Category Archives: WRITING: PUBLISHING

Ack!

That is the sound you hear — okay, maybe I’m the only one to hear it — when this writer’s brain realizes it has two active works-in-progress going on and suddenly, without warning, a third (and possibly a fourth) suddenly pops in and demands attention. That “Ack!” is immediately followed by hysterical laughter and then sobbing.  I’m sure a catatonic state will shortly occur. Not that it will silence Myrtle the Evil Muse. She, it seems, enjoys doing all she can to torture me.

I’m not really complaining. At least not too much. You see, I think this is Myrtle’s way of getting back at me because I’m not letting her have her way with one of the current WIPs. She might not care if some of my fans (waves at Amanda F.) would come after me with sharp objects if I did as she wants but I do. Besides, there are times when the Writer has to throttle the Muse, toss her to the ground and drag her, kicking and screaming, to the closet where she will be locked in until time for the next project to begin. This is especially true right now because she is drunk or high or just sadistic.

Nope, I’m not going to do what she wants.

Oh, wait, you don’t know what she wants? Oh, that’s simple. She wants me to kill off a main character, THE main character, in one of my series. Sure, the current story arc is rapidly coming to an end but it isn’t the end of the series and, as I said, Amanda F. has threatened me if I kill this particular character. And that doesn’t even come close to what the other characters in the series said they’d do to me if I allowed Myrtle to have her way.

Actually, this all comes around to a question someone asked the other day. When do you know it’s time to end a series?

I wish there was an easy answer. Well, in a way, there is. The series ends when the story is over. Except, in a series, the story can be far-reaching and include many more plots and sub-plots than expected when it first began. So, the easy answer gets a bit more difficult in application.

We’ve all seen series that have gone on too long. Sometimes it is because the author is so in love with the characters that she doesn’t want to move on. Sometimes, and this is particularly true in traditional publishing, the publishing house relies on the name of the author to sell books. They know the author will bring in at least a certain level of sales. So, they keep wanting more in a series even after it has run its course. All too often in this case, the author is ready to move on but with the publisher waving money in front of him, he keeps writing. The problem is, if the author is ready to move on, the series can and usually does go stale.

Then there is the situation where an author isn’t ready to move on and neither is the publisher but the series itself is done. The characters have been developed to the point where everything now turns into Mary Sueism or deus ex machina. Or, worse, a combination of both. Sure, the books will sell but, a critical eye will see that the sales are decreasing. But, for whatever reason — and it can be the author’s love of the characters or universe, the money the publisher is throwing at her or even the author’s fear that the next series won’t be as well-received as the current one — the author doesn’t want to move on.

In each of these cases, the author is doing a disservice not only to herself but to her readers. It’s a lesson I try to keep in mind with my own work.

Currently, I have four series working. One, the Eerie Side of the Tracks series, is more a series of interconnected characters and stories all taking part in the same fictional town. Each book can stand on its own. Another, the Sword of the Gods series, is a very limited series in number of books it will contain because of its story arc. There are currently two books in the series and, unless something unforeseen happens in the third book, that third book will be the end of that particular series. Now, I might return to that world but the current plot lines will be tied up and the characters will be ready to figuratively ride off into the sunset.

The Honor and Duty series has surprised me. When I first began it, I did so with a three book story arc in mind. Then I realized that three books would become four. That fourth book is currently in the draft phase and, while it will tie up many of the plot lines, there will still be some unanswered questions. But that’s all right because it will allow me to continue playing in that universe but with other characters taking the forefront in some of the subsequent titles. In that, it will become like Eerie Side of the Tracks. The books will be interrelated but you won’t have to read each and every book to know what is happening in the latest one.

The one series I’m beating Myrtle the Evil Muse on is Nocturnal Lives. If I have a series that I have a real emotional investment in, it is this one. Mackenzie Santos is very much one of those voices in my head I don’t want silenced. Yet, even as I say that, I know the time will come when she no longer is an active part of my writing career. This next book, which will go up for pre-order at the end of the week, will be the culmination of the main plot lines in the series. However, it will open up a whole new series of challenges for Mac and company.

But what does that mean for the series?

To be honest, I’m not sure. Yes, there will be more titles with Mac and crew. Whether it will be part of another multi-book story arc or more a series of independent stories, I don’t know. What I do know is I’m not ready to let the series go and my sales tell me it’s not time to either. So, I have to figure out where to go from here.

In the meantime, here is how Mac’s story began in Nocturnal Origins, currently on sale for $0.99.

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try. The memory remains, forever imprinted on your soul. It colors your perceptions and expectations. It affects everything you say and do. It doesn’t matter if the memory is good or bad, full of life and love or pain and death. That memory remains until the day you die – if you’re lucky.

If not, the memory haunts you for all eternity.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knew that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.

It didn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believed a miracle had occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. She knew better. She knew she had died.

It hadn’t been a miracle. At least not a holy one. Ask the poor attendant who’d run screaming from that cold, desolate room in the hospital basement, when Mac had suddenly sat up, gasping for breath and still covered with too much blood. He’d been convinced a demon from Hell had risen to come for him.

Mac couldn’t blame him. As far as she was concerned, that was the day the dogs of Hell had come for her.

Now, standing in the alley behind Gunn’s, one of the most fashionable restaurants in Dallas, Mac closed her eyes and prayed. She suspected what lay ahead. She could almost smell it – not quite, but enough to know what was there. Sweat trickled down her spine and plastered her thin cotton shirt to her back. Her stomach lurched rebelliously and she swallowed hard against the rising gorge. She had to keep control. At least for the next few hours.

Easy, Mackenzie. Just take it slow and easy.

She opened her eyes and drew a deep breath. She knew it was bad. Two uniformed officers, hands on knees, vomited into the gutter. There was no black humor, no conversation, nothing. In fact, other than the sounds of retching, the scene was eerily quiet; it felt almost like a dream. A nightmare.

She took a few more steps. The harsh, unmistakable stench assailed her nose, warning her what she’d find.

Unless the restaurant had dumped several hundred pounds of raw hamburger out to spoil in the summer heat, a dead body lay at the far end of the alley. That was bad enough. Then she felt as though she were enveloped in blood, and her stomach rolled over once again.

Oh, God.

Jaw clenched, she stepped forward. Never before had it been so hard to approach a crime scene. Not even when she’d responded to her first dead-body call a lifetime ago. She hadn’t hesitated then, not like this.

But she was different now. She knew what sort of horror awaited her. She’d seen it before and it haunted her. Haunted her because it touched something in her very few suspected even existed, something she tried so desperately to hide. The beast within fought for dominance, called by the smell of blood, the sight of raw flesh.

She mustn’t lose control. Not here and certainly not now. She blew out a long breath and slammed her mind shut to the horribly enticing sights and smells. Even as she did, the nightmare that had become the core of her existence clawed against her all-too-fragile self-control as it fought for release.

Focus on the job, Mac. Just focus on the job.

Finally, satisfied she wouldn’t lose control – yet – she nodded once. It was time to get to work.

***

You can find a snippet from Nocturnal Rebellion here.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Think before hitting enter

For the longest time, writers were told there were several things you didn’t talk about in public: politics and religion. Publishers and agents didn’t want you to for fear you might alienate potential readers. Going hand-in-hand with that was the unwritten rule that you didn’t attack or criticize another author in public. After all, the time might come when you and that author shared an agent or a publisher. Then there was the potential of alienating fans of that author, fans who might have become your fans. In other words, writers were expected to basically act as if they were sitting down to Sunday dinner with the family when it came to what face they presented to the reading public.

I’m not going to talk about writers and politics, except possibly as a side issue today. This post is about stopping and thinking about how what you do will impact fans and potential fans. Why? Because over the last few weeks, I’ve seen more examples of writers behaving badly than I want to think about. The last few days especially have been rife with examples. Several, unfortunately, stood out because they can negatively impact not just the authors involved but all indie authors.

Let’s face it, as indies, we face an uphill battle until we start making a name for ourselves. Even then, we have to continue working hard to not only court our readers but put out a quality product. I daresay most of us don’t want to be labelled as the next Norman B., an author who will take exception to anything he feels is a negative review of his work. We don’t want to be painted with the same brush as those who plagiarize work by other authors or those who don’t believe an editor and proofreader would help improve their work.

We have to not only put out the best work possible, we have to worry about making sure we have cover art that is 1) duly licensed or purchased and 2) reads well for the genre and in thumbnail. We have to make sure our blurbs are the best they can be. We have to promote our own work as well — something traditionally published authors also have to do because traditional publishers aren’t spending as much per title on promotion as they used to.

If you go to Amazon and browse through the various genres, you will sooner or later come across covers that are the same or close to the same. This happens because most indies license their cover art elements from sites like Dreamstime or Adobe Stock. It’s a cheap way to find good art that fits the genre. The danger is you are only licensing the artwork and not buying it. That means others can license it as well.

Even so, there are restrictions on how that artwork can be used. This is from the Adobe Stock standard license language:

With a Standard license, you may not:

  • Create more than 500,000 copies of the image in print, digital documents, software, or by broadcasting to more than 500,000 viewers.
  • Create products for resale where the main value of the product is the image itself. For example, you can’t use the asset to create a poster, t-shirt, or coffee mug that someone would buy specifically because of the image printed on it.

You also can’t post the image in such a way that others can use it without first licensing it. If you do, you are in violation of the license and the copyright holder can come after you for damages and Adobe Stock can revoke your use of their site.

So, what about book covers? When can we post a cover? If it’s one for artwork you’ve licensed, you can post it or use it in promotional material as long as you aren’t in violation of the license. In other words, you can do it up to half a million times — including each time your book or short story is sold. So you have to keep an eye on that. You can print flyers and postcards, digital or hard copy, describing your book and showing the cover. Reviewers can post a copy of the cover image as part of their review. If there is a book you want to recommend to someone, you can post that as well.

Where the line blurs and you need to think twice before hitting enter is when you start using the cover image of another author’s book in promotional materials and say “If you liked this, you will like my book.” The problem with this sort of promo is that you are using someone else’s work, specifically the cover art, for your own financial gain. To get around that, you need to ask the publisher for permission. Many publishers even have a handy link so you can do just that.

Please note that the problem isn’t in comparing your work with another author’s work. The problem is in using copyrighted material for your own financial benefit.

Now, before anyone jumps the gun and starts yelling about fair use, I’ll remind you that fair use is limited. For a very good discussion of it, check out this post by Nitay Arbel.

But there is something else to consider, something beyond the potential legal headaches that can come from using someone else’s cover in your promo materials without permission. You, as an author, are saying something about yourself when you do that. To other authors and publishers, you are telling them that, at best, you are too lazy to do your own homework and research if what you’re doing is legit or not. Falling back on “but so-and-so does it”. To readers, you risk alienating them, especially if you are the one making the comparison between your book and one of their favorite authors.

If you use another author’s book covers in your promo materials, especially well-loved books, and then mock the books or the author in the comparison to your own work, well, that’s a keg of explosives you really don’t want to light. It doesn’t matter if you think the books are inane or stupid or that they “sparkle”. What matters is that tens of thousands of readers loved those books and you have just insulted them as well as the books and the author. Do you really want to go there?

And, if you have done so without getting permission to use the covers, you have opened the door to the publisher saying you have cast a negative shadow on their product. If you’re like me, you don’t have the deep pockets required to fight them and force them to prove damages. Sure, they’ll probably send a cease and desist letter first but they might also take a page from some music publishers’ book and go straight for damages.

In other words, stop and think before hitting the button. Yes, you can in your promo material say your book is similar to another author’s book. You can even say how your book is different from another author’s book. But you need to ask permission before using the cover of that book, especially if you are using it in a negative manner.

If you are an indie author, you have to use common sense. You have to do your homework. That homework needs to be done BEFORE you do something, not after. Why? Because your actions impact more than just you. They impact your fans. They also impact every other indie author out there. Think about it. We fight against the image that we are all hacks who can’t get past the traditional gatekeepers. We fight against the image that we don’t have our work edited and proofread. We fight against the image that all our covers suck and stick figures would look better. Don’t add that we have to fight against the thoughtless, or at least the lack of thought, actions of our fellow indies.

Now, go read the licensing agreements you have committed to with regard to your cover art. Re-read — or read for the first time — the terms of service for each of the sales platforms you work through. Check to make sure you have licenses for the fonts you use not only on your covers but for your interior text file. Be a professional where your work is concerned.

//end rant.

 

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Filed under AMANDA, IP Law, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Planning Ahead

There was a time when I never knew what my next writing project was going to be. Writing was something I did in the privacy of my room, never intending for anyone to see it. Even when I started getting serious about my writing, I was more of a pantser, even when it came to what I would write next. Somewhere along the line that changed — even if Myrtle the Evil Muse sometimes throws my plans out the window.

I’m not sure when that started changing but, as I sat down to work the other day, I realized that was no longer the case. My calendar has project dates on it now — dates showing when I need to have drafts finished and edits done, when I need to send work out to beta readers and when I need it back. What gremlin has been working with my electronic devices when I wasn’t looking? Surely, my process hasn’t changed that much.

But it has.

It’s had to. With four active series right now and several stand-alone books planned, I’ve had to get more organized about what I’m working on. What surprised me, however, was finding that I’ve made actual notes, some very detailed, about where two of the series are going over the course of the next few books. I’ve made less detailed notes about the other series and the stand-alones. But that is something I used to never do. I have a plan and it scares me.

Why does it scare me?

Because that is when Myrtle the Evil Muse usually rears her well-coiffed head. With a smile, she then tosses out an idea I can’t ignore — for something that is totally unrelated to what I’m working on.

So far, however, she’s being good. I have finished the final draft for Nocturnal Challenge, the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series, and have started the final edits. I have the next Honor and Duty novel mapped out (as well as some other exciting things in the series I’ll be announcing later). There’s one novel and several novellas mapped out — and one novella basically written — in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series. Best of all, inspiration has finally hit for the third book in the Sword of the Gods series. It is very loud right now, not loud enough to write but loud enough that I can jot down some plot notes for later.

Of course, Myrtle isn’t one to cooperate for long. She tried pushing a story — or two — on me last week. In fact, she gave me this opening and is all but daring me not to drop everything and get to work on it.

I was five when they came for my brother. Two men, one tall and thin the other short and stocky. Both wore uniforms I had never seen before with lots of medals shining on their chests. Mom cried. I’d never seen her cry before and Dad’s hands shook as he read the paper the tall man handed him. Then, with tears in his eyes, he told Mom there was nothing they could do. Before I knew what was happening, Aiden was gone and I haven’t seen him since.

I was thirteen when they came for me.

Not that I’m going to fall for it. I have saved that, as well as notes for the other story, in my future projects file and I’ve crossed my fingers — and my toes — that Myrtle is satisfied with that. In the meantime, I’m finishing the edits on Challenge, preparing to write a quick novella in the Eerie Side of the Creek universe. Then it will be the next Honor and Duty book followed by the third Sword of the Gods book. There’s more in the hopper but, if all goes as planned, there will be a new title, either short story or novella or novel, every other month. You see, if I don’t keep that busy, Myrtle gets bored and that’s when she’s her most dangerous.

In the meantime, here’s a teaser for Nocturnal Rebellion, coming soon.

***

The bullpen fell silent as Chief of Detectives, Luis Santiago, moved to the front of the room. The look on his face mirrored how they each felt. Disbelief, sorrow and anger – but mostly anger – burned in his dark eyes. They knew why he was there. Every cop, not to mention every cop’s family, faced this possibility each time they reported for duty. But that didn’t make it any easier, especially not when it hit this close to home.

Santiago looked around the squad room, making eye contact with each person there. It didn’t surprise him to find more than the day shift present. He had no doubt were he to check the other squads under his command, he would find the same thing. When a cop went down in the line of duty, no one worried about vacation or sick leave. Every cop, no matter what their rank or their assignment, would report in, ready to do all they could to find the perps responsible. That knowledge made him proud to be part of the long blue line. Not that it made this part of his job any easier. Fortunately, it was not something he had to do often, but even once was one time to many.

Standing there, seeing how each of those assigned to Homicide waited, hoping he had good news for them but knowing he did not, he drew a deep breath. He could have let someone else handle this. But that would have been the easy way out and he had never been one to push the uncomfortable parts of the job off on someone else. Besides, he owed it to them, and to their lieutenant, to make sure they understood that even though he no longer worked cases on the board, he was still one of them. He hurt with them and he thirsted for the same vengeance they did.

“I’m not going to tell you this gets easier. It doesn’t and each of you knows it. Let’s be honest. This squad has faced more than its fair share of challenges these last two years.” He paused and reached up to rub his eyes, burning with unshed tears, with thumb and forefinger. As he did, he felt every one of the last twenty-six hours he had been awake. Twenty-six hours of sitting vigil at the hospital and then talking with family members, of briefing Chief of Police Darnell Culver, and of doing all he could to head off any interference by the feds. Three of his own had gone down and he was damned if he was going to let the feds or any other agency take over the case. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “Each and every time, you have risen to the challenge and done what was necessary to carry out your duties as members of the DPD. I know I’m asking a lot now, but I need you to do so once again.

“The next few days are going to be difficult for the entire force, but especially for you. You not only lost one of your own yesterday but others of the cop family as well. I’ve spend a great deal of time with the families of our fallen brethren and they’ve asked me to let you know arrangements have been made. They thank each of you for all the time you have spent with them since the ambush. They have asked that, until the funeral, members of this squad continue to be with them. They know you were all family and they will feel better having someone who knew their loved one with them. Sergeant Collins, I’ll leave it to you to arrange schedules to accommodate this request.” He glanced at the squad’s acting commander and she nodded, her expression grim.

“In three days, we will lay the first of our fallen, to rest. I expect each of you to be there in dress uniform, representing not only this squad but the best of the force. Show the city that we bleed blue. Then show them that DPD does its job, no matter what. Find the bastards responsible for the ambush and bring them in to face justice.

“It would be easy to seek vengeance. I understand that feeling because I share it. No one, no matter who they are, is allowed to kill one of our own. But we will not lower ourselves, or the rest of DPD, down to those bastards’ level. Find them and bring them in. We will let the courts deal with them and, when the time comes, we will be sitting on the front row of the viewing chamber when they are brought in for their executions.” He glanced around as detectives, uniformed officers and clerical workers nodded grimly. “Do your lieutenant proud and find those bastards before they manage to kill anyone else.”

As one, everyone present turned to look at the darkened office with its closed door and silence so profound it felt almost alive filled the squad room. Then a tall blonde with short cropped hair, her expression stone-cold, pain reflected in her eyes, stepped forward. The others waited, watching as she approached Santiago.

“Sergeant Collins, the squad is yours,” the Chief of Detectives said. “Close this case before the feds try to take over. We will not step aside for anyone, not this time.”

The blonde nodded. As she did, she blinked back the tears swimming in her eyes. “Yes, sir.”

He nodded once and shook her hand. Then he turned and left the squad room. As the door closed behind him, Pat drew a deep breath. Whether she liked it or not, the squad was hers and she had a duty to do, a duty to the DPD, her partner and her squad.

“The Chief’s right,” she said softly. She did not try to hide her grief. Each person in the room shared it. “We have to work this like any other case, but let’s be honest. This isn’t just any other case and it never will be. We will have the press looking at everything we do, questioning each move and every word spoken. Worse, IAB is going to be nosing around.” She held up a hand before anyone could protest.

“Hear me on this. No one likes the idea of the rat squad poking around. This squad has first-hand knowledge how they can twist things to meet their own needs. So I want every i dotted and every t crossed in this investigation. Work this case like your life depends on it because it very well may. We have cop killers running loose on our streets and none of us are safe until we find them. So, when IAB comes calling, we will answer their questions. The quicker we do, the quicker we get them out of the squad and out of the investigation. Don’t play games with them. If they ask or allude to anything that sets off your warning bells, let me know.

“From now until this case is solved, it’s all hands on deck. All vacation time is canceled until further notice. If you call in sick, you’d damn well better have a doctor telling me you are on your death bed. Work your contacts and get your CI’s on the street and asking questions. Finding these bastards is our priority now. That said, make sure your other cases are worked as well. Don’t miss any court dates. But hear me,this is our priority. We will find the bastards behind the ambush and we will be the ones to bring them in.”

With that, she strode across the bullpen. Pausing before the door to the office that had been her partner’s she reached down to turn the knob. As she did, her hand shook. A sob rose in her throat. She choked it down. She had to maintain control until she was behind closed doors. The squad was hers, at least until Chief Culver found someone to replace Lt. Mackenzie Santos, not that anyone could ever fill her shoes as a cop or as a partner and friend.

Damn it, Mac. I wish you were here.

***

Nocturnal Origins is the first book in the Nocturnal Lives series.

Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

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Here comes the halfway mark

Welcome to June; almost half the year has now gone by. How are you faring on those goals you set at the beginning of the year? This is a good time to evaluate, regroup, and start again. For those of you who are or want to become full-time authors, and even those of you who don’t, now is a good time to put down your author hat, pick up your business manager hat, and answer a few questions for yourself.
1. What is your total word count for the last 6 months? For each month? Week? Day?
2. What is your average word count per month, week, and day?
3. How many hours did it take you to write the last story/novel? (Hours actually spent writing, not calendar time from start to finish)
4. What was your average words per (actually writing) hour?
5. What time of the day is the most productive for you to write?
6. Was that increase in productivity at home or away?
7. What other factors led to it?
8. How many hours a day do you spend on writing business other than actual writing (including research, billing, marketing, etc)?

If you haven’t been keeping track, then how do you know what will help you, what works best for you, and just how good you can be when everything is awesome? How can you plan a production schedule if you don’t know what it takes to produce your product? If your method of creating new work is to sit down at a keyboard, sometimes, and hope that a novel shoots out of your fingers… hope is not a business plan. Keep your day job a while longer, and get ready to quantify your creative side.

If you have been keeping track, or you can pull some rough numbers off files and blog posts, now is a good idea to take a look at the story that the numbers tell. Are you more productive in the morning or evening? When you have 4-hour blocks to write, or when you have an hour to squeeze in? When you’re at home or at the coffee shop? (Or, in one writer’s case, in the van at the grocery store’s parking lot, getting “one last thing I forgot” and really finishing a chapter without the kids interrupting?) Do you write better with music or without? Does it go faster if you can write every day for multiple days in a row? How often did you lose a week to being sick, or other emergencies?

This isn’t about forcing you into a rigid schedule. This is about helping you realize what you need to be at your best, and about how much time it really will take you if you’re trying to plan out the next book, the next series, the next year. It’s about “The cover artist needs at least a month, so between the beta readers, the copyeditor, the cover artist, etc. I’m looking at a release roughly in this month… and I can reserve a slot roughly by then, because I’ll know if I’m on track, which means the final draft won’t have to sit waiting for ‘next available’ slot with anyone else.”

Writing is a very personal thing, that takes place a lot in solitude and in our own heads. This means that the immediate moments, and the low points and high points, tend to overwhelm all the day-to-day, and the story we tell ourselves of how we’re doing and what works best for ourselves… may not actually match reality. This is why I like numbers: they take all of the crisis-of-the-moments and the unique cases and let you step back and get a bigger, broader picture. They also let you focus on things you can change, and do better – because what you measure, you can alter.

Sometimes they say things we don’t want to hear, like “You’ve only averaged one day a week at the gym in the last 3 weeks. This is why you’re not getting any better. It doesn’t matter what the reason is this time, last time, the time before… you’re not going to get better until you go three times a week.”

Sometimes they say things that we really didn’t expect, like “While you feel more productive writing at the coffee shop, you really are only pulling the same numbers as you do at home, and have the driving time and the extra cost of lattes.”

Sometimes just tracking forces a change in habits, like “If I start writing with my first cuppa, I can get 1,000 words in. If I check the news first, it’s hit or miss if I write anything at all… oh, look, I realized this and now I’m skipping news in the morning, because otherwise I have to record a big fat zero in my daily word count…”

And sometimes it’s simple little things like “My writing speed doubles when I get to the scenes I’m really excited about. Huh. Maybe I ought to find or make something about each scene that’s cool and interesting, or skip ahead… because if they’re boring me to write, are they going to be just as boring to read?”

You’ve got a little over half a year til 2018. What are your goals and plans for the second half? What are you going to track?

For an awesome goal accomplished, Tom Rogneby got three novellas rolled into an omnibus: Quest to the North, Lost Children, and The Lady of Eyre are now all available for only $4.99 in Coming Home! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072M6JX5H/

It’s a good set of tales – if you haven’t been following the saga, and you enjoy heroic fantasy and the antics that small boys (and their dogs) can get up to, check it out! You don’t even have to pick up the earlier books in the series to enjoy this set – but once you read this, you might find you want more…

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Of pricing and release dates

I don’t know a single indie author who doesn’t wish there was a handbook out there that was constantly kept up-to-date with information about formatting, blurbs, promotion, when to release your books and pricing. The best we can do is watch trends and be ready to adapt not only when necessary but as quickly as possible. It also means making hard decisions sometimes as well as taking the long view. That is especially true when it comes to pricing.

Last night, I finished setting Battle Wounds up on Amazon so it would be live this morning. For those of you not familiar with it, BW is a short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. I started writing the short stories a little more than a year ago when there was a glitch, to put it nicely, in the upload process of Honor from Ashes. Somehow, the wrong text file was attached to the product page and, well, let’s just say the next week was an exercise in frustration to get it corrected. The short stories were my way of thanking my fans for hanging with me as things got straightened out.

When I made the decision to write a series of short stories in the universe, I had several things I needed to consider. The first, of course, was where in the timeline they would fall. Since the books in the series follow very closely on one another, I couldn’t see an easy way to slip short stories in. Besides, I had folks who wanted to know how Ashlyn Shaw became the character first introduced in Vengeance from Ashes. So, that’s where I decided to begin — at the beginning.  With three shorts stories now out, I am closing in on the events that directly led to the events that kick off the series.

Anyway. . . .

Last night I uploaded the files and checked to make sure they converted properly — and, yes, were the correct file with the correct cover — and then continued on through the publication process. Part of that is choosing when to release the story. If you ask a dozen indie authors, you’ll probably get a dozen answers about when they think the best times are to time your releases. I’ve tried any number of different times and days. I’ve studied what other indies and small presses, as well as trad publishers, do. It seems there is a growing trend to release new titles on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

I’ll admit to pondering and wavering on deciding to follow this trend. After all, if I followed it, I would be one of who knew how many authors releasing a new title at the same time. But, let’s face it, that’s something we have to deal with no matter what day we choose to release our titles on. That’s the downside. The upside on releasing on either the first or third Tuesday is that there are a large number of readers who check for new titles on those days because they have learned to expect new releases then.

Hmmm.

So, guess what. I chose to try a third Tuesday release. It’s going to be interesting to see if there is more traction for this release than for the other short stories.

The next thing I had to determine was pricing for Battle Wounds. There’s been a lot of discussion since Amazon first opened up to indies on how much we should price our work for. If you ask indies, you’ll get a wide range of answers. Some look at pricing and take the long view on it all. Others look at the amount of money they earn per sale. Both sides have pros and cons. The problem with both, however, is that we are looking at it from the viewpoint of the author. Instead, we need to look at it from the point of view of the reader. After all, they are the ones making the decision to buy the short story or title.

And, like it or not, as indies, we operate in a world where our readers understand, on the whole, that we don’t have the overhead trad published titles have. Therefore, they aren’t going to pay as much for our work as they will for Nora Roberts or Stephen King or David Weber.

So how do we figure out the best price for our work?

The first thing we do is listen to our readers and to readers of our genre in general. We can do that by checking blogs and other social media platforms. We can also do it by checking the best sellers lists on Amazon. Look not only at what indie titles are on it but at their prices as well. Compare the price of the work and its length to what you are about to publish. Then there is the beta pricing tool you can use once you are setting up the title on Amazon.

There is something else we have to take into account when we are setting prices. Sarah, Dave and Brad can get away with charging more for short stories than I can. Why? Because they have a following of readers who have known them not as just indie authors but as trad published authors as well. They’ve earned their bones in the eyes of those readers. They have more published than I do as well. So, because they have the reputation and the experience, they can charge more for their work. Readers even expect them to.

But for me, even though I have 16 novels, 2 (?) novellas and a handful of short stories published, all but one of the shorts have been indie. I can charge more now than I used to — and I should — for novels, not so much for short stories. There are two reasons for that. First, and most obvious, I’m not a “name” that people are willing to pay additional money to read. Second, I look at short stories as loss leaders, which they are. They are promos in many ways to keep people interested in my work until the next novel comes out.

But there is something else. I know what I’m willing to pay. I can’t think of a single indie-only author I will pay more than $0.99 for a short story (for the purposes of pricing, I’m including anything under 20k words). I’ll pay $1.99 for work between 20k and 50k words or so. After that, I’ll pay $2.99 up to $4.99. There are a few indies I’ll pay $5.99 for a long novel but those are very few and far between. So I keep that in mind as I start thinking about pricing.

I also realize there are many, many, many readers who feel the same way I do about how much they are willing to pay for a title. Yes, readers to look at the price and, if they think you are pricing a work too low, they wonder if you aren’t convinced your work is any good. However, for a short story, you can quickly price readers out. So it comes down to deciding if you would rather sell more copies at a lower price and royalty or fewer copies at a higher royalty. For me, because I don’t look at my short stories as a major income generator in the short term, I price them on the low end, where most other short stories are priced. What I’ve discovered by doing so is I tend to sell more over time, more than making up for the difference in royalties.

But the decision is yours. Just remember, you need to look at more than how much are you going to make per sale. You need to take into account what the going rate for stories in your genre with a similar length. If you price yourself out of the market, you are not only cutting your own royalty throat, so to speak, but you are denying your readers the opportunity to read your work.

Shrug.

I really wish there was an easy to use manual that told me the best way to promote my work, the best price point, the best day for release, etc. Instead, I get to watch my hair turn even whiter as I try to figure it out for myself when all I really want to do is write.

Oh, go buy Battle Wounds. My kitties need kibble. 😉

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

D.I.Y.

Saturday at the Torgersen house usually means do-it-yourself home fix-up. I spent all day yesterday running brand new 12-2 through the studs on the south wall of my garage. As well as hammering up new switch, light, and gang boxes. Like any other room in my (perpetually being renovated) home, the garage offers me the opportunity to put an outlet (or two, or three, or twelve) anywhere I damned well please. If the original 1962 contractor put in far too few outlets, using the (for our time) inferior ungrounded “silver sh*t” wire, I am (in 2017) putting in an overabundance of outlets, using coil after coil of 12-2, and enjoying myself capitally. Because I know once the wall is finished, I will never in my life ever think the thought, “Gosh dammit, I wish there was a place to plug in here!”

When I finish re-wiring a room, there is a place to pug in, everywhere. 🙂

It occurred to me — as I snaked my way through the attic, running new line to the breaker box — that fiction publishing is, now, perhaps more of a do-it-yourself business than it’s ever been. We are all expected to do our own promotion (whether we’re trad, or indie, or hybrid) not to mention bringing our own platforms to the effort. On the indie side, we have to provide the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover art, and rustle up our own blurbage. We operate our own public storefronts. Create our own ancillary media. This is no longer an industry where you can simply write a good story, and that’s enough. Ours is now an industry which requires an author to develop half a dozen different professional skill sets. Including accounting, tax prep, and so forth. Do you know how to do a Form 8829, with your Schedule C? If you don’t, you probably should learn how. Same goes for tracking your paper inventory. And carving out a percentage of your take (from the conventions) so that you can file the money.

And no, I am not saying it’s any fun for me either. The only thing I enjoy doing (beyond writing) is building covers — because I’ve got graphic design chops, and years of experience going all the way back to high school commercial art classes. The rest? Especially taxes and self-promo? It’s work.

But if you expected this racket to be easy, you wouldn’t be reading Mad Genius Club. Right?

Good business is where you build it.

A friend recently asked me why I still keep my hand in with short fiction — despite having a ready road, where novels are concerned. I told him that I get asked for stories on a fairly frequent basis, almost always for anthologies, and I work really hard to not say no. Because I never know if or when those stories might turn out to be lucrative. Just recently I netted a very handsome payday (second in as many months) for a story I put into an indie anthology which offered zero up front. Yet that story is now worth $0.15 per word, and climbing. Just as all my other short fiction continues to increase its net value, in the form of the collections I do through WordFire Press. Everything earns. And while not every story can be a four-figure whopper (like my last novella for Analog magazine) they comprise a nice hunk of my annual five-figure cash flow. Not to mention the fact they keep my “brand” current in the marketplace, during the long Mt. Everest effort of novel(s). Keeping my brand current is a big part of promotion.

But it definitely takes work. There is no royal road to becoming (or staying) known as a quality short fic man.

A different friend recently explained to me the concept of WIBBOW: Would I Be Better Off Writing? I’d never seen this acronym before, but I liked the question it posed. Because we each have to find the sweet spot between creating fresh prose, and devoting time and effort to things which are part of the writing business model, without actually being writing. WIBBOW is probably something a lot of people enamored of workshops and seminars could ask themselves, simply because I’ve noticed (over the years) that a great many individuals adore the energy and atmosphere of a writers’ event, but never seem to get down to the actual writing part — which is the single most crucial element of creating and keeping a career. (In fact, SFWA is filled to overflowing with people who write very, very little, but who will devote untold hours to the social politics of the thing.)

I don’t belong to any critique groups anymore. Have not belonged to any, for a long, long time. I’m not sure I was any good at them, both in terms of what I offered, and also in terms of what I received.

I am also no longer part of any “closed door” writing forums, clubs, message boards, etc. For the same reason.

Is that bad?

Still another friend posted this interesting article. Are we — authors — too wrapped up in the concept of community? What happens when community becomes expected? Compulsory? Lord knows the SF/F sphere prides itself on having a long, long history of community. To a fault, one could almost say. But is the best work being done by the people who devote the most time to demonstrating fidelity to the flock? Or is the answer really out there in the lonely wilderness, where you can make the things you want to make, and not have to care if you’re being sufficiently community-minded?

I have told several people that I think the purpose of a good writing group, is to strengthen your wings to the point where you can fly solo.

I still think that.

Which is why, when people carry on about how essential their writing groups are to their creative process, I kind of draw a blank. Not that I doubt them. Heavens no. It’s just that my experience hasn’t been like that. In fact, I think I’ve been trending in the opposite direction for some while now, and may keep trending that way. I like my friends, and I like being able to talk shop. But I also think there is far, far more in the world, than writing. I happen to like that world. It’s where all the most valuable experiences — which have made me who I am, as a person — came from. And I also think it’s the place which has the most profound effect on the types and kinds of stories I create. Because those stories are not manufactured solely for the “inside” audience. They are stories which — I hope — can speak to the common person. Who may or may not be a SF/F fan. And may or may not be an avid reader. But who will respond to a compellingly-told yarn just the same.

Which takes me back to pondering the fact that publishing has become such a singles game.

On days like today, I feel like maybe that’s a good thing? Sometimes there is no greater pride and satisfaction, than in doing something for yourself, on your own terms, and doing it well.

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Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

The Blinders are Still in Place

Ten years.

That is approximately how long it’s been since Amazon first allowed the infidels to dip their toes into the sacred waters of publishing.  From the beginning, traditional publishing has taken a two-pronged attack against not only indies but readers. They have told us that e-books were a passing fad, something that wouldn’t last. They also warned that allowing just anyone to publish without having to prove themselves by finding a way past the gatekeepers would allow nothing but dreck into the holy waters of publishing.

Well, almost 10 years into this so-called experiment in mediocrity, e-books are still here and more and more indie authors are earning more than pocket change for their work — and the blinders are still, at least as far as most of those in traditional publishing are concerned, firmly in place.

We’ve seen the Big 5 (which used to be the Big 6) and Apple run afoul of the Justice Department for price fixing in an attempt to undermine Amazon. All that accomplished was costing everyone involved in the conspiracy money in the form of fines and payouts to customers who got caught up in their antics. Oh, and let’s not forget about how it started readers asking why traditionally published e-books cost so much.

We’ve seen a few traditionally published authors condemning their counterparts, not only those who have never been traditionally published but also those who have chosen to go the hybrid route of both indie and trad publishing. Friendships have been strained and, in some cases, lost and over what? The fact someone didn’t take the same route as another? (yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

In this time, we’ve seen not a gradual acceptance of e-books by traditional publishing and its proponents but a continued attack on them. All you have to do is look at the prices charged for the digital release of new titles to see what I mean. Here’s a perfect example. Echoes in Death by J. D. Robb is available for pre-order right now. The price? $14.99.

Yes, you read that right. By the time you add tax, you will pay more than $15 for an e-book.

Nor is this an anomaly. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs sells for $13.99. Fast & Loose by Stuart Woods sells for $14.99. There’s more, much more. All you have to do is look. When you do, you’ll discover a couple of more things. Amazon, not being a fool when it comes to marketing, makes it clear that these high prices aren’t set by anyone except the publisher. Also, if you, as a reader, check the terms of service when you buy your e-books, you’ll discover a couple of things. First, I bet you dollars to doughnuts that almost every e-book you’ve purchased from a trad publisher is filled with DRM (there are a few exceptions, like Baen). Second, you will discover that you haven’t actually bought the book. You purchased a license to read the book. Now, in some ways, that’s nothing new. It’s what you do when you “buy” software from most software publishers. Still, it rankles but the DRM rankles more because that smacks of the publishers telling us they don’t trust their readers not to do something evil like — gasp — loan the book to a friend, exactly what we do with our hard copy books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a line in the proverbial sand when it comes to how much I will pay for an e-book. It’s a line that I will very rarely cross. I’ll admit I will rarely even get close to the line. That price, for me, is $9.99. It used to be lower but I had to change that when Baen finally got into Amazon. I groused, like a lot of others, because that move meant Baen now charged more. However, there are several Baen authors I will pay that much for instead of waiting for the price to come down. But paying $15 for an e-book when the publisher won’t even admit I own the book? Nope, not gonna happen. I will wait for the price to come down or, if it doesn’t, I will borrow it from the library.

The problem is that doesn’t really hurt the publisher but it does hurt the author. I hate that part but there isn’t much more I can do to voice my displeasure — not that the Big 5 listen.

A perfect example of how they don’t listen and don’t pay attention to market trends is this article from Publishers Weekly. Sure, the article is about how e-tailers are continuing to survive but the premise is what had me shaking my head. According to this post, e-book sales are down. Yes, it did say e-books by traditional publishers but then it basically acted as if those are the only e-books out there. That is the same sort of premise the Big 5 works under. They seem to think that the fact their sales are down for e-books, they are for everyone. No, what they need to do is look at their pricing, something indies and readers have been telling them for years.

Unfortunately, the idea that “the more I charge, the more I make” isn’t limited to trad publishers. Indies suffer from it as well. Pricing is a bitch to figure out and to make sure you are hitting the sweet spot. Part of the equation is also figuring out that the higher the price the fewer buyers you will have. So, while you may be getting more money per sale, you are actually losing money in the long run because you are losing readers. But that’s a post for another day.

But, to me, even more of a slap in the face when it comes to the Big 5 and their ilk is the insistence on trying to lock their e-books with DRM. That is especially egregious when you look at how much they charge. Sorry, but if you want me to pay more than $10 — heck, who am I kidding? If you want me to pay more than, well, anything — for an e-book, I’d better own it just as much as if I bought the hard copy version.

And then they wonder why people figure out ways to break DRM or why they go to pirate sites to find the book they want. It’s a lesson publishing should have learned from the music industry and didn’t.

Finally, for one more piece of “Huh? How is that going to work?” we get this announcement. Bill Clinton and James Patterson are teaming up to write a book. The premise is that the President goes missing. Okay, that alone isn’t all that strange. Where I did a double-take was seeing that the book is being published by both Knopf Doubleday and Hachette. Oh, and it is supposedly going to be edited by the chairman of Knopf Doubleday and the CEO of Hachette. Am I the only one going “riiiiight?”

Let’s look at this for a moment. By doing it this way, the publishers split the costs of production and distribution (one would assume). They both get the benefits from the promotion of the book and I guarantee you this book will be promoted. Hell, the publishers won’t even have to pay for it because the media will be all over it. They also get to split the advances. Of course, that might not be such a big saving for them because I have a feeling both “authors” are getting close to their usual advances.

However, it also means they will split the monies coming in from the sales of the books.

It is going to be interesting to see how this impacts their bottom lines over the next few years. Not that I expect them to admit if the book fails to perform as expected. Remember those blinders I mentioned earlier?

10 years and publishing has changed and yet, in all too many ways, the same mindset continues to permeate the ivory halls of NYC publishers. Sigh.

Next Tuesday, Battle Wounds, the third short story set in the Honor and Duty series universe, will be published. So, a little promo for two of the titles in the series.

Vengeance from Ashes

(Book 1 in the series)

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

Taking Flight

(1st short story)

Duty, honor, sacrifice. That motto meant everything to newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Ashlyn Shaw. She thought she understood the meaning of those simple words. Little did she know.

Challenged by those who believed she made it through the Academy on her family’s coattails, a roommate who just wants to see “some action” and a gunnery sergeant determined to make a real Marine out of her, Ash soon realizes what it means to be a Marine. As the signs point to war on the horizon, she is determined to do everything she can to serve Fuercon and do the Corps proud.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING