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New Book Release – Troubled Space

Troubled Space ~ The Interstellar Adventures of an Unknown Indie Writer

After a prolonged delay to allow editors and agents to properly ignore the manuscript, the first ebook and paperback editions of this lighthearted space opera will be released on Friday, 15 May, 2020.

TS ebook cover 2020aTed Lester writes stories no one reads. Agents reject him. Editors ignore him. Frustrated, he self-publishes, hoping the world will find value in his books. Then, early one morning, as he is yet again attempting to compose prose that might attract the attention of…well, anyone, something remarkable happens. He gets an unexpected visit from an agent, but not one he has ever queried. This agent is from outer space, and it tells Ted that one of his books has become popular throughout the galaxy, and that he, as the author, can have everything he ever wanted: fame, fortune, and above all, fans. All Ted has to do is agree to go on an interstellar book tour.

Unfortunately, not all his galactic readers are admirers. Some want to kill him.

 

Digital editions are now available for preorder for only 99¢:
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1019006
Amazon (U.S.) Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B087X6PS16/

What’s the point?

It’s been months since I’ve written anything for this blog. The reason is, there’s not much to say. As far as my writing goes, I’m in a bit of a slump. For several months, I just can’t seem to muster the energy or focus my concentration. First, there was the quintuple bypass operation I had in October. And then my dad died in November (coronary artery disease), which, despite his advanced age (93), came as a surprise. And then our tiny dog died in December (kidney disease). The last few months of 2018 kind of sucked for me.

I’m feeling much better now, with just a few lingering minor medical annoyances, but getting back into my daily writing routine is proving difficult. I suspect I may be suffering from a mild case of ‘What’s the point?’.

I was very excited when an agent asked to see the full manuscript of my novel Troubled Space back in September. I sent it to her immediately, of course, but I haven’t heard back. I sent a polite follow-up a few weeks ago. No response to that, either. I don’t know why. Maybe she didn’t get it. Maybe she’s backlogged and hasn’t yet opened it. Maybe she didn’t like my manuscript and lacks the common courtesy to let me know. Whatever the reason, it’s kind of depressing, and it’s probably the main cause of my current deficit of enthusiasm.

But I still think Troubled Space is a great novel, so I’ve sent a query to one of the few reputable publishers who accept unagented submissions. They want three months to look at it before I send it to anyone else. So, until the end of May, my queries are done. I expect no more replies from agents, not even from the one who asked to see my manuscript. I do expect a reply from the publisher, and I’m hoping for the best, but I expect another rejection.

Advice to prospective authors: Writing is not a good hobby to take up if you need positive reinforcement to maintain a sense of self-worth.

But getting back to my current case of ‘What’s the point?’. Well, for me, the point is that I enjoy writing stories. Yes, I wish other people would enjoy reading them, and I can’t say that’s not important to me, but it’s not the main point. I simply like creating stuff….

Speaking of which…. At some point in the not-too-distant past, my dad decided he wanted to take up painting as a hobby. He bought paint, brushes, easels, and canvases, and, in the course of three years, he produced one small painting. When he died, I had to decide what to do with the unused canvases and art supplies. It seemed a shame to waste them, so I tried my hand at painting. I’m not very good at it, but it’s a creative hobby that I find I enjoy in the same way I enjoy writing. One advantage it has is that it takes nowhere near as long to complete a painting as it does a novel.

Query Status ~ Week 4

It’s been a slow week for query responses, although I did get a couple more rejections. The score now is:
Queries sent: 36
Reply stating “closed to new queries”: 1
Rejections received: 15
Full manuscript requests: 1
Still awaiting replies: 19

So, nineteen more agents still have a unique opportunity to ask to see my amazing new manuscript. 🙂 Of the one who already has, I’ve heard nothing more, although I know this can take quite a while. I remain hopeful.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on revisions for new editions of my Warden novels. I recently republished the first of these in digital format. A new paperback will be following soon. It will be less expensive than the original because I changed the size from 5″X 8″ to 6.14″ X 9.21″. The pages are larger, so there are fewer of them, which means less cost. I hadn’t known this before, figuring the cost of the larger page would balance the cost of having fewer of them. Not so, apparently. This puts the cost back to something I would consider reasonable. The eBook edition will remain free until the publisher objects.

Here’s the new cover. I think it came out well. The other five books set in the same world will receive similar treatment in the coming months.

Query Status ~ Week 3

My queries have been out for three weeks, and the good news is that an agent has asked to see my full manuscript! (Yay)

Now, for the bothersome bits. My internet was down, so I didn’t see her email until late that afternoon. That’s not a big deal. It’s been going down every day for the last week, but it normally comes back up after a few hours. (The cable guy is coming later today to find out what’s wrong…I hope.) The really stressful thing was, I had to check my email on my Kindle Fire tablet because the day before she sent her reply, the laptop I had Troubled Space (and all my other books) on decided to crash. Yes, that created a moment of panic, I don’t mind saying. I had backed up my files of course, but the last time was about two months ago, before my final edits.

So…. I call the repair shop I brought my computer to that morning and asked if they could save that one file. They said they could, and I rushed there with a flash drive in hand, got the file, brought it home, opened it on my son’s laptop using the Open Office clone of Word he has on it, put my name and page numbers on the MS, and sent it back to her. I haven’t heard anything more from her since. I hope she 1) got it, 2) likes it, 3) agrees to take it on. I suppose all I can do is wait and hope.

Twenty-two other agents have not yet responded to my queries. The repair shop still has my laptop. (They’re putting in a new hard drive.) Unable to accomplish anything, and still feeling stressed, I bought myself a new tower computer. I spent most of the last two days configuring the thing. Of course, my internet went down several times while I was doing so, but it came back often enough to download the programs and drivers I needed. My new computer is now almost functional. I’m using it to write this blog post. Oh, and my doctor’s office called to say I had an abnormal EKG and is sending me in for some nasty investigative procedure to see how bad my arteries are clogged, or something like that. But compared to having an agent request my full manuscript, that’s a trivial matter. It’s been a great week!

Query Status ~ Week 2

It’s been two weeks since I sent out the last of thirty-six queries for my (as yet) unpublished book Troubled Space. The spate of instant knee-jerk rejections now seems to have ended. I got half as many over the last seven days as I did on the first week, now making a total of twelve. The bright spot is that two-thirds of the agents I queried did not instantly reject it. I can only hope that some of them may actually consider representing me. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Of course I’m not just waiting around for some unknown agent to acknowledge my existence. I’m also not diving into to writing my next book. I’ve decided instead to take time to produce new editions of my Warden’s World stories. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that they need new covers. I have five novels set in this world, and the covers don’t look much alike. I think they should, and soon they will. They also need a bit of revision. These were the first novels I ever wrote, and I was pretty nervous about publishing them. Before I did, I reviewed as much guidance as I could about the whole process, and I ended up following a lot of bad advice. Basically, I over-edited and ended screwing up the tenses and making the prose choppy. My goal is to correct the corrections I made trying to follow the ‘rules.’

The first book to get a makeover will the An Android Dog’s Tale. It’s a prequel to the others and probably the shortest of the bunch at around 75,000 words. It may also be my best seller. I’m not talking bestseller as in toping anyone’s charts, but it’s either in the top (or possibly the second top) sales spot for my books. It’s currently getting over 100 Kindle downloads per month and a few more in other formats. The revised version is almost done and should be out within the next month. (I considered showing the new cover in this post but decided against it. I have a proof copy of the new paperback sitting on my desk. Take my word for it; it looks damn good.)

So, that’s my writing time accounted for until at least the end of the year. I’ll be revising five books, creating new covers for them, and releasing new digital and trade paperback editions.

Oh, and I’ll also be waiting to hear back from agents.

Submissions are Futile

I write something every day. Most of it is work on my next novel, but I also write ten or so (normally short) book reviews for Goodreads every month. What I don’t often write are blog posts. After all, why should anyone care about the idle prattle of an unknown indie writer? Other indie writers might, I suppose, but even then, I can’t offer them any advice about how to achieve fame and fortune. I haven’t.

Still, there’s no point in having a blog if I don’t write something for it, so here’s an update on my attempt to turn my writing hobby into a vocation. In my last blog post, I told you that I submitted queries for my ninth novel to 28 agents. Ten of them have replied. I don’t expect any more will. All the responses were generic rejects. None of those 28 agents, not even the ten who had the courtesy to respond, ever read my manuscript. I doubt they even read any sample chapters. They based their rejections entirely on my query. (I’ll put a generic version of the query letter at the end of this post as an example of how NOT to write one. I’d loved to tell you what’s wrong with it, but I can’t. I don’t have a clue.)

I sought an agent first because very few traditional publishers accept unagented submissions. Some do, and I submitted queries to two of them. I waited six months. Neither of them responded.

So, my ninth novel will be indie published like all my others. That’s not so bad. According to reports from Amazon, downloads of Kindle editions of my books have been increasing steadily. They’re now up to 500 per month worldwide. That may seem a lot, but most of those are freebies. My books are also available from Apple iTunes. As best I can tell, they add another 30 or so downloads per month. Since most of my ebooks that aren’t free retail for 99¢, my monthly royalties seldom total over $10. That would be depressing if I was doing this for the money.

Of course I haven’t just been waiting around this year, hoping for agents and publishers to notice me. I’ve been working on my tenth novel. The protagonist of this one is an indie writer. I figure I know something about them.

~*~

*This is the query that did not work*

Dear AGENT (get the name right, and tailor the introduction and concluding paragraphs for each agent),

I hope you will consider representing my latest unpublished novel, The Elsewhere Gate, which combines elements of contemporary science fiction in an urban fantasy setting with likable young characters and a unique magic system. An underlying theme of wealth disparity provides real-world relevance. The novel is complete at 90,000 words.

Hurled from a private laboratory in Florida to a world where magic is money and airships fill the sky, a young man with dreams of college, together with the sensible daughter of a quirky professor, must flee a covetous moneylender who is convinced they hold the key that will open new worlds for him to exploit. Tom and Amanda don’t know where they are. It’s definitely not Florida. It’s not even Earth. It’s a place of magic, which is dangerous to use if you don’t know what you’re doing. Tom’s first attempt lands him in the care of three witches who run a soup kitchen. They help him recover and then hide him and Amanda from Lord Wilcraft, grandmaster of the moneylenders’ cartel and leader of the Syndicate, the closest thing to government this place has. Its sole purpose is to promote business and increase profits. Under Wilcraft’s direction, the Syndicate is building its own Elsewhere Gate. Wilcraft believes Tom holds the secret that will finally make it work and sends his enforcers to capture him. Failing to do so quickly, Wilcraft turns his unwelcome attention to those who have helped him and Amanda. Tom is determined to save his new friends, but the leader of the Syndicate has extreme wealth, unrivaled influence, and powerful magic. What can a poor college freshman from Elsewhere do?

I am the author of eight independently published novels, which have had several thousand readers across all books and outlets. These stories continue to receive excellent reviews, enjoying average ratings well above four stars on Goodreads as well as on U.S. and U.K. Amazon sites. My writing style is distinctive, but the tone and mood are similar to that of John Scalzi with considerable influence from Sir Terry Pratchett. It appeals to readers who appreciate Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts, the work of Jasper Fforde, or the last twenty or so Discworld novels.

I am providing … (Some agents allow you to provide sample pages or a synopsis, which I invariably did whenever permitted.) Thank you for taking the time to read my query.

Growing a Story

booktreeIt’s been a month since I wrote about sorting through the story seeds I’ve collected. Life being as distressingly short and encumbered as it is, I could never hope to grow all of these into novels or even short stories, so choices must be made. I’m happy to announce that I’ve picked one to nurture as my next major project.

You sometimes hear authors talk about being ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’. Plotters carefully plan their stories, sorting out the major plot points and characters before composing any actual prose. Pantsers start with some ideas in their head and grow the story ‘by the seat of their pants’. And there are those who fall somewhere in between.

That’s not entirely BS, but it is deceptive. It’s the story that dictates the method more than the preference of the writer. A story that explores the inner feelings of a small group of characters, such as a romance novel, or a farce in which random stuff happens to some poor sap, are probably best done by pantsing. An epic fantasy or science fiction story that requires an intricate fictional setting and a sequence of interdependent events, however, needs to be plotted. At least that’s been my observation.

I’m currently working on plotting my next novel, which tells you a little bit about what kind of story I’m planning, and I think I’ve made some significant progress. I have a working title, sketches of the major characters, a few lines on some minor characters, and an eleven-page summary of the setting. This includes notes on the culture, economics, and magic system (which tells you it’s a fantasy). I also have a twenty-one page worksheet that documents my first thoughts on just about everything else. Yesterday, I completed my first draft timeline of the complete story, beginning with the first scene on the first day and continuing through to the last scene of the last day. I like how it came out. I think it has great potential. My next step in the process is to turn that timeline into a detailed chapter and scene outline. Judging from my previous experience, these can be fairly long, fifty pages at least, almost like a first draft of the novel.

I won’t say anything else about the story. It’s a work in progress. I will say, however, that I’m considering doing something I’ve not done before, which is work on a second novel at that same time as this one. That one is, in the immortal words of Monty Python, something completely different. I’ll be ‘pantsing’ that one…for the most part.

Story Seeds

All sorts of things can provide ideas for a story. Most of mine come from things I’ve read—fiction, nonfiction, news articles…. I make a note of those I find especially promising, normally just a few sentences, never more than a page. Sometimes it’s just a setting and maybe a few thoughts about a main character or a broad concept for a plot. I think of these as seeds that might, with some concerted cultivation, grow into pretty good stories.

I imagine a lot of aspiring writers do this. After a bit of weeding and hybridization, I currently have thirty-five story seeds left in my collection. This does not include a Warden’s World novel I shelved after drafting six chapters a couple of years ago (and still may get back to) or a series of short stories (of which I’ve completed three). I still don’t know which, if any of these, I will focus on for my next big project.

So the bottom line is, for the first time in five years, I’m not actively drafting a new novel. I don’t think I’m experiencing ‘writer’s block’ or some kind of creative burnout. It’s more like the problem I have at a full-service Chinese restaurant. There are too many tempting options. Choosing one means that I have to forgo the others. And it’s not as though I can come back tomorrow and pick something else. A good meal may last you a day, but writing a book consumes the better part of a year (or more). I doubt I’ll live long enough to turn all of the seeds I now have (or the ones I will inevitably add in the future) into completed stories, so I have to be selective. I have to weigh the potential of each of my collected seeds in terms of how good a story it will make, which would be most culturally relevant, and which might be most fun to write.

Right now, I’m still reviewing my options. Unfortunately, I’m also still collecting more seeds.

My Problem with Terry Pratchett

Pratchett1I actually have two problems with Terry Pratchett, but they both have to do with the quality of his writing. It’s too good. Now, I’ve never met the man, but he’s clearly brilliant, and I’m sure he’s charming and kind to small animals and all that, but he’s upset my life in ways I am finding difficult to overcome.

Discovering a new author whose work I enjoy used to excite me. When I was young, I would pick up a book based on the front cover or the blurb on the back and, if I really enjoyed it, I’d voraciously consume all of his or her other books I could find. After Pratchett, that seldom happens because now authors have to meet a higher standard. Their books have to be as good as Pratchett’s.

I know it’s not all Sir Terry’s fault. Publishing, after all, is a business, and the big publishers tend to publish books they think will have wide enough appeal to make them some money. The way they predict what will sell is by what has sold well recently, and they therefor produce a great many books that are much the same. I’ve found few new books from traditional publishers that I found entertaining. They tend to have annoying, angst-filled characters, focus on action over plot, and include far more sex and/or violence than needed for their frequently formulaic stories. Even when I find one I enjoy, one that’s original and well-crafted with truly likeable and even admirable characters, my final assessment is normally something like, ‘That wasn’t bad, but it’s no Pratchett.’

So, when I come to the final page of a book now, rather than going to the library or the internet, or one of the few remaining brick and mortar bookstores near me, I find myself going to my bookshelves and thinking, ‘What Discworld book should I reread now?’ When I do pick up a new book, it is, more often than not, nonfiction, assuming in advance that any work of fiction that may catch my eye is not going to be as good as a Discworld novel. So why bother?

That’s my first problem with Pratchett. He’s limiting my exposure to new novelists.

The last Discworld book I re-re-re…reread was Maskerade. It has four interweaving plot threads. One is about how Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg need to find a new third witch because two witches are invariably an argument without a mediator. The second is the story of Agnes Nitt, a large young woman with ‘a great personality’ and a fabulous voice who leaves the country for the big city to be a singer. The third tells the story of Nanny Ogg’s libido-stimulating cookbook and provides a few satirical insights about the publishing industry. And the fourth is a parody of The Phantom of the Opera as well as a satire about opera in general. The characters are charming. The story is intelligent, witty, and insightful. I find myself instantly engaged, and at the end, I feel a kind a bibliophilic fulfillment that is probably similar to how a gastronome feels after an exquisite gourmet meal.

This normally would not present a problem to the gastronome unless he is also a chef and knows without a doubt that he could never prepare dishes like that no matter how hard he tries or how long he lives. That’s the feeling I get from Pratchett because I also write stories, just not as well. I’m not saying they’re bad. I wouldn’t write them if I thought that. I personally think they are quite good, but I could never create something like Maskerade, and the sad fact is Maskerade is not my favorite Discworld novel.

That’s my second problem with Pratchett. He’s giving me one hell of an inferiority complex.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to write like Pratchett. The best authors have a unique voice, and you can often distinguish one of their books without looking at the cover or title page. But there is an intrinsically satisfying feeling of completeness I get from reading a Pratchett work that I would love to be able to achieve in my own novels. Actually, I’d be almost as happy if other authors could as well because even though I now have hardcover editions of all the Discworld novels (about 40 so far) they are bound to wear out eventually.

Book Review – Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World by Dermot Davis

BrainDermotDavisTitle:  Brain: The Man Who Wrote the Book That Changed the World
Author:
Dermot Davis
Publisher:
Dermot Davis
First Published:
2013
Genre:
Contemporary Fiction / Humor

Daniel is an author of literary fiction, and his novels are award winners. Readers of classic literature love them, but these readers don’t represent a very large portion of the book-buying market. His agent is less than sympathetic with his plight. She agrees that his books are good, but she doesn’t need good books, she needs books that will sell, and she tells him his next two won’t. She won’t even try to find a publisher for them.

In order not to starve, he has to write something that will sell, but he can’t reduce himself to writing popular genre fiction, and besides, he’s not familiar enough with it to try. When he sees a line at a bookstore for a book signing by the author of a very popular self-help book, he has an inspiration. Satire is respectable, so he commits himself to writing (under a pen name) a satire about the popularity of current self-help books. He makes it so outrageous, even cranks, crazies, desperate seekers, and the extremely credulous will not be able to take it seriously, and it will point out just how silly the whole thing is. His new book gets published (despite the fact that his agent initially wants to reject it), and it surprisingly becomes a bestseller—not as satire, but as a ‘serious’ self-help book. Soon, it has a cult following, and Daniel is both relieved and dismayed.

I found several scenes hilarious, and the satire about the state of traditional publishing and the plight of authors rung all too true. Anyone who has suffered through a few of the more dreadful recent bestsellers will understand.

The story is wonderfully imaginative. The characters are believable. The prose, for the most part, is pretty good, although it could use another round of editing—not for typos but mainly for sentence structure and capitalization.

I recommend this one to all writers, especially those struggling with the choice between writing what they think is good and writing what they think will sell.

Alpha/Beta readers for An Android’s Dog’s Tale

I haven’t been blogging much recently. I’d like to excuse this by saying I’ve been busy, and I have, but part of it must be attributed to priorities. I’m not really a blogger. I’m a fiction writer, and a dad, and several other things that all take priority over writing book reviews or posting updates to my blog.

Most of my behind-the-keyboard time over the last few months has been devoted to completing two novels. The first is the Gelfling Gathering, a short (52,000 word) young adult novel that I wrote for a contest being sponsored by the Jim Henson Company. It is a prequel to The Dark Crystal and takes place about nine hundred years before the events in the movie. My novel is complete, and I am ready (and eager) to submit a 10,000 word extract when the contest submission period opens in two weeks.

Once I felt satisfied I had done all I could in preparation for the contest, I resumed work on the book I laid aside when I learned of (and decided to enter) the Dark Crystal Author Quest. I completed the first draft of that novel a few weeks ago. I was only three chapters away from finishing when I stopped work on it to focus on the Gelfling Gathering, so this was not some kind of super accomplishment.

This novel, An Android Dog’s Tale, is also a prequel. It precedes the events that are related in the two stories that together comprise my lighthearted epic Defying Fate (The Warden Threat and The Warden War) and, of course, the novels that come after (Amy’s Pendant and Disturbing Clockwork).

This is the book description I’ve come up with for An Android’s Dog Tale and the ‘back cover’ blurb for the paperback edition.

Book Description:
The Galactic Organic Development Corporation searches the galaxy for primitive sentient species to save from extinction, and then transplants colonies of them to Corporation agricultural planets where they can live happily and safely. The transplanted species survives, and the Corporation Project planets produce some of the most expensive and sought-after food in the galaxy, which it sells to developed worlds with this guarantee:

Caringly grown, cultivated and harvested by simple sentient life forms.
No artificial ingredients, pesticides, herbicides, or mechanical equipment used in processing.
Guaranteed 100% organic.

 Of course, keeping the primitives primitive enough to ensure the Corporation’s promise of natural purity can be a challenge, especially when they’re like those it found twenty thousand years ago huddling in caves and scraping a meager and precarious existence on a pale blue planet in the Milky Way’s Orion–Cygnus spiral arm. The humans keep trying to change things.

From the Back Cover:
His job is to observe humans and make sure they aren’t doing anything that will upset either their simple lifestyles or the profitability of the Corporation. But MO-126 is not a robot. He is a Mobile Observer android, albeit one in the form of a dog of no remarkable pedigree or distinction. Still, he has free will. He can make choices. After millennia of observing humans, he questions whether the Corporation’s plans for them have priority over those they might choose for themselves. His decision will determine how well he does his job as well as the fate of humanity on this planet.

When I posted on Facebook that I finished the novel, I was thrilled that several people living in different countries around the world offered to give it a test run as alpha/beta readers. I can’t thank them enough for volunteering to do this for me. I eagerly await their feedback, positive or negative. This novel is a bit different from my others. It’s shorter (about 72,000 words), and it follows a single character over a 15,000 year period through ten different stories. I was a bit hesitant about writing a book structured this way. It’s not revolutionary, but it is uncommon. I remain anxious about how it will be received.

I also did a bit of work designing a cover for the book. The one below is formatted for the paperback edition.
DogTalesPB1
How much editing needs to be done will depend on the feedback I receive from my kind volunteers. I look forward to doing the final revisions.

In the meantime, I have begun taking notes for future books. I have at least three ideas I would like to develop over the next year. One is loosely related to my previous novels. The other two are (as in the immortal words Monty Python’s Flying Circus) something completely different. One of the latter will probably be the basis for my next novel, but it’s too early to say more. All I will say is that I am still writing and more books are planned.

I offer my thanks to all who have read my stories and even more to those who have written and posted reviews. I really appreciate these. Reviews are probably the best way for obscure, independent writers (such as me) to become noticed… well, that and an outrageous number of sales. Most of all, thank you to those brave alpha/beta readers of An Android Dog’s Tale. I hope you like it.

Ode to an Overconfident Wordsmith

Sleep would not come,
Although it was night,
So I went to my keyboard
And started to write.

Who knows what possessed me?
It haven’t a clue,
But I banged out some words.
And my confidence grew.

“Hey, this is good!”
I said to myself
As I grabbed the thesaurus
I had on a shelf.

My characters lived.
My dialog sang.
I kept right on writing.
The telephone rang.

“This is your boss,
You’re late in for work.”
“I quit! I’m a writer.”
I hung up on the jerk.

And each day thereafter,
I followed my muse.
I dreamed of the movies rights,
Sales and reviews.

I’d have a bestseller.
This was not in doubt.
I just needed time,
But my money ran out.

Bill payers called me.
I took out a loan.
I bought frozen pizzas
Then shut off my phone.

Just a bit longer
And all would be well.
The best novel ever
Would be mine to sell.

Manuscript polished,
I sent it to all
Publishers, agents,
Both big and small.

This wouldn’t take long.
I could endure.
They’d recognize genius,
I knew this for sure.

I waited each day
As the postman came by,
Delivering bills
But still no reply.

Then, six months later,
A letter to me
Penned in my hand
My SASE.

Clutching at hope,
I noted the day,
Tore open the letter
And screamed out, “No way!”

This wasn’t the offer
I’d waited for
But a form letter reject.
The next week, four more.

What were they thinking?
How could they say “No?”
Didn’t they read it?
Didn’t they know?

They were turning down millions
They were turning down fame,
I thought, vainly searching
For others to blame.

Idiots! Morons!
Purveyors of pap!
Wouldn’t know a good book
If it jumped in their lap.

I needed to write.
I had things to say.
My stories were good.
They just didn’t pay.

Starving is something
I’d rather prevent.
Art should come first,
But I must pay the rent.

Gulping back pride,
I called my old job.
The boss hung up on me,
Ungrateful slob.

I searched everywhere
To find a position
To carry me through
To my next book submission.

I’ve got a new job now.
It comes with a hat.
I smile and I ask,
“Want fries with that?”

But when I go home
My muse has the stage,
Encouraging me
To write one more page.

And someday I know
That others will state
That the stories I’ve written
Are simply great.

But for now I am doing
The best that I might.
I pay all my bills.
In my free time, I write.

I’m a great writer.
I know you are, too,
But don’t quit your job.
You’ll regret if you do.

(This ode was also posted in conjunction with Rainy Day Rambling’s review of The Warden Threat at http://rainydayramblings.typepad.com/rainydayramblings/2012/05/guest-post-with-dl-morrese-giveaway-and-review-.html)

The Importance of Book Reviews (Part 2)

Perhaps the most difficult thing an independent author must do is try to get their book noticed. I don’t belittle the amount of DIY effort it takes to write, edit, create covers, and self-publish a book. Trust me. I know how much work these are because I’ve done them, but all these can be enjoyable and provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Promotion, at least for me, is different. It feels like work. I don’t enjoy selling, never did, and self-promotion is unnatural and even a bit embarrassing for me.

I’ve done the things I’ve heard you need to do. I have a website, Twitter, Facebook, and author bios on Amazon, Goodreads, and others. While all of those are probably essential to creating a ‘platform,’ what I think may help sales of a book most are book reviews on Amazon. This is where many readers look for new books and new authors, and the importance of potential readers seeing what others thought of your work cannot be overstated.

Reviews also can be quoted as part of additional promotions in blog posts, Tweets, Facebook, or wherever you have a presence. Here are some extracts from the few reviews my first book received. You can easily see how valuable these can be to attracting additional readers.

  • “one of the best self-published things I’ve ever read.” ~ Tweet from @ViolanteAuthor 23 March 2012
  • “enough smiles and insights to please both young adults and discerning adults … A very entertaining read.” ~ Review by more4math on Amazon
  • THE WARDEN THREAT is a lighthearted epic fantasy parody with a science fiction twist that kept me engaged and entertained from page one…the story is humorous and fun … It was fun to combine both the science fiction and fantasy tropes in the story.” ~ Review by Enter the Portal on Amazon
  • “it’s laugh-out-loud funny…the grammar is refreshingly precise and the vocabulary, well, scrumptiousThe characters are believable and well-rounded…the whole book is filled with little gems… Usually, when I am reviewing a book for my site, I highlight and make little notes as I go, so that I’ll have a lot to say. In this case, I was too busy reading it; I literally read the entire thing straight through in one sitting. ~ Review by Maria T. Violante “Write, Read, Review” on Amazon
  • “shows the influence of Terry Pratchett in style and current events in the overall plot. The book is easy to read, but hardly simplistic…Occasionally laugh out loud funny, this book is definitely worth picking up.” ~ Review by M. A. Goethe “Margaret” on Amazon
  • “a complex tale about adventure…filled with dry, ironic humor that adds to the sense of growing up and finding depth in the world…interesting characters, and a realistically broad country…The tone of the book is funny, but not giggly or “LOL” funny. Irony is thick. Silly and stupid things happen, but they have too much purpose and truth to really cut up about. The thinking stops the laughing” ~ Review by Kate Policani on Compulsively Writing Reviews

In addition to being a form of free advertising, reviews can provide you with a considerable amount of satisfaction, especially when they are positive. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you learn someone has wandered your fictional worlds, hung out with the characters you created, and enjoyed the experience.

Reviews are also the best feedback an author can get about their writing. They can be exceptionally valuable at pointing out what you did well and not so well and, in general, how your writing is viewed by people other than your friends and relatives. If you listen to what your readers tell you, your subsequent books can only get better.

Getting those first reviews, however, is work. Last November, I sent out seventeen requests to review my first book, The Warden Threat. Eight of those prospective reviewers wrote back saying they would do reviews, and three, so far, have done so. That’s a success rate under 18%, but I was more than pleased to see all of them. I have also received a couple unsolicited reviews, and these are like priceless treasures to an indie writer. Any positive comment on something you have worked so hard to create can be a real boost to one’s flagging optimism, which begins to fall after initial publication of your first book and declines as time passes, wondering if anyone will ever notice your masterpiece.

I spent the last few months preparing my first two books for print release. As of this month, both are available as trade paperbacks. High on my priority list now, is to try to get more reviews. I don’t look forward to this. Like I said, I enjoy writing, editing, and creating covers, but anything related to trying to sell what I’ve created is far less enjoyable, and I can’t help feeling the time I spend on it is time I don’t have for creating my next masterpiece. 🙂

Reviews are essential, though, so I sent out two more review requests this week. I also have identified about twenty other review sites to try. Since I know others are probably in the same boat as far as trying to find reviewers, I’m compiling a list of sites I find. When it’s complete, I’ll provide it on a later post.

 

Related post:
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

A curious photo, a touching story, and how lies can be true

I have been in email contact with a number of people pretty much since email existed. Today, one of them sent me the following picture.


Touching, isn’t it? It is certainly a poignant message about the costs of war. The symbolism is clear. The bicycle represents youth and innocence, the condition of it represents how such things are lost and abandoned because of war, and the tree shows how the natural world continues without regard for such conflicts between men and prompts us to reflect on why we continue to engage in such things.

The trouble is that it’s not real. Not entirely. The photo is real. There really is a bike in that tree. The story is made up, though. According to Snopes, a boy by the name of Don Puz from Vashon-Maury Island in Washington State was playing in the woods with some friends in 1954. He was the only one who brought his bike. When his friends left on foot, he joined them, leaving the bike leaning against a tree. He didn’t much care for the old bike, which had been given to him. He owned at least one other, so he never returned for it. The tree grew around it and it became an internet curiosity half a century later.

That’s not as good of a story, though. The one the email came with is better. So which is truer?

Well, the one about Don and his abandoned bike is more factual, but the fictional story about the boy going off to war in 1914 is also true, in a way. The message is true. The theme is meaningful. War really is as disruptive and wasteful as this fictional account implies.

Whereas I resent being lied to, and I don’t appreciate it when people fabricate or misrepresent evidence to make their point, I do appreciate a good story. I am a fiction writer. Telling lies with true meaning is what I do. The story someone pasted onto that photo is a good piece of fiction. I like it. Had it been presented as fiction, it would have been better. If it carried the disclaimer that you often see in front of books (mine included) that all characters and events in them are fictitious, I would have no problems with it at all. However, I am also an advocate of not confusing fact with fiction, even when the fiction is true. Implying something is a fact when it is not is simply a lie no matter how true the message is. I try my best not to do this. Lying to make a valid point is still lying.

With that said, it is time for full disclosure. Nothing in the books I wrote actually happened. None of the people in them is real. Many of the things I say in my stories, however, are completely true. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which those are.

The real story of the serial (Oxford) comma

What is a serial comma? It is the comma one uses when listing a series of three or more items or events in a single sentence. Here is how serial commas are properly used for American fiction: Donald, Moe, and Trixie walked through the door. The final comma before the ‘and’ is sometimes referred to as the ‘Oxford comma.’

Now you may be confused because there has been much said about not using the Oxford comma. If you are writing a newspaper article or a technical manual, chances are you should not, but if you are writing fiction, you should. If you are a British fiction writer, you also may not. Yes, there are different rules.

For American writers, the serial comma is standard usage in non-journalistic writing. The standard style guide for American fiction is the Chicago Manual of Style, which indicates that the final serial (Oxford) comma should be used. Other common punctuation guides such as the State University of New York (SUNY) and Dictionary.com mirror this guidance. American journalists, however, usually follow the AP Stylebook, which advises against using the final serial comma. I am not sure, but I suspect this is due to save page space or possibly ink.

I use Oxford commas in my fiction writing. I like them. There is a difference between ‘tea, bread and butter’ and ‘tea, bread, and butter.’ (One implies the butter is on the bread while the other implies they are separate.) When I say something like ‘Joe got up, went to the bathroom, and had breakfast,’ it is clear with the comma that he did not eat out of the toilet. When I say ‘Joe, Amy, and Paul got rooms at the inn,’ you know it is three rooms, whereas if I say ‘Joe, Amy and Paul got rooms,’ it leaves you wondering if Amy and Paul are shacking up.

Of course, individual publishers may have their own style guides and may insist that the Oxford comma not be used. This does not make them wrong. They have just made the decision not to follow the standard rules. If, at some time, I decide to pursue publication with a traditional publisher and their style is not to use them, I may comply, but as an independent author, I get to make these calls, and I have decided the last comma adds value and clarity.

I found a good explanation of all of this here, if you would like to see it. http://www.protrainco.com/essays/serial-comma.htm

Cover Update

After spending far more time on this than I wished, I think I finally have a cover I can live with for the paperback edition of The Warden Threat. I thought I had this several times before, but I received multiple comments that previous versions looked too much like a Photo-shopped photograph (among other things). I hope this one overcomes that. Anyway, here it is. I welcome comments.

You may notice –how could you help not– that the title is in large font and bright colors. This is mainly so that it will show up well as a thumbnail, but it is also meant to convey that this book contains humor. The scene depicted, although not accurately, is one from about the middle of the book in which the protagonist, Prince Donald of Westgrove, is trying to animate the ancient and mysterious statue known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. It sits high in the mountains of the neighboring Kingdom of Gotrox in a crater-like canyon with silvered walls. He is naked because the “spell” he has found, which he believes is the means to bring this huge enigmatic artifact to life and obey the commands of the caster, specifies that a prince, “naked to the Warden’s love,” must recite it. After his first failed attempt, Prince Donald reluctantly concludes that this line must be taken literally.

In other news, my edits and revisions of this book are now done. I would like to do one more proofreading before it goes to print, however. Look for the revised ebook in the next couple of months and the paperback shortly thereafter. The cover for the ebook will be pretty much the same as the front cover of the paperback.

I’m in the middle of editing and revising the sequel, The Warden War. I don’t have a cover for this one yet but I’ve been corresponding with the cover artist, and I am optimistic about it. I sent some files to her yesterday for her consideration.

The first draft of my third book is complete and awaiting additional work until I’ve put the first two to bed. It is more Young Adult oriented with a younger protagonist. She is briefly mentioned in the previous books but this is her first appearance. Some of the characters from the first books appear in it as well though. The third book is more clearly science fiction and reveals more about the now defunct commercial enterprise established on this planet several thousand years ago by the Galactic Organic Development Corporation. I have not decided, but I am considering attempting to go the traditional publishing route with this one. Self-publishing may be more advantageous to authors, but it is a lot more work, and these extra duties take time away from what I really want to do, which is write more stories.

My Self-Publishing Adventure – Episode Eight – Self-Publishing is Too Easy

The most recent thing I have discovered on my self-publishing adventure is that it is too easy.

“What?” I hear all the other writers shout. “It is most certainly not easy! Not only do you have to write, you also have to edit, revise, work with the cover artist and editor, maintain a web presence, build a platform, get reviews, market… Then, there is the cost! You have to fund everything. After all, if you have chosen the self-publishing path, you probably do not have an agent or traditional publisher to help with any of this. You have to do it yourself.”

Yes. This is all true. My point is that it is too easy to publish your book before you have adequately done these things. I know. I did.

My primary motivation for writing is to create books I would like to read. My main qualification for doing so when I began was limited to having read many books and believing I had a good idea of what I liked about them. If you find yourself in the same situation, let me warn you. This is not enough. Thinking you can write a great novel simply because you read a lot of them is like thinking you can build a car because you have done a lot of driving. It does not work that way.

Writing is something you have to learn, just like any other skill. There are tools and processes, procedures and steps you have to take to produce a novel. Unfortunately, these vary from writer to writer. You can learn from the experiences of others but creating a novel is not a science. It is an art. I do not mean to sound pretentious about this, but writing is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not for another. It is not as simple as being a “plotter” or a “pantser.” The only way to find out what works for you is to write, and then write some more.

This takes time. It takes practice. The first novel you complete will not be ready to publish. Nor will the second, if your experience is like mine. The problem is that you will probably think they are and, because it is so easy to self-publish an e-book on Amazon and Smashwords, you will. Your first two books may be great stories but they will not be the best you can produce.

I am about to sound pretentious again, but if you read a lot, you are most likely a fairly intelligent and well-informed person. If you are motivated to write, chances are you are creative. If you act on that desire and actually create the first draft of a novel, you are definitely someone who can remain focused and see a difficult and complicated task to completion. This may make you think your book is ready. After all, you wrote it and we have already established how exceptional you are.

Compared to many, this is true, at least as far as novels go. It does not make you a potential surgeon or plumber, but it does make you a potential novelist. Keep in mind that there are tens of thousands of us and we all share the same attributes that qualify you as a member of this group. Pat yourself on the back but do not think this means your first book is ready. When you think it is, my advice is to put it aside and write the next. When you are done with that, write another. Now go back to your first book. Edit and revise it again using all of the experience you have gained since. It may be ready to show to others at this point but it is still not ready to publish. It is time to get professional help. (Take that any way you want.)

What I think I have learned is that my own judgment is not enough. I mistakenly thought that knowing a good book when I saw it made me qualified to create one on my own. I was not. My artistic abilities to create covers are inadequate so I need a cover artist. I need an editor. I need beta readers. I need proofreaders. In short, I need all of the things a traditional publisher provides if I want my books to be as good as they can be.

I am basing the advice I offer here on my own experience, of course. Feel free to ignore it. As I said, writing is an art. You may be a quicker study than I am. You may have stronger qualifications. Personally, I do not feel I became minimally qualified to produce a book ready for publication until after I completed the first draft of my third novel. Something clicked at that point and I realized how many things I could have done better with the first two, things that would have improved the stories and made the process easier. This does not make me an expert but it does make me more confident that I am ready to take the next step on my self-publishing adventure.

 

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My Self Publishing Adventure

My Self-Publishing Adventure – Episode Seven – The Motivating Power of Readers

 I have been feeling pumped recently.

Pumped: synonyms – inspired, encouraged, stimulated, motivated . . .

Sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently and the reason for that is the subject of this post.

I mentioned previously that I got my first “professional” reviews, and I said how pleased I was with them. Who wouldn’t be? I put out a completely DIY ebook, and its first reviews by people unrelated and unknown to me were four and five stars. But something since has motivated me even more.

I maintain a modest presence on Twitter, with a few hundred followers. I try not to do much book promotion there anymore but I do talk about my writing, what I’m doing, what I’ve discovered, and things like this. I’ll also Tweet about my health, the weather, a random observation, a favorite quote, or whatever comes to mind. I guess I’m an eclectic Tweeter. What I have been focusing on recently, is following and engaging people who seem to share my tastes, fans of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams especially. Both of these great authors have influenced my writing style because I so greatly enjoy their work. I wanted to write books I would like to read, so it only seemed logical to use them as unwitting mentors.

Recently, some, well, a few people on Twitter have told me they read and really enjoyed my books. These weren’t reviewers. I didn’t ask them to read them and I didn’t send them a free copy. They picked them up on their own, read them, and liked them enough to tell me about it. They are also fans of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t help thinking, I’d done it! These people saw in my books something similar to the ineffable magic penned by two of my favorites. I can’t tell you how much of a rush it was when I got a Tweet from a gentleman who said he was 70% through my first book and laughing his ass off. I ran straight out to the patio and told my wife and her mother who were downing a few (or more) beers after Thanksgiving dinner.

It was also something of a surprise. And a shock.

The books I enjoy most are not mainstream bestsellers, or even mainstream genre fiction. If it’s dark, I probably won’t read it. If it’s littered with dead bodies, guns, or drugs, it’s not something I want to spend my leisure time with. I can watch the news if I want things like that. If zombies, demons, vampires, ghosts, or others who look at people primarily as a good source of protein or some mystical nutritive energy are a central part of the plot, the book is probably not for me either unless the beasties are conveyed satirically or with humor. I don’t find such stories enjoyable, so they aren’t the kind I write. They do seem popular though and mine have little in common with them.

I understand my books are outside the norm. They are science fiction set in a fantasy-like setting. In a way, they are almost anti-fantasies, and they poke a fair (or unfair) amount of fun at the genre. No one reads stuff like that. There is no stuff like that. Gaining much of an audience seemed unlikely.

A few people I hesitate to call fans can change that. Once one person, and it only takes one, says he or she really likes your book (the really is important), your outlook changes. At least mine did. Perhaps I’m too easily encouraged, but if one person is enthused about it, certainly others will be. This is great, but it leads to a new feeling of responsibility. There is a big attitudinal difference between “maybe someone might like it” to “OMG, someone really likes it!” Suddenly, your book can’t be just a fun read, now it has to be great. A DIY cover and a self-edited book with random commas, some less than stellar prose, and a breeding population of mutant typos (what else can explain how more appear after you are sure every one has been found and squashed) may be good enough for a casual reader, but certainly not for someone who really likes your book.

So, this is where I’m at now on my self-publishing adventure. A few people like my book enough to actually promote it for me. They are Tweeting about it to friends. I am humbled because it’s not good enough (yet) for people like this. But I shall make it worthy.

I am currently reediting and revising the manuscript of The Warden Threat, eliminating stubborn typos and tightening the prose. I have engaged a professional technical editor and I have commissioned custom art for the cover. I intend to find at least a copy editor and proofreader early next year to ensure I provide a professional quality product. I also plan to make it available as a Print On Demand paperback so anyone, even those few who still do not have ebook readers, can get a copy if they wish.

If my blog posts come less frequently over the following months, this is why. Once I have completed the revised edition of the Warden Threat, I will go through the same process for The Warden War.

The first draft of my third book, Amy’s Pendant, is complete. I have not yet decided if I will try traditional publishing for this or not. If it appears as if the first two books are gaining a following, I may continue with self-publishing for this one as well. It puts more of the work on the author as well as all the risk and upfront expense. The thought that a traditional publisher could  share some of this is tempting. I never tried traditional publishing for my books so I can’t compare based on any firsthand experience.

I will try to keep you posted on how this all goes. Until then, I hope you enjoy your holidays and I wish you all a very good new year.

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My Self Publishing Adventure

A Quick Update on My Self Publishing Adventure

A few things have happened since my last post on this, so I’m writing a quick update. The first is that I’ve gotten a second review on my first book, The Warden Threat. This one is a four star rating done by Meg Peticolas for Enter the Portal. I’m quite happy with it. A five and four star review for my first novel are encouraging and I am very grateful to the reviewers who have taken the time and trouble to read and comment on my work. I am also exceedingly pleased that both reviewers not only completed their reviews as quickly as they did but also asked for a copy of the second book in the series.

The second thing that happened since my last post is that I’ve decided to commission professional artwork for my first two books. I’m not unhappy with the Do-It-Yourself covers I’ve created, but I think that now that I am beginning to get reviews, the books should have covers that better represent the stories. After all, people may actually consider reading them now. I won’t disclose the name of the cover designer until I see the final product, but I will say that they are less expensive than I feared, about $100 each. If I like the results, you can be sure I will sing the artist’s praises on this blog.

The third thing that has changed is that I am now seriously considering making my first two books available in paper formats. I was reluctant to do this at first partly because of the covers and partly because I was not certain what impartial readers would think about my writing. In anticipation of that, and because it’s a good story, I’m rereading my first novel now. Although it was edited (several times), I’m still catching some typos, missing quotation marks, commas, and a missed word or two. I can’t understand how those got by. I see typos in even traditionally published books, so I’m not entirely bewildered. If typos can get by the pros, it’s understandable that they could get by me, but I am a bit surprised. I would swear those typos were not there before. I’m beginning to suspect that there are malicious typo fairies inserting them when I’m not looking.

That’s it. I’ll write a new episode of My Self Publishing Adventure when circumstances warrant. In the meantime, if you have read my books or this blog, I’d be more than happy for you to comment to tell me what you think.

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My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

Liebster Blog Award

Kate Policani has done me the great honor of awarding me a Liebster Blog Award for providing “great information and feedback written in a clear and engaging way.” I am suitably humbled. I have no idea of the origins of this award. A quick internet search suggests it is a fairly recent thing but I had no luck finding out how or where it began. Still, it seems like a fine thing to pass along so I shall.

The Award: The Liebster Blog Award is given to up coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.

Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest,dearest, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

The rules for the Liebster Blog Award are:

  1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  3. Copy & paste the blog award on your blog
  4. Reveal your 5 blog picks.
  5. Let them know you choose them by leaving a comment on their blog.

Here are my awardees: (note – I saw one post that said the maximum number of followers is 300 and I’m going with that in the case of Ms. Marchessi who already has over 200.)

Website: http://violantewrites.wordpress.com/
Maria Violante provided the first “professional” review of my first book and I am very grateful for that. Her site provides outstanding reviews of indie books and interviews with their authors.

Website: http://sarahnicolas.com/
Sara is a Young Adult writer and was the Organizer of the OrlandoScience Fiction and Fantasy Writers Meetup group when I joined. She is very involved in book groups and reviews. I got a lot of good advice from her, much of which I actually followed.

Website:http://shelbyandshaunakitt.blogspot.com/
P.H.C. Marchessi is a self published Young Adult, Science Fiction & Fantasy writer. I have not yet read her book Shelby and Shauna Kitt and the Dimensional Holes but I have purchased a copy (a bargain at 99¢) and I’ll get to it soon. Her blog provides musings on literary and other subjects.

Website: http://crunchydragon.wordpress.com/
This is where Stephanie, a recent college grad who is just starting a new career in book publishing in NY, blogs about “dragons, magic, elves, and the occasional foray into slightly less geeky realms of pop culture.” She earns the reward for commenting on my blog. 🙂

Website: http://www.thehopefullibrarian.com/
Jen Moore is a voracious reader and provides reviews on what she reads here and is active on Twitter. She was one of the first visitors to my new blog and was kind enough to leave a comment.

The Stigma of Self Publishing – Et Tu Writers?

  I went to an Orlando Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group meeting last night. It was our first get together in a few months because our organizer (Sarah Fisk) had to abdicate for job reasons and it took a while to replace her, although she has since moved back to Orlando and rejoined the group.

We held it at the food court of a local mall, an ideal place I thought because it easily accommodated our group without any expectation that we should be quiet or buy anything. Of the seven people at the table that night, one is a traditionally published author (Owl Goingback), one is a self published author (me), and the others are either writing speculative fiction books or have written some and are currently exploring their publication options.

Because we had a new organizer and a few new members, this was more of a chat session than our normal meetings, which focus on review and critique of members’ work. One topic that came up was self publishing. I suppose I was guilty of raising it because when publishing options came up, the implication seemed to be that the preferred option was traditional publishing. I wanted to point out that in the digital age there is another option and that it was my first option rather than a fallback position.

I was surprised that the other members seemed to either not consider this or thought of self publishing as the last, desperate act a writer would take and that books were only self published if they couldn’t meet the exacting standards necessary for traditional publication.

Obviously I don’t believe this to be true but the incredulous stares around the table made it clear just how pervasive this belief is, not just among readers, agents, and publishers, but among writers as well. Unfortunately this is not without cause.

Self publishing has some great advantages. For writers, these include retention of all rights to their work. They control everything from content to distribution. They control the cost of their books and they receive higher royalties as a percentage of sales.

For readers, self publishing means that there are more books in more subgenres than ever before. Books don’t need to fall into mainstream categories or follow whatever may be popular in their genre at the time in order to be published. A publisher’s impression of profitability does not enter into the equation. Self published books, especially ebooks, are almost always much cheaper than traditionally published books as well so readers have greater selection at lower cost. What could be better?

Well, there is the quality issue. The problem with anyone being able to publish is that anyone is able to publish anything. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to be coherent or readable or, in the case of nonfiction, even accurate. Now I won’t say this is an exclusive problem with self publishing because we have all seen traditionally published books that had these same flaws but if a major publisher’s logo was on the cover, a reader could be assured that it had at least gone through some editing process.

With self published books, there is no such guarantee and books can be released before they are ready. Some people, dishonest, scummy, and disreputable people who should be publicly flogged, tarred, feathered, and sent to their rooms without supper, have been known to scam this new openness by plagiarizing the work of others or intentionally throwing out dozens or even hundreds of short, poor quality books. There is currently no way to prevent this and it helps perpetuate the myth that all self published books are bad. I have seen other self published authors claim that readers can still tell quality books from reader reviews on sites such as Amazon. These certainly help and I don’t discount them but reviews and ‘likes’ are not necessarily a guarantee of quality either. Just as anyone can publish a book, anyone can write a review and writers can swap positive reviews and ‘likes’ with other authors as part of their promotion efforts, often with honest intent simply to help their peers.

There are a few disadvantages to self publishing for writers as well. They have to cover all of the up front costs themselves including editing, cover design, and formatting. Self published books are difficult to get into brick and mortar bookstores and the authors have to do all of their own marketing and promotion, which can be extremely difficult without the resources of an agent or traditional publisher to support them. Writers need to be willing to take on these challenges before they decide to self publish but their biggest hurdle may be the continuing stigma hovering over self published books.

I think there may be a fairly simple solution to this although it means readers will need to do a little research themselves. But since they are receiving the benefit of more options and lower costs, I don’t think this is asking too much. Actually my suggestion would apply to any author whose work you have not read before.

Before you decide to buy a book by an author unknown to you, read the sample pages first. If it still looks good, go to the author’s website. All legitimate self published authors should have one. There is probably even a link to it on the author’s page on Amazon or whatever online retailer sells their book. Look at the content. Keep in mind that self published authors may not be expert at web design but if the layout is logical and the content is good, chances are their books will be as well. If the book description looks like the type of book you would enjoy and the author’s website suggests that he or she is a competent writer, there is a good chance you’ve found something that will appeal to you. I know this is more work for readers but I think this inconvenience may be outweighed by the benefits readers receive in price and selection.

As always, if you have thoughts on this subject you would like to share, please leave a comment.

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My Self Publishing Adventure

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following

   In February of 2011, I decided to turn my writing hobby into a vocation. In addition to spending time completing the two novels I had in draft, I joined a writers’ group, read several books on the craft of fiction writing, and I did some research on what publishing is like in the 21st Century and how it is changing. Based on what I had read and heard, I decided that rather than seeking a traditional path to publishing by querying agents and publishers, I would self publish my novels as e-books. The advantages seemed to outweigh the disadvantages although this puts extra responsibility on the writer. Whether this was a wise choice or not remains to be seen but one of the first things I learned was that I needed a “platform.”

Writing books is only part of a new writer’s job and, I have learned, not the most difficult part. The hardest part is letting people know they are available, attracting their attention and encouraging them to give them a try. This is where traditional publishing seems to excel but I felt confident that once people read my books, they would spread the word about them and want more. After all, my books are good. I know. I’ve read them and I have very discriminating taste.

But this strategy relies heavily on gaining those first readers, which means the author has to somehow accomplish four things:

  1. Attract readers’ attention.
  2. Get them to download the books.
  3. Persuade people to actually read them.
  4. Encourage them to write reviews and tell friends about the books.

I seem to be stuck at steps 1 and 2 right now. To attract attention, I started this blog and opened a Twitter account in May.

The blog has evolved since then. I began by writing short posts on some of the things that influenced my writing. Then I began sharing my experiences on writing and self publishing thinking these may be of interest to others who may be contemplating this path. Recently I’ve also been posting short reviews of books I just finished reading if they warrant four or five stars (on Amazon’s five star scale). Occasionally I also do a post on other topics as well. I try to do at least two posts a week. If I get comments on any of these, I try to respond.

The blog seems to be gradually attracting some following. These are the stats on the number of ‘hits’ it has received since it began.

  • May – 26
  • June – 42
  • July – 83
  • August – 96
  • September – 226
  • October – 308
  • November (so far) – 180

Twitter, the other major focus of my platform building effort, is less focused. I try to do at least ten tweets a day but these are fairly random, from clever quotes and quips to blatant self promotion of my blog or my books. As of today, I have 253 followers. I try to engage those I follow by retweeting tweets I find interesting or clever and I try to thank anyone who comments on mine or follows me.

So, has any of this turned into book sales? The short answer is, “No.” This table shows my book ‘sales’ to date.

 

 

 

 

By making a few assumptions, what I have leaned from this is that attracting attention, step 1 on my list, is difficult but not impossible. I have Twitter followers and people are visiting my blog and these numbers are gradually increasing.

Step 2, getting people to download my books can be done by offering them for free. My ‘beta’ version of the anthology Defying Fate came out in July and I offered it to friends and relatives for free. None had e-readers but some did download PDF versions from Smashwords and commented favorably. In September, I published the two books separately and offered the first for free on Smashwords for a month. During that time, 157 copies were downloaded. I then raised the price to 99¢ on Smashwords to match the price on Amazon. There were no sales after that on Smashwords.

Step 3, getting people to read them is where I’m stalled. I have no idea how many of those 157 free copies have actually been read but I have seen no comments or reviews on Smashwords as a result so I am assuming few, if any, have been. One five star review has been posted to Amazon though and I am extremely grateful for it. I am hoping it is the first of many.

I have learned that a low price by itself does not attract buyers. I thought it might but there are many books by new indie authors priced at 99¢ and mine are just two out of thousands. Because of comments I had received from other indie writers saying mine were priced too low for what they were, I had planned on raising the prices of my books this month but I am putting that off for now. Raising the prices, I fear, might make them less attractive and I’m really not in this to make money anyway. The main reason to charge anything at all is to give me a way to explain to others why I spend so much time with this.

My plan forward in addition to completing my third novel, is to try to attract more Twitter followers by targeting those I follow. I will also look into seeing if I can find book bloggers who may be interested in looking at my first book and doing a short review. If you are a book blogger or reviewer and would like a free copy in exchange for an honest review let me know.

For all of the other new writers out there, consider this encouragement not to give up. Once your first book is done and available, it is likely to take quite some time to get noticed. If you find yourself frustrated that it has not been, don’t be discouraged. You are not alone.

 Related Posts:
Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

On Silence & My Urban Garden

  Today I deviate from my normal blog posts on writing and reading. This is a great time of the year where I live because it’s quiet, relatively anyway. In our modern world I’m not sure it’s ever really quiet. There is always the occasional plane or siren but the constant noise that I’ve learned to consciously ignore is gone. The weather in Florida is close to ideal now, which means the air conditioning and fans are off.

There are other sounds, the tick and chime of my antique mantle clock, the sound of the wind outside my open window, a chattering squirrel or calling bird, but these are intermittent, peaceful sounds that do more to accent the silence than interrupt it. So I’m taking the week off to enjoy it. I will probably still do a little writing and, of course, reading but the writing and especially the self promotion have become to feel like a job of late, and a thankless one at that, so I’m cutting back on them for a little while.

Today I planted a garden, although a rather odd one. I was given a couple of planters that are suspended off the ground. I planted them with tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, lettuce, and herbs. This is about the extent of my agricultural expertise and I am far from certain I won’t manage to kill these poor defenseless plants. That’s them on the left, hanging there, trusting my nonexistent gardening abilities to keep then alive long enough to produce tasty and nutritious things to eat.

I have no idea if I will succeed in this endeavor. Like with all things, the risk of failure is there but it was an enjoyable experience and not terribly expensive. I’ll let you know how they’re doing in about a month or so. The oranges on the tree in my backyard should be almost ripe by then too. (The tree survives because it needs no care at all and the fruit makes the best juice I’ve ever had.)

Now though I think I’ll lay by my open window and read for a while.

Are You a Storyteller?

    Are you a storyteller? Do you think you might be?

I think almost everyone (and I only say “almost” because I can’t be sure there are no exceptions) is a storyteller. Or at least they were once. Humans are born storytellers. It’s how we make sense of the world. Sometimes the stories are even true. Sometimes they’re not but we pretend they are. That can be dangerous but it’s the price we pay for imagination, which I don’t think we could have progressed so far without. Before anyone ever made a flint knife by banging rocks together, built a fire, or painted pictures on a cave wall, they had to imagine them. They had to envision something that had never happened and create a story of it in their mind before they could make it happen.

I’m pretty sure I have always been a storyteller. Some of my earliest memories are of concocting stories that I played out with toy soldiers and spaceships. There were times when my friends and I would be hanging out or walking down the road and we’d make up stories to tell one another. I wish now I had written some of these down but it seems I could never remember them later. Sometimes I couldn’t remember them right after I told them. It was as if the stories were telling themselves through me.

In high school, I recall an assignment they gave us to keep a journal. (For those of you younger than 30, a journal is sort of like a blog except it’s written down on paper.) Most of the kids in school wrote about their daily activities, their friends, their classes, and things like that. Mine was a serial that followed the adventures of Harvey the Dust Speck. It included a lot of social commentary. As juvenile as it was, I’m sure, my instructor said it was one of the best and certainly the most entertaining. I also wrote editorial articles (humorous of course) for the school newspaper. (A newspaper is like a hardcopy website.)

My leisure writing tapered off in college because I had a full class schedule, a fulltime job, and a family. I did still write occasionally. I even sent a short story to a magazine once and got a very nice rejection letter from them.

But as we grow older, as we become adults with jobs and responsibilities, it seems that many of us feel pressured to abandon fictional stories. I know I did. Stories are for kids. As adults we should be reading the “news.” If we do read books, they should be about something that may help us in our careers to make a little more money, or at least they should be about something real like history, or politics, or economics. Fiction is, at best, an idle pastime. It’s certainly not worth putting a lot of time and effort into.

I think this kind of attitude may be a result of the misplaced values of our society. We assign value to things in terms of money, almost exclusively. The value of a thing is what it costs or what it can be sold for. Unless you are a professional writer, and a fairly popular one at that, stories you create have little value in that equation. Why waste your time making up a story when the same time could be spent much more profitably working extra hours at your paying job, or preparing yourself for a higher paying one, or simply chilling after a hard day at work, work you try to force yourself to believe is somehow important but in rare moments of reflection you suspect you only do because it brings in money? It’s the money that matters, right? Or is money just one of those fictions we believe are real?

This is a question we all must answer for ourselves. I personally have come to believe that I made a mistake when I gave up writing fiction. Not because I could have been a bestselling author. I doubt I could even make a modest living from the stories I like to write. They don’t contain vampires or zombies and they have far too little graphic sex or violence to be terribly popular.

The reason it was a mistake is because the stories I wrote were for me. They weren’t for others and they certainly weren’t to make money. At the time, I thought that also meant they weren’t worth the time and the trouble.

I also had a dark spell when I read only nonfiction and I prided myself in how adult I had become. Giving up reading fiction was like giving up your childhood teddy bear. It was something you had to do to prove you were an adult. Fortunately I got over this flirtation with unimaginative adulthood after only a few years and allowed fiction to creep back into my life; first as a guilty pleasure but eventually I came to terms with my repressed needs, stepped out of the closet, and openly admitted my attraction to fiction.

About ten years ago, I started writing fiction again as a hobby. I figured I had the time for it. The truth is I could always have made the time for it. I just didn’t because it didn’t seem like the kind of hobby an adult professional should have. I excused it by telling myself I was working on a novel and that I might someday try to publish it.

As I got back into it, I slowly realized what it was I had given up. Creating fiction is a rewarding, mind stretching, and enjoyable experience. Creating fictional worlds and fictional characters forces you to think about the real world and real people and leads to a deeper understanding of them. Does this have value? You decide.

This isn’t an advice column but I’m going to offer a few personal opinions. This is my blog, I can do what I want.

  • If you are wondering if you are a storyteller, you are.
  • Fiction has value even if it never helps you earn any money.
  • Fiction is not just for kids.
  • You don’t need an excuse to write.
  • Write for yourself. You can edit what you wrote for others if you wish to share but do that later and as an afterthought.
  • Don’t give up your teddy bear. You’ll never have a better friend. If you’re wondering if you should write, find Teddy, if you are fortunate enough to still have him, and ask him. He was probably one of the first fictional characters you ever created and he may have some valuable insights.

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Four – Managing Expectations

   I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this adventure in self publishing so far and I’m trying not to be disillusioned about it all. This post isn’t to gripe about that though. My intent here is to share my experiences with other new writers so that they might know what to expect and give them an opportunity to assess how they are doing by comparison with how I have done.

I have always wanted to write fiction. I knew I would be something of a niche author because I am a niche reader. I like books that provide social commentary, philosophical insights, and do so without being heavy or taking themselves too seriously. This is hard to pull off although Sir Terry Pratchett normally can do it and others can occasionally as well. These are the kinds of books I like to read so they are the kind I wanted to write.

I found that Young Adult (YA) books are often better at this than those targeted for adult markets because they tend to be more hopeful, more idealistic, and less focused on sex and violence. If I want to see the darker side of humanity, I can watch the TV news. A few hours of that could convince anyone that humanity is doomed, and quite possibly deservedly so.

I want something different for my leisure reading. Something that will allow me to pretend, at least for a moment, that there is a bright future for humanity. For video entertainment, this is what draws me to both Star Trek and Doctor Who. They both show people being able to overcome prejudice and superstition and they portray people, as a whole and individually, as creatures with value and potential. Apparently this is not a popular perspective so I never expected my books to be bestsellers. I never expected them to appeal to a very large audience. I have to admit that I did expect some feedback on them though, some indication that they are at least being read. So far, except for personal friends and family, there has been none.

From what I have heard anecdotally, my expectations, low as they were, may have been too high. I have found no reliable statistics on this but I’ve seen claims that it is not uncommon for a blog to attract only a few select followers its first year. Mine was established the end of May and here are statistics on how it has fared in terms of the gross number of views since then:

May – 26
June – 42
July – 83
August – 96
September – 226
October (so far) – 172

Clearly readership has grown, and hopefully will continue to do so as I write more of these wonderful posts, but so far this has not equated to book sales. This may also be common. Again, my only means of comparison for this are anecdotal comments from other writers from their blogs but I get the distinct impression that most fiction ebooks by unknown authors don’t see any appreciable sales – ever – but those that do don’t until they’ve been available for a couple years. Mine have been out a couple of months.

I began by making an anthology of my first two books available on Smashwords and created a coupon to allow them to be downloaded free. Most of these went to friends and family who did provide feeback on them, all of it positive. But then, what else would you expect from friends and family? (By the way, thanks, Dad.)

A couple of months ago, I published my first two books separately. I made the first free on Smashwords for a month and then raised the price on both Smashwords and Amazon to 99¢. I priced the sequel at 99¢ as well and the anthology at $1.99. The following shows how this pricing strategy has fared.

 

 

 

The summary for this table is that I’ve given away 174 copies of my books (all on Smashwords) and sold two (both on Amazon). I assume the one sale of The Warden War, the sequel to The Warden Threat was to someone who got a free copy of the first one, liked it, and was willing to spend 99¢ for the next one. This may not be the case but it makes me feel better to think so.

So what does this mean to others like me who may just be starting out on their own self publishing adventures? Just this. Keep your expectations low. You may have written the best book ever. It may have the potential to brighten the lives of millions, bring enlightenment to the masses and usher in a new and hopeful era for humanity. And all of these things may be true even though you don’t see many sales and don’t get any feedback from readers right away. The only opinion that really matters is your own. If you believe in your work, continue. Keep writing.

So, what is my next step? I have heard from others that my low prices, which I hoped would attract readers, may be having the opposite effect. Many people mistakenly associate cost with value. The low cost of my books may imply that they have little value. Personally I believe this to be untrue but to charge what I really think they are worth would mean only millionaires could buy them and they really aren’t the market I was trying to reach, not that I would mind them buying them as well.

One other indie writer told me that pricing a book at 99¢ may cause a person to skim over it thinking it is a novella, rather than an 80,000+ word complete novel or one that is poorly written, unedited, and incoherent. Since none of these things are true, he said I should price them at least at $2.99. I hesitate to do this because I want my books to be available to as many people as possible and some simply can’t afford $2.99 for a single book. In principle though, he may be right so in the next month or so, I am going to increase some of the prices. I will keep the first book in the series, The Warden Threat, at 99¢. I will change the price of the second to $1.99 and price the anthology of both books (which includes a special prelude as well) at $2.99. These new prices will become effective early November. I will post periodic updates on how this goes and whether or not it seems to have an impact on sales.

In the meantime, keep reading, keep writing. If you’d like to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider

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