the pace I need to make it worth buying and reading. This isn’t to say that it’s bad in its current form, mind you. But it is to say that it needs better.

More on that tomorrow.

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Cover image by Pixabay

Public Revision: Write at Your Own Risk…er…Pace, Part 1

Would you like to go back in time a few years and redo something you screwed up? Or maybe just a few days? Or even this morning, perhaps? If you could do it all over again, would you refuse that job offer, or decide not to date that person (or marry them), or make that investment in that swamp that was supposed to be the home of the next big mall but to this day remains a swamp? If given the chance, would you have decided against erecting that statue of a controversial figure to our national history?

We all fantasize about correcting the bad choices we’ve made in life, but rarely can we ever do anything but forge ahead and hopefully make better decisions the next time we’re faced with something similar.

In videogames, we see this fantasy realized in two places:

  1. Most games come with a reset button of some kind. We make a mistake in the game, we turn it off, we reload from our last save, and we try again but tackle the problem differently and see if that earns us better results.
  2. Game developers who release a bad or buggy game have many opportunities (if finances allow) to patch it before their clientele finishes lighting up the pitchforks, as long as they remain in communication with their fans and customers that improvements are coming. In this way, they can turn a bad game into a great one, if they pour in the time, money, and love to see it through.

Okay, three places:

  1. In the case of old or poorly executed games, creators can remake their games with better technology and/or better ideas, and anyone who appreciates the idea behind the original may be onboard for trying out the new version. Take a look at SimCity for example…

Or don’t; your choice.

It’s the perfect medium to work with because gamers are the most forgiving people on earth…at least it could seem that way as long as you ignore the flames they fan on gaming forums (especially on Steam) or if you constantly update your game, preferably weekly, even after you’ve released the final version of the final version of the version that jumped the shark because people keep demanding updates when the game has outlived its need for updates and you just want to get on with the sequel or a new property already, but can’t because those ingrates won’t leave you alone about adding that stupid feature where the hero blinks when you press the mouse button three times while upside down because real heroes blink and your game sucks if the hero doesn’t blink and you said that the hero would blink way back when you announced the game was coming and foolishly published your wish list of features as a motivation or goal for yourself, which included the possibility of having the hero blink at the click of the mouse, as if you were making promises to the people to implement these features when you really intended to implement them only if time and money permitted and that anyone who trusted this wish list to double as your infallibly planned features list would inevitably have their hearts broken, and as a result cry out to the masses that you’re a fraud who only cares about grabbing cash and couldn’t give a crap about releasing a quality or finished product to everyone who deserves the game that they want because they spent a whopping five bucks on it, dangit, and demand to get their every penny’s worth! See, it’s the perfect medium.

But books and movies don’t get the same love, it seems. Or do they???

I can’t speak much for movies, as I’m neither a filmmaker, nor am I in the loop with filmmakers, and the only time I ever see a movie “revised” after its theatrical release is when it goes to DVD or Blu-Ray as a director’s cut. But books are becoming friendlier as a medium for post-release revisions, and I think readers may even be at a point where they’re ready to accept it.

Okay, I don’t actually know if that’s true, but it should be. Here’s why.

Remember The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien? Have you read it? It’s, in short, a brilliant fantasy novel that jumpstarted the fantasy craze that continues today, eighty-five years after its publication. It’s a tightly-written children’s book about hobbits, dwarves, elves, trolls, adventures, wizards, and kings, told in a sing-song, fable kind of way, mixed with rhymes, riddles, and rendezvous with fate that captivates the imagination of any of its readers. But did you know that, according the video interviews by Peter Jackson, Tolkien had plans to revise it? After the success of Lord of the Rings, he decided he would write a revision to The Hobbit to better tie the two stories together thematically and theatrically (sounds better than plotrically, so, you know), which, to me, sounds like a worthy plan. If you suffered through The Hobbit movie trilogy (I have, and I’m a better man for it), you’ll get an idea what the rewrite could’ve been like, as Peter Jackson, the director of both Middle Earth trilogies, took Tolkien’s notes about the planned revision (that he clearly never finished) and filmed that, according to the documentaries that come with the films, which are worth watching, even if you don’t care for the movies themselves. Whether that revision would’ve been better or not remains to be seen, but after the success of Lord of the Rings, both in book and movie forms, it stands to reason that readers, whether they’d like it or hate it, would’ve been willing to give it a shot.

And that’s a fair assessment, as we give movie adaptations of books a chance all the time. Sometimes, in the case of movies like Silence of the Lambs and Silver Linings Playbook, these adaptations work. Sometimes, like in the case of The Running Man, the movie even improves on the book. Revising an already published work is not a bad thing, nor should it be a problem, especially in today’s world where e-books are biting off a piece of the reading market.

To revise is to sand off the burrs that mar the otherwise perfectly sculpted image, and reshape that statue of Mr. Controversial into one that looks more like Miss Congeniality, and that revision can happen at any time, even decades after the first version originally went live. The goal is to make sure the new version is better than the old one, and to make sure the end result won’t piss anyone off or cause a riot in the streets.

Having said that, tomorrow I would like to move toward a discussion about my book The Computer Nerd, and why I think it’s important to write and release a revised version, retitled Gone from the Happy Place, and why you should be happy that I’m doing so. I’ll begin by discussing the nature of independent publishing and why it’s a tough business. Hope you’ll come back for it.

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Cover Image by Pixabay

End-of-the Month Roundup: August 2016

My Friday Updates started off with a bang, and then they tapered off, and most of August has been without. “Why?” you may ask. Well, the simple reason is that I haven’t had much to talk about in August.

But, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I have actually done a lot of work, but not on my writing. I’ve been spending much of August studying, marketing in particular, but also editing. It’s the editing I’ve been learning that’s stalled my free-flow of writing. In short, I want to get my stories right, and to do so, I have to better understand the genres they fit in.

I’ve always had a problem with genre classification. I get the general genres like action and drama. But I’ve never been taught the conventions of these global genres, nor the conventions or obligatory scenes of their more defined parts (like action adventure, for example). Thanks to The Story Grid, I’ve been learning more about the genre types, and to some extent the conventions that make them work. More importantly, I’ve been giving more thought to what defines certain stories within their chosen genres, including my own stories. Especially my own stories.

I’ve been wanting to write an update to The Computer Nerd for a while, but I’ve been holding off because I want to attempt to run it through the grid (as outlined at The Story Grid website), and I want to be sure I fully understand how the grid works, and in turn figure out what I still need to do to make The Computer Nerd work. I also want to pick up Shawn Coyne’s book so that I have some kind of textbook to refer to when I give storygridding (a term Shawn Coyne coined) a try. I think it’ll be easier to graph once I know exactly what I’m supposed to do.

To be clear, I do think the story works based on the genre I’ve established. But now I’m wondering if I’ve picked the right genre. And I also think I can make it better. Even still, I have pictures in my head for improving it.

But, of course, that’s not the only thing I’ve been studying, nor the only thing keeping me up late at night.

When I do put it through a new rewrite, and eventually rerelease it, I also need to consider the cover image. I like what I have, but I don’t know that it’s appropriate for the genre. So much to consider, and I feel like no matter how much I learn about my craft, my awaiting knowledge seems to stack and stack.

There’s also the secondary concern about marketing. Whenever I do reedit and repost the story, I’ll want to do so with a change to the metadata. In short, I want this thing primed for marketing, and that means stripping out much of what’s already in there and replacing it with a more direct (and beneficial) link.

But how do I follow that?

The primary marketing tactic I see and hear all over the Internet is that the mailing list remains king. And guess what. I don’t have one. Nope, no mailing list. My blog subscription option is the best source I have for sending out new information, and most of the people who come here come to read my one comedic post about hoverboards, so they’re not going to subscribe. Clearly, that needs to change. So, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the mailing list and when to start it. But, I don’t want to really push the thing until I have what Nick Stephenson calls a “reader magnet” ready, and I’m starting to think that moving the post-credits scene to a mailing list exclusively is a bad idea. That scene is really part of the book, and should remain with the book. So, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novella about the bounty hunter who’s searching for our mental institution escapees (spoiler alert if you haven’t read The Computer Nerd) and using that as my subscription incentive.

Would you be interested in reading the story of Mr. Sanders’s pursuit of our escapees?

Of course, getting people to subscribe means giving them something else to buy down the road, and The Computer Nerd is not something I plan to make a sequel or an entire series out of. It’s supposed to be standalone. Assuming they want something in the same genre, what do I give them?

I’ve been giving more thought to other stories I’ve posted or have planned to post by now–Gutter Child and Teenage American Dream specifically–and considered that maybe their stories could fit more into a mystery or thriller convention, and less in the convention they already have. So, among all of my other stray thoughts, I’m wondering if I should expand Gutter Child and turn the current plot into a subplot, and give Teenage American Dream a darker problem. I have some ideas on how I can expand them, but that will undoubtedly hold up my current plans of the other stories I’ve mentioned on this blog. I feel like I’ve been ignoring them long enough.

So, that’s how my month has been. No progress, just a lot of studying.

I also host a biannual game-making contest, which had a deadline this month, so I’ve been giving that a lot of my attention. But you came here to find out about my writing, didn’t you?