Saturday, August 31, 2013

…Now What?

At long last, Nobody is available for purchase!
Amazon came online fairly quickly. Barnes & Noble was up the next afternoon. Kobo came up fairly quickly, but they assigned the wrong ISBN number to it; I had to take it off sale and resubmit it to get the correct ISBN number to show. Apple’s iBookstore– Well, Apple is Apple. It can take up to two weeks, it seems, for Apple to finish processing a submitted book. It will get there eventually…
I’m confident Nobody will do well. People who I know have said it is good and people who I don’t know have said it’s good. Looking at that, I’m pretty confident then that most people will like it.
I did introduce one error during the construction of the ebook. This resulted in the first section marker in Chapter 1 not being centered. Then readers discovered some errors that got past the editors.
Big face palm for those. An update has already been pushed up to the distributors (except Apple). One more update will be sent up as soon as Apple clears Nobody on the iBookstore.
So, now what?
First off, I have to start promoting. A colleague of mine understood strongly the value of advertising. In his office, he had a cartoon on the wall that said, “A man who doesn’t advertise is like a man who is winking in the dark. He knows what he’s doing, but nobody else does.” Apt words.
I’ve started pushing on Facebook. Probably the easiest place to start. I only hope my friends forgive me for sounding like a broken record for the next couple of weeks: “Buy my book! Buy my book!”
The trick to succeeding with Facebook is to have your friends share the entry, not just “like” it. Sharing has much more impact than liking, and it actually posts the link on your timeline so your friends can actually see it. If you just like it, it goes into the recent activity list for a few minutes and is gone. If your friends didn’t see it within those few minutes, they’ll never see it. Your effort goes to waste. But when you share, it lingers for a long time. When your friends see you say, “Hey! I know this guy! Give his book a try!” or “I read this and it was really good!,” that carries a lot of impact with people and has much more effect.
Then there are the more traditional ways.
I have a friend who is managing editor at a local paper. I figure once I have a good count of sales and the book is moving, I can ask if he’d like a local interest piece on yet another local author. (We’ve had a lot of them lately!) The same for the local morning radio station. Then strive for regional contacts to get the word spread out of the local area.
Of course, blog about it.
The important thing isn’t just for me to spread the word, but to get others to do it, too. Just as many hands make light work, many voices broadcast the message farther. Word of mouth is the best advertising for anything, but is also the slowest.
I’ll be a guest on a local radio station, talking about my book and the writing process. Maybe a few other things, too, about self publishing.
Then I need to tap some friends of mine still in the journalism business to see if they are interested in a local interest story about me publishing Nobody.
There are other things I’d like to do as well.
‘Meet the Author’ events. I can talk to people about my story and about writing in general. I’ve gotten a lot of requests for autographed copies. It’s rather difficult to sign one’s autograph on a computer file. So, I figured I’d print up a few hundred “covers” of Nobody on heavy card stock and use those to sign autographs for people who have bought the ebook.
Actual physical books of Nobody will have to wait for a while. It’s pretty expensive to print books so it’ll have to wait until I have the money to do it. I am seriously considering a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the printing. Serious enough, I already spoke to a shipping company about the estimated cost for a mass shipping, should I move forward with the program. The last step is to talk directly with an offset printer to find out what my costs will truly be and what I must do to prepare the narrative for the printing process. I may be a neophyte on the matter, but I do have a pretty good idea of what I need to do. Once I have all that, it is merely a matter of watching the sales numbers to see if I sell enough copies so I can afford to move forward with the printing program.
I’ve begun work on the next book, Dragon (working title). Assembling my notes and thinking of various scenes I’d like to see in the story. Preparing character outlines and clarifying the maps, goals, rules, etc. In Dragon, the story becomes more complex. Where Nobody was fairly black and white, now there will be situations and characters that fall into grey areas in the middle. It’s one thing to create a character like Lowe who is evil scum. It is a lot harder to create a villain with whom the reader can sympathize to some degree. Then there are those characters who might not be villains, but  aren’t exactly allies, and those whose motivations aren’t quite out in the open.

My goal is to have Dragon released next year. Time to place your bets, everyone! ;-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

So Far, So Good…

I’m very happy to report that since the release of the book on Monday, in the past three days I’ve sold several times more books than the short story sold in the same time period. Admittedly, in raw numbers it isn’t all that many right now, but I think I can take it as a good sign of things to come.
When I pushed The Pirate Arc out back in November, I think it was ranked around 115,000 on the Amazon Bestsellers list. Nobody debuted around 9,000!
There were still some errors in the narrative, a few things that got through. Corrections are already being made and have been pushed up to the servers. So, if you think you found something, just sync your ebook reader to your account and the refresh should come down. If the mistake you found is still there, send me an email (showing chapter number it appears in and copy the text of the error) so I can fix it. That’s one of the nice things about ebooks: mistakes can be fixed. (You can send me an email via my web site.)
I’ve already pushed one update up to cover some issues. I’ll be pushing up a second today. And if anything else shows up, a third before the weekend.
It’s amazing the silly things that got through! Most errors (six so far) were dropped or disarranged words. One error was actually right underneath one of the earlier edits, and as such had been overlooked. None of the editors, nor myself, caught these. It’s a case of the same tired eyes looking at the same text too many times. Errors were caught be readers with fresh eyes.
I’ve only myself to blame on this. Two of the errors were of the sort that I had to slap my forehead and exclaim, “How the hell did I miss THAT?
So, keep those coming! These are things I would have preferred to have caught before the release. But at least this guarantees a better product for people who will buy the book in the future, as well as those who have already bought it.
Of course, for those people who care about such things, you might want to store the original file elsewhere so it doesn’t get overwritten if you want to keep it as a collector’s item. (First edition, with all the errors!) Truth is, that is how first editions of collectable books are identified: by the errors in them that were replaced in subsequent editions.
What didn’t make it into the book?
A number of things, actually.
Originally, the story began with Nem’s childhood. I decided to remove that, because it had too much the feel of a boy’s adventure tale and would have set the wrong tone for the series. Aggadeh Chronicles is no children’s series.
Second, is the little dreamer, Ophelia, whose dreams replaced the story of Nem’s childhood. Ophelia has a much greater role in the story besides dreaming. But we don’t get to meet her until Nem gets to meet her.
Third, the Great Lady Oracle. Said to be the most beautiful woman in the world and the most powerful. Yet, for all her power, she has little control over her life. She is the living goddess, the head of an Empire and cannot command it. Her desire to free herself of the constraints on her life has significant repercussions for the rest of the world—and for Nem. I was going to show a little more of her life, but decided against it as it created too much jumping around in the story.
Then was Nem’s life in the islands of the Southern Archipelago and the days leading up to the attack on Gulahg when they were encamped in a hidden fjord while Nem created the crystals that would sink the pirate ships. Problem was, I found the section of him creating the crystals to be too mechanical. Sure, it involved the sinking of a ship when a crystal was dropped, but overall it just wasn’t that interesting a chapter. And Nem’s life in the islands was tangential. It didn’t really move the story along, so I dropped it from the narrative. Relative to this, was how Nem came to be on the Island Dancer. A storm damaged the ship he served as navigator and the navigator of the Island Dancer was injured in the same storm. Essentially, the captains of the ships traded navigators as the most efficient means of completing business for the two vessels. The editing process trimmed this part back to merely a thought and comment on Jess Gowan’s behalf.
The big question? What is Nem’s backstory?!
I get asked that a lot. Mum's the word.
You get to know and discover Nem as the other characters in the story learn about him.

He is, after all, just a nobody…

Monday, August 19, 2013

So You Wanna Write?

Artist Noah Bradley recently posted his opinion on going to art school. I found what he had to say really struck a chord with me. In that vein, what would my recommendation be for anyone wanting to learn to write? My recommendations are thus:

  1. Read.
  2. Write.
  3. Take some courses.


When you read, you see how the words are laid out by the team of the writer, the editor, and the typographer. Find books that are your favorite and read them.
Then, look at them!
How are they laid out? How does the artist structure his words and sentences? How does the punctuation work? When you are reading, you unconsciously see these things. They guide your eyes and mind to follow the words. They help lay out the rhythm and emotions behind the words.
You should try to look at them consciously as well. Find a particular part in a book that you really enjoyed and instead of reading that passage, look at it. Look at the words and punctuation and see how they are used and interact. I would suggest you copy this post into a word processing document, delete all the periods, and then try to read it. The document becomes unreadable. Remove all the commas and you won’t know where to breathe while reading it.
The old phrase, “Monkey see, monkey do,” is very apt here. The books you read do have an influence on your writing. I write better if I have read something just before I start writing. The proof of this is there are fewer errors reported back to me when I write a chapter after reading a favorite book.
I will often pull out a book and find a section to see how the author presented a scene or idea that might be similar to one I’m writing. Just as a programmer keeps a reference book on hand when writing code, a writer should keep a few books on hand for comparison of style. Keeping old favorites on hand means you will have a better idea of where to find a particular passage for reference.
By the same token, I avoid reading certain books when I’m writing. Especially if they are similar in theme to the story I’m writing. The last thing I want to have happen is I unconsciously copy something from Title A into my own work. It happened once in high school. I wrote a story for creative writing, and my teacher gave it a glance, looked up at me, and said, “Ah, you were watching Star Wars recently, weren’t you?”
It turned out one of the place names I created was a slight modification from the name of a character who appeared in Star Wars. I was absolutely dumbfounded that I could have done that—not to mention utterly humiliated. To this day, I still feel embarrassed when I think about it.
This is why you should always have a friend or relative read what you wrote before bringing it out to the public. If that person is well read in the genre you are writing, hopefully they will catch any such gaffs. If anyone catches something like that in my writing, I assure you I will lay it on cement, pull out my favorite flame thrower—set to 451°F—and reduce said writing to ashes.


If you have an idea for a story, sit down and quickly write out a description of it. Do it before you forget about it. Often a good idea for a story just might be one scene or one vision. Even though it is really intense when you first think about it, such ideas are ephemeral and can fade greatly in just a few hours. If you choose to sleep on it, it might be gone when you wake the next morning.
The idea for Aggadeh Chronicles began as a vision I imagined where a young man was sadly looking after his comrades running for safety, and then turned, drawing his sword to face alone what was threatening them. The image was so intense, I immediately began writing out the scene so I wouldn’t lose it. I wrote nearly non-stop for three days, producing over 15,000 words of notes about his story, the people he meets, and the world he lives in. A few months later, I had amassed nearly 90,000 words of notes describing character back stories, histories of various locations, and rules that the world followed. There were also scenes that would appear in the stories, interactions between characters and a few other things. All this, as well as a general description of how the story would run.
As long as you’ve written something down about your story idea, it will live. Even if you set it aside, when the time is right to pick it up again the notes will help you get restarted.
The more you write, the faster you will be able to write, the more you will be able to write. Writing is a physical act as much as mental, and you need to exercise your hands to hone up your ability to type. This is no different than an athlete training to improve on skills and condition. (Well, perhaps a little less aerobic…) Your hands have to be able to keep up with the thoughts your mind creates.
At the same time, you have to learn to pace yourself. Screaming along at a furious pace might get a lot of typing done in a short period of time, but if you don’t pause to think once in a while, your narrative may meander or come out as gibberish.
The most obvious reason to write? If you don’t write, you won’t have written anything. So much for those story ideas. It may seem like a stupid thing to say, but how many people do you know make the comment that they’d like to write a book someday? How many of them make that comment more than once? Anyone who says that two or more times wants to write a book, but they are waiting for an excuse or for someone to prod them along.
Well? Write! Sit down and start pumping out ideas.

Take Courses.

Going back to Mr. Bradley’s original point about whether or not to attend art school. I would say, there is enough argument on both sides of the issue.
Could I have started a writing career if I had not attended college?
The answer is yes, I probably could have. The talent to write is just something I have. The ability to create stories appears to be something I was born with. Unfortunately, I did not recognize that I could actually do it.
I wrote a lot of creative stories in college. By hand, jotted down in notebooks when I should have been taking notes. At some point when I have free time, I’ll break out those notebooks and transcribe those writings into digital format. There was some good stuff in those writings.
But that writing I did also showed I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to take it to that next level; to actually create a manuscript for submission. Every time I would work myself up to the point to consider it, I would get reminded of how often writers were rejected. All that time invested only to be turned down. I chose to focus my efforts on getting jobs so I could make a living. I figured that I would get to writing seriously, once I had enough money that I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills. (Stop snickering!)
I would chew the ears off friends for hours telling them about one story idea or another. 
What finally got me to writing—other than being out of work and completely steamrolled by the recession—was the decision to do it. To organize myself as a writer and move forward. To take my story ideas beyond the stream of consciousness description and actually make a story out of them.
But there are some things that I could do better. Manage myself better. Organize my thoughts better. And the way to do that is to learn.
For anyone, I would recommend a course in grammar and punctuation. (One look at the tears of blood streaming from my editors eyes should be enough to convince anyone of that!) Sure, dialogue should be in the vernacular, but the rest of the writing should not—unless it is a first person narrative. Even if you are confident in your skills as a writer, a course in basic grammar serves as an excellent refresher to help you stop any bad habits before they become an issue. My bad habit? I write the way I speak. I punctuate changes of voice inflection or pauses to breathe. This might work if you’ve ever heard me speak, but to the average reader it would be incredibly irritating because my punctuation style interferes with the inner voice.
It is vitally important to know how to properly structure your paragraphs and sentences. Readers do notice when this is sloppy!
Also, the fewer errors you make, the faster editing goes. That means the story gets out to the market faster and readers are much happier.
I took one course in creative writing in college. I confess, I didn’t get much out of it as far as improving the technical parts of writing. But I did get the first, real professional critique of my writing out of that course. I’m happy to say, it was very positive. He did point out a few weak areas for me to correct.
In this case, I have to echo Mr. Bradley and say I’m not sure how much value there is in teaching creative writing. I think a creative writing course should be more of a coaching program. At the same time, I think my opinion is weak and easy to argue against. Part of a creative writing program is to teach someone how to think of different ways of expressing something. Similar to the Zen Koan, ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?,’ you have to learn how to think and perceive in different ways.
I think a vital course for creative writing is the more technical side of writing: organizing and creating the manuscript.
Most creative types just want to sit down and write the story. What happens when you do that? The story tends to meander around and shoot off into tangents that get away from the main plot line. This is why I tell people to sit down and write out a stream-of-consciousness description of the story. This is the version that no one other than the author should ever see. Once it is done, you sit down and read through it. Start breaking it up into small pieces. Each piece will become a chapter.
This way, you can create an outline of your story. Each piece describes something that happens in the story, and you have to write a chapter that covers that happening. The outline becomes the skeleton of your story. It will force you to stay within the proper guidelines of your story. By keeping your story framed around this skeleton, you will avoid those meanders and tangents that could make a story tedious. Also, it will guide you to actually ending the story.
You really do need to be more organized and professional in how you write a story if you want it to become something that could be submitted for publication. It is entirely possible to have a great story idea, but for the story to be completely unreadable because the writing is so bad or disorganized.
I think the most important course that should be offered for wannabe writers is a course about the business of writing! It is vital you should understand just how the book publishing business works. Even if you are going to self-publish, you should be aware of how it works. You should know about what to look for in a printer if you want to print up your books, and know about how much it is going to cost. You should understand what an advance is and how it works, when royalty payments should be made. You should understand this well so you can recognize when something is going wrong and when you should consider ending your working relationship with a publisher. So you can recognize a good deal vs. a bad deal in a contract, or when a contract is lopsided. You could be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous agency if you don’t recognize it. That could cost you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Another thing that could be in this course is about the tools of writing. How a manuscript is prepared for printing. How you prepare a manuscript for creating an e-book—I have five days until the launch of Nobody, and I’m still struggling to make Adobe InDesign work! 
I would also strongly recommend a business course geared for writers. How to set up a S-corporation and why. What can you claim as a business expense and what you have to do when it is time to file your taxes. Basic accounting so you can keep on top of your expenses. Why investing and how to do it should be an important part of your writing business. Writing is as much a business as it is an art form. If you want to make money by selling a book, you should accept that you have to treat it as a business. Writing is art, selling a book is business. If you don’t know what you are doing, you are going to have problems that will cost you over the long term.


Getting a B.A. in English does not make you a writer. It does not guarantee future success as an author. Heck, there are a lot of people with degrees in technical fields who have gone on to successful writing careers. College is the last free lunch you’ll get before the reality of life hits you in the face with a blunt instrument. The one time you can live like an adult and still act like a child. Use that free time to enrich your mind.
It isn’t just courses that prepare you to become a writer. Expand your horizons. Explore art galleries presenting work by your fellow students; see if you can’t figure out what they were thinking when they created it. Go see plays and shows on campus. Attend a meeting of a political/religious/social group you strongly disagree with and listen to what they have to say sympathetically and without judgement; try to understand why they think the way they do. Go out and party with your friends; learn how much you need to drink to get a warm buzz without getting drunk. Get laid; find someone who would be interested in finding out if the Kama Sutra is really all it’s purported to be. Go camping and learn to cook over an open fire; there’s nothing like chilling out in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no technology or distractions for a night or two. Check out the reading lists of various literature courses and actually read the crap; they are great sources of inspiration for a new story and you might find something you really enjoy.
Get a life. Learn to live. Write about it. (If you include your sexual exploits, I recommend heavy encryption….)

And now, back to work. I’ve got five days….

Monday, August 5, 2013

Death of an Email Address

A long time ago, in another lifetime, I worked in the rapid prototyping industry. Where many science fiction fans only dreamed of the day they could walk up to a computer and say, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” I could do it for real. Only, it took hours to generate the tea cup, and the moment any hot water hit it, it would melt from the heat. But the process worked.
I was proud of the work I did. For a while I was one of the few people in the world who could take someone’s engineering drawings, create a 3-D model in a computer and have it generated into an object hours later. The downturn in the economy that got me into the field also left many engineers out of work who turned to doing the same kind of work. I have to admit, I was somewhat outclassed out of work. My last claim to fame was I had a knack for creating stable models that could be tessellated for stereo lithography work where others could not.
I created one of the first commercial web sites on the new [then] World Wide Web. With it, I created my first personal email address. It was mine! Not something that was handed out or assigned.
While involved in this field, I was a participant on the Rapid Prototyping Mailing List (RPML). The mailing list was highly active and ideas and networks spread far and wide.
Stupidly, people didn’t heed the warning about protecting their computers with anti-virus software. The RPML gained the ignominy of being at the top of the list for the spread of junk email and email-spawned worms and viruses. Junk emailers (aka “spammers”) discovered the list and began using it to pump junk email far and wide.
The junk took over and the RPML succumbed to it like the victim of a virulent cancer.
More important to the junk emailers wasn’t so much the delivery of garbage, but the harvesting of active email addresses. Did you ever get one of those emails forwarded from a friend saying, ‘Oh my God! Pass this on to ten people and you’ll get a winning lottery ticket!’? At the head of this email being forwarded were hundreds—if not thousands—of email addresses. Obviously your friend didn’t send it. Ever wonder who creates these things?
The people who create these emails are the very same vermin who run junk email businesses. They use them to harvest email addresses. They know thousands of well-meaning people will forward a heart-rending email about helping “Ailing Annie” collect a thousand stuffed animals before she dies from [insert horrible disease here] to many of their friends. As time goes by, the email will eventually make the rounds and get sent to the malfeasant who created it, and he now has thousands of email addresses collected to which he can send more important emails about deals on V•1•a•G•r•4 and potentially lucrative monetary transactions from Nigeria.
Once your email is on one of these lists, it will never, ever, escape. Even if one junk emailer is murdered by one of his colleagues, the list will pass to someone else and through that individual to others. Ad infinitum.
Still, I held onto the email address and I’ve continued to use it for years. Almost 18 years, in fact.
It was always getting flooded with junk email on a daily basis. The record, set back in 2000, was 7823 junk emails in one day. That whole week was nuts.
There was always an ebb and flow to junk email. It would reach annoying peaks and then back off for a while. Like the smell from a leaking sewage pipe, it just never went away. In recent years, I began to debate whether or not it was worth keeping that address active.
Last year, I received an email threatening that they would put my email on the junk email lists unless I paid them a sum of money. Written in very bad English, might I add. I actually laughed out loud. The stupid dip shits should have considered the fact that the email address in question was already on all the junk email lists. I ignored it. Nothing ever came of it.
Recently, an uptick in junk email got me thinking about retiring the address again. I admit, it was a fairly clever campaign. The flow started with just a few emails here and there, and slowly increased over time. It reached a point where I realized I was receiving an average of 30 junk emails an hour. The junk email filters were handling the vast majority of it, but there were enough getting through that it was starting to be annoying.
I came to the conclusion that it was time to retire that address. I unplugged the accounts from the email server.

For the first time in nearly 18 years, my email has been quiet for an entire evening.