Thursday, December 27, 2012

The View So Far…

When I launched Nobody (The Pirate Arc) on Thanksgiving, I took a look at how well successful books did during their initial launch. The numbers were anecdotal, drawn from interviews the various authors did about their successes. Based on their experiences, I created an estimate of where I thought the numbers would be at the end of the month, if everything was going well. I figured if things were going decently, I should have a couple of dozen copies sold by the end of December.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, the ultimate goal would be to reach 110 copies sold by the end of the month. This was based on how many friends said they would be willing to buy my book when it came out. Somewhere at the low end of the difference I figured would be the conservative estimate.
Another key point about the number 110, is I figured any number higher than that would guarantee that many people buying it would be complete strangers to me.
The popular titles I referenced had rather inauspicious beginnings, selling only tens to dozens of copies during their first month or two. These two titles went on to sell tens and hundreds of thousands of copies within the year following. I can only hope I get so lucky!
So, my shoot for the moon figure for the end of December is 110. While past performance is no indicator of future successes, I figured reaching 110 would be a pretty damned good indicator of future potential!

As of a few minutes ago, my sales count for December so far is 702.  

No More Peer Reviews on Amazon

Amazon has quietly banned authors from reviewing the work of other authors in the same genre. In the process, they deleted reviews written by authors about other authors’ books.
This was partially in response to the confession of author R.J. Ellory, admitting that he had been posting fake reviews expounding on how good were his own books and posting scathing criticisms about the books of competitive authors. He would create fake accounts and post his false comments through those accounts.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The web is rampant with fake reviews. The practice of creating fake accounts to in turn write glowing reviews about one’s own work is called “sock puppeting.” Worse, there are companies that can be hired to write fake reviews promoting a book. This is called “astro-turfing.”
The result is, a reader goes online looking for a new book to read and comes across a new title that has dozens of glowing reviews. Upon purchasing the book, the reader finds instead that the story is a piece of crap and the writing is terrible and rife with mistakes. If you come across such a situation and find yourself thinking that what you are reading doesn’t live up to all the reviews, it might not be just you. The story might actually suck, and all those reviews were either sock-puppet fakes posted by the author or astro-turfed by some business hired by the author.
Essentially, you just got ripped off.
I strongly urge anyone, before buying any ebook—including my own—to read the free sample that is offered. The sample should be enough to show you what to expect what you will really find in the story. I bought a couple of books because of the sample. I also avoided quite a few books because of the sample.
Caveat Emptor.
I’ve told family and friends not to post any reviews or comments unless they have actually read my story and actually liked it. For those who wanted to say something but hadn’t yet read my story yet, I asked them simply to state that they knew me and wanted to spread the word that their friend had written a book.
Keep it honest.
I tell people to go to my web site to find the links to buy my book. There is says very clearly that Nobody (The Pirate Arc) is a short story excerpt from the full book, being the first six chapters.
I know one reader on Amazon was quite angry that the story ended at the sixth chapter in one helluva cliff hanger, and thusly gave me a negative review. Hugh Howey’s, Wool, is an excellent example of an excerpt release. It was released as a standalone short, but is actually the first of several stories. Similarly to myself, a small number of people chimed in about Wool and complained. Also, many of the negative reviews were: “It wasn’t to my taste…”
I would like to point out that those people who complained that Wool was “not to their taste” did actually read the story to the end. Well, if the story compelled them to read it to the end, then obviously the writing was pretty damned good, whether it was to their taste or not. If I didn’t like a story, but was still compelled to read it to the end, that says something and demands that I give the story a higher ranking than just one star.
The story I would absolutely have this reaction to was Donald R. Stevenson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I hated that series! Or rather, I hated the lead character, Thomas Covenant. He was a perfect antihero. As much as I say I disliked the story and would complain about Covenant, keep in mind that I read the entire series! I couldn’t put those damned books down! And the moment a new one came out, I would buy it so I could see what happened next in the story.
THAT is the real critique! The story was so compelling and had pulled me in so deep, that even though I absolutely loathed the lead character, I had to buy each book and read it!
It was well written and compelling. That is the real review! That would be worth four stars at least.
For the record: I strongly recommend Wool. I thought it was an excellent short story in the Dystopian Science-fiction genre. It didn’t reach #1 on Amazon’s Bestsellers List for nothing! It’s currently available for free, so you won’t lose anything trying it out.
And yes, I would also recommend Stevenson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Regardless of how I felt about the story and the protagonist, good writing is good writing. Stevenson does good work in these books.
So now at Amazon, there will be no peer reviews for the foreseeable future.
Too many unscrupulous people trying to game the system.
Now what? How can Amazon fix it?
I have my own ideas on this.
Currently, there are two ways to rank a book: by the number of sales and the recommendations of readers.
The number of sales is very objective. Regardless of what people feel about a book, you cannot deny the number of copies that have been sold, minus any that have been returned for a refund. If a title is very popular, it will be selling large numbers of copies in a very short period of time. If not, sales might lag for a long time. But it doesn’t tell you anything about the story inside. A story could be really good, but just not catch on right away. Sales numbers can be a bit too objective in a way.
At the other extreme is the ranking set by readers. Reader reviews are highly subjective. People will either love a story or hate it. As a result, the reviews will either glorify or pan the story. There is rarely anything in between. A quick hop around several titles in the Fantasy genre on Amazon, and the rankings that are used most are one and five stars. (Four scores third, and two and three almost never show up.)
People like what they like. It is a matter of individual taste. I have read books that were raved about by friends and found that I just couldn’t get into them. And I love some books that my friends just don’t find interesting at all. 
Between the two, sales numbers and reader reviews, is a solution. One that can solve the problem of false reviews being entered and forcing reviewers to be as balanced as possible.
When people really like something, they want to tell their friends. Similarly, if they don't like something, they are going to want to warn their friends away from it. Both sides tend to become polarized, and are willing to go as far as it takes to prove their point, including lying or posting false reviews.
So perhaps Amazon should rank the rankers.
A popular book is going to sell like crazy. The sales numbers will reflect this over a period of time. If a book sells wildly at first and then the numbers fall off fairly early and quickly, it could be assumed that the sales were mainly out of curiosity. But if the numbers continue to climb steadily over a longer period of time, it might be indicating that the book is popular and selling steadily.
If someone posts a negative comment about a book that is enormously popular, then that would certainly bring the credibility, if not the veracity, of the critic into question. Especially if the positive reviews on the same title greatly outnumber the negative reviews. In such a case, lower the score on that negative reviewer. The lower the score a reviewer has, the less weight the reviewer’s vote has on a given title’s rank in the lists. The same idea works in the other direction where someone has posted a glorious review on a title that just plain sucks.
List reviews according to rank. Someone with a low rank will always end up at the end of a list of reviews, where their trolling comments will probably never be seen.
People who want to be taken seriously as a critic won’t want to risk their rank by being snarky because of some personal grudge against the author or the world in general. This will force them to be more balanced and careful in their critiques.
Second, have other people judge the critiques posted. If people who have read the book agree with what the poster had to say—positive or negative—then the reviewer’s rank score goes up. If people think the reviewer was full of crap and wondered what the hell book it was the reviewer read, then they can click on disagree and vote the reviewer down.
Those people who judge the reviewers must have earned a reviewer’s score above a certain point to be allowed to judge another reviewer. This means that an author acting as a sock-puppet, wishing to force the rankings is going to have to work at it.
This is gamification. People will play a game endlessly for no other reason than to attain the next level or have a higher score than other people. People who like to critique writing and books will want to be taken as seriously as possible and be seen as an authority. Knowing that if they post a review that doesn’t pass muster could cost them seriously in their ranking, that will pretty much guarantee they will be careful to post only accurate, truthful reviews.
Sure, some new guy can still post a review, but because that guy has no rank, his review will always be at the end of the list. If he posts early enough after the release of a book, his list will show up for a while until it gets pushed off the page by higher ranked reviews. If his review reflects the trends of the book’s popularity and/or other reviewers feel that his review was an accurate assessment of the book, his score goes up faster.
Sales numbers, the number of positive vs. negative reviews, done by reviewers vetted by other people, could then be used to tabulate the rank of a book in the bestsellers list.
Another vector to affect a book’s rank is the number of reviews. If a book’s sales are lackluster, and there are few or no reviews, then it might be a pretty good indication that the book is not that good.
A book whose sales jump at the get go and then tapers off, gathering few reviews, might indicate that people were curious but not moved enough by the story to find it worth mentioning. That would give the book a low rank.
A book with steady and growing sales, positive reviews, and continues to do so over a period of months, would indicate that it is a popular book and should rank it high.
The higher score a reviewer has, then the more weight their vote has when reviewing books and other reviewers. It would take a lot of work and dedication to earn and maintain that high score. That gives an individual with a high score a lot of authority and social status. They will NOT want to jeopardize their standing by getting snarky about one or two books.
Sure, I can think of flaws in my idea, but it does make it harder for trolls, astro-turfers and puppeteers to manipulate the system.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Post-Launch Telemetry

To everyone who has purchased Nobody (The Pirate Arc), I would like to extend my heartfelt Thank you!
The process of writing a book takes a long time. Much longer than most people expect. Life’s other events have a way of getting in the way of the schedule you expected to follow, making it go even longer. Some things you see coming a ways off. Others, you never see until they hit you broadside.
I did a fairly good estimate on how long it would take me to complete Nobody. Based on this, I set up a budget that I figured would give me a year’s worth of money to pay the bills after the book was published. With a year of being able to pay the bills, that gave me flexibility to get the book published and selling, and enough time to go out and find a job in case the book flopped.
With that, I rolled up my sleeves, took off my watch, and started writing.
Well, life happens…
I’m nearing the completion of Nobody, finding myself more than a year behind my schedule due to such life events. And if you read the above paragraph, you will recall that I left myself only enough money to get me a year past publication.
Yes, it takes a long time. The more time it takes, the more there is opportunity for those awful moments when you find yourself at a loss, stuck on a certain part of the story, and you stare at the words and begin to wonder if this is really going to work. Am I just spinning my tires? Is this really going to succeed? Or am I wasting my dwindling savings on a pipe dream when I should be going out and getting a job?
I’ve had a number of those episodes. Two that were admittedly really bad—one when I knew money was starting to run out. I knew it would run out as I finished the book, and that left me almost three months before I would even see the first check from any sales that occurred once it was released.
I realized I had gone past my time limit. It was now do or die.
The editing process on the first six chapters went fairly smoothly. It was as I was finishing the last couple rounds of edits that it occurred to me that the first six chapters could stand on their own, and left enough of an open ending that would leave the reader wanting more.
There hatched the idea to release the first six chapters as a short story. I figured it would be an entertaining read and for less than a cup of coffee. At 99¢, it wouldn’t make much money, but it would at least bring in a little income to allow me to make token payments on the bills when needed. Banks are so much happier to work with you when you can at least pay something instead of nothing.
It took me time to convince myself that it was a good idea.
Baen Books has a program called “eARC”. An eARC (Advance Reader Copy) is essentially an ebook of the raw manuscript as submitted by the author for publishing. They charge a premium price for these and there is a market for them. They are full of errors, misspellings, apocryphal story arcs, because they haven’t been through the editing process to produce the final product. But the reader gets a rare opportunity to see just what the story looked like as it came pouring out of the author’s mind. Would you pay three times the price for the final book for just such a document? Many would say, yes. Imagine if you could get your hands on a prototype manuscript of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy, Romero and Julia? Or Tolstoy’s 1805?
Many books in the past were originally published serially in monthly periodicals. The practice is beginning to make a comeback, thanks to ebook publishing.
It is not my intent to publish the Aggadeh Chronicles serially.
So, I pulled the six chapters of Nobody and packaged them together and published them as a short story excerpt.

Thanksgiving morning—as I was preparing to head over to my sister’s place for the holiday dinner—I gave a quick check of my email and discovered that my book had gone live on Amazon about an hour before midnight. Delaying my departure, I quickly jumped online and into my account with Amazon and much to my surprise, discovered two copies had already sold. Even before I myself knew that the book was available for sale!
That made for a very happy Thanksgiving dinner!
It is a bit of a mystery to me about those first two copies that sold. I didn’t even publish the links to the book until the weekend—by which point five copies had sold. Until Amazon’s databases were fully updated, my father had a helluva time trying to find my ebook online. As my book debuted at the lofty ranking of 103,000+ in their bestsellers list, one would have to dig awfully deep to actually find it.
Unless one of the people who bought it on Thanksgiving actually sends me an email explaining, I’ll never really know. I think one of the more plausible explanations is the early purchasers are publishing agents trawling for new talent among the self-publishing writers. If it is a good read, sit quietly for a month or two and if the book really starts to sell, they give the new author a call and an offer.

Based on sales figures presented for fairly successful authors, I figured I would probably sell a dozen copies in the first month before interest in my story would begin to catch on and spread. Also based on previous examples, I knew that if my book was a success, it might still be a few months before I reached 1,000 copies sold. Such numbers mean I’ll still be behind the eight ball financially, but my prospects will be strong when the full book is out. (My target date is hopefully in February.)
It was my fervent hope that I would at least sell 110 copies by the end of 2012. I figured that would be a good signal that my book would succeed.
By November 30th, I had sold 30 copies. This guarantees that I’ll be paid $10 on February 1st. (Sixty-day delay before royalties are paid.) As far as selling 12 copies in a month, I sold 30 copies in the first week!
As of today, I have now sold more than 300 copies! (These numbers change on an hourly basis, so it may be different to those who decide to take a look for themselves.)
My book is now ranked at #71 on Amazon’s Bestsellers List for Epic Fantasies. (To keep things realistic, this is a sub-sub-category. Small fish. Small pond.)
Amazon Promotion Letter
It's a safe bet that this is going to be printed,
framed, and hung on the wall!
My overall rank was #2,988 on Amazon’s Alltime Bestsellers List!
And this morning, I received the weekly email from Amazon promoting various books for sale, and discovered my book was the first one listed!
The icing on the cake is people have actually been leaving reviews about my story, and the reviews have been good!
To say the least, this is significantly better than what I was expecting. Sales are growing much faster than I could have imagined. It is in no small part to friends helping promote my book. Just simply saying, “Hey, my friend wrote this–,” has resulted in the majority of these sales. I can only reach so many people. But when my friends share with their friends, that number increases exponentially. And now, people who have no connection to me other than they have read my book are starting to spread the word. This is where these sales are coming from.
For the first time, my own strained faith in myself to write successfully is finally reaching fruition. I now have a possible answer for those frightening moments of self-doubt wondering if this was really going to work.
The answer looks like it's going to be: Hell yeah!

Monday, November 26, 2012


At last! Something I’ve written is finally available for sale!
Actually, it has been available since Thanksgiving (11/22), but only now am I getting around to actually posting the links. Amazingly, already a dozen copies have sold, even without me promoting its existence.
The short story excerpt, Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody (The Pirate Arc) is now available for purchase at 99¢ from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Because of the holiday, it is not yet available on Apple’s iTunes Book Store, yet.
When the full novel is completed in a few months, I’ll pull The Pirate Arc from the sales venues. Of those twelve people who have already bought the short, I advise you to consider it a collector’s item, as one of my editors picked out a typo that got through everything and made it into the release. The correction was made last night. The typo was the use of an incorrect word in Chapter 4. It was my father who caught it. One of those, “Holy crap! How’d I miss that?” kind of errors.
This is why I waited for so long to announce where to buy my book. I wanted to make sure all the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed before I started pushing it out there. I wanted to make sure that everything was working right, before I had a field a thousand questions such as, “Why can’t I find it?” The answer being, because the database hadn’t been updated, yet. (As of now, my book has just started appearing in the sales lists.)
Another reason I sat quiet on it was curiosity. What would happen if I just put it out there, like sticking a note into a bottle and throwing into the ocean? The answer: at least a dozen people bought it! How on earth they found it is beyond me. I do strongly suspect it may have either been staff purchases for review or possibly publishers and agents buying new titles in an effort to find promising writers to sign. Who knows? (Well– the twelve who bought know…)
So now it’s out there. Buy it! It’s only 99¢!
The full novel will be ready in a few months, after editing is complete. Yes, it does take that long. If you like the excerpt, then you only have to wait a little longer to find out what happens after the Island Dancer leaves Gulagh and where Nem winds up next. (Hint: there’s a reason the title of the series is Aggadeh Chronicles.)
If you didn’t like it… Well– Thank you for taking the chance and trying my book. Remember you’re only out 99¢, less than a cup of coffee. I don’t expect everyone is going to like my story. I’ve read books that I found my reaction was less than entertained, even though I liked other stories by the author. I do have other stories coming…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Aggadeh Chronicles Book 1: Nobody (The Pirate Arc) has now been officially published!
This is the short version of the book, featuring the first six chapters. This short version of the book serves several functions, not the least of which is to generate income for me so I can afford to continue writing and finish the rest of the book.
It will be available on, Apple iTunes and Barnes & Noble Nook Books over the next few days—unless something went wrong with the submission process, of which I'm sure due notice will be given at a later date.
As soon as it is available, I'll have the links posted on my web site,
This isn't the end of the process, merely a step in the right direction. I still have a lot more work to complete.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Apple Maps—Is It Really That Bad?

It seems the target du-jour of late is the Maps program in Apple’s newest release of iOS. Blogs, news articles, forum threads, and social sites seemed to light up with malicious glee over how bad Apple’s Maps was compared to Google Maps, the program Apple replaced. The negative reviews began right out of the gate with the release of iOS6.
I was excited to see iOS 6 come out. After all the hype, I was looking forward to seeing how Apple was going to out-Google Google Maps. Then I began reading about the criticisms people had for the program, which certainly had an effect on my expectations. When I finally loaded iOS 6 onto my iPhone 3Gs, I must admit I was fairly disappointed with what I found in the offering from Apple.
The hype about the technology Apple employed for their Maps program had me excited to see it in action. Pundits comment endlessly how Apple is a company that has an excellent practice at maintaining its secrets. My opinion is that Apple keeping secrets is a distant second to their other marketing talent of generating hype for new products to be released. In this case, the hype really set Apple up to disappoint their customers.
When Apple released the iPhone 4S, everyone knew this was just to tide them over until the release of the iPhone 5. Back in the spring, Apple warned investors that they expected sales of iPhones to dry up. Over the summer, market analysts noted that sales of smart phones in general were dropping in anticipation of the release of the iPhone 5.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall and expectations for the iPhone 5 were huge. Love or hate Apple, one cannot deny they put out excellent, high quality products. So the slightest flaw is something that almost everyone will pounce upon.
The flaw in iOS 6 is Apple Maps.
The backlash was enormous! People were saying they couldn’t find various locations (such as restaurants nearby) when they did a search. Some government officials in the UK complained that it was showing an airport where there was none. (More about this in a couple of paragraphs.) Compared to Google Maps, everyone complained it fell way short.
Considering that Google Maps was arguably the most heavily used application in iOS, Apple Maps had to really perform.
Everyone is used to Apple hitting it out of the ballpark whenever they release something new. We are used to seeing Apple create a product that outdoes what a competitor’s product had been doing for years (iPod and then the iPhone). So much so, many people don’t recall just how often Apple doesn’t get it out of the infield, or even strikes out.
So when Apple’s Maps program failed to out-Google Google’s Maps program, everyone jumped on the wagon and declared it a spectacular failure. So loud was the din from the public, that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, even issued an apology for Apple Maps falling short of expectations.
Is Apple Maps really that bad?
Let’s look at the errors.
The fantasy airport reported?
Over the summer, a good two months before Apple released iOS 6 with their Maps program, I found Google Maps listing an airport where there was none. A few months prior to that, I found an airport that was listed as a public restroom. I found a primary road in Springfield, Massachusetts that had the wrong name applied to it. Roads that didn’t exist. In back rural roads in Vermont, there are a few places where the map data doesn’t line up with the path the actual road follows in the satellite imagery.
In each of these cases, I filed an error report with Google and the errors were reviewed and fixed in fairly short order.
Is Apple Maps reporting improper locations so shocking? Not in the least! I have found a few errors in Apple Maps by looking at locations near where I live. I merely dropped on pin [in the program] on the location and reported it as a problem.
Functionally, Apple Maps works fine. A couple short drives showed that it was doing its job in directing me to where I was going. I used Google Maps heavily when driving cross-country and I don’t expect to be led astray by Apple’s offering. Routing information in both programs produce the same result.
The turn-by-turn navigation mode impressed me. When I deviated from the course suggested by Maps, it adjusted the new course almost instantly. It was already offering a suggested route change even before I had finished the turn onto the new road and it wasn’t trying to steer me back to the original course like some other GPS navigation devices would do.
After playing with Apple Maps for the past couple weeks, I can say with certainty that it works just fine.
I will say that Apple Maps is not as matured as Google Maps. Let’s face it, Google has been working at this for well over seven years now. Apple? Just a couple of months. Google has rolled many excellent features into their mapping product. The ability to do a search for a given business in the map? Data search is Google’s core competency. I don’t see Apple beating Google in that arena anytime soon. Other companies have tried and failed miserably.
About two years ago, Google began a program encouraging users to enter extra data into their map database and to report any inaccuracies. I have sent in many such reports and found them to be corrected within a month or so. This is the sort of activity that Apple must encourage of their users. This is what will greatly flesh out their offerings in the maps. Yeah, I’ve found a few errors in location positions in Apple’s Maps program and I’ve sent in bug reports about them. As I said above, I find errors in Google Maps as well.
My biggest complaint about Apple Maps (and Apple’s earlier implementation of Google Maps, too)? The blue dot that shows your current position on the map is the same blue color as the line that shows your route information. When driving, I cannot differentiate between the two with a quick glance. It requires a longer look, which takes my attention off the road. Wake up call to Apple: the human eye needs CONTRAST to work optimally! Change the color of one or the other!
Now, complaints aside, the technophile (aka “geek”) in me can see the foundations of future greatness that Apple has created with their Maps program. The key feature being that the program uses vector information to construct the maps, where Google uses image tiles to construct their maps.
On an old and very well worn 3Gs, the Apple vector maps load much faster than the Google JPEG map tiles. The Apple Maps program can load vastly more map data that Google can in the same amount of available memory. When driving around a region where cellphone coverage may be spotty, this is important. There are several places I drive through where signal is lost, and my Google map was reduced to a blue dot floating on an empty grid. I look forward to when I can put Apple’s map to the test and see if it properly preloads enough map data to carry me through these zones.
I think the primary flaw in Apple Maps is that people expected far more from Apple than was delivered. Think of it as getting a glass of 12-year-old scotch instead of a glass of 25-year-old scotch. Both may be excellent distillations, but one is certainly better than the other. Apple Maps functions excellently now. It just lacks the extra smoothness and polish of its counterpart, Google Maps. It also has a number of flaws in its locations data. Ultimately, these errors will be vetted out and fixed.
Considering the underlying technologies Apple has used as the foundation for their map program, given time I think it is safe to expect it will mature into an outstanding tool. For now, consumers will have to accept that Apple is a few years behind the competition in this arena. If history is any indication, Apple might eventually turn Maps into a product that sets the standard rather than following it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Price War Begins

The Department of Justice has laid out a settlement for publishers that acceded to the accusation they colluded to fix prices on ebooks. Apple filed a counterclaim that they were not part of a price-fixing scheme, but it appears that counterclaim was denied. 
So now ebook prices are beginning to inch downward. By how much? Laura Hazard Owen did the heavy work here. Read it. Decide for yourself how it may affect you.
For the consumer, this seems great! Already, the prices on hot titles are coming down (read Owen’s article linked above). Still, it isn’t quite the boon it appears to be. I don’t believe that titles under $10 in price ($9.99 and less) are going to drop very much in price. The more expensive titles, the hottest and newest books to hit the market, are the ones that are most likely to drop.
I took a look at Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble all list it for $14.99. Cheaper than the original $17.99 price when it first came out. I still stick to my notion that I will not pay hardcover  or softcover prices for an ebook. Sure, the set up costs are the same for all three, but once the ebook is generated the costs of distribution are pretty much negligible. Printed books still require materials, production, shipping and stocking. An ebook is merely a file to be downloaded from a server that is part of a system already in place. So, I feel ebooks should be at most 70% the cost of the same book in softcover.
The flip side to that argument is you charge what customers are willing to pay. If people are willing to pay $15 for an ebook, then go for it. Set the price at what the market will bear.
However, as a self-publishing author, you would make more money per copy sold if you keep your ebook prices below $10. Then you would be netting 70% royalty on each copy sold, as opposed to 35%. (See this table created by Mill City Press.) This neatly encourages most ebook pricing into at least the paperback price range.
For authors, this price war could have long range consequences that may be less than favorable, in my opinion. has long had a history of subsidizing its sales, meaning, it sells merchandise for less than it purchased the merchandise. A publisher may wholesale a book to Amazon for $8.50 per copy with a list price of $13.99, and Amazon could turn around and sell that book for $7.99 per copy. Sure, they lose money on the deal, but they lock in customers. Essentially, prices out the competition, the competitors go out of business, and can then raise prices to whatever they want, because their customers no longer have a choice of where to buy that item. That’s the whole idea behind predatory pricing.
A company that has squeezed out all the competition and alternate sales channels for a given product can then dictate to the supplier what wholesale price they will accept.
Getting caught in the squeeze of a price war could be unpleasant.
My primary concern is that I receive the royalty payment that I need in order to make a living as a writer. At $4.99 per copy to the customer, that means I will make $3.493 (70%) per copy. (Before taxes, mind you!)
If Apple and want to get into a price war, fine. Go for it. If they want to sell my ebook at $2.99 per copy to the customer, go ahead—so long as I get my $3.49 per copy.
What I don’t want to see happen is for the two companies to send me a notice that they are changing their terms in their contracts and state that they will only pay me  the royalty on the final sale price instead of the list price.
That would mean instead of my list price of $4.99 and royalty of $3.493, my ebook would be sold for that $2.99 sale price and I would get a royalty of only $2.093 per copy. They would essentially be forcing their business losses onto me using that technique.
Such a practice could potentially backfire. is working very hard to go beyond just being a distributor of books, but becoming a direct publisher as well. In this, they are trying to woo established authors as well as new authors to give them exclusivity. Piss off the writers, and a distributor/publisher could find itself without any product to sell. If writers think they are going to get screwed, they’ll take their business and product elsewhere.
Sure, the old saw about a monkey given an infinite amount of time could produce the works of Shakespeare may be theoretically possible. Let’s face it, in over four million years, at least one monkey did! With that in mind, I don’t think, Apple, Barnes & Noble or any other publisher or distributor can hang out that long for a good novel to magically appear at random out of the ether. To succeed at selling stories, you need someone with a talent for telling stories to actually create a story that people want to read and buy.
I chose $4.99 as my list price because I felt it was a fair price both to the reader and myself. My book as a paperback would sell for $7.99, the going average. Seventy percent of that is around $5.60. Because the stores want a “.99” to be at the end of the price, I chose to round down to $4.99 rather than up to $5.99 as my price.
If the distributors want to have a price war, that’s fine with me and good for the consumers looking for bargains. But if they are going to have a price war and put the burden on me by cutting the terms to me, then I will be upset. I’ve made my decision to become a writer and I need to make a living as a writer. If I can’t make enough money to survive as such, then I will have to discontinue being a writer and learn new skills. (“Wouldst thou like fries with that, Good Sir?”)
As far as the 30% Apple takes off the top? The DOJ lawsuit stated that Apple’s agency model, where Apple took 30% off the selling price as its commission, was causing publishers to raise their prices in order to make up that 30%.
My response to this is 70% of the gross is a helluva lot better than the 4% of the net I would have gotten going through traditional publishing channels. I set my price at what I thought was fair for the consumer, and I get 70% of that, before taxes. Plus, again my point that once the setup work is done for an ebook file, distribution and production costs practically don’t exist. Each sale is nearly pure profit.
The end result is now everyone will go to the way Amazon was doing things. As I stated above, this will work until the distributors start to play games with the royalty terms.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The legend goes, Ray Bradbury retired to his basement and wrote Fahrenheit 451 in just two weeks. The truth is, he wrote it in nine days in the basement of the UCLA library, where he used a pay typewriter at 10¢ per half-hour. The deeper truth: what he wrote was a short story entitled The Fireman which would later be expanded into novel form and published in 1953, two years after The Fireman was published.
Many years ago, I remember a colleague of mine commenting that the average time it took for a professional writer to produce a new book was about two years. New writers, took two to three times longer because often their writing time was set to leisure time as they had to work for a living.
A good example of how long a book can be in editing before release was when J.K. Rowling was interviewed about her Harry Potter series. In the interview, she told about how she killed off one of the main characters and then cried about it. “I did it. I killed him,” she told her husband. In the very unlikely case you haven’t read the Harry Potter series, I won’t give it away. The death occurs in the last book, number seven, of the series. From when the interview was done until the last book came out was over two years.
The general public seems to be under the impression that the process of writing a book consists of a writer having an idea, furiously typing out the story into a manuscript, then submitting it for publishing and—BOOM!—it’s published. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a crucial step to the writing process. That step is Editing.
The editor’s job is to ensure that the final manuscript is an entertaining read. A marketable product that the public will want to snatch up and eagerly await the next offering. Editing isn’t just fixing spelling and grammatical errors. The editor has to take the rough narrative and and work with the writer to smooth it out and put the polish on it. It might be an awesome story, but the rough version of it might be barely readable.
It is a process of diplomacy, where the editor and writer go back and forth over different sections of the story to get the pieces to fit into a cohesive whole. There might be a rough patch or a section might go off on a tangent and deviate from the plot. A paragraph that might be pure literary genius might not belong at all in the story. The writer may have referenced something that is completely wrong (such as saying “Elvis was a famous soprano.”). The editor marks the problems and sends the notations to the writer, and it is up to the writer to fix it.
This process can take some time. Often longer than it takes to actually write the original manuscript. A couple colleagues of mine submitted their manuscripts to their publishers recently. From now until production begins, those manuscripts will be edited, updated, fixed, reworked, modified and adjusted until the stories read true. Only when the team of editors and writer are satisfied that they’ve honed the narrative into the best possible form will the text actually go to print. It is not a simple process.
Neither book will be seen by the public until next year.
My own book, Nobody, is deep in the editing process. It is at times a frustrating process. Just when I think I’ve nailed a given section, the notes come back to me pointing out the things I messed up. When I think I’m finished, it turns out there is still more to be done. There does come a point where both writer and editor can agree that the narrative is good enough. Nobody is fairly close to this point, but not quite there yet. I’ll know over the next couple of days how the first section has fared in review.
A book can’t just be shoved up onto the internet for sale. Well, a lot of people have done so. Some of them can actually pull it off, many more of them cannot. I have sampled a few books that were just so awful to read it nearly brought tears to my eyes. The blurbs describing these stories were enticing to read! Sadly, that was about the only thing good to read.
One in particular, the blurb reeled me in nicely. I downloaded the sample and began to read and within three or four paragraphs, I began to wish I hadn’t. The writing was terrible. Its grade level was significantly below the junior high school level reading. Punctuation was terrible, there were run on sentences everywhere. Poor capitalization, misspellings—the list goes on. I stopped reading, deleted the ebook from my Nook, never to be attempted again. It’s sad because the premise of the story really intrigued me. I think the author had an excellent story idea. It’s just that the author’s presentation of that story was a complete failure.
At the very least, before unleashing an unedited manuscript on an unsuspecting public, an aspiring author should set aside their writing and let it sit for a short while. Perhaps the individual should read something else for a bit, then return and read their own writing. Often, after letting something I wrote lay around for a while like a pot of fermenting kimshi, upon rereading it I can easily see where I needed to change one thing or another. This is one way of self-editing.
Some people have a talent for it, many more don’t. It is always wiser to bring in another set of eyes to review what you’ve written.
I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel—I just hope it isn’t an approaching train…

Sunday, July 29, 2012

And Then! Disaster Struck–!

For whatever reason, I had to get up. Now, looking back after a week or two, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was that I needed to do, but the end result was and still is quite clear in my memory. I got up, put my computer on the endtable in front of me, turned to walk away and tripped over the ethernet cable.
Yeah, even the USB cable broke!
And heard a heart-stopping crunch behind me.
It wasn’t pretty.
My computer was yanked off the table and landed on its side, crushing both the USB and Ethernet sockets and cables.
The ethernet port is loose, but still works, the USB port is useless. The keyboard was getting worn out to begin with, but the impact seems to have exacerbated the problems I was having with it. Still, it is usable. If worse came to worse, I could always use a bluetooth keyboard.
Everything else seems to be working within usable limits. A good testament about how well a MacBook Pro can survive a nasty drop and keep going—even when it’s worn out from heavy use over the years. Had my MBP not survived the drop, then I simply would have turned to the Mac Mini I use as a house server and used that to continue working.
Aside from the fact that this computer seriously needs to be replaced, it is still usable.
I wasn’t in any kind of panic, though. All my work is stored externally from my laptop. I come from the old days with computing where it wasn’t a question of “if” something would happen to a storage device, but “when”. And what I mean by when, is what time of the day it will happen. So, I learned to back up my data. And not just to one other place, but in several. I even back up my writing onto a USB stick.
Losing all that work is not a concern.
The tool I use to craft that work needs to be replaced. Much sooner than I had intended.
It does have me seriously considering applying for an arts grant to help cover my expenses. I can certainly continue to limp along at this point—heck, I’m writing this, aren’t I? The question is, for how long? I keep finding the issues my computer is having are getting worse, bit by bit. And what are the chances of actually landing a grant? 
The problem is the financial hit this brings forward. I was hoping that if sales of my book grew well enough after the release, that I would get a new computer by the end of the year. That may have to happen sooner than I’m prepared. As long as this computer continues to work to a reasonable degree, I’ll just continue on as I have.
It could have been worse! For now, it's merely an unpleasant inconvenience.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is the 'Em' and Why is It Important?

Way back in time, before the days of modern history, back when man was looking for better ways to write than using a chisel and stone, I bought a typewriter for college. Yeah, most kids when they graduated from  high school wanted a car, video game console, etc., before they head off to college.
I wanted a typewriter.
Not just any typewriter. I wanted the ball-type typewriter. No more entangled typebars! I got an IBM Selectric typewriter. It came with a Prestige Elite 72 font element (the ball) and I bought a Light Italic element. No more backing up and underlining for me! When I needed to cite a title, name a ship, or emphasize a section of text, I could stop typing, swap out the elements, and type the emphasized section and then swap the elements back again.
My use of the Selectric came to an abrupt end when I bought an Apple IIe. Combined with a dot-matrix printer and a special card that double-printed across each line to make the output look like it was typewritten, the computer exceeded what the typewriter was capable.  I even created a file of a bitmapped font that resembled my own handwriting. The special printer card was needed, because professors refused to accept papers that were printed on a dot-matrix printer. 
Kind of ironic when you think how nowadays, many professors want you to email your paper instead of printing it….
What does my old Selectric have to do with the em and web pages, computer screens and ebooks?
The Prestige Elite element I had was a pica font, a pica being a unit composed of 12 points. How long was a point? It was 1/12th of a pica! Yes, it goes around it circles. That was because until the 1980’s there was no actual finite measurement applied to the point. The point became redefined as the Desktop Publishing Point (DPT) and was set at 1/72nd of an inch. Thereafter, 12 points made up a pica, and 6 picas made up an inch.
Apple chose this value to be the pitch (pixel density) of the screen resolution for the Macintosh and as the dot per inch of their Laserwriter printer. The Macintosh and Laserwriter together set off the Desktop Publishing boom in the 1980’s.
More importantly, this screen pitch became the defacto standard for the resolution of images when the world wide web came into being. Because computer screens had a density of 72 pixels per inch (PPI), the maximum resolution you wanted in an image on the internet was 72ppi.
As a result, the point used as measurement in printing was therefore equal in size to the pixel on a screen. Web developers began to equate the two, point = pixel. So a 12pt font was the same as a 12px font, and they began designing web pages based on the pixel.
This proved to be a mistake.
For a while, the standard width for a web page was 800 pixels. This was the average width in pixels for a PC screen, so web developers would build their pages to fit this size. If a page had an image of 250 pixels in width, that left 550 pixels available for text to either side. Even I tended to think of things in terms of pixels.
As time went by, screen resolutions began to increase. Pixel widths of screens increased to 900, then 1100, 1200, 1400, and more. Apple’s computers took on the screen pitch of 110 pixels per inch, and other computer manufacturers followed suit. Suddenly, letters at the size of 12 which looked fine on a 72ppi screen were too tiny for a 110ppi screen.
Now Apple has introduced their “Retina Displays.” The new Retina Display MacBook Pro has a screen density of 220 pixels per inch. An iPhone 4S has a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch.
At those densities, a letter with a font-size set to 12 pixels will be so small as to be unreadable without a good magnifying glass.
Web designers for so long schooled in using pixels as their primary measurement, had to rethink they way they designed web pages. The pixel kept getting smaller and smaller and their web pages continued to shrink. Where once a 800px × 600px page used to fill an entire screen, now it barely fills a quarter of a screen. And on the smaller screens with high pixel densities, as said above, the situation becomes worse.
The problem is both the pixel and the point are both fixed measurements. The em is a relative size, with one em equal to the point size set for the font in use. Why is this important? Because it makes it easier for the designer to layout how the reader, viewer or user will see the work presented.
If you created a web page that you wanted to have a particular layout, you would carefully choose the size of the images and the size of the text to fill the page properly. But if someone loads that page onto a display that has a different size and pitch from what you designed for, and they change the size of the window, all your hard work is going to be distorted.
Why all the focus on web pages?
Because eBooks are actually web pages.
Each chapter in an ePub file is a single HTML file (e.g. A web page). iOS & most Android-based devices use this as their default ebook file type, and the latest file format for Kindle, KF8, is HTML5-based. If you open a chapter from an ePub file in a web browser, it is displayed as one, long page. It is flowing text, not page-restricted text.
An ebook reader takes this flowing text and breaks it up so that it can be displayed one ‘page’ at a time.
Typography is all about making the text pleasantly displayed on the page. Digital books may have thrown this skill for a bit of a spin, but it is still as important now as it has ever been in the publishing of books. If the text of a story doesn’t display in a manner pleasing to the eye or makes it difficult to follow, it is likely that the reader will not want to read it.
Ebook readers and web browsers allow the reader to do something that printed-paper books simply cannot: change the size of the font. 
If you carefully set your paragraph indentations to exactly 1cm so the paragraphs would be excellently delineated from each other, what happens when the reader opens your story and scales the font up to the maximum size? Or the smallest size? Suddenly, your paragraphs are either going to look as though they just run together or they’ll be hugely and grossly indented. It will become tough to follow the narrative of your story because the reader’s eyes will be unable to discern the paragraph separations or will have to jump too far to pick up the beginning of the next paragraph.
I set the indentation of paragraphs in my writing to 2.5em. This way, no matter what font size the reader chooses, the paragraphs will always be proportional in the way I wanted them set. This is because that indentation is relative to the size of the letters, not to the size of the page. If you open this blog post in an iPhone or in an Android-based phone, the paragraphs will have the same relative indentation relative to the text of the narrative as they do in a web browser. By using the em as the measurement for positioning of text elements, regardless of what device is used to view my writing, what the reader sees will be consistent.

An Initial is the first letter in a document, chapter, or paragraph that is larger than the rest of the text. (Wiki explanation here.) An initial will align the base of the letter with the base of other letters in the line, so it stands above them. The first letter in this paragraph is an initial.

A drop cap is an initial that aligns its top with the tops of the other letters and therefore it drops down a couple of lines. The first letter of this paragraph and the first paragraph in this post are both drop caps, and they were defined using this as code:
<p style="text-indent: 0em;"><span style=“font-size: 3em; top-margin: -.2em; letter-spacing: .1em; float: left; color: #bb3333;”>W</span>
Everything you see in the style= “” definition are Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) commands.
The text indentation was canceled for the paragraph (<p>) using 0em. This was to counteract the size of the drop cap and the indent of the paragraph working together to force the text in too far to one side.
Second, the first letter was placed in a <span> tag so the definition of just that letter could be changed to force its size difference from the rest of the letters. I set the size of the font to 3em, which makes that letter three times the size of the other letters.
Third, an assumption about the em is that it is the width of one “M” in the font. This isn’t actually true. There is a small amount of margin around each character in a font, so the em is actually slightly larger than the letter “M”. If the letter is made larger, then those margins are made larger and the letter tends to be pushed away from other letters in a way that looks disproportionate to the reader’s eye. (The typographical term for this spacing is Kerning.) So, I used letter-spacing to reduce this gap so the larger letter would fit more proportionately with the other letters. Additionally, the margin along the top pushed the drop cap down so it didn’t align nicely with the rest of the line. This is why the top-margin was set to a negative number, to negate the enlarged margin above the letter.
Note: Blogger doesn’t use the <p>-tag to define paragraphs. They instead use the divider tag <div>. I find this disagreeable because in my mind, the paragraph is already defined in HTML by the <p> and it is my opinion that the divider should be used for structuring the page, not for replacing the <p>. So if you are looking at the raw code that defines this page, it doesn’t exactly match my example above.
It is important that you be aware of basic HTML and CSS if you want to create your own ebook, because these are at the heart of the ePub file definition. If you don’t get this right, then the formatting of your ebook will be messed up, and people will find it unpleasant to read your ebook. If people find your ebook unpleasant to read, then recommendations will not be forthcoming and sales could dry up.
The formatting in your ebook can literally make or break your career as a writer!
If someone reads my (or your) book on an ereader, and this person has poor eyesight, it is highly likely that this person will select a larger font size to read your text. If your paragraph indentation doesn’t move along with this increase, the reader could have a problem with reading the text of your narrative. Using the em can help you control the formatting of text in your ebook, regardless of what font-size the reader chooses.
Most browsers have the ability to turn off styling on a web page. I recommend you try this and see what happens.
  • In Safari, it is in the Developer menu item (turned on in preferences, under Advanced) or you can click on the “Reader” button in the browser URL window.
  • In Firefox it is under the View menu item.
  • I’m not sure how to switch off CSS-styling using Chrome
Study these differences and consider how important the readability of your book can be to your success as a writer.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Story Behind the Story

It occurs to me that as I am fast approaching the release of Nobody, Aggadeh Chronicles Book One, instead of talking about industry stuff I'm learning, it is time to start actually talking about the story I'm writing. A good place to start, I think, is with the main character and a bit about his world.
Nem Aster was a character I created a very long time ago. I just didn’t know what to do with him. I have a couple characters like this, I just keep them boxed up until I come up with a story that fits them.
Nem Aster started out as Gah’velle Nem. Gah’velle meaning, the thief
The original Nem was a much darker character; or rather, his story was much uglier.
Nem Aster is more of a Benjamin Franklin kind of character, a self-made man. Like Franklin, he starts his early life with a criminal act. Franklin ran out on his apprenticeship, which back then was considered a crime. Nem got into trouble when he made a poor choice. Where Franklin was a runaway, Nem was sentenced to be banished from Aboria for seven years as soon as he came of age.
Nem, in an effort to protect his father’s cattle from an old dragon, offered the dragon an old bull his father had taken in for a friend. Only, the bull was a prize stud hired by Nem’s father to increase the family heard, even though it was getting near the end of his days. Nem took responsibility for his mistake when people blamed the dragon, earning both respect and his sentencing at the same time.
Nem was well prepared for his life away from home when the time came for him to leave Aboria. Despite the circumstances of his departure, Nem was well-liked in his community.
Gah’velle Nem, was not.
Gah’velle Nem was a street rat. A thief. Ultimately, a convicted murderer. Nem Aster was given an education to prepare himself for his eventual banishment, Gah’velle Nem’s education came from trying to survive in the streets. Honing his wit with the effort to stay alive.
This version of Nem is tortured, mutilated, survives being hanged and burned at the stake before he is finally tied to a camel to be dragged out into the desert to finally execute him. Through all this, he survives.
It is single act of kindness to him that inspires him to look beyond the inhumanity he has suffered and try to do the same for someone else. When he realizes he has contracted the plague, he decided he didn’t want his death to be meaningless, and grabs at an opportunity to save someone else even at the cost of bringing about his own demise.
Only, his selfless act was witnessed by the a force that could give him a second chance at life and salvation. And potentially lead him to his doom.
And thus began A Warrior Out of Time, the original story about Nem.
Aggadeh Chronicles draws many of its elements from A Warrior Out of Time. Both Nems are given a sword cut from the claw of a dragon. Both swords can cut through anything and have the nature to disrupt magic for different reasons. Both of them received unusual educations. Both their worlds are being driven to war and chaos by hidden powers manipulating events. And they find themselves in the role of disrupting those plans.
In many ways, they are outcasts in their worlds. They are rejected by those around them, yet they walk the path that all others will follow.
Both Nems have the power to destroy their worlds.
At some point, I will write Warrior… as an alternative universe to Aggadeh Chronicles. A way to show readers where the original idea came from. Maybe tack it onto a collection as a extra or just sell it as a standalone. It is the story behind the story.
As Aggadeh Chronicles begins, Nem Aster is a fairly passive character. Things happen to him and around him, but he is not fully in control of those events. Like a ship driven on the sea by the wind, he can only go with the flow and must yield to the currents. As a sailor on a ship, his actions affect how the ship behaves, but he is not in command of that ship.
When he leaves the sea, Nem begins to become more resistant to the flow of events around him. More assertive in what choices he makes and actions he takes.
When he fulfills the promises he made, only then does he become free to become authoritative in his role.
In the Aggadeh Empire, this independence gets him into trouble with those who feel only they have the right to dictate authority. They need his power but cannot command him. Nem is the new order that they cannot control. To them, Nem represents chaos.
Aggadeh is, in my mind, similar to the Roman Empire if it had never fallen. It has several thousand years of history, but is in stagnation. Aggadeh is technologically at the level our world was in the 18th century.
Many years ago, during a class in Greek history, the professor—a native Grecian himself—made a comment that has stuck with me all my life: “Two thousand years ago, the Greeks had everything they needed to put a man on the moon.” His explanation went on that they understood the mathematics, physics and other sciences needed to pull that off. The scientific curiosity to consider such possibilities. They certainly had the engineering knowhow to design complex designs, including the basics of rocket engines. Hell, they even had computers back then!
So, why didn’t they?
The answer is, necessity is the mother of invention. The Ancient Greeks did not have necessity, therefore, they didn’t invent.
They didn’t have the necessity, because they had slaves to do all the grunt work. There was no need to invent some tool that would make the work easier. Therefore, any technological advances were reduced to being used for parlor tricks and curiosities.
The Romans took engineering to a whole new level in the ancient world, but like the Greeks, they didn’t go much farther. Romans built incredible water and sewerage projects that were so well built, many of the components are still standing today, and many are still functional after thousands of years. Those waterworks were developed and built because there was necessity.
Yet, the Romans never built combustion or steam engines. They had slaves that could provide the muscle work to power cranes and other machines needed for construction.
Even the United States of America was nothing more than an agrarian society until slavery was abolished. Only then, did the industrial revolution catch up with the U.S. and turn it into an industrial  and world power.
In the world of Aggadeh, they have magic to do the grunt work. As a result, there was no need to turn to technology or even slavery. Slavery only exists where magic is not used, such as on the continent of Arabon.
But magic is this world has a price. The energy to run a spell, or curse, or any other magic, is life force. A connection called a ‘lease’ must be created between the spell and the source of energy for the spell. The quickest and most potent way to cast a spell is to power it with oneself. But do this too many times, and one can drain one’s life away. A mage who casts magic  around indiscriminately could potentially kill his- or herself. A spell doesn’t have to activate immediately, but create too many delayed spells or curses, if they are activated too suddenly, the caster could drop dead when his life is drained away.
After casting a spell, it takes time to recharge and be at top energy again. Like athletes who can run quickly in short bursts or long distances with great endurance, some people have deeper wells to draw from and/or some who can regain their energy faster. Pretty much anyone can use magic, but it requires a certain level of education to use effectively and safely. Those who have deep reserves of energy and can recover the most quickly are understandably the most powerful.
There are ways to get around this limitation of energy. A mage can create a connection called a ‘lease’ between the spell and another living being as source of energy. This could be another person, an animal, or a plant. An animal can often supply a strong burst of energy to run a complicated spell, but depending on the size of the animal, they often don’t have much of a well to draw on. An angry mage could lease a curse to the cattle of a farmer and place a curse on the farmer; leaving the farmer with the choice to either endure the curse, or kill off his cattle to end the curse. Plants, especially old trees, often have very deep wells, but the energy can only be drawn off at a lower rate. So, simple spells can be leased to a tree, but these spells can run for a long time. Often, villages have a grove of well-tended and large trees in the town green for use with defensive spells to hold off attackers for long periods.
This means there are limits to the use of magic.Therefore, it was necessary to develop a certain level of technology to perform those tasks not worth draining away the energy of one’s life. The balance reached in the world of Aggadeh is a pre-industrial level of technology.
There are other ways that a spell can be powered: One way is to create a contract with a non-corporeal being from another plain of existence to act as a power source for a spell for a limited period of time. Because such beings are connected to the universe in a far deeper manner, the power they can supply is almost limitless. But they will only agree to such a contract if there is a limit on the time it lasts and there is some sort of compensation for their sacrifice. Demons are more than happy to oblige, but only for short periods of time, and their compensatory demand is usually quite dear.
A second way to power a spell is with a power stone. Such stones are incredibly rare. They are crystals, usually gemstones of the utmost purity, that have been imbued with energy from the very basis of the universe itself, at a much deeper level than the life force normally used for spells. Often such stones are embedded into magical tools—such as a wand or staff—with a spell attached that can be used for specific purposes. A power stone can be as large as the largest gem stone, or as small as a grain of sand.
There are only two sources of a power stone.
While anyone can learn to use magic, only the most accomplished at the unnatural arts are labeled as mages, witches, or wizards. But there is a fourth class of magic user: the sorcerer. A sorcerer is considered the physicist of the magic users; delving into the very source of the universe’s power directly. Most sorcerers have a natural talent for manipulating magic right down to the most precise minutiae. Nearly all successful sorcerers are those who were born prodigies at using magic. Sorcery, or elementalism, is incredibly dangerous, because if the flow of power isn’t controlled properly, it will rapidly go out of control, killing the practitioner—and everyone in the surrounding countryside—in a spectacular explosion.
The majority of those who make an attempt at sorcery usually don’t survive very long. Nor do their neighbors and fellow townspeople. Practicing of sorcery near populated areas is greatly frowned upon. In any given century, there may be fewer than two or three successful sorcerers.
But for those who succeed, there is great demand for their talents. For only a sorcerer can create a power stone, by forcing the energy of the universe into the crystal structure of the stone. But, the stone must be attuned to the type of magic that it will be used to power.
The second source of power stones are dragons. Creatures of energy whose very habitat is the flow of the universe, who can make themselves corporeal and therefore manipulate power into the stones. A dragon can push the most pure of power even into the lowest purity of crystalline stones. A power stone created by a dragon is so pure and harmonious that its power can be used for any magical purpose. Possessing a power stone created by a dragon could lend its wielder enough power to become the next emperor.
There are only three known power stones created by dragons. Dragons don’t interact with people, except under extraordinary circumstances. The Aggadeh Empire was founded when the first emperor managed to steal a power stone from a dragon and used it to crush his enemies. The Holy Empire of Caltha has two such power stones in its possession. While much smaller than the Aggadeh Empire, Caltha manages to maintain a détente with Aggadeh on the merit of these two stones. Each of the emperors keeps his power stone in an imperial staff. After thousands of years, each of these stones in nearly out of power. The third is embedded in the tiara of the Great Lady Oracle and is actually powerless at this time; many erroneously believe that the Oracle’s power comes from the stone in her tiara.
People who are uneducated usually cannot use magic. They are often driven out by bullying and other social pressures and tend to settle in the outlying lands of the empire.
Nem hails from the land of Aboria.
Aboria is only marginally marked on imperial maps. Separated from the Aggadeh Empire by the Abor mountains and only accessible via sea to the east or through volcanic regions to the west, Aboria is fairly isolated. Add to that, Aboria has a large population density of dragons. Imperial maps usually have Aboria marked as, “Here, there be dragons.”
Aboria was settled a few centuries ago by those disenfranchised from the empire because they couldn’t use magic. Because magic users are generally dangerous to dragons, the fact these people could not use magic led to the dragons tolerating their presence. The Aborians learned to work with their hands and tools in the place of magic and became great artisans and craftsmen. Their society became one based on egalitarianism, where individuals proved their worth by their efforts. They believe strongly in education, so that skills and knowledge are properly passed on to each generation. Technologically, the Aborians are probably a century ahead of the rest of the world.
The Aborian respect for education brought them to be viewed in a more positive light by the dragons that lived in this region. While still very rare, there is more interaction between humans and dragons in Aboria than anywhere else in the world. In Aboria, there are a number of family lines scattered about the land where there are individuals who are born with the rare ability to understand dragons. If a dragon needs to interact with humans for some reason, they will seek out these people.
Most of the top luxury products purchased by the nobility of the empires, are manufactured in Aboria. Many merchant seamen strive to obfuscate the source of these luxuries through complex trade routes and practices. Many of these merchants retire as very wealthy people in Aboria.
Many Aborians would also prefer to not draw imperial attention, and therefore tend to have isolationist tendencies.
This is the world in which Nem Aster lives.
Aggadeh Chronicles simply proved to be a more interesting story than A Warrior Out of Time. But, I would still like to tackle Warrior… at some future period. As I said above, it might make a nice addition to a special edition collection when I am done with Aggadeh Chronicles. The reader will have to understand that A Warrior Out of Time is not a rehashing of the Aggadeh Chronicles. Rather, Aggadeh Chronicles is an expanded retelling of A Warrior Out of Time.