Friday, December 26, 2014


My novella Hawks & Rams will be available starting the 31st from Dreamspinner Press (their pageAmazon) and I will be having a posting party at their blog on January 1st. Once I wake up from the New Year's Eve celebrations, of course. I will also be chatting on their FB page on the 4th.

I will be posting the map and character index for H&R over at my book blog.

If you're on my mailing list, look for an announcement about Disciple, Part VI's release date. :)

I've been keeping my head down and writing all month. After what a bad year for writing it has been, it seemed risky to divide my focus... though if you've been following my daily word count at Twitter or watching my sidebar here at the blog you can see the progress starting to pile up. I hit 35k on my WIP the other day and it felt good.

Keep writing, friends. Slow and steady can win the race.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Becoming a crossover author

Back in May, my novella Hawks & Rams was accepted for publication at Dreamspinner Press. Up to now, I've been a self-publisher so naturally I wondered how different the process would be with a publisher.

My novella is coming out December 31st (check it out!)... And here's the story so far:

The process was strikingly similar to going through multiple rounds of beta feedback. To be honest, I was expecting more conversation and some sort of comment on the changes I made, the new bits that I wrote. In general I agree with "no news is good news" but the process did leave me a bit uncertain about the final story. 

I had to explain my story to the blurb department and they wrote based on that. Guess I should have known they weren't going to actually read it? Either way, they sent it to me for feedback and it was pretty good.

I had to explain my story to the cover artist. This, I can understand more why they might not read the book. I gave a couple rounds of feedback and I'm happy with the result. 

Strangest thing
I realized this a couple weeks ago and double-checked my correspondence with Dreamspinner... Aside from some generic compliments they gave me, I have no idea why they wanted to publish Hawks & Rams. I assume somebody enjoyed the story, liked the characters, found the sex steamy or something, but I have no direct evidence of that. 

I suppose I could ask, of course, but that seems odd as well. 

So overall, working with a small press publisher been similar to self publishing but I haven't had to pay anybody. There's the release and promotions yet to come, though. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Real world sales numbers, part 3

It's been six months again, so let's update how self-publishing sales numbers look for people who aren't hugely successful. (May's update here)

Click to enlarge
  • Definitions: "units sold" includes both ebooks and paperbacks, across all sales channels (except Storybundle), for a given month. The graph starts at October 2012, when I released Disciple, Part I. Since Oct. '12, I have sold about 245 books in total. (Damn, it's been two years already!)
  • The spike in sales of Part II and Part III was a result of briefly getting Amazon to give Part I away for free and buying an ad promotion. Part I has been free for several months now, which is why it isn't registering sales anymore.
  • The Half-Omnibus is not free but it hasn't been selling either, which is disappointing. The only overhead that went into it was its ISBN, but it hasn't even paid for that.
  • Yeah, this October I had no sales. Ouch, it's been a while since I got a flat zero. 
As you can see, my graph is getting more and more complicated as I add more volumes. It's turning into a tangle of lines bouncing around, and it's getting hard to see the general trend. So here is a simpler graph: 

This is all my sales, by month, with an added linear regression so that I can see there is, in fact, a mild upward trend. Which is nice.

Am I making a living? Not yet. I have paid for all of the production costs (about $1500 per book) through a combination of Kickstarter campaigns (for two books), sales through regular channels, and my graphic design freelance work. So far, my business income has covered my business expenses. I'm grateful for that because I live on a snug budget, but no, it isn't putting money in my pocket yet.

To ask the same question as last time: am I thrilled? Well... it's still encouraging. I'll admit that I'm starting to feel the wear after six volumes. The Disciple series is almost finished. Then I'll be facing the question of: what to publish next? I've got other books in the hopper -- are they ready? This also hasn't been a productive year for me, so will I run short at some point?

Look for my next sales update in May, when there will be a new factor in play: Dreamspinner Press is publishing a novella of mine in December. What will those sales look like? Will there be any carryover to Disciple? Stay tuned...

Monday, October 20, 2014

What the universe gives you, part 2

I've been to Shangri-la and I need to go back.

Sometimes people ask writers/artists "where do you get your ideas?" In my opinion, if you can't see the constant blizzard of ideas around you then you aren't cut out for art. But some places are more conducive to ideas than others, to be honest. It would be easy to say that Bhutan is an interesting place because it's beautiful. It's more complicated than that, though.

I had no explanation at first as to why I got choked up in the airplane and shed tears as we flew out of Paro. The beds were miserably hard, I went to every meal ravenously hungry, and it was easily the most physically draining vacation of my life. I should've been eager to leave.


Well, for the moment I will just post some photos for their visual inspirational value. Why this trip was important to me has a lot of factors, of course, several of which are more personal that I want to get into on this blog. I'll try to talk a little about the people and the culture in a later post.

Lots of clouds? Yes. The average day in Bhutan is "partly cloudy with scattered afternoon showers and rainbows." Yes, rainbows are pretty much a daily sight in Bhutan; it makes the place even more magical.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What the universe gives you, part 1

I like to say that the universe will give you what you need for your art. By which I mean, look at what the universe has brought you and say: this is what I need for my art. The challenge is to figure out how it fits in.

I went on my trip to Bhutan and Nepal looking for these things. Needless to say, ideas and inspiration came in a blizzard.

Bhutan is so beautiful that it defies reality simply by existing. More on that later.

Kathmandu, Nepal, isn't the idyllic little town it used to be, though. Nepal suffered a long civil war in the 90s/00s, and thousands of refugees piled into the city. It feels a lot like an Indian city now: over-crowded, smelling of rotten trash, beggars on every corner.

I saw some things that I thought might be of interest to my fellow writers, though. Let me be the universe that's giving you what you need, for a moment. Take a look at the cremation platforms on the banks of the Bagmati River.

Hindus cremate their dead, usually within a few hours of death. They believe that this frees the soul to re-enter the reincarnation cycle, so it's important to them.

The body's wrapped in a shroud, carried around the pyre three times clockwise by the bearers, and laid down. River water is poured in the mouth. I'm sure that various prayers are said -- I was across the river, so I couldn't hear.

Our tour guide said that no death certificate is issued, but they do keep track. Suspicious deaths get a full investigation before the body is cremated.

The smell? Mostly charcoal, because it takes a lot of wood to burn a body. There's a slight hint of meat, but it's far less than at your average barbecue.

Only those of the untouchable caste can oversee cremations. Castes are built into the Hindu world-view and touch every aspect of life -- the platforms in these photos were for ordinary people. There were platforms for higher caste folks just upriver.

When the pyre has burned down, the platform is cleared straight into the river. 

Our tour guide said that when he was a boy, this river was crystal clear. It's only since the population explosion that it's become filthy. Dumping cremated remains didn't have much impact on the water quality.

On a different note, I also saw bowls made from teak leaves for sale in a local market. They're held together by little bamboo pins, so they are 100% biodegradable and renewable.

Pretty clever, I think.

Seen anything unusual lately?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Surprise cover reveal!

Hawks & Rams
Heathric never wanted to be a thief, but his cousin’s scheme was the only option left. Crossing into the neighboring kingdom, stealing sheep, and getting away with it once — that was luck. The second time, trouble follows them home; the local Ranger squad won’t let thieves terrorize their people, and the Rangers cross the border in pursuit. 

Heathric still aches from losing his only boyfriend. One of the Rangers has all but given up on finding a lover who truly wants him. Opposite sides of cross-border banditry is a rough way to meet that perfect match.

2014's been an odd year 
The above is the query letter I sent along with the Hawks & Rams manuscript. Apparently it was good enough to get the editor at Dreamspinner to keep reading.

Hawks & Rams will be my first release with a publisher -- it's due out early in 2015. And the cover art is great! H&R is a fantasy m/m romance with plenty of action and tension. There's some steaminess too, but it's not the focus.

Going through the publishing process with a small press, after having done it myself so many times, has been interesting. I'll try to blog about it after I get home from my trip.

What trip? The trip of a lifetime: two weeks in Bhutan and Nepal as companion to my parents. I've been looking forward to this for months, of course, and now it's functioning as a dividing line in my year. Things will need to be different after I get back.

It's been a tumultuous summer for me. It's also been a more difficult writing year than I expected -- as you can see in my writing progress sidebar, my productivity is in the toilet. My writing discipline has slipped and I need to get my focus back.

For now, the good side of the story: Disciple, Part V is out. Part VI is with the editor already. You can still get Part I for free most everywhere or pick up the Disciple Half-Omnibus if you want the first half of the series in a nice chunk. I have several writing projects to work on and ideas to develop.

How has your 2014 been going?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Problematic horrors

Innocence and isolation
I've heard it said that the cornerstones of horror are innocence and isolation. The innocence aspect is supposed to encourage audience sympathy, but personally? I know I'm no innocent and I'm not invested in protecting innocence the way, say, a parent might be.

It seems to me the "innocence" aspect leads to a tendency of horror being inflicted on somebody just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: they moved into a haunted house, their car broke down in the boonies, etc. I have never found that particularly compelling because the story is not about the characters, it's about a series of horrible things that happened.

Isolation can be physical, social, or psychological and ensures that the hero/ine faces the enemy alone. Often, they are outgunned by the villain(s) as well. This can lead to Bambi vs Godzilla syndrome, in my opinion, and solutions being handed down by the god in the machine (the author). Those aren't satisfying endings, since the heroine did not "earn" anything in the story.

This may be why I'm not a fan of horror -- on top of any additional writing problems manifesting in bad dialogue, illogical plot lines, and cardboard characters. Horror is as prone to those problems as any genre. Or perhaps it would be more fair to say that any genre is as prone to that as horror is.

A proverbial virgin being chased by a serial killer, or haunted by the angry ghost of some old house? That's just a cosmic misunderstanding. An oversized pain in the ass.

In my opinion, a dab of gore will do ya in most situations. If you've read my stories you know I'm willing to get explicit and horrible when the characters are willing to do that. Horror as a genre is a different beast, though. I'm treading closer to it than usual in my current WIP, which is turning out to be a dark fantasy.

What makes the story dark, in my opinion, is not the gruesome things that happen but why those gruesome things happen. It's also the hero's temptation to let those whys infiltrate him and lead him to begin inflicting horrors himself. The drama of resisting corruption has a particular attraction to me.

If you were going to write a horror story, how would you make it compelling to yourself? What makes you shudder?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Seeking new experiences, for a writer

It's been almost a month since I posted, and I apologize. June 2014 has been pretty crazy for me. I've been out experiencing new things, to put it simply.

As a writer, I'm often trying to convey things -- events, situations, emotions -- that I've never experienced personally, and there's nothing unusual about that. I've never had to fight for my life with a sword. I've never stepped outside a spaceship in just a plastic suit. Because human emotions are the same for us all, I believe I can apply the few moments of genuine panic (when I realized I was skidding down an icy mountainside at 50mph) or awe (when I stood inside the gallery of the Great Pyramid) that I actually have experienced to what my characters are experiencing.

The tougher part is knowing which emotions fit the scenario and how they're flavored by the character's exact situation. Also, whether anything I've experienced truly fits.

I've been a shy person all my life. That's not unusual for a writer. I've been a homebody, but not a complete shut-in, who took a pass on having a crazy youth or doing anything too risky. But over the past year, I've been getting out more and putting the shyness, the worries, everything that's kept me from being wilder, aside.

Get out there. It's worth it.
And having been a little wilder, having survived and learned a lot from it, I wish I'd done it sooner. Both personally and as a writer. There really is no substitute for experiencing things yourself.

What you notice in the midst of those experiences, what stands out to you, is as individual as your fingerprints and that will only add to your personal voice as a writer when you apply it to a story. As writers, everyone we meet and everything we experience goes into our stories. Shutting ourselves away will limit our supply of those raw ingredients, in the long run.

So, my fellow shy, reclusive writers, I'm going to say get out there and do something this summer that pushes your personal envelope. Something new. Something that leaves you exhilarated, exhausted, and possibly ecstatic.

I experienced all of those on a whole new level when the Mothership 2014 tour came to town. Now, I love electronic music and I've mentioned before how I've been going out to hear it in small clubs. A six-hour dubstep festival on the lawn of a racetrack was something else entirely, of course. I had never been brave enough to go to one of those before, let alone work my way down to front and center in the crowd where it's all drunken college boys, crowd-surfers, and constant bouncing.

Scary? A little. I'm not small or fragile, though. What I took away was a new understanding of exhaustion. Of the role of sensory overload in inducing a trancelike state. Of the dynamics of a close-packed crowd of people jacked up on adrenaline and various intoxicants.

Was I really thinking that clearly at the time? No, but I've put in the analysis time since then. The memories will be useful in a variety of crowd-based situations and individual experiences of transcendence -- exhaustion and extreme situations can give rise to powerful religious experiences and also the sorts of extreme survival stories that come out of war or natural disasters.

I also briefly met a handful of colorful characters, needless to say. It's all good story ingredients, well worth the money, the time, and the emotional risk of going into such a thing trusting the universe to give me what I need. This was an instance of going out to find that, as I talked about in this post.

Get out there. Climb a mountain, take fencing lessons, go skinny dipping at midnight, whatever it is you've always wanted to do. What unusual things have you experienced recently?

If you're curious, I've found some videos from the concert I attended that do a fair job of conveying the experience when the headliner, Skrillex, took the stage five hours into the festival. You do have to imagine the bass pounding on you like you need CPR, though. iPhones completely fail to capture that.

Opening of Skrillex's set. First big drop is 2 minutes in. He gave us that long to catch our breath after Dillon Francis, lol. Another 18 minutes of the set. Jump to 12:15 for an especially potent buildup and explosion.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Eating the elephant update

I compared building a new story universe to eating an elephant, back in October. What I didn't mention, in hindsight, was that I was in fact sitting down to eat a new elephant just then. The muse had inflicted a large-feeling idea on me (the brutal muse) and I was just starting to put my teeth on it.

It's coming up on eight months later. Working on this idea (codename: Bloodmagic) has been squeezed in between other projects and has occasionally busted out and asserted itself. Things are getting to the point where I should start doing the writer's equivalent of 15-second sketches. If I were a mad scientist, I'd be watching the skies for the thunderstorm I'll need to jolt this monster to life.

I love research. Over Thanksgiving, I read a couple strategically chosen books on the cultures that were providing a lot of the visual inspiration -- Aztec and Maya -- and tried to wrap my head around how such a culture becomes "normal" in the minds of the people living inside it. How does it mesh up with the reality around them?

There were also the ecology and technology aspects to work out. This will be a big change from the medieval New England world of Disciple and that's part of the elephant that I haven't chewed on too much yet. More research to do!

Trusting the universe
I've mentioned before that the universe will bring you what you need for your art. Lately, one thing that's been given to me is local music performed in small venues to small audiences. The DJ's know me as a regular, and they've often seen me scribbling down thoughts with pen and paper. For me, music is a shortcut to emotions and I collect those for each WIP.

I maintain playlists for my writing projects and yes, Bloodmagic's playlist did pick up some dark, hard-driving electronic music. It's turning out to be a dark story, so that's easy to understand. There are a few tracks whose reasons for being there isn't obvious, though. There always are a few of those. Keeps things interesting.

The universe also pointed me toward a couple horror influences: one old and familiar, and Hellraiser.

Guided brainstorming
Another way to "trust the universe" is to look at whatever the universe brings you and find a way to incorporate it into your art. So, sometimes I decide that I'm going to watch/read/do something and whatever it is, it will inform my WIP. How? Don't know. I'll roll with it, however irrelevant it seems.

I don't remember exactly why Hellraiser became an influence on Bloodmagic -- aside from being a classic horror franchise. I've watched several of the movies now and its influence has trickled into far more than the obvious blood and gore.

Well, the good movies have. The bad ones were just bad.

Applying craft
Piles of ideas are all well and good but this needs to be a story. Beginning, middle, end, rising tension, climax, character development, the whole nine yards. Unlike real life, fiction is supposed to make sense, as they say.

So I also used some tools in eating this elephant. The outline got built alongside the universe and the core characters. I've got a sense of the character arcs and the central theme. I've installed an engine: that abstract central question that these characters are wrestling with on my behalf. There will be sudden gear changes and a literary flourish or two. It'll be fun.

Don't wait too long
When is it time to start writing? That's always a tough question, but I've found that sooner works out better than later. Writing always clarifies things, and when you start earlier in the process it contributes to the WIP's development rather than potentially conflicting with what's already there.

Have you been working on a new elephant?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Real world sales numbers, Part 2

This is a follow up post to the sales numbers I talked about in November. It's been about six months so let's see how things have been going for my Disciple series.

Does not include Storybundle sales. Does include both ebooks & paperbacks, across all sales channels
  • Definitions: "units sold" includes both ebooks and paperbacks, across all sales channels (except Storybundle), for a given month. Starts with October 2012, when I released Disciple, Part I. Since Oct. '12, I have sold about 195 books in total. 
  • In the last six months, I've added two new titles to the series: Disciple, Part IV, and the Half-Omnibus which collects the first three parts. 
  • The spike in sales of Part II and Part III was a result of briefly getting Amazon to give Part I away for free. They quit before the end of January 2014.
  • To ask the same question again, am I thrilled? Well, the spike was exciting and getting the royalty check for that was nice. Sales have been creeping back down, but they do that. I'm going to keep moving and get Disciple, Part V out later this year.
After a conversation I had where a self-publisher expressed concern about working with Amazon because of its 500-pound-gorilla-ness, I put this graph together from my data:

That is books sold, per week, broken out by sales channel. Start date is September 1, 2013 (when Part III was released). If you don't want to play with Amazon because they're getting too big for their britches or whatever -- you certainly can, but you're missing out.

As you can also see, Smashwords hasn't exactly been worth the trouble even though they do distribute me to several other outlets like Sony and Diesel. Draft2Digital hasn't exactly wowed me either -- they're slow and I don't like how their sales reports are organized. Then again, I haven't had enough sales to really look at...

I hope these graphs help my fellow self-publishers by giving them something to compare their own sales numbers to. There are plenty of stories out there focusing on the writers who've made it big in self-publishing, and those of us who are slogging along in the trenches don't get much attention. It's no mystery why: these numbers are not exciting. The income I'm getting from this is not a livable wage -- heck, it's an open question whether I can afford to produce Part V off this income.

Care to share some of your numbers?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Common cause with other artists...

I don't talk to much about my personal life, but a conversation at a club recently brought this up.

Since I've been living on my own -- about six months now -- I've developed a habit of going to clubs. Never did that when I was younger, even though I have always loved live music and the thousand flavors of electronic music in particular. I'm still a shy person, so I go alone. Strictly for the music.

But I've also made a habit of going to shows put on by local deejays. Young guys and ladies who are still building their reputations and a fan base. I can relate to that, as a self-publisher. I know what support from a non-family member means when you're trying to earn money as an artist.

Given that these are small-time deejays, they play in small clubs to small audiences and it makes for an intimate setting. They were quick to start recognizing me and always come over to say hello, which is very sensible from a self-promotion viewpoint. Being shy, I've never been good at that sort of thing.

That got me to thinking about the parallels between how different artists try to earn a living and what I could learn from these kids. I don't know a lot about how it works for new deejays, but I hear mutterings about unreliable bookings and slim pay. The struggle to find the balance between giving away free samples and charging money for your work sounds familiar too.

I also couldn't help recognizing the incestuousness of the scene: most of the people at the shows are either fellow deejays or girlfriends/friends of deejays.

As a follow-up to my post about visual artists, I'd like to expand that to include all fellow artists. Back in the day, I was guilty of using Napster and Limewire to collect mp3s. I limit myself to legit freebies now, and I support musicians by going to clubs, but I still don't pay much for my music.

We all know how hard it is to make a living off of art. I think we owe it to each other to be as supportive as we can.

What do you do to support the arts in your area? Do you find local musicians or bands to support? Dance troupes? Theater groups? Post something and maybe it will inspire another reader.

Be glad, as a writer, that you can get by with pen and paper if you must and don't have to drop hundreds of dollars on a mixing deck like the one in the photo. That's a smallish one, too. Yikes.

On the off chance that you're a fan of techno/house/drum & bass/etc., some links: the GLAS Mix Project crew here in DC. Also, Dancekraft. Specific DJs: Confetti, the house queen of Baltimore, Traxiom, who can put me in a dance-floor trance even when I'm alone, and DJ RND because I loves the deep house.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Exercising the voice muscles

I've been trying to strengthen the voice in McBride's Eight, my hard scifi novel, for the last few weeks. I posted a sample of the process over at Unicorn Bell. When I wrote it I didn't want to get into the characters' heads much. It's been a couple years and my opinion has shifted a bit.

Not much point in using third person limited for the narration if I'm going to stay outside the characters' heads. Might as well let the narrator be more omniscient and put that narrative distance to good use. But I didn't.

So I've been pondering how to differentiate voices within the general style that I use for science fiction. I do, definitely, have some genre-specific style habits for better or for worse...

Here's one: when a sentence has the same subject as the previous sentence, I drop the subject. Shen cracked open a fresh bottle of vodka. Poured himself a drink. There's a dozen correct ways to communicate those actions, of course, and a few dozen incorrect ways. That's how I do it in science fiction.

I also tend to drop articles at the beginning of a sentence. Barkeep would give him the friends rate, no worries. Bottle of Gunner's wasn't pricy anycase.

Kate, over in my fantasy series Disciple, would say something like I hefted the brandy carafe and tore the wax seal off; the unleashed fumes stung my eyes as I poured out a cupful. Shen would be on his second shot by the time Kate finished all of that. (It's amusing to imagine them sitting at a bar together drinking -- I wonder what they'd make of each other.)

Some people find my scifi style choppy or otherwise hard to read. Some betas have called it "twitterspeak," which may well be why I see words being dropped from sentences in the future. They're extra characters, and English is heavily dependent on context for its meaning anyways.

So how to separate out more than one voice?

Lena scanned the rack of vodka behind the bartender and spotted the Grey Nebula bottle. "Grey on ice," she said, pointing. Nice stuff -- that was champagne for someone on a beer budget. Day would come when she couldn't afford it anymore. 

Chickie ordered Nebula as Shen topped his shot off. Cute chickie. Vodka sloshed over the rim of his shot glass because he wasn't watching. He hissed a curse and she glanced his way. Damn.

Sentence structure. Word choice. A codehead with a formal education and a more "civilized" past narrates differently than some skank booter who grew up on a scrap heap and lost a few years as an indentured slave. (Sorry, Shen, they would've found out about that sooner or later.) They have similar accents, as it were, but his is thicker, coarser... more blunt. High class vs. low class. Even in the future, those will still exist.

How do you decide what the accent is...? Well, that's tougher to put your finger on. A post for another time.

Have you been wrestling with narrative voice lately?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the self-pub trenches: timing a series

I chatted with Will Hahn recently about a collection of issues related to publishing a multi-book series like my Disciple. He asked great questions and it seemed like a good basis for a blog post.

The first four books [of Disciple] have come out on a fairly regular schedule, about five months apart, yes? Did you follow some established wisdom regarding that schedule? Was it related to the size or price of the books?
The spacing is mostly related to the production costs, and partly to the idea that keeping them coming regularly but not too quickly will keep attention on them.

There's also the factor of how publishing breaks up your writing schedule. I'm monogamous when it comes to writing projects, so you can see the hit that my writing output has taken since I started self-pubbing (2012: 289k, 2013: 162.6k). When I've got something on my editor's desk, I don't want to dig into a major project and have to put it down to revise my manuscript.

Spacing them out a bit gives me time to grind out another story in between. So far, it's been working out.

I note you priced the first book way down, as I intend to do. Was that from the start and will it be permanent, or did you put it on sale as the later issues came out?
Part I's initial price was $4.99, which in hindsight was probably too high. $2.99 would have been better, IMO.

Currently, it's 99 cents with occasional free promotions. I took it down to that price around when Part III came out. If you can price it in the impulse-buy range (currently 99 cents, sure to change with time) you'll balance cheapness with people who will actually read it.

Because free stuff gets snapped up because it's free. Not necessarily because it's interesting. When I gave away Part I for free around New Year's, I gave away a bit short of two thousand copies. That resulted in about 25 sales of Part II. Maybe there will be later sales due to people getting around to that freebie they downloaded months ago... maybe not. My follow-up rate for sold copies of Part I has been much better.

I also think it's not entirely wise to price a first book too low and here's why: it's a reflection of what you think the series worth, when that book's sitting alone on the shelf. Once it's not a "free-standing" book anymore, then its price becomes less important. Part I is a loss leader now, and its job is to hook readers.

If it's not prying, do you have the entire Disciple story locked and loaded from the first book, or are you continuing to write as you go?
I had the first draft of Part VI (the ending) written before I published Part II. I wrote the series straight through with minor breaks in between the parts. Yes, I jokingly say that it's because I didn't want to be like GRRM and string my readers along... truth is, I can't afford to do that. If I drop the ball, there's no forgiveness in self-pubbing land.

So I wrote Disciple straight through and I intend to publish it straight through -- continuity of energy both ways.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flashbacks in the story structure

I've been blog touring for two months and neglected this blog... my intent is to get back to my once a week habit. 

Flashbacks are something of unknown territory for me. They've turned up on occasion but mostly as isolated incidents. Those are simple to handle: they're like info-dumps. My science fiction stories (there are three of them) involve a lot more flashbacks and uses them for character development and backfilling earlier plot points.

What function does the flashback have?
No scene should have only one function. That applies to flashback scenes too.

Plot elements: Since you don't have to start telling your story at the beginning of the traditional plot structure (the inciting incident), it's entirely possible that a flashback scene contains an earlier plot point. Why not start the story there? Maybe it wasn't all that dramatic of an event (and stories should always start with dramatic events, as we know.) Maybe the reader needs the context of later events to see the significance of this earlier one. Maybe it wasn't a good scene to introduce the reader to the story's world.

Character development: Flashbacks are a chance to show-not-tell the reader about important aspects of a character's personality.

Info-dumping: Chunks of world-building can be worked into flashbacks, of course. The entire scene can serve to explain how things came to be in a particular situation, in your story.

When does the reader need to know this?
Connected to "current" events: Flashbacks are like info-dumps in that they always need to be relevant to the story. The best advice I have on when to info-dump is "just after the reader absolutely needed to know this." So the same goes for flashbacks.

Taking a break: If your story has been running hard and fast for a while, you can let it coast a bit while you flashback to something relevant but slower paced. Since flashbacks are in the story's past, they tend to reduce the tension -- the reader already has some sense of what might have happened and you're just filling in the particulars. (That's not to say you can't pack in some surprises, of course.)

When in doubt...
...keep writing, because once you reach the end of the story everything will be much clearer. And you can always fix it in revisions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What I did this weekend...

Blew off stress on a too-crowded dance floor Saturday night, then came home to two days of ebook coding and paperback layout. But it's done!

Disciple, Part IV now on sale! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top 5 Grammar Mistakes, supposedly

I got an email from recently about the "top writing mistakes that even the most seasoned novelists make in their work." Now, their methods did not particularly impress me and they haven't even attempted to prove that the writers sampled were seasoned novelists... but their list incited a few thoughts because I'm putting the final polish on Disciple, Part IV.
  1. Missing comma
  2. Run-on sentences
  3. Comma splice
  4. Comma misuse
  5. Definite vs. Indefinite article use
This list was generated by their auto-proofreading software, so another grain of salt is in order. Still, there are some interesting points. 

#1 and #4 -- in my opinion, commas can be argued about. They're a matter of personal style, to some degree. I view them as a pacing mechanism in a sentence and I use them to indicate a very slight pause in a thought or in dialogue. That's on top of their mechanical functions in separating out lists and parceling clauses. For example: 

The corner store opened on time that morning, which was a first, and I bought a six-pack of beer.

Commas in that sentence enclose a clause which could drop out of the sentence without impacting its readability at all. "Which was a first" is an aside, an editorial comment, and when I read it I hear a slight pause as the narrator turns to look me in the eye and snark for a moment. If you drop the clause out...

The corner store opened on time that morning and I bought a six-pack of beer. don't need a comma, but I'm not nit-picky enough to complain of someone put one before "and." 

#2 and #3 are two manifestations of the same problem: badly built sentences. Of all the bad ways to build sentences, run-ons and comma splices seem the most obvious and clunky to me so either Grammarly's software can't reliably detect the rest or first drafts are messier than I thought. 

That store never opens on time, the owner's out drunk every night and too hung-over to get up. 
His beer selection is good though he gets that much right. 

Both of those sentences are so easy to fix that I had some trouble writing them incorrectly. Are these really so common? 

Which leaves #5: "a" and "an" vs. "the." This one is actually a good point because there's a power in the definite article "the." It assumes foreknowledge. Insinuates importance.

He was the knight for the job. 

Conversely, "a/an" de-emphasizes. It can completely shift the meaning of the sentence.

He was a knight for a job.

These are very subtle, too, since they're tiny words and very common.

I've put text into Grammarly a few times and yes, it's much better than Word's auto-correct. It certainly has the impartiality that can be helpful when you've been staring at a story for too long.

Whether it's good enough to sift out the finer points of definite and indefinite articles... mmm, I'd have to try it out some more. Has anyone here used Grammarly? What was your impression?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Professional courtesy among artists

As I'm looking at Faiz's almost-final proof for the cover of Disciple, Part IV, I'm thinking about cover art again. (Previous post for Indie Life.)

Past experience
I was involved in the tabletop gaming (RPGs, you've probably heard of D&D) industry for a while in the early 90s. That was my first experience in working with artists, and it taught me the most valuable characteristics of a good artist:
  • gets the art in by the deadline
  • if not that, contacts you as soon as s/he knows it will be late
  • sends the art at the size/format you asked for
  • did what you asked, within the boundaries of artistic interpretation
Several times, production was held up by late artwork. More than once, I had to go to press with something that was obviously terrible because it was so late. Artists disappeared off the face of the earth. Needless to say, I was not working with professionals and generally, it was a headache.

Then again, I wasn't paying for professionals, so no surprise that I didn't get them.

How much will a cover run?
Your cover art is extremely important. I cannot emphasize that enough. It will be judged at a glance and steer readers toward, or away from, your work. You will use it in all of your promotional materials. It will be sitting on Amazon's virtual shelves for years. This is the flash that your story delivers the substance behind. Make it good.

Cover art should not be cheap. You get what you pay for. Yes, you can get a stock-made cover from various graphic artists for a low price... do you really want to share a cover with other books? Haven't you put enough work into your story that it deserves its own identity?

And an artist deserves to be compensated fairly. Like writers, they tend to fight their way to the bottom of the price barrel and have trouble asking for the pay they deserve. Personally, I don't want to contribute to that.

I've been finding my cover artists at The amount of talent over there is astounding. I can tell you from experience that posting a job offer in DeviantArt's forums with a $500 price tag on it will bring out the near-professional-level artists. And the aspiring less-talented ones too, but a sifting through a few dozen portfolios will hone your eye toward the signs of quality and whose style fits the style of your book best.

Are you kidding?
$500 is a lot. Too much? Well, would you sell your manuscript and all its rights for $500? That's what you're asking the artist to do -- this is a work for hire and you're buying all the rights to it. (The artist should retain the right to use this work in his portfolio, though.) You're asking for a few dozen hours of work that are backed up by years of practice to master artistic tools and find a personal style.

One law applies equally to writers and artists: in order to validly break the rules, you must first show mastery of the rules. Writers are often shot down for incorrectly mis-using grammar, non-linear story structure, and the like -- though this is open to interpretation and personal taste of course. Likewise, artists can bend the "rules" of visual presentation if they do it well. Like writing, it takes significant time and work to master visual art.

Also like writing, it's tough to earn a living at visual art. When was the last time you paid money to simply look at a painting? (was the artist still alive?)

Professional courtesy
Cheap book covers don't sit easy with me. I know how much sweat, blood, and tears get invested into a story. I know how much a freelance editor costs. Don't skimp on the cover, and don't be a cheapskate. We're all artists trying to get paid for something we love, here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Indie life: fishing for readers

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month! Time to talk about the realities of self-publishing in the middle of the ongoing sea change that ebooks have wrought.

Back in my very first Indie Life post I offered some thoughts on ebook pricing. Firstly, holy crap I've been doing Indie Life for almost a year now -- and I just found out this is the last Indie Life (more on that later). Secondly, I want to talk about why I made Disciple, Part I available for free. Thirdly, a look at the impact it's had.

First one's free
I was going to call the strategy a "loss leader" but the addiction model is more accurate. It's long been attributed to drug dealers, but I ran into this strategy the first time I walked into a Krispy Kreme shop. After watching that mesmerizing machine and following donuts on their journey through the proofer, the fryer, and the frosting, one of the smiling employees picked up a fresh, hot donut and handed it to me.

Oil. Sugar. Warm as a fresh kill. Every predatory button in my hindbrain got mashed and I was hooked. That was no accident, on Krispy Kreme's part. Hats off to their strategy. (I can only eat them fresh off the machine, though.)

Getting back to Disciple, my purpose in giving away Part I for free is to hook readers. Yes, anybody could download a 20% sample for free when it was selling for 99 cents, but giving them the whole novella gets the hook in deeper. Instead of stopping at a random point in the middle, they reach the open-ended question at the end and the cover of Part II is right there to click on.

Addiction needs reinforcement
What if I'd made Part I free when I first published it? Sure, that probably would have gotten me more downloads, but the readers would not have had something to buy when they got to that open-ended question at the end. They would've had to wait, and that means they could easily have forgotten all about me by the time Part II came out.

Crunchy numbers
Disciple, Part I became free on Amazon somewhere around December 30th. Total free downloads for January, at Amazon, was 1,424. Here's my updated sales chart (its previous incarnation):

Impact? Yes. And Part IV comes out March 1st -- not that far off. Hopefully, readers will remember. Some of them have joined my newsletter list to get a reminder. I put a link to that at the end of each book, too.

Amazon reset Part I to 99 cents at the end of January. I'm working on fixing that. 

Last Indie Life week
I got an email yesterday informing me that Indelibles is pulling the plug and inviting everyone to join the Insecure Writer's Group... which is all well and good, but insecurity is not a topic that particularly interests me. I want to keep talking about the realities of self-publishing, so I think I will. Does anyone want to join me?

Disciple, Part I is FREE at Nook • Smashwords • more!
(Kindle/MOBI format is free at Smashwords)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's up next

The Disciple Half-Omnibus is making its way onto electronic shelves now. Disciple, Part IV has gone to the editor. Received preliminary sketches from Faiz for the cover artwork -- the readers on my mailing list got a sneak peek of that.

Blog tour starts Saturday and will last two months. This is looking a bit more insane that it did around New Year's, lol...

I did a light revision pass through Disciple, Part V and am currently red-penning a paper copy of Disciple, Part VI (the end of the series.) It's interesting how you remember earlier drafts more clearly than later ones. I need to cement these in my head.

The Rafflecoptor giveaway for the Half-Omnibus also starts on Saturday.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

I may not be posting here much during the push to get Disciple, Part IV published. There will be updates over at Disciple of the Fount, though.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cover reveal in the midst of insanity

Well, insanity is my story and I'm sticking to it for now. A word of advice to self-publishers: trying to organize a tour blog less than a month ahead of time is not recommended.

I'm publishing the Disciple Half-Omnibus on February 1st. As the title indicates, it's half the Disciple series collected into one ebook. Price will be $6.99.

Back cover
War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

There's some evidence that compilations are convenient for readers who want to catch up on a series. It's one thing to buy rather than several. Since I already had ebook files set up, it was pretty easy to assemble them all into one big file. Three books, all the appendices, and I combined the character indexes too.

The cover art is the wonderful landscape that I commissioned way back before Part I and has only seen use in a few banners. If you're on my mailing list, look for a special announcement about art prints soon...

So, near-zero overhead to produce this. I'll promote it of course but I'll be putting more effort into Disciple, Part IV. Which will be published on March 1. The universe is, of course, trying to align itself to make this challenging.

Other plans
I will be participating in the BBF Writer's Workshop Feb. 7-9 -- my presentation about self-publishing will be on the 9th. I will be interviewed by Tara Maya as part of her Fantasy Author Post Swap series. And who knows what else will come up...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Indie Life: Self-publisher's housekeeping

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month! Time to talk about the realities of self-publishing in the middle of the ongoing sea change that ebooks have wrought.

So I did it. I self-published my novellas -- three of them and counting. There might have been a few bugs in the formatting, but I've fixed those and uploaded clean copies. They'll be available forever on Amazon's virtual bookshelves. I'm starting to prep for my next publication, number four.

Thank goodness I don't have to worry about those first three anymore. Right? Well...

My "Other Books By..." page
As I publish more books, it's in my best interests to update this. It's the cheapest form of advertising I can get! Besides that, the number one reason that a reader buys a book (any book) is because they liked the author's other work.

Next book link
Disciple is a series, so when readers get to the end of one part, the first thing I want them to know is that the next part is on sale. The cover's right after the last paragraph, with a link to my sales page.

Where does the link go? To my sales page, because online retailers don't want books to contain links to their competitors. That's fair enough, but I don't want to create a separate ebook for every single retailer. So let the readers choose.

At the end of Part III is a note about when Part IV will be published. I'll have to update that with a cover and link when that's available. There's also a link to sign up for my newsletter.

FREE at Amazon
& Smashwords
Promoting previous books
Even though I'll be promoting Disciple, Part IV soon, it's in my best interests to keep promoting Part I. It's the gateway into the series, after all. But even if all my books were one-shots, promoting one can lead to carry-over sales when new readers like one book and want to buy more that I've written.

Updating links to my blog/webpage
I do, of course, have a link to my book blog in the back of all my books. There are reader goodies and nice, big maps (I write fantasy) there. If any of that should change, I'll need to update it in all my ebooks.

These updates take a little time and then I have to re-upload them to all my sales channels... but anything that makes it a little easier for readers to find me is worth it.

What sorts of maintenance have you been doing on your self-pubbed titles?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Guest posting!

I've been talking about my self-publishing journey here since day one -- but if you'd like a general overview, see my guest post over at Daniel's Literary Endeavors. Hat tip to Daniel for inviting me to post!

See you on Wednesday for Indie Life day!

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