Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays

Not sure how much I'll be around this week, but wanted to pass along a (belated for one) Happy Holidays to you and yours from us here at OTJW. It's been a great year here, one which saw me embark on this whole writing journey, and I want to thank those of you that have already hopped on for the ride. Here's hoping 2012 is a good one. I've been playing a lot of Star Wars (The Old Republic) lately and I posted this picture on my other site, but thought it was still appropriate here. Some fireworks from the end of Return of the Jedi (my favorite of the movies, and I <3 fireworks):

Don't celebrate too hard and, like, topple statues of emperors or anything.

 (Edit: Fixed the image. Apparently the old one was removed.)
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

#ROW80 - Final 2011 Round Wrap-up

Ironically, today is also my last day at the Day Job for the year. There's going to be a big, drunken celebration tonight, let me tell ya. It'll probably just be me, my wife and video games. Crazy, I know. But our Christmas shopping is done, we both have tomorrow off, we don't have to travel until the evening, and my latest project is in editors' hands. It really is vacation time for me. Which, as a writer, means thinking about your next project, maybe a little light outlining, and, my personal favorite, blurb writing. Gah, I hate writing blurbs.

Anyway, today wraps up the second round of ROW80 that I've participated in, and the fourth round in this inaugural year. It's been a great ride, and I've met some other great people (and great writers!) through the challenge. I don't have as much time as I'd like to be social, click around, comment, etc, but I still feel like I get a lot out of ROW. I may not be the most worldly writer, but I have to believe that for the time spent, you get more back through ROW in terms of connections, advice, and inspiration (not to mention support of "the lifestyle") than any other challenge. It's just a great group of folks, really doing it right.

So yeah, I'll be here next year, ROWing along. Let's take a quick look at what ROW has helped me accomplish both in this round and this year:

  • Lessons Learned - Once a week, for 160 days, I've posted a lesson I've learned. Some are writer oriented, some personal, but the big takeaway here is that I'm constantly improving, one week at a time. Slow and steady wins the race.
  • WIP Progress - I published my first book, started a second project, and finished it this year. ROW chronicled the words as they ticked off. More on this in a bit, but this goal has always been the meat of my involvement in the challenge. The aim is to make writing a daily thing. I would call it a job, but I hate that word. I'm certainly approaching it that way, with daily objectives, and a long term plan, but it's something I enjoy doing. Thus, it doesn't feel like a "real job"  most to the time, though I have started to tell people that it is "like a second job." Self-publishing is a legit endeavor, and people are starting to recognize it, at least in my life.
  • Blogging - Really, this is my social media of choice. I try to do Facebook and Twitter as I can, but I'm a blogger at heart. I've consistently posted on two blogs this year (including this one), keep a monthly online journal, and started a third blog for the football program I volunteer for. That's a lot of writing. It's not always as formal as my projects, but I maintain that anything that forces you to squeeze big ideas into written language is going to you improve as a writer.
  • Those were my three big goals that I tracked each week. Some ancillary things that happened: I got my book reviewed by two book bloggers. Hardly a tour, I know, but a big step for me as I wasn't sure what to expect. I anticipate contacting a lot more book bloggers (salt of the earth, these folks!), but I want to get a few more books out first.
  • I formed a partnership program with a fellow author. This wasn't really through ROW, but I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to do it without the weekly support here.
  • I participated in a giveaway. Two if you count one of my book blogger reviews. But huge thanks to Nadja for her 12 Days of Christmas giveaway. It was fun and exciting to be a part of.
  • Oh yeah, I formed my own small business. Sometimes I think we indies overlook that. To start out, we have to get tax IDs (and I'm a bit anxious about filing this year) and a whole bunch of other junk that legit businesses have to do. We even got my first book officially recognized by the Federal Copyright Office. I never anticipated being a small business owner, but, well, I guess I am now. We're totally small potatoes, but its definitely something I think is cool.
So yeah, it was a pretty good year. Sometimes it's hard for me to be patient; I wish I were doing all this as my Day Job now. Still, this was my first year going down this indie road, and it's been a productive one. ROW80 played no small part in all of this. Setting goals, working toward them weekly... well the achievements start to rack up without you even realizing it. I see great things in the future for this group of writers, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

I forgot last week, but generally I end with word counts. I stick them at the end because I don't use them to measure my progress, as you can see from above. However, after focusing on your real goals, it can be exciting to see how that translates into actual words written. Most challenges are fueled by word counts (not ROW), but I suppose I hope by showing the underlying count, that I'm proving how well this challenge actually works. Anyway, I'll end, as usual, with the counts:
  • Since last check in (two weeks): 8,657
  • Round 4: 61,097
  • Grand Total (two rounds):  130,472
It all adds up.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Another Cheater Post

Tomorrow is the last day of #ROW80 Round 4. Thus, the check-in is delayed for a day, leaving me this Wednesday open. I'm going to cheat again though, and link a post I wrote elsewhere. This time, it was on the blog I run for the football team that I volunteer for. I think it's worth a read, as I'm giving a bit of a holiday history lesson to our players. It is also one of my favorite Christmas stories: the 1914 Christmas Truces. A poignant conjunction of sports, holiday spirit, and war. Check it out here.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On KDP Select

One of the more interesting announcements recently in the world of both writing and reading was the whole KDP Select program. I caught it via The Passive Guy. The gist here is that Amazon is setting aside a chunk of money to pay to authors who take part in their premium lending program. It strikes me as sort of a private library. That is, people who pay to be Amazon Prime members have access to free books through Amazon that they can "check out" and read. Amazon then tallies the number of downloads and divvies up the cash accordingly.

Sounds great, right? Free books for readers, money for authors. All our bases are covered. But what's the catch? There's always a catch, am I right?

In this case, Amazon is requiring exclusive rights to the book for 90 days (or more). Yep, that means in order to participate in this program, one would need to take down the book from any other competing sites (Barnes and Noble, Apple's iBookstore, Smashwords, you name it). So great for Kindle owners and those that use the MOBI format... EPUBers are out of luck.

I could see where this could be a nice program, but it just doesn't seem worth it from where I'm sitting. Let's be honest, my book isn't going to be compete with the Pattersons of the world in terms of lending power. My slice of the pie would be very small indeed. The exposure would be nice, certainly, but I have to believe there are going to be enough takers (a lot of people are already exclusive with Amazon) that the slices are going to be pretty small to begin with, and I'm just not that popular.

There's also the little side note that I like other retailers. I have a Nook myself. I feel like part of my job as a self-publisher is to make sure my readers have access to my book on any platform they choose to read it on. This exclusivity thing flies in the face of all that. Makes sense for Amazon, but for me? I just don't see it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for lending. I say so in the front of my books. Sharing is encouraged. I've talked about how I have no problem giving away free copies as well. I simply ask that you consider supporting the authors you like so that we can devote more time to the endeavor. I wish the devices that were out there today made it easier to lend books, but I understand why that scares publishers. It's the same fear they have with "piracy." Personally, I'm just happy folks are reading my book. If I've done my job well enough, asking for $5 shouldn't be that much. I don't care whether you read the book for free first and then buy a copy out of appreciation later or something. The only concern I have is using retailers that facilitate a relatively simply transaction and allow me to track my sales.

If I were designing a Reader's Best Friend E-reading Device, I think it'd be neat if you could "friend" other readers. Like how we do on Facebook or Google+. You could have a friend's list on your e-reader (think of chatting possibilities!) and have reading groups. Books could be passed between friends (just like we all used to do with physical copies). Copies don't scare me, but perhaps to make it fair for authors, it could move the digital copy from one device to the next (via wifi, of course) so that, in reality, only one person is reading the book at a time. That would put it on par with a paperback, right?

Until we have such a device, though, I'll try to use what is out there in the best, most reader-friendly ways I can. E-readers are still young. They have some changes to go through, I think, before they become staples in the literary world. I'm willing to be patient, but what I'm not willing to do is get "exclusive" with one retailer unless I'm assured that my readers aren't hurt. I don't think I can confidently claim that about the current iteration of the KDP Select program. If you would like to "borrow" my book, shoot me an email. No need to pay for Amazon Prime. (Unless you want the free shipping and that other junk, of course. :-p)
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Cheating Monday Post

I'm going to cheat today and link my own post on my other blog. I wrote it with gaming in mind, but anyone who has ever been to a car dealership can probably relate and find a smile in the anecdote. It was pretty much the Worst Quest Ever, making it great Monday post fodder.

I'll be back for reals tomorrow. Hopefully my calves will loosen up. Did a bunch of moving for my mother over the weekend... stairs are my new arch enemy. I feel motivated to write a story where stairs somehow factor in as a villain are and subsequently destroyed in Michael Bay-ian fashion. You know, with giant explosions and debris.

Have a great Monday.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#ROW80 - Price Experiment

Sales were pretty "blah" again last month.  Yesterday I wrote about being patient, and I'm terrible at taking my own advice.  Like I said in that post, I believe my monthly average of sales is just fine, and probably will be for another six months (even if I sell nothing).  The real next step, then, is to simply get another book out.  There have been a lot of experiments out there, but one general rule of thumb has held: the best promotion for a new writer is to get more books up.  Unless you hit it really lucky, one book is not going to carry you.  I think a good goal is to aim for five or six before you really contemplate any effects on your day job.

Speaking of goals, let's take a quick look at mine before I detail my experiment...
  • Lesson Learned - Average sales of ~12 books per month for the first 5 months of a career, doing minimal promotion, and having only one book up... is really not bad at all (though it feels like it some days).  It can be hard to be patient at times, since obviously I wish I had the sales to support leaving a day job behind, but the thing that separates "real" writers from fad chasers is going to be what you do in the long haul.  It's pretty simple for writers: writers write. Five years from now, I'll still be writing. I enjoy sharing stories too much to quit.  Maybe I'll always have a day job, but I'll also always be writing in one way or another. It's not a matter of "if" I'll succeed.  In sharing my first story, I already have.  It's just a matter of when the rest of the cosmic balance wants to acknowledge that.
  • WIP Editing - I knocked off 8/10 chapters this week. I only have two left to finish by the end of the week, so I'm in good shape.  Everything runs slow (including me) around the holidays, so I've already decided to give myself a bit of a pass.  The book will likely be launched shortly after the first of the year. Not a bad time to be launching.  I'm missing Christmas, but it'll take people a few weeks to figure out where the power button their new Kindles are anyway, right? :-)
  • Blogging - Since I'm in editing mode (and thus not writing new fiction), it's more important than ever to keep up with the blogging goal.  After all, this is my only writing practice each day now.  I was 4/3 on the gaming blog, and this will make 4/3 here.  I also have a personal post ready to go (I just need to throw it up)... so this has been the bright spot.  Most of my writing has been a bit "writer-centric," but I'm not sure I can help it while wearing my editing hat.  I'll get back to fiction and character close-ups once I can don the creative cap again, though I may start with the close-ups sooner.
Okay, so I'm good on the goals.  Short on some, ahead on others, but generally still progressing to where I want to be.  Patience, Matt, Patience.

Which brings us back to the pricing experiment.  I recently read an article regarding pricing on JA Konrath's blog.  The gist of it was that there may perhaps be a bit of a stigma at both the 99 cent price mark, and the $2.99 price mark.  Basically, some jokers with poor quality have ruined it for the rest of us.  Readers, when they get burned, generally don't put their hand back on the stove, it seems.  Can't blame them for that (though different tolerances for heat abound).

Point being, some people have reported seeing sales increases by raising prices.  Yes, raising.  Seems counter-intuitive, but to a psychology hobbyist, it makes sense.  I completely understand the "Starbucks theory" as laid out in the article.  As such, it seemed a good idea for me to raise the price on my book from $2.99 to $4.99.

Sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but I had this rationalization in mind: I've spent $5 (or more) on a couple of candy bars in order to support things before.  And I can promise you, those candy bars brought me a whole lot less entertainment and enjoyment than a novel.  Perhaps I'm biased, because I love books (plus they're better for me than candy bars), but I don't think $5 is a ridiculous price.  The writing may be from a learning author, but the formatting and copy-editing is on par with any professional book out there right now, even the >$10 ones (some of which I've found a plethora of errors in).  In other words, this is still a steal, as I see it, and I certainly didn't want to give the impression of a low quality book.  You can say what you want about the writing, but I'm supremely confident about the formatting.  These tools are right up my engineering alley.

Also, a big part of my marketing plan is to offer a lot of ways to get the book for free.  I'm all for giveaways and partnerships.  I'm not concerned at all about piracy.  I see the "pay" feature more as a way of a reader being able to say "yes, I want this guy to keep writing, and here's my $5 vote."  If you're unsure, or didn't think it was worth $5... well I believe Amazon lets you return books for a full refund.  Also, all you really need to do is send me an email and I'll basically give you a book for free to try.  I detail several ways under that Special Offers page linked up there, and one of them is simply: free e-book for an honest review on Amazon/Goodreads/Whatever.  Anyone can take advantage of that.  And it doesn't even have to be particularly insightful (though I'm enormously thankful for those that take the time).

So I don't see the increase as a hurdle or an attempt to gouge anyone (and I hope no one sees it that way, either).  Instead, I see it as a vote of confidence by me in the quality of the offering.  And trust me, that confidence is hard won.  Confidence isn't something that comes naturally to a writer.  

At the end of the day, this is just an experiment.  I'll let you guys know how it goes.  If there are complaints, if sales dry up further (I'm not sure how they can), I can always move it back.  It's yet another perk of Indie Publishing (this flexibility of pricing).  Why not exercise it?  Especially when I plan to offer deals and freebies for just about any reason.

Heck, I'll even throw a new offer up at the bottom of that page of mine.  Merry Christmas: Free e-book if you simply convince me that you love to read.  Could be a picture or an anecdote, whatever.  I think reading is awesome, and want to support that.  I don't want a price tag turn potential readers away, whether it be too much or too little.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DWS: "Go Have Fun"

Here's a little bit of inspiration from career author Dean Wesley Smith:
And it drives me nuts when a writer who has sold a hundred copies of a novel in a month on Kindle alone thinks that’s bad. Stop comparing yourself to other writers and just do the long-term math on your own sales. Those other writers who sold more aren’t writing, but promoting anyway, and will be gone shortly. You can beat them by simply keeping writing and producing more product and becoming a better storyteller.
And then...
So stop being in such a hurry and focus on writing great stories. If you do that and just keep going, the money will come. And when it does, it will surprise you because all you have been caring about is the writing. Also, not thinking about sales all the time, not checking your numbers all the time, and focusing on only telling stories is a ton more fun. Go have fun.
Like I've said from the start, my goal in this endeavor is to learn and improve as a writer and storyteller.  It's hard sometimes to not be in a hurry, especially when sales drop off to around one (1) book per month.  But there were also better months, and I've really sold 61 books over 5 months.  That's around 12 books per month.  If I'm going by Dean's napkin math (and hes' a pretty smart guy), well then I'm ahead of the game.  I may be no blockbuster, but five years from now, if I keep writing and learning... I should be in good shape.  And that's the point here.  You don't have to be a blockbuster to succeed as a writer.

Every month it's like rolling the dice. Maybe this will be the big one, maybe the book will take off. But even if you don't win the literary lottery, you've still got a book out there, and that's something.  I can't wait to add my second book to the portfolio.  Then a third, and a fourth.  They all buoy each other up, and eventually I'll be able to float.  It's just the waiting that's the hardest part (thanks Tom Petty).

You have to ask yourself: is it worth it?  Writing, creating, self-publishing... it's a lot of work.  But I don't think many of us look at it as work.  It's something I'd be doing anyway (at least he writing part). So, if a 5 year plan sweetens the plot, then so much the better.

I keep numbers because it's smart business.  We need to keep our expenses in line with our expenditures.  Otherwise, I do my best to ignore them.  Some months it's harder than others, some days it's harder than others (like, when you have the inevitable everything-I-touch-is-crap day), but if you believe in the craft and yourself, then you're in this for the long haul.  Dean's right: focusing on telling stories is way more fun than worrying about money.  I mean, I have a day job for that.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Armchair Publishing: A Small Rant

In the spirit of curmudgeonly-ness (from last week and 'cuz it's Monday)... if anyone wants to know the main reason why I chose to go Indie, read this article from The Passive Guy. In particular, the following quotations are what make the decision simple.
"Just so we’re clear, if the Twilight query had gone to an experienced agent at Writers House instead of a newbie, the experienced agent would have turned it down cold. Stephenie was very lucky a publishing “expert” didn’t review her new product idea."
And then...
"In any field other than publishing, a well-run business that missed a JK or Stephenie idea would have tracked down the people who failed to see the potential in the idea, fired them and completely re-worked the query processing system so an error of that magnitude would never happen again."
I've experienced this first hand in my day job.  Sometimes people aren't fired, but the process is re-processed constantly. It actually is somewhat of a joke among engineers because we routinely try to find any way to shirk the cumbersome process (at great risk of getting slapped with a poor performance review, which equals no raise... as if they need an excuse). Point being: the traditional publishing business model is really ineffective.

I don't like to just lobby criticism without offering a possible solution (armchair quarterbacking being what it is), so here's my idea. Ebooks and Indie publishing provide a great avenue for pre-published publishing. That is, if you're a new writer, you can get started sharing and learning right away, without waiting for the ancient process to grind you up in its gears and spit you out.

Traditional publishers need to get out of the query cycle and start being more proactive. Make editors into "talent scouts." I have to believe their experience counts for something. Chase after the small-scale successes. Get rid of the slush and take to the Indie piles. How many ballplayers do baseball scouts look at before they find the next All-star? It still wouldn't be perfect, but I have to believe it'd be better.  Meanwhile, we can be out there honing our game instead of honing our query-ability.

Waiting on writers to come to you is such a passive way of doing business.  I would think everyone would benefit (readers, writers, editors) from being more active.  But, I'm not a seasoned pro or anything, so what do I know?
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Art vs Functionality

I'm not going to pretend that I'm superbly qualified to give writing advice; I'm not. I'm still learning. I fully admit that. But there is one issue I've come across recently that I thought may be worth sharing. It may be a bit unique to my engineering point of view.

Engineers design things. (Derp, I know). In my case, I work in the automotive industry for a day job. I'm not a designer, per see, but rather a tester.  My job is to design tests that break the design. (It sounds more impressive than it really is.  Or maybe doesn't sound impressive at all, I don't know). The point here is simply that it's my job to look critically at designs.

There exists a fundamental disconnect between designs and users. We try really hard to bridge that gap, but it's always there.  The problem is that designers inherently have a deep understanding of whatever they're creating, and the user doesn't.  What may seem simple and elegant to a designer can be completely frustrating to an end user. Were the designer sitting in the passenger seat, he'd be all like: "No, you dolt. Simply push the secret button... here, let me do it. See how that blends in there and looks sharp?" And the user would blink and say: "Well, that was harder than it needed to be."

If you've ever wondered about the pull out drink trays that put a GIANT DRIVE-THRU SODA right smack in front of the temperature control dials... you've seen this phenomenon in action.  That one got through because the designer said: "Awesome, I can make this slide in just so, and save tons of space (thereby saving $$, which got the okay of the higher-ups) and sliding things are cool.  Everyone loves secret compartments.  It looks so slick when closed, and functional when open. What a winner!"

I've come across a similar thing in my writing.  I'll construct this perfect, descriptive sentence. It flows. It works. It's showing and not just telling. It makes me feel like I'm not FailAuthor. And then the betas get a hold of it.

"What is this monstrosity?" they cry. "I'm totally lost here."

Fie! How did this happen? B-but, the sentence is so... beautiful. How can you not marvel at the sheer elegance of it?

"It doesn't work."

Those are the words I dread to hear as a storyteller. As an artist, I could give two flying figs. It's my art. I get it, that's what matters. But as a storyteller, words are your cup holders. They're what you're designing, first and foremost, to perform a function. And when they don't work, even if they're pretty, you're guilty of letting the art get in the way of the function.  Sometimes, we forget that we need to be designers first and artists second. We get so lost in the art of what we're doing, that we fail the functionality check.

As a daytime test engineer, I'm especially sensitive to the testing of my beta readers. That's exactly how I look at it, too. I've painstakingly designed a product over the course of a year or so, and now I'm asking someone else to try and break it. I want them to go through and rip open the plot holes, sending me the story back on blue screen.  In the end, that's what's best for the story and the end user (the reader).  And sadly, sometimes art has to suffer for the sake of functionality.

Perhaps, as I learn and improve my ability, I'll be able to merge art and functionality more fluidly. I would say that's the hallmark of a master. In the meantime, I think it's best to err on the side of functionality. Because every time I slap my medium million ounce beverage (my stars, can you image what a large must look like?) in that annoying cup holder, and THEN try to reach for the temp controls... I want to punch a designer in the face. As an author, I really don't want to be punched by a reader. Honestly, if it ever comes to that, I should probably hang up the pen.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#ROW80 - Taking it Easier

Another week, another busy schedule. I wrote Monday about how I was feeling a bit down. I've regained some of myself since then. The bottom is always the worst, and then it's simply a matter of trudging back uphill.  And trudging I am.

In light of the circumstance, I decided to ease up on my editing goal.  I was originally not even giving myself a day off, working 7 days a week and shooting for 2 chapters per day.  There are times when pushing hard is good, but other times when it doesn't make sense.  Suffering for the sake of suffering has always seemed silly to me.  I'm not going to get any feedback from my editors for a few weeks still (if then, what with the holidays... which I anticipated going into this), so why rush my own read through?  I can back off and still easily get it done.  So that goal has been modified.  I'll give myself two days off, so 10 chapters per week instead of 14.  Spreading out the "off" time is allowable, too.

Let's look at the goals, then:
  • Lesson Learned - Sometimes you need to go easy on yourself.  It's tempting as an indie author to push, push, push.  Especially, right now, in this season. In this publishing environment.  There's sort of a "to the victor go the spoils" mentality, and you have to work hard to win.  When you're in charge of your own business, I think its easier to fall into the trap of long hours and a steady diet of stress.  Stepping back, chilling out a bit, can be a smart business decision.
  • WIP Editing - I took the weekend off, and still ended up one short of the modified goal at 9/10 chapters.  Still, I'm easily on target to finish my read through before I'm slated to begin getting editor feedback.  So I'm not too worried here.
  • Blogging - Considering this is my sole writing outlet right now, it's good that I'm keeping up.  4/3 on the gaming blog. 4/3 here.  Plus I got a personal post up and have another one read to go, so I'm covered through the rest of the year there.
I've not written a whole lot of fiction while editing.  You may have noticed that the weekly story here has sort of stopped.  My muse is taking a bit of a rest, so I'm not going to force it.  Plus, it's not like I'm not busy with editing or anything.  For whatever reason, I just think it's really hard to write new stuff while in editing mode. I'm not sure why that is.  It's not that I can't focus on more than one project, because even when I'm knee deep in a WIP, I have a million other ideas rattling around.  Put on my editor hat, though, and they all evaporate.  It becomes more about tweaking existing creations than dreaming new ones.  It's a different sort of creativity, though no less important.

I'm still writing, however, and that's the important thing.  The topics may end up being more reflective and less imaginative, but it makes sense when you consider I'm stuck in a brain mode of "using what I have" instead of "making it all up."  Also, maybe it's just me, but I feel like the holidays sap a lot of creative energy. They can inspire extra, but they require some for the simple tasks like "how am I going to make this crazy schedule work" and "what am I going to get Mom."  Sure, I could always go with the default "gift card to somewhere," but I always feel like that's a cop-out.  Though, I do love me some gift cards.  Post Christmas shopping sprees are all right.

Let's check out the words:
  • Project Fiction: 0 (Editing Mode)
  • Since last check in: 5,138
  • Grand Total for Round 4: 52,440
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Author Partnership: Isaac McBeth

I mentioned that I was partnering with Isaac McBeth last week when I checked in. I wanted to make an official post to that effect. I've made a home for the cliff-note details and links over in the Special Offers section, but wanted to pass along a little about the book and Isaac.

First, the deal.  Very simple.  Buy my book, get his free.  Buy his book, get my ebook free.  Easy as pie, right?  How to take advantage, you might ask... well, Isaac's got a nifty form on his site.  For me, I'll just simply take an email and we'll work things out.  We've already had one taker (like the day his book went live), and I've passed along a Smashwords code for the free download.  We figure that if you're going to support one young fantasy author, why not get a free book from another to boot.  Seems win-win to us.

As I mention in the Special Offers section, my best friend (best man at my wedding) is a friend of Isaac's and put us in touch when he realized we were both writing books.  Ironically, our mutual friend is on record (with us at least) as having a strong dislike of books.  As he once said to me: he's never met a book that wouldn't be better as a movie.  Isaac and I obviously don't exactly share that sentiment, though I doubt either of us would object to a movie being made from one of our books.  In any case, to get our friend to care about books is no small feat, so we're happy to have done it and be able to offer this deal.

Here's a picture of the cover and the blurb from the book, in case you're interested in knowing more...
Alexander Wisbal and the Hall of Heroes is the first of several books by author Isaac McBeth focusing on the adventures of a young University of Richmond law student named Alexander Wisbal.

Unbeknownst to Alexander, an extremely talented individual, it is his destiny to become the leader of a one-world government. It is this very destiny that has caused Alexander to catch the eye of a dark warrior named Alistair. Once a prominent general of Alexander the Great, Alistair's only desire is to bring about the fall of humanity and leave the world in ruin. Knowing Alexander will one day assume the role of world leader, Alistair believes his goal of humanity's destruction can be accomplished by transforming Alexander's heart into one of hatred and malice so that Alexander will desire the same.

Humanity's only hope now lies with the Hall of Heroes--a special union of great figures from history that continue to work for the best of mankind from a special plane of existence called Sententia. Alexander is brought to the Hall where he is informed of Alistair's plans. In the months that follow, he will learn combat skills from some of the greatest warriors in history, travel throughout the dangerous lands of the Iudicium, and battle against Gero--the master of the dead.

Underlying the story filled with magic, mystery, and adventure is a question that all readers can relate there such a thing as destiny? If we are aware of our destiny, can we avoid it or will every choice we make simply bring us closer to it? In Alexander Wisbal and the Hall of Heroes, history's greatest warriors will put destiny to the test in hopes that the world may be saved through fellowship, strength in battle, and sacrifice.
For more information about Isaac and his books, check out his website here.

Pleasant adventuring!
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Where'd the Sun go?

Despite my rousing pep talk last week, I'm feel rather "blah" right now. This weekend was especially rough. You see, I believe I have what is called SAD. I've never gotten any sort of official diagnosis - and if I do indeed have the disorder, it is quite mild - but the point is that, come winter time, I get quite curmudgeonly for apparently no reason at all. Such is how I feel today.

The good news is that, from experience, I know it'll pass.  Usually runs its course in a week or two.

Until then, motivation is a highly sought after commodity, and everything I do sucks way more than usual.  I've read a lot about Depression and its relation to artists because the topic fascinates me.  In past times, people often weren't considered real artists unless they were super-depressed.  I'd like to think that we have a bit more enlightened view these days, but there still seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about Depression.

Of interest to writers (and perhaps readers), I read a study where the studied writing samples from Depressives.  They had people write things both during "good" days and "bad" days.  Then, they asked both the writer to rate their own work, and others to rate it.  There were several things the found.  First, Depression seems to have no effect on writing quality (output is another thing). Most people could not tell when writing was done on "good" days or "bad" days.  Also, inevitably, the writer would think otherwise.  Obviously, everything done on a "bad" day was awful.  Though, objectively, it really wasn't.

I like to give myself a bit of a break when I'm in one of these black moods.  So I took the weekend off.  Yep, didn't get anything done.  It was nice, but I feel really guilty about it.  I should have been editing.  Realistically, though, I'm not going to get anything back from my editors before Christmas... so why am I rushing?  I could take weekends off and still get my first pass done. Thus, you may see me back off the editing goal a bit on my Wednesday check-in.  I've been pushing myself hard and the stress is getting to me... and the holidays are already stressful.

Be good to your muse and she'll be good to you, they say.  Whoever they are.  I guess I'll listen.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

Nothing says "Christmas" quite like...

Fellow ROW author Nadja Notariani is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas Reading Gift List.  I've got a button over there on the left.  I've mentioned it a few times, and that I'm taking part in it. One of the things that was asked of participants is to post a favorite holiday tradition sometime this week so that Najda can link back to it during the promotion. So this is my entry...

Let me start off first with some background.  I have a big family.  Think stereotypical Greek, except we're of German descent.  We're big.  We're loud.  We eat a lot and drink a little.  And, at just around 3 hours away from home, I'm likely in the top 5 for the Furthest Away Award (comes with a guilt-polished plaque).

Big family gatherings are something I grew up on.  Until I went away to college (1.5 hours away), I never really realized how strange that was.  Most people probably had a favorite Uncle or Aunt that you saw once or twice a year.  Maybe Grandma or Grandpa were around, but generally you could all fit in one room.  In the spring, we rent a pavilion.  Any time someone's in the hospital or something, we work out shifts, because if we all showed up at the same time, the nurses would have a fit.  For Christmas, we have to crowd into someone's house, and every room suddenly becomes a family room.

And we're talking just immediate family.  This isn't a reunion.  My family generally meets monthly to celebrate birthdays.  (Which I often miss.  Keeping up my FAA ranking, you know.)  So simply meeting isn't really a Christmas tradition, though Christmas for me will always be firmly couched in Family.

We do all the normal stuff like put up a tree, bake cookies, throw out some lights, exchange gifts.  But why would any of that be a favorite?  They're fun and part of the season, sure, but they don't speak to my identity.  If I'm going to share something, I want it to be tied to who I am.  What really embodies how I feel about Christmas time.

As I mused about the holidays in general, it came to me suddenly: Family Picture Time.

At each of these massive Christmas gatherings, we have an event that I'll lovingly call family picture time.  I don't even think it's officially "on the schedule," but everyone knows it's coming.  I think sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking: "maybe it won't happen this year."  But it always does.  At some point, after the food and presents usually, when everyone is full of merriment, it is decreed to be picture time.

You have to understand, the task of trying to get everyone in our huge family together in some sort of coordinated pose, and to SIT STILL and SHUT UP for a minute or two is nothing short of Herculean. The chaos that ensues when the rallying cry of "picture time" goes out is something that cannot be described in words.  It is equal parts feeding frenzy and stampede in the gorge.  There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

As a kid, it put a temporary hold on playtime, that most important of all Christmas traditions.  It validated the fact that your mother made you wear that stupid Christmas sweater when you were totally fine in briefs and a  giant T-shirt.  There was nothing worse than sitting still and looking nice, and this was like the Superbowl of the Nice Still Sitting League.

And don't get me wrong. As I age, it's not that I enjoy picture time in and of itself any more. You trade the unbridled annoyance of a child for the more patient annoyance of an adult, but annoyance is still the key functioning feeling. Perhaps I still harbor a deep-seated resentment for that one time when I was coerced to stop playing with my brand new Lego set and forced to perch on my Aunt's lap for the briefest of moments before letting the cold Christmas whirlwind whisk me away again. Or maybe pictures just really aren't all that exciting.  There are real bowl games on TV, after all.

Whatever the case, I can't honestly say that I'm looking forward to the bustle of picture time. But the idea of picture time? Yes, that's where the warm fuzzies are.  The fact that I'm fortunate enough to have a family so large, yet still able to be together and packed beneath one roof for the holidays.  We've lost some and gained some along the way, but we're all there.  Everyone, even if you can't see someone, they'll show up in the photo evidence (new or ancient).  They were there are some point.  That's what makes picture time both a trying experience and a treasured tradition.

When it comes right down to it, isn't that how most of us feel about the holidays anyway?  A mixture of seemingly opposed emotions that blend together in an indiscernible brew?  Aren't the most poignant memories bittersweet in one way or another?  A lost love.  A phase of life left behind.  Grandma's "thump" to keep you in line.  And, yes, family picture time.

Say: "Merry Christmas!"

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another Review!

I mentioned yesterday (and I wanted to highlight/respond to it today), I had a review.  I've touched on my philosophy on reviews before, namely that I look at them as learning opportunities, and will probably respond to them on here.  I feel like it's an appropriate venue, and my intent is not to make excuses or contradict the review in any way, but to delve deeper into what I'm doing as a writer.

In addition, I wanted to point to the interview that went up immediately following the review, as well.  I'll probably reproduce that on here in a week or so, just to have around, though if you want the pictures, you're going to have to go there.  There's one of our rabbit, and one of my wife and I masquerading as Lannister twins.

So back to the review.  Hannah told me that she didn't particularly like the cover.  I've gotten some good feedback, and bad feedback about the cover.  It's definitely something we're going to improve on in future novels.  We're doing it all ourselves, so it's another part of the learning process.  I know my wife is particularly excited about the next one (which she's in the middle of creating).  Not that I think TBD's cover is blatantly bad or anything, it obviously works for some folks, it's just our first hack at things.  In particular, I love the spine of the printed version, but you don't that on the ebook.

Openings are still a struggle for me (as I believe they are for a lot of writers).  Hannah points that out in her review.  To me, it just seems hard to lay a foundation and make it really clean and interesting.  That's a place I need to study up on.  Once I get flowing, I think my voice really comes out and the stories really start to move.  I'm not entirely displeased with this, as I'd rather start slow and end strong than the other way around.  Still, masters of the craft can carry the whole book.  That's where I want to be.

My early intentions in both this book and my epic fantasy book were not to try and re-invent tropes, or bust the genre, but to take familiar things, and try to give them an interesting tweak here and there.  It's good to see that Hannah appreciated a lot of those decisions.  Though I wasn't really writing for a genre, it's good to know that fans will find some of the ideas familiar without being boringly similar.

I got dinged for clunky writing, especially with Michael's voice.  Obviously, that's something I really want to listen to and improve on.  Likely a lot of it stems from being an extremely raw author, and someone who is doing this in a very grassroots manner.  I sometimes think my writing is clunky, too, but I promise I'm trying my best (not that I think anyone doubts that).  Especially after reading some George RR Martin.  Ugh, I'm like a monkey with mittens on!  Still, the goal is to get there eventually.  It would be unreasonable to think I could get there now.  The key to take from the criticism is that I made my protagonist seem a little older than intended.  In the next book, I could probably use to loosen him up a bit.  Besides, he should be a bit less stressed now that he's come to terms with what he is, right?

I got props for emotional scenes.  That sparks a huge smile.  Don't take this the wrong way, but anytime you can make a reader cry, you're doing it right.  Tugging at emotions is a great thing.  Mission accomplished there, at least in this case.

The review from Brazen Broads was (I believe) from a reader more accustomed to romance.  Hannah (I think) is more accustomed to fantasy.  The critiques and props between the two agreed for the most part, except for one character: Kiara.  I find it interesting that Hannah liked her where the Broads didn't as much.  Not saying that one is right and the other is wrong.  Different strokes for different folks, and all that.  Plus, the Broads didn't exactly dislike her, so much as point out that I may have made her too mysterious.  A fair charge.

Those are just a few thoughts.  Overall, another great review.  Eventually, I may get to the point where I can't keep up with reviews, but for now they're few enough and far between that I like to discuss them. They help reinforce that I'm not entirely without some ability (some days you need that).  More important, they give me concrete things to focus on and improve on.  This is a learning process, after all.
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