Category Archives: WRITING

Questions for Readers

This morning, between phone calls and the latest in a line of repairmen, I sat down to blog.The moment I did, the bane of so many writers’ existence hit — no, not writer’s block but the cat. Actually, in my case, the cats. Both decided they wanted to be in my lap. It didn’t matter the laptop was in my lap. No, they wanted there and they were willing to fight — one another and me — for the privilege. As a wise two-legged who has been owned by cats most of my life, I did the only smart thing possible. I carefully removed them and, promising them treats, made my escape to the kitchen where I opened a can of stinky food. Now, with them happily nomming in the other room, the dog asleep, let’s see if I can get this post finished before something else decides to interrupt me.

First up, book covers. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal of late. Partly because I am working on the expanded edition of Vengeance from Ashes and that will require a new cover, one the differentiates it from the original version. Another reason I’ve been thinking about it is because Sarah posted a cover in a discussion group the other day that in no way, shape or form signaled genre. Then I came across this post, via The Passive Voice.

So here’s my question for you. Do you care what sort of paper a book cover is printed on or are you more interested in the visuals of the cover itself? When shopping for an e-book, especially if it is not a book you are particularly looking for, how much impact does the cover have on you stopping to read the blurb?

Here are a couple of other questions to consider: do you get upset if the cover art doesn’t accurately depict the main character (assuming the MC is depicted on the cover)? How likely are you to stop and read the blurb if you are looking for particular genre but the cover signals something else?

Yes, there is a reason I’m asking these questions (well, one other than the fact the repairman is making so much noise I can barely think and the cats are back from their stinky food, looking as if they are about to restart the fight over who gets to sit in my lap).

Moving on. I saw a post on FB the other day where it seems GRRM has said he might — MIGHT — have the next book out next year. Sometime. Maybe.

So here’s my question. As a reader, do you lose interest in a series if an author takes too long between books? How long is too long? For myself, I can give an established author a year or two between books, especially if I can see they have other titles coming out. But an author who doesn’t put anything out, or very little, but who enjoys the life of being famous will lose my interest pretty quickly.

I worry when I go a year or a bit longer between books in a series. Yes, I have several different series going and tend to have a new book out every 3 to 4 months. Still, I worry that my readers will move on to other books if I don’t get new books out on a fairly regular basis. I have a hard time understanding those authors, especially the ones with more than enough money to live well and not worry about where the next rent check is coming from, who don’t write. Okay, if you’re blocked, move on to another project. If you’re tired of the series, say so and do a quick story that ties it all up. Or just say you won’t be writing anything else in the series. Sure, you’ll piss off some readers but at least it is better than stringing them along.

And no, GRRM isn’t the only one to do this. He is just the most recognizable for most of us.

Speaking of waiting for the next book in the series to come out, what are your thoughts about books that end in cliffhangers? What about those authors who end book after book with Charlie hanging off the edge of the cliff? Will the other characters arrive in time when the next book is published to save him? What if the series is cancelled? Will poor Charlie be left on that cliff for the rest of literary history?

Yes, there is a purpose for all the questions. Let me know what you think. thanks!

Oh, and don’t forget Nocturnal Rebellion is available for pre-order.


Filed under AMANDA, cover design, WRITING: ART, WRITING: CRAFT

A few thoughts about platform

The longer I go in this field, the more convinced I become that nobody has a truly comprehensive picture. Trad pubbers insist that New York is still the only road to brick-and-mortar stores, which lend brick-and-mortar credibility. Yet there are indie writers making several orders of magnitude more money than even the more well-off trad pub midlisters. With indie stars often getting plucked for trad pub eventually anyway — because indie is now the farm system where trad pub looks most closely, for all the hot new horses. Yet, for every indie author who rides a successful indie career to substantial trad pub paychecks, there are ten thousand other indie authors and trad pub authors alike, each dwelling in obscurity.

“Platform!” we all yell in unison, with almost prophetic urgency. Of the many industry buzz words to come and go these past two decades, platform is the one that continues to resonate. Because it’s plainly obvious that authors with sufficient platform, can perform at levels dramatically higher than those with little or no platform.

But do we ever stop to consider: what exactly is platform?

The most common response to the question typically focuses on blogs and article-writing — cough, not unlike this very example you’re reading right now, cough — which generates eyeballs for the author’s effort. And the potential for fiction sales — should the people attached to those eyeballs decide that the blog or article author is interesting enough in a non-fic setting, to risk coin on the author’s skill in a fic setting.

This type of platform is the path of least resistance, as evidenced by the millions of author blogs which now blanket the internet. Early adopters seem to have done best. Though there does come a point of sharply diminishing returns, I think. Because sooner or later, it’s the books and stories which matter most. Not how loudly or proudly an author can hold forth on topics like politics, the fic biz itself, cat pics, or any other subject.

It was this thought I found foremost in my mind while discussing my publisher — Baen Books — with a new, outspoken, and conservatively-minded indie firebrand, who was wondering what it would take to attract Baen’s interest.

“More than just being a partisan,” I told him bluntly. Because that much is true. Baen — being just about the only trad pub label in Science Fiction which isn’t observably anti-conservative — gets fairly mobbed with manuscripts and inquiries from prospective conservative and libertarian authors. I myself would not have earned more than a glance from Baen, had my pedigree in Analog magazine not preceded me. Even the good word of mouth, proffered by friends already being published beneath the Baen banner, would not have counted without those short fiction credits to form a foundation.

In simpler terms, I didn’t have a popular blog to show, but I did have quantifiable proof of audience.

And that is the root of it, my friends. Quantifiable. Proof. Of. Audience.

Which is not a bulletproof magic carpet, mind you. Just ask the trad pub office that shelled out for the Snooki book. Or the poor Dorling Kindersley people responsible for the print run decisions on the infamous Phantom Menace novelization.

Platform is just smoke. It is not (yet) the fire itself.

So . . . what’s the use? If platform cannot be a guarantee, why dig for it? And if not blogs and articles, what else?

My favorite trad pub comic strip artist of all time, is Berkley Breathed, of Bloom County fame. He re-launched that title roughly two years ago, to the delight of all of us who’d signed on with Bloom County during its original 1980s run. Breathed’s skill is as sharp as ever, and it’s a delight to see the man applying his talent to our present social and political climate. More remarkable still, though, is the fact that Breathed is doing his new work in the digital flow of commerce — like a grand old titan of legend, come back to show all the zillions of younger web comics scribblers how it’s done.

Breathed — correctly recognizing his long-established platform, left over from previous comic strip efforts — converted on that potential. His typical daily offering is now guaranteed many thousands of shares, with tens of thousands of likes, on Facebook alone. And he’s releasing a treasury of new material to boot, which is being sold at San Diego Comic Con this very weekend.

It took Breathed decades of work, to be able to come back to his platform, and find it sturdy.

Just as it took Mike Rowe years of Dirty Jobs outings to become the modern voice of working-class dignity and values.

If Mike had resorted simply to doing blogs, without actually going out and getting his hands (and much else on his person) filthy, I am not sure he’d be able to go before Congress, or a national audience, and convincingly speak on his chosen subject. Just as authors who ply their trade in military fiction (any genre) stand a better chance with crowds, provided those authors have some form of military pedigree to boot.

Because people want some kind of bona fide — pronounced Holly Hunter fashion, from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I obviously can’t tell any of you what will work, in your search for bona fide.

Plenty of people attempt artful dodgery, especially in academic circles. Pay a prestigious university to give you a prestigious degree, and you can potentially sail your way through intellectual circles — which have always been easily impressed by schoolhouse credentials.

Other arenas will accept nothing less than the scars on your hands and the crookedness of your nose; from how many times its been broken. The kind of stuff that can’t be faked.

Because Lord knows, in the wordsie gameses, fakery is a fine art. It’s not what you have that counts, it’s what you can make them think you have. And so forth. Perception, perception, perception. And some people are incredibly good at crafting perception, often while constructing cults of personality.

But is that it? Get a few thousand loyalists together under your umbrella, set up a Patreon, and never look back?

I’m not convinced it has to be. Though I fully understand all the sensible — from a business standpoint — reasons why the above scenario continues to be played out over and over again. Good money really is where you find it. Especially in the digital age, when the old barriers against “vanity” anything, have crumbled. And artists of all varieties are working feverishly to expand into new markets. Especially artists who were shut out — by their reckoning — of the Old Way Of Doing Things.

I suppose the best advice I can put to you, is to do something you would have been happy doing anyway. Even if nobody was going to pay you for it.

Because you’re fired up, or you feel a calling, or you simply discover a talent for (mumble, activity of your choice, mumble) which stands out from what’s being done by others. Doesn’t matter if the thing is explicitly about fiction, or publishing. I often think lately that we as authors are too prone to spending too much time talking to each other, including selling to each other, that we forget the real market is outside of us. Beyond our small borders.

I’ve got a good friend down in Los Angeles who’s busted her ass trying to break in big-time with Hollywood. She faces all the same problems authors do, but accentuated to an extra degree. Just because Hollywood is a place of even greater disparity than publishing, and I sometimes fear she too has fallen prey to spending too much time among her own crowd, going to great effort for the sake of a purely internal audience — disconnected from the universe beyond.

So, if you can craft a platform that is visible beyond the publishing industry horizon, you’re on the right track. Get the attention of the people who don’t spend every waking minute fretting about contracts and royalties and the futures of trad and indie publishing both. Get the crowd that doesn’t care about any of that. Those are the eyeballs you need more than all others. Belonging to men and women, girls and boys, who are simply looking for an enjoyable read. For an hour. For an afternoon. A week. And so forth. Get their attention, keep it, and grow it, and you can be sure that your platform is not just strong, but capable of standing up to the weathering of time.



Ripples of Good Fortune

This morning at breakfast, at a little cafe in tiny town, Texas, JL Curtis, Peter, myself, and two other good friends were teasing LawDog. His book officially comes out on Monday, but in order for the book to be ready for all the publicity and scheduled boost, it’s already soft-launched and live. He’s already overtorqued and wound tighter than five dogs on leashes after the same ball.

He blames us all for the book being published. Which is kinda funny, because he’s to blame for all of us being where we’re at. Many years ago, there was an internet gun forum that had a little section set aside for people to tell stories. LawDog posted some wonderfully hilarious stories, which encouraged some other people to write their own stuff.

It was, in fact, his thread “Lines I’d like to hear in a Horror Movie”, that got another mod, Larry Correia, writing a book that was a wonderful take on gun nuts vs. horror tropes. (Seriously – Monster Hunter International is a great story if you don’t watch B-reel horror movies, but if you do, it’s hysterically funny, and full of “I know what movie you pulled that from!” and “You did WHAT to that trope?”)

When another moderator named Peter Grant was medically retired with a disabling injury, Larry’s success at first self-publishing then trad-publishing (this was before KDP and indie publishing like it is today) led him to tackle writing as a way he could support himself.

As well, that sucess propelled Marko Kloos, after countless rejections, to try indie-publishing Terms of Enlistment. He’s done awesomely, and has since been picked up by 47 North, Amazon’s SciFi imprint.

Meanwhile, LawDog had moved on to a blog, and kept telling stories there. That blog inspired others – in fact, the first time I went to Alma Boykin’s blog, I was amused and amazed to see LawDog up on the sidebar as “The Blogfather.” It’s a small world, sometimes!

His blog also led to JL Curtis, who goes by OldNFO here in comments, starting his own blog, and then writing his own books. Darned good ones, too! Latest release: A novella chronicling the last of our military trying to evacuate after CalExit. The Morning the Earth Shook!

And last and certainly least, years later when we’d moved from I’m-Allergic-To-Everything, Tennessee, to Tiny Town, Texas (Peter was homesick, and this looks just like some parts of the African veldt. Besides, it has LawDog and his lady.)… I was sitting on the couch in a sling bored and frustrated enough that I finally decided I’d publish a little something I’d been sitting on, because I couldn’t fly, couldn’t clean, couldn’t cook, couldn’t just about anything else. So why not? I blame Lawdog and JL Curtis for failing to talk me out of it, and my own darling man for not only aiding and abetting, but for fixing all the formatting after I… let’s just say there were painkiller-inspired decisions and attention span involved, and that’s not a good thing when formatting or copyediting. And that’s how Scaling The Rim went from a hard drive into the wild.

So it’s all LawDog’s fault. And now he’s finally publishing!

Check it out!

LawDog had the honor of representing law and order in the Texas town of Bugscuffle as a Sheriff’s Deputy, where he became notorious for, among other things, the famous Case of the Pink Gorilla Suit. In THE LAWDOG FILES, he chronicles his official encounters with everything from naked bikers, combative eco-warriors, suicidal drunks, respectful methheads, prison tattoo artists, and creepy silent children to six-foot chickens and lethal chihuahuas.

THE LAWDOG FILES range from the bittersweet to the explosively hilarious, as LawDog relates his unforgettable experiences in a laconic, self-deprecating manner that is funny in its own right. The book is more than mere entertainment, it is an education in two English dialects, Police and Texas Country. And underlying the humor is an unmistakable sympathy for society’s less fortunate – and in most cases, significantly less intelligent – whose encounters with the law are an all-too-frequent affair.



Oops, it’s Tuesday

You’ll pardon me if I’m a bit scattered this morning. The past week has been interesting — yes, that’s the word. Nothing serious has happened but nothing has happened on schedule either. The writing and editing have been suffering as a result. Between company — which I loved but, damn, I don’t love the prep for having people over — my neighbor doing something in his back yard that has required 3 days of jackhammering, any attempt to concentrate has been futile. Add to that the fact the installers arrived at 1830 last night to put in my storm doors — and couldn’t finish because they’d never installed a door like one of mine — and I’m tired and frustrated. Again, not conducive to writing.

Yet, I have to write. I also have to figure out why I’m having issues converting a book to put up for pre-order. Oh, the life of a writer. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

While trying to figure out what I wanted to write about today, I came across this post from Bookbaby Blog. It asks the age-old question, when should I publish my book? It’s something many indie authors angst about. There is so much information out there, much of it contradictory, about when a book should come out. Sure, a lot of us follow the simple rule of “publish it once it’s done.” But there really is more to it than that.

I agree with a lot of what Bookbaby has to say in the post. Now is the time to publish your work. Don’t let it sit there gathering virtual dust. The only caveat Bookbaby gives, and it is one I agree with, is that the holiday season isn’t the best time for a new indie author to release a book. Yes, it is a time when many of us are buying books, either for ourselves or as gifts. For the latter, most of us don’t want to risk giving a book we aren’t sure the recipient will enjoy. So we tend to go for authors we know they read or who we know write in much the same way as those authors our friend or family member likes. Newbies aren’t even on the radar.

But that leaves the rest of the year.

Now, I know a lot of us suffer what we call the summer doldrums when it comes to sales. Reading the linked post had me thinking about that and then nodding. Summer is when a lot of readers are looking for what can be euphemistically called beach reads. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be fluffy romances, even though that is often what we see the traditional publishers pushing at this time of year. But escape seems to be the theme most wanted. For the summer months, Bookbaby suggests we follow what the trads do and publish books focusing on adventure, fantasy and travel.

It makes sense, especially if you are marketing your books properly. Why? Because these are the months readers in the U.S. traditionally “escape”. School is out. Families schedule vacations to get away from the pressures of daily life. They don’t want to be reminded of everything they left behind. They want to escape. It’s why movie makers release their blockbuster films during the summer. Escapism is the name of the game.

As indies, that means we are competing with the trads for those precious readers. But we can and often do win. The challenge is making sure we are doing everything the trads are doing when it comes to insuring our books looks as professional as theirs. We also have to make sure our metadata is set up properly so readers can find our books using whatever their favorite search engine is. Sure, we also have to promote (gag, ick). But we can and do grab our share of the market — we just have to work at it.

Something else we have to look at is the timing of our books if they have a certain theme. A book where your main character runs away for the summer can come out any time. However, a Christmas themed book probably needs to come out close to the holiday season. That’s not a hard and fast rule. After all, the first rule of indie publishing is not to sit on your work. However, there are a number of readers who, as we get close to the holiday season, want holiday themed books. They will risk buying an indie author they’ve never heard of if the book conforms to the holiday theme and if the blurb and sample look interesting. That said, they don’t search those books out at other times of the year. So, weight that along with all the other factors when writing a holiday themed book.

A couple of other thoughts — and yes, I know I’m all over the place today. Sorry — about when to bring out your books. Whether you are writing a series or stand-alone books, you need to have a publishing schedule. Sure, you can alter it because life happens. But you need to stick as close to it as possible. Why? Because your readers need to know they can count on you to continue to produce in a regular fashion. Going hand-in-hand with this is something I am seeing with my own work. If you can put out a new title (and it doesn’t have to be a novel. It can be a short story.) every three months, you may be able to keep your sales from taking that dramatic drop they seem to do all too often a few months after a new novel comes out.

As for what day of the week you should bring your books out on, you can do what some of the better selling indies and trads do and publish on the first and third Tuesday of each month. I don’t always do it on those particular Tuesdays but I do try to come out on Tuesday. Why? Because most folks are too busy getting back in the swing of the workweek on Monday to worry about buying a new book. Tuesday lets you grab them and you have the rest of the week to remind them you have a new title out and come get it for the weekend. You also avoid the end of the week “all I want is for the weekend it get here” attitude so many of us have. Will it work for everyone? I don’t know but it has seemed to help my sales.

And, joy of joys — not, it looks like they are about to start the jackhammering again. So, before that happens, let me close this out. As an indie, you are in command of your professional life. Do your research and don’t be afraid of releasing your book when it’s ready. Push the baby out and start working on the next one.

Until next week!



Rex, Donna, and Excentrifugal Engineering

When I wandered into Baen’s Bar years ago, one of the first posts I came across was one by this fellow by the name of Jim Snover. Jim shared stories about Rex Mason, his wife Donna and his adventures with Excentrifugal Engineering. If something went fast, Rex wanted to make it go faster. Of course, with Rex, things never quite went the way he intended. It took time, but Jim has finally admitted he’s a writer and had started publishing some of his short stories. And now, here’s Jim talking about Rex and company.

Rex, Donna, and Excentrifugal Engineering

by Jim Snover

“It’s a big universe, out there. We’re going to have to move fast if we want to see the whole thing.”

Rex Mason
Excentrifugal Engineering
See the distance. Go the distance. Be the distance.

I’ve been asked a few times, “How did I think up all of this? This whole Rex, Donna and Excentrifugal Engineering thing?” I would always say, “It’s really kind of boring, not that interesting at all.” But they would persist. So, here it is:

Donna and Rex, and E.E. were all inspirations born of Baen’s Bar, circa 2001. Back then, before social media took off, it was bulletin boards and web sites, and Jim Baen was the first figure of any merit in the hurly-burly word of publishing to take any of this internet stuff and run with it. Utilizing first the bulletin boards, then the web site, he created a virtual space, where, wonder of wonders, readers could talk to authors, fans could talk to each other, and folks who expressed any interest in becoming authors were actively encouraged by authors to give it a shot. By 2001, when I discovered it and joined, it was off and running and had dozens of author and topic sub-conferences. Authors were each given their own, but everyone was free to roam about the place to their heart’s content, and the one people migrated to for general fannish zaniness was, appropriately, Baen’s Bar.

Among the threads in Baen’s Bar was a sort of running round-robin called the “skippy chase.” skippy (NEVER capitalize his name, he’s trying to avoid the capital gains tax!) is an agent of chaos. Written yourself into a corner? Have skippy come along, boom, you’re out of the corner. skippy’s agent was one Green Bear, and between the two of them they kept us all laughing our hearts out. Every now and then, skippy’s antics resulted in either him getting chased all over the world, OR, in a massive virtual food fight. Sometimes both. These were true round-robins, in that any and all were welcome to participate, in fact, were encouraged to do so. One line, ten or twenty sentences, or however many paragraphs you wanted to crank out, hit the keys, hit send, watch how it influenced the whole thing. Sometimes individual contributions died, sometimes they propelled it into whole new directions. We would often write ourselves into these using either an avatar name, or our own, if we weren’t creative enough to come up with an avatar identity. For ages, I used my own name. These would run for a few days, then die out or be ended definitively. It was GREAT practice for anyone who wanted to learn to write, to teach yourself in a running environment how to make your meaning clear, and just fun as all get out.

That’s the background of the environment in which Rex, Donna and E.E. was born, and believe me, it’s just the merest scraping of the surface, this little mention I have given it here in no way does it justice. I only mention it because without Baen’s Bar, there would never have been an Excentrifugal Engineering.

“If a guy’s going to go around talking in metaphor, getting himself thrown off a Mayan pyramid is just exactly the sort of thing he can expect to happen to him!” Rex Mason

For my part, in 2001 I had a job fixing copiers. It was heaven for a gear-head like me: gears, chains, electromechanical clutches, endless cam actuated switches, bleeding-edge electronics, gripper-bars … it was awesome. Except for a couple of things: technology made copiers more reliable, but FAR less fun to work on. The new ones, after 1998, were … boring. Eventually, though, by 2001 that wasn’t a problem because the job went away all together. Just as well, because the other drawback to working on copiers is, at the end of the day, it was just … copiers. I got a severance package and hit the want ads looking for a new job at the age of 40. I fell, bass-ackwards, into the world of medical x-ray film processor repair. It was easy, it was just black and white photochemistry, which I had learned backwards and forwards in high school. Easy work, but the job, and the company, left a lot to be desired! I was hemmed in on all sides by regulations from the local, state and federal level that made the simplest things utterly impossible. There was a lot of overtime, and lots of it was, effectively, third-shift work. It paid well, but it was going nowhere, I hated it, and I was even thinking of going back to construction (the family biz, Mom and Dad had their own Masonry company).

“All right, all right! So we blew up the wrong dam. Look, you’ve got this other one over here, and it’s nearly as good as that one was, what’s the big deal?” Excentrifugal Engineering And The Case Of The Demolition Job At The Three Gorges Dam

One morning at 2:30AM, I’m lamenting my fate when it hit me: what if you had a guy who completely disregarded any and all regulations as he saw fit? He’d probably get thrown in jail. Maybe, perhaps. But what if he was just good enough at solving problems that the authorities always made excuses for him, let him go, that sort of thing? They would have to be some pretty serious problems, then. That thought, at 2:30AM, made me laugh, and it was the first time in months it seemed I had anything to laugh at. I started writing stories and initiating round-robins on Baen’s Bar. They started to spread. At first, I was using my name for the main character, but that started to seem weird. I needed a name for a fictional character. I was explaining this to my wife, the ever lovely and gracious Donna, and she asked,

“What does this guy do?”

“Well, he wants to build cars and airplanes and boats that go fast. But he never considers reliability, safety, efficiency, as being important. Just the speed.”

“Sounds like someone who wrecks a lot.”


“He needs a last name. They say you should give a character a name like, where you grew up, or what your first job was.”

“You used to be a brick layer, right? A Mason?”


Then Donna asked, “Is he married?”

“Why, yes, of course. His wife is the one who largely keeps him from getting into too much trouble.”

“What’s her name?”

“Why, Donna, of course!” What can I say? Sometimes, every now and then, I seem to say the right thing. But from that moment on I now have two Donna’s with which to contend: The Real Donna and The Fictitious Donna. Life. What can you do about it?

“Excentrifugal Engineering: You know that place where angels and demons fear to tread? That’s where you’ll find us, hanging out, drinking beer, pizza on the way!”

The company name came shortly afterwards, from one of my all-time favorite rock artists, Frank Zappa. He’s got a song called “Excentrifugal Forz.” Thus was born “Excentrifugal Engineering.” It was patterned after Baen’s Bar. There are no employees, everyone is a partner. Their pay depends on how well the company does. The place is full of secrets, but very little security. It doesn’t need it, it’s so dangerous, if you can get in and out with information, they might well want to bring you on board.

Somewhere along the way, I don’t remember exactly when, Sarah Hoyt showed up as a Baen author and got her own conference. For reasons still not entirely understood, all of the craziest of the Baen’s Bar crazies gravitated towards her conference. One day I’m typing up an E.E. adventure, and it occurs to me: maybe I should ask her if she minds if I do this? She might not like it. I can be very, very dense about such things. So, I asked her and she let me know in no uncertain terms how much she LOVES Rex! Well, OK, then! What I missed was where she said she loves Rex. I mean, I saw it, it was written in plain English, but I just assumed she meant she liked the stories. It took a while longer for me to realize that people really do love Rex, and that was a stunner, to me.

That realization occurred when I would get emails from fellow Bar Flies and Dinerzens, saying things like, “We were on vacation and we saw an SR-71 Blackbird, and we all thought, “What would Rex do with that?”” Some of them asked for their kids to be put in the stories. Some of them (MANY of them!) asked for themselves to be worked into the stories! All of this was just freaking me out to no end because this was just me unwinding on an average evening, messing around, having a little fun.

The first of Sarah’s workshops I attended in Dallas, Texas, Sarah looks at me and says, “Now I know what Rex looks like.” Well, he’s still got his hair, and his belly and his chest have not swapped places, like mine have … but there is some resemblance, yes.

The second of Sarah’s workshops I attended in Dallas, Texas, Sandra Medlock was there. I didn’t recognize her, but she knew who I was because I had had a custom shirt with “Excentrifugal Engineering” embroidered on it.

This was 2011, about when I discovered Facebook. Quickly most of the Bar Flies wound up there. Many of them became regulars in the ongoing adventures. Eudyptes Diabolicus, aka Evil Penguin, chief test pilot (Rex can fly. But he’s not a pilot, and the FAA and the press always freak out like you would not imagine when he gets in the left seat of an aircraft.) Jose Clavell, Chief Legal Counsel, leader of the Free Range Legal Dept. President of the United States, Chris French (he and Rex were childhood pals. CF always knew, even as kids, he was going to have to throw Rex in prison, eventually). That was like a last-minute thing I thought of, one day. CF and I were arguing, he had won the argument, we both knew it, and I thought, “what’s the worst thing that could happen to him? I’ll make him POTUS!) Many new partners have been brought into the E.E. fold; basically, shoot me a message, and you’re in. Sarah, Amanda, Paul Howard as himself and at least two dragon avatars, Green Bear, Mamma Bear (she let it be known she could solder. NEVER let Rex know you can solder!) and more than I can possibly remember!

In the meantime, things at work had gotten a lot better. I had moved on from film processors (analog film is all but dead in medical imaging, having been replaced almost overnight by digital imaging, and thank God! (And I mean that sincerely, because digital imaging is the best thing for the patient that has ever happened in the world of medical imaging!) to x-ray machines. Then added ultrasound, bone densitometry, CT, MRI, and cath labs to my resume as well. This all started in 2004, and since then things have gotten better and better for me at work, now I’m at a point I thought I might never reach, my dream job, working for one of the big manufacturers. It’s been a crazy 13 years of wonderful preceded by that very dark period in 2001. It all seemed to break when I thought up Rex and E.E., though. Maybe, probably, because I had found an outlet not just for the frustrations at work, but also within the larger context of life, the universe and everything, as well.

“Mr. Mason! Would you please tell the court whatever possessed you to turn the sun inside out?”

“So everyone could see how it works, your honor. We published the plans on the internet, anyone can do it, it’s not even difficult, really-“

“Mr. Clavell! Did you just shoot your own client with a stun gun?”

“Yes, your honor. As his attorney, I felt it was in his best interests.”

“Approved. And keep that thing charged up and ready for use!”

“Yes, your honor!”

So: it’s been around for years, Donna and Rex and E.E. even have their own fan base. Recently, thanks to Facebook and my tendency to post the snippets there and the fact that I have Facebook friends from work, it has even become widely known at work. “Look! That was Rex! When we told him the machine was shooting sparks, did you see how his eyes lit up? That’s Rex, that’s how you can tell!” WHY, in all this time, has there been no book?

That’s a tough one. When I sit down to write the book, I have all these expectations: it has to be good, interesting, funny, exciting, there are folks I’ve known for years who are letting me use their names … and I sit and stare at the screen. And anything I do get written is mostly junk I delete in disgust. How many times I have thought of just giving up on it, I can’t count. And yet, when I sit down and write something up, just fooling around, to toss up on Facebook, here comes all this pretty good, pretty funny, stuff. Sometimes thousands of words of it. Sometimes I have to stop and make notes because the ideas come so fast I can’t keep it all in my head. What in the Hell? Seriously, what in the HELL?

I’ve written a couple of other things, short stories, that turned out as well as I had hoped they would (Blackie, The Copier Guy, and a super short piece, Valentine’s Day). I worked up another series, a mystery series, that I can write all night long and be happy with it. But I want to write Rex, Donna and E.E.! A short while ago, Donna had me work up a story of our niece and nephew getting lost in the E.E. building. That turned out pretty good, too. So … how about a new character? How about trying to come into it from a different angle, through the eyes and experiences of a new character? Somebody not real, that I don’t know, and that way, if it isn’t any good I won’t be letting them down? And it was off to the races! I had Polly’s Summer Vacation at Excentrifugal Engineering written up in three evenings, edited twice, and sent off to Amanda for editing in a week.

Of my previous two stories, Polly has not just done better, she has blown the doors off the other two by a considerable margin, and that was with it being first published with all kinds of errors, and a cover so bad (what WAS I thinking?) that Sarah Hoyt made me a new one! Polly’s 2nd-4th years with E.E. are in the works and moving along nicely, too. The only problem is not letting Rex take over, which he tends to do.

Which is odd, because Rex is just this guy. The most boring man on Earth.

“… and also in the news today: mad-man inventor Rex Mason and his company Excentrifugal Engineering have done it again. They claim they have prevented Earth from being invaded by elder evil gods from the lost millennia, which Mason calls, simply, the “Tentacles.” Mount Everest was cut in half in the process.

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. That could have happened to anyone, and anyway, the other half is still here, it’s just in orbit. Soon we’ll be calling it a new moon and laughing about all this,” said company president Rex Mason.

The Green Party and the Gaia Club are calling for Mason to be prosecuted in the World Court for environmental destruction and persecution of a newly discovered endangered species, the Tentacles. When asked what he had to say to this, Mason announced a new E.E. summer intern program, saying, “It would be the biggest thing ever …”


You can find out more about Rex, Donna and especially Polly in Jim’s short story, Polly’s Summer Vacation at Excentrifugal Engineering.

When a slight problem of some missing mountain range threatens to have Rex Mason thrown in jail, what does he do? He creates the Excentrifugal Engineering Youth Internship Program! The first participant: 13-year-old Polly Madison! But it won’t be easy, and confined to a wheel chair, it may be too much for her. Join her as her intelligence, creativity, perseverance and courage are all tested as never before in her life!




How to Successfully not Market your Book: Or Doing it All Wrong (Almost) By Alma Boykin

Alma Boykin here. I have been successfully getting in my own way and not marketing (fiction) books since December 2012. In the process, I’ve managed to make pretty much every mistake you can do as an indie author, bar one. Dorothy Grant, Cedar Sanderson, and others have written a lot about how to market your books and stories. So here’s a quick guide on how to successfully not market your book, thus ensuring that only the most selective, discriminating, or lucky readers will ever find it.

1. Have absolutely no online presence of any form other than an e-mail address and occasionally chiming in on certain websites. This was my technique after I released A Cat Among Dragons in December 2012. No social media, no blog, no web-site, nothing. Just write and release and see what happens. I was pretty successful at not selling the book. Today, summer of 2017, this technique would be even more successful since so many more people have begun publishing their work.

2. No social media presence ever. I did give in and start a blog, Cat Rotator’s Quarterly,(Alma! I added the blog name and link! You should promote it! -Ed.) in February 2014, but I have no Twitter, Facebook, G+, LiveJournal, Snapchat, Pinterest, or whatever other social media platforms are out there. This is another great way not to tell people about your books. What they don’t know about, then can’t find. HOWEVER! If used properly, social media can help not-sell your work. Some of the best ways are to overload anyone who follows you with near-daily announcements about “Only three years, two months, and a day and a half until the release of [book]!” or “Hey, boy my book! Buy my book!” The more often you remind people to buy your work, the more they will drop your feed and flee the company of your works. Think of it as the electronic version of the whiney 5-year-old in the back seat asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I gotta go. Are we there yet?”

2a. Make it hard to find your books on your web-site. You can use white on black text, busy backgrounds that readers have to read over, page tabs that are hard to read… The options are nearly endless (see the blog link above).

3. Ignore the current conventions for cover design. Let’s say you wrote a dark romance novel with a little tasteful D/s in the plot. Sure, use that great landscape photo you saw on Pinterest for the cover art! The cheerful yellow and red flowers in the meadow under soft, puffy white clouds in a blue sky will do an excellent job of leading to very surprised readers once they get your book and open the cover. Another option that seems to help not sell books is to cram a cast of thousands (think some of the art-by-the-yard historical paintings from the 1600s-1800s) cover onto your book. Oh yes, the one that looked so good on your desktop monitor? Go for it. Thumbnail, schlumbnail, it’s your book and your cover so why not? Genre and designs are challenges to be overcome, not guidelines to work within.

4. Don’t market. Do not use BookBub, E-book Soda, the Amazon marketing tools, link exchanges with other writers, a mailing list, nothing. Do not tell people your book has been released. To paraphrase Fight Club, “The first rule of Not Selling the Book is Don’t Talk about the Book.” What people don’t know about, they can’t buy. If you truly feel compelled, put up a small blog post, without links to your sales platforms, saying “Um, yeah, so I just released the next book.” Granted, if your sales criteria and genre do not meet the requirements for things like BookBub, you have a major advantage in not marketing, but if by unhappy chance you do manage to get 50 decent reviews and have a sweet romance releasing during Romance Week, avoid marketing sites like the plague. The unmentioned book doesn’t sell, which is your goal, right?

5. Ignore genre trends. Dang it, you are going to write the next great angsty vampire teen romance. So what if everyone says that subgenre is no longer selling? Or you have a Fifty Shades-ish idea for a romance between a billionaire businessman who “knows the ropes,” ahem, so to speak, and the city restaurant code inspector who fails the kitchen in his private club? Do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that a market is saturated. The more saturated the market, the lower the odds of readers seeing your book on the real or electronic shelves. That’s your goal, remember?

6. Ignore pleas and offers to alpha read or edit your noble, pristine work. It is perfect just as it is, fresh off the printer (or screen). Those are not tyops, those are just alternate spellings that have not been discovered yet. And formatting is for wimps.

7. Wait until the middle of the series to release novel-length works and to offer them in print. Nothing chases away readers like finding that the first dead tree book is #7 in the series.

8. Release series out of order, although this technique is not as effective as some others. The last Colplatschki book (#8) will actually be the first in in-series chronological order. Which leads to …

9. Allow bad reviews to determine what you release and if you “finish” a series. Although this may fall more into “How to Chase Off Readers” than strictly not selling books. This also falls into traditional publishing’s bailiwick, since they are very good about stopping series in the middle if the publisher’s lack of marketing has hurt sales of the earlier books. Learn from the Big 7, er 6, ah 5. They have spent the past few years laboring hard to become masters of not marketing.

10. Ignore release dates of other books. Let’s say Brandon Sanderson, Brad Thor, Larry Correia, Michael Z. Williamson, and Stephen King and Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele are all going to release books August 1-4. Of course this is the best time to launch Angsty Teen Vampires from Tacoma! No one will have any money left to buy your book, and they won’t see it because of the full-page ads and Amazon sales blitz and big posters at Barnes and Noble. That’s a great way to not sell books.

I’ve also written so cross-genre that no one is quite certain how to categorize or market my books. I’ve written alt-history that is closer to secret history except for the heavy sci-fi elements, but that has so much actual historical background that it almost needs footnotes in spots (almost). I’m going to release a YA (but it’s not, really) in September that is sci-fi but also coming of age and exploration and school-drama and planetary exploration and hunting and oh heck, YOU figure out how to sell it. And I released a steampunk story, Language of the Land, that lacks a bunch of the “things you have to have to call it steampunk.” And urban fantasy set in Colorado and rural Kansas that includes a texting cat and Russian mythology but no elves, vampires, werewolves, or the other now-seemingly-standard UF elements. (Links added. Would it kill you to mention your book names and add them now and then? If people are interested, let them know where to go! -Ed.)

The few things I’ve not done yet to not sell books include getting into hissing fights on-line, insulting readers or saying that if readers disagree with my politics they should stop buying my books. I’ve noticed that the latter technique seems to work very, very well for not selling books, but it does imply that you had readers to begin with. And I’ve never, ever gone after anyone who left a bad review of my work. Even I don’t want to replace the author of You Know Which Book on the Marketers’ Wall of Shame.

And yet, despite my valiant efforts at not marketing, people still find my books, like them, and tell others. If I marketed, I’d do better. I know this. I have lots and lots of excuses for not marketing. I marketed my non-fiction. And I survived, and sold.
But if you want to not market, just follow my advice above, and you too will successfully not market and not sell books. Unless people like your books. I can’t help you then.



Alarms and Diversions

I had an unpleasant experience on Friday. They were testing the fire systems in the lab where I work, and that meant that at random points during the morning, the alarms would blare out – once, while I was working directly under an alarm, which was an interesting experience as you feel the soundwaves physically – and lights would flash. We’d been told this was going to happen, and that we did not need to evacuate during the process, but as I commented to a colleague, they hadn’t said we *couldn’t* leave the building. We wound up all putting in earbuds, then an engineer went through passing out the lil’ sponge rubber ear plugs, which helped – but didn’t entirely reduce the unpleasantness of the noise, not to mention the bright flashes from the alarm lights.


While this was going on, I was charting, and managed to miss signing off on a time on one of them. While reviewing them later, I realized it, and realized that I’d missed it because of the alarm. We do funny things when we’re under duress, we humans, and it’s something to contemplate about when I’m writing. This was not a life-or-death situation – it was a known alarm, but it still made me jump about a foot when it went off – and the charts merely record temperatures, and the time I removed this one can be deduced by looking at the time I installed it’s replacement.


However, it’s a great way to introduce uncertainty, jangled nerves, and missed connections into a story. Imagine a spaceship where you couldn’t escape the alarms, and they went on and on and on… people would be going mad. Hearing loss. Even after the alarms stopped, I was having tinnitus for a long time. I’ve had reviewers not like that I didn’t put a huge amount of detail into fight scenes, but I wrote those in consultation with people who had been in similar situations. The fog of war is a thing. You miss stuff around you, you’re so highly focused on what you’re doing, you can’t possibly be aware of what’s happening all the way across the battlefield. Or the space station, which is so partitioned off you couldn’t see it anyway.


While I’ve seen readers complain about smart characters making stupid mistakes while under duress, the reality is that when you can’t think straight because there’s a screeching that rattles your bones, you can make mistakes. There’s a reason the military drills in skills over and over and over – so you can do what you’re supposed to do, even when the brain is over there in the corner gibbering. Something deep down takes over and you do it. I’ve never personally been in combat. I was, however, trained in first responder skills, and when I reached motherhood, there were a few situations that came up where I had to be calm in the face of potential tragedies. To have panicked wouldn’t have helped, and it would have frightened the children. So I know, a tiny bit, what it feels like to operate on that other level.

As a plot device, this can be a handy way to get your protagonist in a lot of trouble. Pile on the alarms and diversions until he doesn’t know which way is up, and you can fit in plot twists that would work as amusement park rides!