Category Archives: Writing

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.

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Social Media Stage Fright

I don’t get stage fright. Not usually. If I’m standing in front of a group of strangers to give some information about a service they could use or learn from (an occasional side function of my job in education), I typically turn off the part of my brain that cares what they think about me and just deliver them the info I came to deliver. Unless I’m coughing up a storm while my zipper is down, two things I tend to get under control prior to arrival at my speaking destination, usually, I don’t worry about how I’m received. The audience either cares or it doesn’t. Doesn’t affect me either way.

Yet, the reverse seems to be true about my online presence. It’s usually more appropriate to answer questions in an unbuttoned pair of jeans (especially after a big lunch or dinner) online than it is in front of a live crowd, depending on the topic, I suppose, but the words I deliver online last much, much longer than what I deliver in person, and that can be scary when the words or information matters. In front of real people in real time, most of my audience will remember less than 10% of what I say, and if they remember me at all, they’ll likely remember me as “some guy who came to my classroom to tell me about grammar or something.” I’m not threatened by that. But, when I send a message on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter, suddenly my words are permanent and have scrutiny appeal.

Frightening!

It’s a strange paradox to be sure. We all talk about how social media can mask our identities when necessary, giving room for transparency in our thoughts, especially if our name is “Anonymous” or “Some Dude,” and suddenly we’re titanium. We see it as license to spout off all sorts of nonsense because who’s going to associate it with our faces if they can’t see them? In fact, I find it especially paradoxical in the dating world (something I gave up on a long time ago), where approaching strangers for the intention of getting a date is somehow easier through a comment on a profile page and a follow-up wink (or maybe it’s vice versa—I’ve never been great at the dating thing) than it is in real life where the person of interest has to watch me stumble out the words she may never take seriously face-to-face. It’s strange how these same vehicles of delivery can suddenly flip the perception I have of people and vice-versa, depending on the topic. But masking identity isn’t always useful. In person, my audience gets to see my face. In personal relationships, that should be a perk. Hopefully. But online, what I look like doesn’t matter. What I say does, and now they have the option to not only hear my words, but to remember them. In person, I have the freedom to flub my statements. Online, I better get it right, and I better get it right the first time because they can go back and check, check, and check again, and they can fault me if they see the mistakes or inconsistencies in thought, or whatever. As a writer, it’s embarrassing if I mess that up, especially if what I say is in of itself embarrassing (or simply unimportant). Online, I have plenty of places and opportunities in which that embarrassing thing can surface.

So, social media suddenly becomes a scary thing because that Facebook post about what I had for dinner isn’t just a Facebook post anymore. It’s an admission of guilt (even though I might see it as an attempt to engage an audience). Sure, I had a salad tonight. But I also had baked fish and mashed potatoes. And a sweet roll! To anyone who thinks I should be on a diet, I may have just incriminated myself. Sweet rolls have melted sugar on top, and that’s not healthy! How dare you promote bad health? And what of Twitter and its hashtags (also not healthy)? Is it possible for anyone to use Twitter without stirring up a string of controversies? Even with 27 followers and most of them being marketing robots, the risks of shooting myself in the foot are present if not inevitable. If I confess I had a sweet roll to a live crowd, they can at least watch me wink in jest as I deliver the truth. “Yeah, I had a sweet roll last night, and how sweet it was,” I say, as I pat my belly and gesture at how much of it is now sugar. (Note: What I eat for dinner isn’t actually anyone’s business.) Online, they may not even read that far.

As a writer, I’m told I need to master social media if I want to get followers. Okay. It’s also suggested that I post regularly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace, Hotmail, AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, Reddit, AltaVista, Match.com, Yahoo, Wazoo, Kazoo, and other things I’m probably just making up now, oh, and my blog!, and it’s too much to keep up with, yet posting builds an audience of readers, and I want to be read, right??? And everything I say must be timely, yet accurate, and interesting, yet short, and if I mess it up, I’ll lose the people, but don’t worry about that because even with ten different ways to shoot myself in the head, I only have to do it once to lose them, so don’t worry about it and just enjoy the process, as even players of Russian Roulette can be successful at times!

I’m tired, and that’s just from writing the names of these platforms.

As I read about new platforms I can use to expand my readership, something I’m desperate for, as getting readers is the hardest part of the writing process, and I’d probably have an easier time running for public office based on the experience I’ve had doing this (getting a date is still tougher for some reason, though I have no idea why, as I’m smart, handsome, idea-driven, rich—no, the opposite of that, sorry—funny…okay, this post isn’t about that), I suddenly feel intimidated all over again because here’s one more service I should sign up for to give my readers even more options for staying connected with me, even though they have enough information overload from everybody else who wants their attention, and the only way any of this matters is if they really, really want to hear from me. If the students I speak to are of any barometer, I’d think even those who need to hear from me probably don’t want to hear from me. They’re probably too busy thinking about their Facebook posts, and Instagram photos, and whether anyone will like them to worry about liking me.

So, what can I say to convince them to listen? I suppose the keyword is “free money.” But, I don’t know. Social media already seems to fit that bill. If everything is free, then nothing is valuable. Including time. I value my time. And, I value my words.

To be clear, I don’t actually mind social media. I see it as a great way to find out where people I used to hang out with ten years ago are vacationing. I’m not there with them, but I can feel like I’m there with them. It’s almost as good, right? At some point, though, I want new things to talk about, and I can’t vacation every weekend or devote hours of every day sending out social media alerts to the few people who might see it to feel some kind of connection to them. At some point, it’s time to meet face to face again. Real relationships are frightening, too, but they’re real, and they feel real. That adds to their value.

The fact is, I read all the time about how important value is to people, and it’s almost scary how much that’s true. I’m not sure how valuable social media really is. My words are permanent, but are they being read? Here’s a picture of a moose you can look at while you contemplate the answer to that question.

bull-386742_1280.jpg

If you’ve read this far and want to keep reading this far, please remember to hit the “follow” button down there at the bottom of this page. And, don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d be so kind. It’ll stay online forever!

Cover image: Pixabay

Newton vs. the Machine

“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” –Isaac Newton

Deus Ex Machina: “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

At Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, I discuss a range of topics that are interesting to me, but I spend most of my energy writing about writing, or stories, or the tools that make either one easier on me. Today, I want to discuss a matter that addresses a little of everything.

As a periodic novelist, meaning I binge write between periods of general inactivity thanks to the juggling of large projects that require extensive amounts of my time, thought process, and dedicated memory (the lattermost of which I’m usually on short supply these days), I care about telling good stories, and that means I care about understanding what it takes to make a story good—no, great!

One of my consistent challenges with every story I write is figuring out its inciting incident, the moment of opportunity that kicks off the drama, why it should play as the opening gong to a crazy tale of intrigue, revenge, or ridiculousness (for example), and what to do once that action is in motion.

The concept of inciting story through an event should be straightforward. If you think about the movie The Terminator, for example, you may say that the inciting event is the moment when the hero, Kyle Reese, transports to 1984 Los Angeles from a bleak 2029 future, where the robots have already taken over (which given Boston Dynamics’s running and jumping robots, and Google’s new AI hair appointment scheduler, and, well, robots that run for public office, we may still be on track for this bleak robot-ruled future—yay!), to locate and protect the mother of the future resistance, Sarah Connor.

What follows is a series of dramatic events that leads Kyle to Sarah, leads the Terminator to Sarah, leads the characters to all sorts of conflicts and romance (the romantic part involving Kyle and Sarah, not either one and the Terminator—that would be a different kind of story), all toward a blistering conclusion where Sarah must protect Kyle from the Terminator and ultimately defeat it. Did I mention she’s just a waitress when the movie begins? By the end, she’s serving robot destruction on a platter and then rides off into the stormy sunset with the future leader of the resistance in her belly. If you haven’t seen it, you should, even though I just spoiled the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Never mind. You’ve had nearly 35 years to catch up.

For a more recent example, I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones late last year, after everyone I know has basically told me the whole plot in one form or another (and I will probably read the books at some point), and I’m currently reaching the end of Season 2, the final episode being the one episode I’ve already seen, back when it was still new, and clearly didn’t understand because I hadn’t seen any of the ones before it, so I’m essentially already caught up through that season. Even though I wasn’t much of a fan in the beginning (and I’m still kind of above meh about it if I’m being honest), the dramatic turns it takes is beginning to grow on me, enough for me to start thinking about how all of the chaos in Westeros begins. Now, we know that the story actually begins in the ages prior to the start of what we see (or read), as any story would, but the really crazy stuff begins with the invitation Ned Stark receives from his best friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as his Hand, or more specifically, when Ned accepts the invitation.

Ah, there it is: the inciting incident. Even though a lot is happening in this first part of the story, the real drama throughout the series kicks off with Ned’s decision to move down to King’s Landing to serve as the king’s Hand (an important position if you’re not keeping score), a decision that, while noble, through many actions and reactions becomes the undoing of him and his family.

And, it’s these actions and reactions that keep the momentum of the story moving. Eddard Stark (Ned) makes a series of righteous decisions, but in the depraved world of Westeros, and specifically in the depraved House Lannister, the righteous are punished, and so, too, is Ned. By the end of the second season (and the book, I believe), House Stark is fractured so horribly that the kids are long separated from safety, and their home turf, Winterfell, is vulnerable to sieges, the latter of which would never happen under Ned Stark’s watch, had he refused the invitation. His righteous loyalty to his best friend, the king, is a noble choice that, through action and reaction, also proves a deadly one.

That’s interesting, right?

What makes the story more interesting is the fact that the family is scattered because Ned Stark is foolish enough to remain loyal to his best friend, Robert Baratheon, the king, even after Robert dies, leaving his son, Joffrey (the brattiest and most disturbed kid on television), king. By doing the right thing (which is the wrong thing in the Lannisters’ eyes), Ned is given the ultimate punishment, and his family, by proxy, is upended.

Now, Ned is the hero of the opening act (the whole first season of the show, and I believe the whole first book, called A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), and any author who wants to keep his hero ahead of the villains will construct the story in such a way that Ned gets out of his predicament with the new king, Joffrey, in some clever or fantastical way. But George R.R. Martin doesn’t do that. Rather than pull a genie out of a hat, the deus ex machina way, producing an earthquake or a meteor or something to disrupt the public execution that Ned finds himself faced with, giving him a chance to escape with his family to “safety”—in the world of Game of Thrones, there no such place as safety—Martin lets his protagonist die. Yep. Axe, chop, dead. Action and reaction. The hero finds himself in an unwinnable situation, thanks to the polar shifts of positive and negative in each scene, and succumbs to his failure in the climactic event. The story’s not over, of course, far from it, but Ned’s part in the story ends via the chain reaction he ignites by accepting his role as Hand of the King.

According to Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, a story works according to how well its scenes shift in polarity. In other words, a story moves according to whether the scene ends in a different place from where it begins: a positive becomes a negative or a double-positive; a negative becomes a positive or a double-negative (not to be confused with a double negative in grammar, which I can’t not recommend you use in writing). It also depends on the narrative arc of each scene—inciting incident, rising action, etc.—but I’ll save that discussion for another time. What matters here is that every action in story has an equal and opposite reaction.

Deus ex machina ignores that structure, and that’s why readers hate it. It breaks the story.

You may be a writer; or not. I think this discussion is important, however, because it helps to know why stories work, even if you have no interest in writing one. Sometimes we see a movie or read a book and we know we don’t enjoy it, even though we can’t figure out why. We often say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s lame,” or “I’d rather go fishing in a sewer pipe than watch that garbage again,” but we don’t know what about the story drives us to think that way.

Often we can figure it out based on how well people act and react to the narrative arcs they’re given. In The Terminator, when Sarah Connor sees the rifle in Kyle Reese’s hand as he enters the night club, she could immediately scream, kick him in the balls, and run out of there, right into the arms of the Terminator itself. Just as easily, Kyle could refuse to utter the film’s other famous line, “Come with me if you want to live,” giving Sarah no cause to trust him with her life. Sure, these things could happen (or fail to happen as the case may be), and Sarah may still somehow survive the night. But, chances are, to survive, she would need a little deus ex machina on her side, like the Terminator accidentally triggering a button that causes it to self-destruct, for example, and James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, is smarter than that. No, he writes his characters in such a way that they must do specific things in action and reaction to other specific things, in order to reach a point in the story where a specific thing can either lead the characters to victory or doom them to failure.

Fortunately, James Cameron decided to make his hero, Kyle Reese, a noble guy who does the right thing. Unfortunately, Kyle’s noble act also gets him killed.

A bit of a sidebar, but what is it with righteousness and death? That’s another discussion for another day, but certainly worth thinking about.

Anyway, next time you read or watch anything, see if each event naturally progresses from the last, and if it gets there through sensible action and reaction of its characters, or if an act of divine intervention moves it forward. For that matter, see if it happens in real life. If you ask your girlfriend to marry you, see what happens next.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

P.S. It seems all of the main places and characters in Game of Thrones are so well-known that my Microsoft Word spellchecker automatically accepts them as proper spellings. Hilarious.

An Awesome Article about Talents and Skills

Okay, so I typically don’t reblog articles. I don’t know why. It’s a great way to share even greater information. But, today I’m reblogging “8 Qualities That Are More Important than Talent for Writing Success” by Anne R. Allen (via her blog) because I thought it was an awesome breakdown on how we conflate talent with skill and how we should probably stop doing that. If you’re an aspiring writer (or artist, musician, or ditch-digger), this article will show you how your entitlements and talents aren’t good enough and you really need to learn how to do the work. It’s also a good reminder to stop dreaming and start acting.

It reminds me that I need to work on my anthology of mullet poetry today and not play computer games instead. Yes, stop disbelieving me every time I talk about mullet poetry. It’s a thing, and I’m working on it (probably after I play some computer games because I’m a grown man and nobody tells me what to do–well, not this very second they don’t).

You can read the article here. Anne Allen, if you’re reading this, I really appreciate the insight.

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….

 

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.

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

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.

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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