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?
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