Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Is How You Become Great...

...You hang your balls out there.

For those who don't recognize it, that's a near-quote from the Tom Cruise movie Jerry Maguire. (The actual quote is "That's how you become great, man. Hang your balls out there.") Of course, the movie is best known for the catchphrase "Show me the money!" but it's this lesser-known line that has always resonated with me.  It's uttered in a scene when Jerry is picking up copies of this manifesto that he's written from the copier, and the guy who works there has seemingly read it and is singularly impressed:

For me, that line has always meant that in order to reach your full potential, you have to risk failure - and often a huge, embarrassingly public failure at that.  But let's face it: there's risk inherent in almost everything that we do. You want to play basketball for your school? Then you have to go out for the team and risk being cut. You want to be a lawyer? Then you may have to take on mind-boggling debt to make it happen, knowing it might take you decades to pay it back. You want a beautiful wife? Then you've got to have the stones to ask her out in the first place and possibly get rejected.

In short, very few of us are going to be able to play it safe and get everything we want out of life. It simply doesn't work that way. It's certainly true in terms of writing. After you finish writing something, you have to be willing to put it out there - let the world see it, smell it, critique it, etc. Lots of people will probably call it awful. Some will say they hate it. Others will say they had to finish reading it at gunpoint.

But guess what? Someone will say they liked it. A few people may even say they loved it. And at that point you'll be grateful that you didn't let fear of failure (and the accompanying risks) keep you from personal and professional fulfillment - or at least striving for them.

In the old days, they would say, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." You've got to be willing to let it all hang out there if you're going to get where you want to be (or anywhere at all, in some instances). No one's saying it's going to be easy, but few things that are worthwhile in life are.

In retrospect, don't be afraid to take risks, accept the challenge, or run the risk of failure, because that's how you become great...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Book Release: Infiltration (Kid Sensation #3)

At long last, Infiltration: A Kid Sensation Novel (Kid Sensation #3) has been released! (As usual, I released both a paperback and ebook version.)

This is, obviously, the third book in the series and has been the one that has taken me the longest time to complete. I had originally planned to have this one done months ago, but life got in the way. As the old saying goes, "If you want to make GOD laugh, tell him all about your plans..."

Truth be told, I had a lot of things going on personally and professionally that made it difficult to get this one done. At times it felt like I would never get it completed.  Thankfully, that was not the case, and hopefully fans will enjoy this installation in the series.

As has become the norm for me, I once again neglected to do almost anything to give anyone a heads-up that the book was coming out (other than state in a comment on this blog that the book would be released before year's end - and I barely made the cut). I keep telling myself that I'm going to start doing a cover reveal (or something of that nature), but usually by the time I get the artwork it's essentailly time to publish, and I'd feel silly revealing the cover one day and then using it again in a blog post a day or so later.

Speaking of the artwork, the cover was once again done by Isikol. He really is a great artist, and every time I see his work I'm thankful that our paths crossed. 

Finally, for those interested in such things, I need to point out that the print version of the book is 301 pages. For some reason, KDP always shows the initial page count on the ebook edition as being significantly less than what it actually is. (It's showing 219 pages for the ebook edition at the moment.) They eventually correct it, but in the interim someone usually points out to me the discrepancy in length, so this time I just decided to address the issue head-on.

Other than that, I just want to say thanks once again to everyone for their support, and I hope you like the book.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bad Books, And Why They're Good For You

Recently, I was drawn into a discussion about bad books and the policy that some people have of returning them. Personally, I've bought thousands of books over the years and never returned a single one. Moreover, even when a book is absolutely horrid, I generally make it a point to slog my way through to the end once I've started.  (There are maybe three books that were so bad that I couldn't finish them, but in each of those instances at least part of the reason for my failure to finish was that they were actually library books that were [thankfully] due back.) From my perspective, the bad ones that I own add to the diversity of my collection. However, the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that reading bad books can actually be good for you from the standpoint of being a writer.

First of all, books can be bad in a lot of ways. From cover art to editing to plot development, there are a million ways for the written word to leave a terrible taste in your mouth.  That said, I think that reading awful books can be a learning experience, because there's a lot they can teach you. For instance, a book with a bunch of typos will probably cause you to associate the author's name with crap. Assuming you don't want the same type of reputation with respect to your own work, reading such a book will teach you to never settle in terms of your own writing; you'll realize the value - and necessity - of proper editing. It's sort of a bookish version of Scared Straight:


In short, there are some places that you just don't want to go with respect to being an author, and reading bad books will firm up for you many of the things you definitely do not want when it comes to your own writing, whether it be bad storylines, underdeveloped characters, what have you.   

In addition, reading terrible books can be help you by being an inspiration, after a fashion. Have you ever been to a movie and left the theater thinking, "Egads, what a crappy film! I could have made a better movie than that - and for less money!"

Bad books can provide that same emotional spark. If some hack can get a traditional publishing deal and sell a bunch of books that are basically crap, surely you can eek out an existence as a writer of quality material, right? (It may not necessarily work out that way, but we're talking inspiration here - something to keep you motivated and enthused while writing - not the end result.)  Thus, every time you start to doubt, you can look at that awful book and - knowing that you can do better - feel encouraged.

In essence, I see reading bad books as a character-building exercise, the literary equivalent of having to eat your veggies.  I'm not necessarily saying that you have to go out there and actively seek out bad books - one or two (quite likely more, if I'm being honest) will eventually cross your path in the grand scheme of things - but don't just toss them aside as if they have absolutely nothing to offer. 

They say that experience is the best teacher, that you learn best from your own mistakes. However, I say that the best student is the one who can learn from the mistakes of others. Learn from the bad books around you; they can help make you a better writer.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Continuing Your Education As A Writer

A few years ago, the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion. Although leading the Indianapolis Colts 24-17 with roughly three minutes left in the game, victory was by no means assured. The Colts were marching relentlessly down the field under the leadership of future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning, and looked on the verge of tying the score. Then this happened:

In essence, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted a pass from Manning and ran it all the way back for a score which sealed the victory. Porter later credited his pick of Manning's pass to intense study of game film; he'd seen the play the Colts were trying to run over and over again on film, and when they did it during the Super Bowl he was ready for it. In short, he put in the effort to study his craft, and now he has a Super Bowl ring to show for it.

In a similar vein, writers need to study their craft. In my opinion, that means continuing to read lots and lots of books. Personally, this is one of the more difficult aspects of my being a writer; every second that I spend reading a book is time that I could actually spend writing something. However, there's value in continuing my education as an author by stepping away from the keyboard every now and then and opening a book.

The idea of ongoing or continuing education in a chosen field isn't new. In fact, it's fairly common in certain professions. Doctors, for instance, are required to have Continuing Medical Education (CME). Likewise, lawyers must regularly obtain a certain amount of Continuing Legal Education (CLE). The idea, of course, is that continuing your education will increase your competence and make your more knowledgeable in your field of expertise.

Thus, while not formal or required, continuing your writing education (CWE?) is something you should give serious attention to. You're not likely to win a Super Bowl ring, but maybe becoming more proficient in your craft will help you win new fans. (And as far as I'm concerned, getting new fans is a Super Bowl in and of itself.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Writer, Where Art Thou? Stop Making Yourself Scarce to Readers

My wife recently came home extremely flustered by her shopping experience at a new grocery store.  Apparently, there were several items on her list that she had a hard time locating because they weren't where she expected them to be - something like, "They had cheese near frozen foods instead of dairy products!"

Anyway, that got me to thinking about writing (I tend to relate everything to writing these days, on some level), and ways in which indie authors may be making it difficult for readers to find them. Of course, the usual suspects came to mind: genres/categories, keywords, marketing efforts, etc. However, going a little off the beaten path, I thought about another area in which authors might be limiting their reach: format.

Everyone knows, of course, that ebooks are the big enchilada when it comes to self-publishing. By way of example, the bulk of my own sales comes from ebooks. However, that doesn't mean that you should totally ignore other publishing formats, like print books.

From a business standpoint, doing a print version of your ebook makes a lot of sense: You already have the book written. You already have a cover (at least the front cover, but that's the hard part). You already have a blurb for the back. It costs essentially nothing to do print-on-demand through places like CreatSpace. Finally, you can reach readers that may prefer print to digital.  Bearing all that in mind, failing to do a print version might almost be seen as counterintuitive.

Personally, I always try to do a print version of my books, but that philosophy is rooted more in my background than anything else. I grew up poor, and still have a mindset that stresses knowing the value of a dollar. If they had been around when I was a kid, there's no way my parents could have afforded an e-reader; something like that just wouldn't have been in the budget. Thus, from my perspective - and this is not an opinion or judgment regarding authors who only do digital versions of their books - it just always seems presumptuous to assume that all potential readers can afford to buy a Kindle, Nook, etc. This way, even if they can't afford an e-reader, they can still have access to my book. 

The only bad news on this front is that print books generally cost more than ebooks. (Unlike ebooks, there's usually a minimum amount that you have to charge to cover the expenses associated with printing copies of the book.) Therefore, potential readers may resort to requesting such books from their local library, which is fine with me because it means that my book will end up on library bookshelves where even more readers can find my work. That said, I would again emphasize that the vast majority of sales are likely to come from ebooks, with any print copies just being icing on the cake. (In my case, I usually have double-digit print sales every month. It's not enough to pay the rent, but I could certainly buy a tank of gas with it.)

Another potential format - and one which I have neglected myself - is audiobooks. I keep hearing great things about it, but have only recently began looking into this format in earnest.  One of the first things I saw was that the market is huge; it's a billion-dollar industry (something I never would have imagined). Needless to say, my interest is piqued. 

As you might guess, the big player in this arena is Amazon (via its subsidiaries ACX and Audible), and going with them is practically a no-brainer. However, there are a couple of things still giving me pause at the moment. 

First of all, I don't have a firm handle of what the cost will be. That's not totally unexpected since this type of project will involve expertise in several areas (production, narration, and so on) and different people will charge different prices. From what I've seen, the price tag could run anywhere form a few hundred bucks (manageable) to a couple of thousand (ouch!). 

Of course, there is a workaround with respect to the cost. Instead of paying upfront, you have the option of splitting royalties with the producer 50-50. There's merit to the argument that it may be a good deal since the producer is also taking a gamble and should be rewarded for that risk, but to me that's a lot give up. Even lawyers working on contingency usually only get about a third of what they obtain for their clients. (Thinking of it terms of what I currently have published, I've sold over 10,000 ebooks since May of this year. Do I really need to say how I'd feel about having to give half of the money from those sales to someone else?)

In addition, just like with KDP Select for ebooks, you get a much higher royalty rate if you agree to ACX exclusive distribution: 50%-90% for exclusivity vs. 25%-70% for non-exclusivity. Moreover, you have to make your audiobook available for distribution via ACX for seven years. (Just for clarity, I called ACX about this and was told that - if you choose the exclusive option - you can switch to non-exclusive after one year, but you can only make the change once.)

Basically, while audiobooks do sound great and appear to be a growing market, I don't know enough yet about the industry to decide where to apply my efforts.  I do know, however, that audiobooks are defintiely on my agenda; it's just a matter of when.  

In retrospect, I believe that writers should take into consideration any consumers that they might ordinarily miss.  That being the case, I think authors should adopt a no-reader-left-behind approach when it comes to publishing formats.  That means books in digital, print and audio form.  And if the technology advances to where you can get books geared towards other senses - like taste and smell - put your book in those formats, too. (Laugh now; just remember that you read it here first...) In the end, you'll probably make more money, and hopefully attract more fans.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Sales Update: Crossing the 10,000 Unit Threshold

Back in August, shortly after I released Mutation, I had to go out of town and found myself away from the computer for a few days. Thus, I wasn't able to check my ebook rankings (which is an addictive habit - especially after a new release). However, when I was finally able to look at the numbers, I was super-excited to see that Mutation had made it into the Top 1000 in the Paid Kindle Store. I was so giddy that I was practically doing cartwheels at the day job.

Since then (and because I'm slightly superstitious), I've tried to adopt the mantra of "A watched pot never boils" and attempted to avoid checking my rankings a thousand times a day - something that's been pretty hard with two new releases (Extraction and Warden Book 2: Lure of the Lamia) in the last month. So far, today marks just the second time in October that I've looked at my sales so I think I'm getting there, but it's a craving I have to fight every day, like crack. Still, I was elated when I checked my numbers this morning and - after adding them to my total - realized that I had sold over 10,000 ebooks in my Warden and Kid Sensation series. 10,000! Since May of this year!

Of course, I knew I was close. Extraction - my Kid Sensation short story - broke into the Top 1000 in the Paid Kindle Store shortly after publication, and the second Warden book has been bumming around the Top 10 in one of its categories since its release earlier this month.  Still, it's kind of mind-boggling to finally get over that hump - to have five-figure sales. (Of course, there are people who do that and more every month, so let there be no doubt that I am still small potatoes.)

Needless to say, I feel blessed that my stories have found an audience and readers seem to enjoy my work.  And I should emphasize that these are net ebook sales numbers; they do not include free downloads, borrows, or print sales.  Moreover, any returns have been subtracted from the total.

The vast majority of sales have come from the three books in my Kid Sensation series: Sensation, Mutation and Extraction. (I am currently hard at work on the next full-length novel in the series and hope to have it finished soon.) That said, the Warden series is doing great in my opinion, and I'm truly fortunate to have two series that are performing quite well in their respective categories.  I even made it into the Top 100 Authors for one of my categories (Action & Adventure):

As you can see, I'm listed at #98 here (Woo-hoo!), followed by Ernest Cline and then some bum named Patterson - anybody ever heard of this guy?

Seriously though, when I saw this I just had to take a screenshot. I'm assuming there was a glitch in Amazon's system, but whatever alignment of stars that allowed me to rank above James Patterson isn't likely to be repeated (and was undoubtedly only temporary).

I think the James Patterson earned something like $95M last year. Running the numbers, that works out to about $260K per day. I'll happily trade my ranking for his sales - just a single day of his sales - any day of the week. Any hour of the day. Any minute of the...  Well, you get the picture.

Unfortunately, I only have a limited time to bask in the afterglow of my sales numbers. Books don't write themselves, so I guess it's back to the grind, but I want to say "Thanks" again for all of the support I've been given.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review: The Machinist Part One: Malevolence by Alexander Maisey

Shortly after I began self-publishing in earnest earlier this year, I noticed a disturbing change in my behavior: I became so focused on writing that I began to let one of my favorite pastimes - reading - languish. (Which is oddly ironic when you consider that being an avid reader was one of the prime drivers in making me want to become an author.) Thus, a few months back, I started actively trying to reverse that trend, and one of the first books I read during that time period was The Machinist Part One: Malevolence by Alexander Maisey.

Like my own Kid Sensation series, Malevolence is set in a world where super powers are not uncommon. People are gifted with extraordinary abilities, and - as one might expect - the more powerful they are, the greater the heights and depths they can attain, respectively, in terms of morality and corruption. They can be superheroes focused on achieving the greater good, or villains completely warped by their own selfish desires. (Not to mention everything in between.)

Against this backdrop we find the centerpiece of the story: Nicholas McHenry, an incarcerated supervillain who - despite spending 15 years behind bars - seems far less rehabilitated and reformed than one might expect. After being released on parole, he is eager to pick up, criminally, right where he left off before he went to prison. 

The results are far from stellar; not only does his first post-penitentiary foray into crime end in disaster, but McHenry soon finds himself framed as the architect of a plan for world domination. With no other options open to him, McHenry is forced to take a stand against the villainous culture he has always embraced in order to clear his name.

Frankly speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Powered by an engaging story line and memorable characters, Malevolence is a thrill-ride that sucks you in with the undeniable strength of a black hole.  The author has done a great job of creating a fascinating world that, at the same time, remains relatable - a place where (just like the "real" world) few people are all good or all bad. By way of example, one scene  involves a superhero in single-minded pursuit of a pair of villains on a motorcycle. Snatching them off the bike mid-ride, the hero flies off with the culprits, heedless - and perhaps oblivious - of the damage the riderless motorcycle then causes in an ensuing crash.

McHenry, of course, is a classic anti-hero. He's a man who doesn't set out to be a good guy or do the right thing, but ends up doing so because it's the only way to save his own hide (or it somehow serves his own interests). Regardless, he is an enjoyable character and as a reader it was great to tag along and be something of a sidekick to him. I eagerly look forward to his next adventure(s).

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Book Release: Warden (Book 2: Lure of the Lamia)

Hot on the heels of Extraction (which was just published two weeks ago), I'm happy to finally be able to say that Warden (Book 2: Lure of the Lamia) - the second book in my Warden series - has finally been released.

This release actually comes a little later than I intended, but you know what they say about the best laid schemes of mice and men.  I had originally anticipated publishing Warden 2 no later than the end of September,  but with Extraction being released around that time period maybe it's better that I wasn't able to maintain the initial schedule. 

Regardless, I am happy that the book is now available and hopefully readers of the series will thoroughly enjoy it.  As always, I think my artist, Isikol, did a great job with the cover.  He really has a knack for incorporating not just the major elements but also minor details.

On my part, I like to think that I'm continuing to write interesting stories with engaging characters. When I start writing a book, the characters typically feel like old friends that I'm finally having a chance to catch up with after an extended amount of time apart. It's fun to learn what they've been up to and what they've been doing with themselves in the interim.  That's why, from my aspect, it usually feels like the story tells itself: the characters let me know what's going, rather than vice versa. In other words, I'm little more than a secretary taking dictation.

Be that as it may, it's always great to insert that last period and bring a story to a close.  However, as often happens when it comes to publishing a book, I'm both frightened and elated to a certain extent.  I'm thrilled to have a finished product, but at the same time I'm a little afraid of sending my baby out into the big, bad world.  Still, as with actual children, at some point you have to push them out of the nest. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that my little birdie here can - if not soar - at least be able to glide gently to a safe landing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Do You Squidoo?

Update (Aug. 24, 2014): Squidoo is shutting down! Roughly a week ago Squidoo's founder released a statement that the site is going the way of the dodo and will be selling it's content to rival HubPages. It's not a huge surprise if you were familiar with some of the things that were going on there (such as what's noted in my blog post below), but I feel sorry for all the people who devoted hundreds or thousands of man-hours to the site - especially in the past year or so.

Before I turned to writing books, I spent some time trying to earn passive/residual income from other writing activities. While the terms are often used interchangeably (I do it myself), there is a slight difference between passive income and residual income.

Passive income can be viewed as income a person earns without actively being involved in its generation. A good example would be corporate dividends: you made an initial investment that consisted of buying stock in a company. After that, you don't have to do anything in order to receive your regular dividend check.

Residual income, on the other hand, refers to some up-front endeavor or work which continues to produce income after the initial labor is complete.  Writing a book, for example. As long as the book keeps selling, the author can continue to receive royalties.

In my case, I knew of several online sites that offered revenue-sharing for writers willing post content on said sites.  One of those sites was Squidoo.com, and I eventually posted close to 40 articles there.  I never earned a great deal of money there (I think the most I ever got was something like $40 one month), but it was fun and there was the potential for my earnings to increase down the road.  Plus, my work was going to be out there earning something forever. But it turns out that "forever" wasn't as long as I thought it was.

A few months back, I received an email from Squidoo saying that one of my lenses was going to be unpublished because it violated Squidoo's terms of service.  ("Lenses" is what they call articles on Squidoo.) Mind you, they didn't tell me what I did wrong (much less how to fix it) - just that I was in violation. (Oh yeah, they did give me a long laundry list of violations I might possibly have committed, but nothing definitive.) 

So basically, I was expected to go through my article, make a bunch of random changes, then submit it again for review.  There was another issue, though: even had I made any changes, there was no way to resubmit what I'd written!  I tried writing emailing Squidoo to get more info - what the problem was, how to fix it, how to submit it again for review - but never got a response.

In essence, without more info, I didn't know how to fix the problem.  And then I received another email from Squidoo saying that a second lens was being locked (although in actuality it was essentially the same email, with only one change: the name of the lens) - again for reasons unknown. And then it happened to a third lens. Then a fourth. Long story short, I looked today, and roughly one-third of my content on Squidoo is locked and unpublished.

Thankfully, I still have time (I think) to do something with all of the now-unpublished content I have on Squidoo, thereby bringing us to the crux of the matter (and the reason for this post):

To the extent that it is appropriate, I will probably bring some of my Squidoo content here to my blog. The rest I will probably migrate over to another revenue-sharing site like Hubpages.com or Inforbarrel.com

Of course, I'm not the only person this has happened to. There seems to be an endless parade of folks having the same issues at Squidoo (not knowing what the problem is with their content, not knowing how to fix it, and so on). I believe I read somewhere that Squidoo is doing all this in response to changes in Google's algorithms, but there has to be some means by which they can be more responsive. There needs to be method to this madness.

In retrospect, there are a lot of lessons to be learned here - particularly about how quickly favorable things can turn against you with respect to your writing. Right now, what Squidoo is doing is almost analogous to be rejected by a publisher: "Sorry, kid. Maybe next time..."  But what's probably more important is to persevere, and for me - at this time - that means saving the content on Squidoo that I labored hard and long over.  Likewise, for those struggling with their writing, it's important to understand and accept that not everyone will perceive value in what you are doing or your final product, but that doesn't mean it's worthless - far from it, in my opinion. Keep believing in the value of what you have to offer, and keep believing in yourself.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Release: Extraction (A Kid Sensation Story)

I'm pretty excited about finally publishing the latest Kid Sensation adventure, Extraction, which is a short story (although technically - based on word count and length - I think it actually fits the definition of a novelette). 

As with the first two novels, the cover art was done by Isikol.

The story itself is kind of a holdover - something hinted at in the second book, Mutation. However, rather than fold it into the action taking place in Kid Sensation #3 (the third book), my gut instinct was to make it a stand-alone adventure (which I hope fans of the series will appreciate).

As with the second book in the series, I once again failed miserably in terms of announcing a publication date, doing a cover release, and so on. Frankly speaking, it's probably my process that prevents me from taking any of the aforementioned actions. 

I typically don't even begin thinking about a cover until I've finished the manuscript. In fact, the first time I turn my mind to what should be on the cover is usually when I'm reaching out to my artist, Isikol, to say that I've finished a new book and would like to commission some cover art. 

Moreover, since Isikol also does the typography for me, I usually have to spend a little time trying to come up with a descriptive blurb for the back of the book before he finishes. (If I haven't mentioned it before, I usually do both an ebook and a print version of my books.)

In short, my thinking simply isn't advanced enough yet to contemplate doing all the things that established authors do. (Just to show what a Neanderthal I am, I was putzing around trying to wait for the book to show up as "published" on Amazon when the first sale came through.  Apparently, books become available to readers before Amazon even lets authors know that the publication process is complete. I'm also racing like the dickens trying to get it up on other publishing platforms.)  Regardless, I'm glad to have this one out there and hopefully readers will enjoy it.

In other news, with this baby now put to bed, Isikol can focus on the cover for the Warden sequel. As I previously posted, the text for that one is already done; depending on when the cover art gets finished (and I don't plan to rush my artist, no matter how quickly I'd like it done), it will probably get published in a week or so. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that readers will feel that it was worth the wait.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Shape of Things to Come

I was very excited to get a message tonight from someone asking about the sequel to Warden. While it hasn't been selling as well as my Kid Sensation series, the book has been a steady performer and appears to have a growing fan base.
I had originally intended to have the next book in the series published in August, but that schedule got mangled like an innocent bystander in a Stephen King novel. However, I'm happy to report that the sequel is actually finished.  I got it back from my editor last week and have just gone over it again myself. I'll probably review it one final time this weekend, so by Monday it should be ready in terms of text.

In terms of cover, however, my artist (the great Isikol), is currently at work on the cover for a new Kid Sensation short story that I recently completed. Once that is done, I hope to have him turn his hand to Warden #2. With any luck, the publication schedule looks something like this:

Kid Sensation short story - probably in the next week or so
Warden #2 - by the end of the month  

(FYI: the actual title of the sequel is Warden (Book 2: Lure of the Lamia).  As I did in the first book, I tried to take some supernatural creatures that don't get a lot of air time and let them run amok. The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of fantastic, legendary creatures out there, and it's a lot of fun to write about them.)

Beyond those two, I'm a little unsure of where to go next in terms of writing. I've got another Kid Sensation novel in mind, so that is likely to take the next spot in the queue (and of course I've been thinking about some other Warden books), but I also have some ideas for other novels and series. The questions is, at one point do I start sliding those in?

Right now, I'm just kind of oscillating - going back and forth between writing Warden and Kid Sensation. Thankfully, I've still got ideas for the major characters in those, but I've also got some stories I'm thinking about for other characters in those books.  For instance, several people have mentioned wanting to know more about the character Mouse from the Kid Sensation series.  Oddly enough, I have have Mouse's story pretty much outlined in my head; it's just a matter of putting it to paper.

Anyway, for those interested, the shape of my future writing schedule will probably be as follows:

Kid Sensation #3
Warden #3
Kid Sensation #4
Warden #4
Mouse novel (from Kid Sensation series)

Other books will probably include a dystopian series, a paranormal series, and whatever else comes to mind. Hopefully any fans of my work will stick around for the full ride.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Labor Day Weekend and Lessons Learned

After a somewhat slow July, I was blessed to have an absolutely tremendous August, with over 3500 ebook sales.  The numbers received an obvious boost from the release of Mutation, and - needless to say - I'm over the moon about the results and thrilled that readers seem to be enjoying my work.

Of course, my journey as an author is only just getting started in earnest, but I couldn't help reflecting back on the path I've taken thus far.  With that in mind, I thought it might be worth sharing some of the things that I feel were helpful to me on a number of levels in terms of my writing:

Find inspiration wherever you can - especially in the little things

Before I published Sensation, I would occasionally get this nagging thought that I shouldn't be wasting so much time writing. To a certain extent, it seemed like a healthy, creative outlet for which I merely had grandiose dreams, so doubts about how successful I could be in this endeavor would sometimes flit through my brain.

Anyway, I was getting ready for the day job one morning, with the doubts and nagging thoughts pecking away at my resolve to have a writing career, when I heard these words:

"There are people who find their own path. Chart their own course. Who never stop moving forward, and never, ever back down. Entrepreneurs; journeymen; mavericks; and pioneers who believe the American Dream doesn't just happen--it's something you have to work for."

I'd had the television on a morning news program while I was getting dressed, and what I'd heard was from an ad for this Southwest Airlines commercial:

I know it sounds hokey, but those words resonated with me. I'm not saying it was like Robert the Bruce getting motivated to drive the English out of Scotland by watching a spider build a web, but I felt inspired. I must have rewound that commercial and watched it twenty times in a row (I'm not even sure if I paid attention to the rest of it). I left for work that morning with a completely different mindset. 

Basically, I think you have to find inspiration wherever you can (yes, even in a commercial) and use it as a driving force in your work, regardless of whether that work is writing or something else.

Treat writing like a business

Back when I was in college, there was a restaurant not far from campus that purportedly had some of the best food in town (for student budgets). However, they never seemed to have consistent operating hours. Regardless of the posted opening/closing time, the owners just seemed to open their doors whenever the mood hit them - and they'd close in the same fashion. For example, if the cable went out in the restaurant so that they couldn't watch TV in the back office, they might close so that they wouldn't miss The Price is Right or some BS like that. Obviously not a great way to do business.

Likewise, if you are intent on becoming successful as an author, I think you have to treat writing like a business, with yourself as CEO. (In fact, that are many successful writers who say that this is a must.) You want to produce a quality product that the general public will want to buy. At the same time, you need to be writing regularly and consistently. I don't know that you need to write every single day, but you should probably be typing something 5 or 6 days per week. (Taking a day off every week is probably a good way to recharge your batteries and stay fresh.)

In short, you have to keep regular hours, keep your shelves stocked with product, etc. - the same things you'd do with any other business. If you treat it like a hobby - building model planes and whatnot in your spare time - then you'll get hobby-like results.

There's more than one yellow brick road to Oz

Everyone has their own definition of success and their own means of getting there. There are lots of successful writers who willingly share what they feel is the secret of their winning ways, and I'm grateful for that. Occasionally, however, the advice of one author may conflict with that of another.  In my book, it doesn't mean that either of them is wrong; truth be told there is more than one path to success in this business. I think it's worthwhile to see what a number of successful authors did and then cherry-pick the ideas, strategies and tactics that make the most sense to you.

In short, there's not just one yellow brick road to Oz; there's a million of them. You just have to find the one that works for you - and it may be a road that hasn't been laid yet.

Make your own luck

A while back I had dinner with one of the senior people at my office, and we got to talking about what makes a successful career, and how it's not always about who's the smartest or most talented.  In hearing about some of his experiences, it seemed to me that sometimes his success came as a result of catching a lucky break, and I said as much.  He laughed and agreed, saying, "Sometimes you get lucky. And sometimes, you make your own luck."

Those last five words really caught fire in my brain, because I felt like I knew exactly what he was talking about. To me, there are occasionally doors that open a crack - opportunities that present themselves for a limited time - and you need to have positioned yourself to take advantage of them. 

By way of example, I know of a company (we'll call this one Little Co.) that put in a bid for a big project and got selected for a second round of interviews with the corporation (let's say Huge Corp.) soliciting proposals. When Little Co. came in for their interview with Huge Corp., they said, "We don't want to sit around and talk about our proposal. Instead, we'd like to spend that time working for you, showing you what we can do and the quality of our product. Then, when we finish, you can decide."  Huge Corp. agreed, and (as you might have guessed) Little Co. ended up with the work - despite the fact that they were not as established or well-known as some of the other bidders.  They made their own luck - and so can you.

Greatness awaits

Finally, for those of you doubting yourselves, I ask, "Who are you not to be great?"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mutation Progress

Here's one you don't see every day (at least mooks like me don't) - the two books in my Kid Sensation series are ranked #1 and #2 in one of their categories:

Best Sellers in Superhero Fantasy eBooks

Mutation: A Kid Sensation Novel (Kid...
Kindle Edition
Sensation: A Superhero Novel
Kindle Edition
To a certain extent, it feels like Thunderdome: Two books enter; one book leaves...  Seriously though, all I can say is that I feel blessed that the books seem to be finding an audience, and I'm continually floored by the level of support my writing has received.  Over the past week Mutation broke into the Top 1000 in the paid Kindle Store (the highest rank I saw it get to was #691), and I even find myself with an Amazon Author Rank that's in the Top 100 for Fantasy and Science Fiction. It really does feel like I'm on some wild ride, but at the moment I'm really loving it!

Needless to say, Amazon has been - and continues to be - a big part of my success. At the same time, however, I'm attempting to establish a foothold on other platforms: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. (Trying to avoid putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.) Truth be told, though, I'm struggling to find ways to market to those with Nook and Kobo e-readers. Most of the powerful promotional tools seem geared towards the Kindle (and you can't blame them for that), but I'm still so new to all this stuff that I'm probably overlooking something.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Praying that Lightning Strikes Twice (and Then Some)

I mention all the time about how limited my knowledge of self-publishing is, so I'm still prone to making rookie mistakes.  One of the things I've neglected to do until fairly recently was work more on selling print copies of my books.

I know that there are many who eschew print altogether (and make a very good living focusing only on ebooks), but for me it's another market to sell to. Public libraries, brick-and-mortar bookstores, etc.  They're all out there - numbering in the hundreds of thousands - and since it costs practically nothing to do print versions, why not?

That said, getting into physical libraries and bookstores can sometimes require a little more legwork. Independent bookstores may only work with you on a consignment basis, and - other than those located near you - the large chains may only be interested if they can get your book through one of their distributors/wholesalers such as Ingram.  (For libraries, this would primarily be Baker & Taylor.)  Moreover, outside of something like Creatspace's Expanded Distribution, you really need your own ISBN number.

Bearing all that in mind (and the fact that I was getting double-digit sales of print copies on Createspace), I decided a few weeks back to sign up with Lightning Source, which is a division of Ingram. Lightning Source offers print-on-demand services, and through them my books are available via Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and others. Granted they are more expensive than CS's Expanded Distribution (and the set-up is more complicated), but I have more control in terms of setting the discount for wholesalers (20%-55%), as opposed to the automatic 60% at CS. (Not to mention the fact that CS won't make your book available to libraries/universities if you use your own ISBN.)

Thankfully, things appear to be working out in that I recently checked my Lightning Source account and saw that I had my first order. With any luck, it will be the first of many.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Release - Mutation (Kid Sensation #2)

I am proud to say that Mutation: A Kid Sensation Novel (the sequel to Sensation) has finally been released!

The cover art was again done by Isikol, whose work on the first novel in the series was simply spectacular. 

Needless to say, I'm happy to finally have the book out there.  Fans of Sensation have been very vocal in their request for a sequel, so hopefully they will enjoy this next adventure of Kid Sensation.

Of course, I probably should have done a better job of getting the word out about the sequel: done a cover release, announced a release date well in advance, etc. In all honesty, though, I'm just so new to all this (self-publishing, that is) that it well probably be a while before I get my sea legs under me and figure out enough of the ins and outs that I don't look like a total idiot every time I do something.

To be frank, though, I'm really a simple-minded fella, so I'm nervous about having lot of a pomp and circumstance surrounding a book release, and then having readers consider it to be the literary equivalent of the Johnny Depp Lone Ranger movie.  Thus, I've kept the fanfare to a minimum.

In other news, Sensation and Warden are finally out of KDP Select.  I think Select was great at one point and a powerful tool in an indie publisher's arsenal, but it seems to have lost a lot of its pop. Maybe Amazon will tweak it in some way to bring back it's sex appeal, but it feels like the train has left the station for good.  That being the case, I have loaded my work up to numerous sites - B&N, Smashwords, etc. - and am already starting to get sales (which I pray will steadily increase).

Finally, I'm still trying to wrap up the Warden sequel and get it to my editor, but have found my efforts derailed of late because of numerous factors.  But, as with Mutation, I'm leery of announcing a release date at this juncture (especially since I haven't even put it in my editor's hands yet).  All I can say is "soon."

Mutation is available at Amazon.comBarnes&NobleKoboSmashwords (for Sony, Apple and more), DriveThruFiction, and XinXii

*And on a side note, a lot of authors have stated the need for a mail list to announce book releases to readers, so if you are interested in being informed of such (and that is all I plan to use it for) please click on the link in the upper right corner of my blog.  Thanks!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

KDP Select, We Hardly Knew Ye...

In a previous blog (which you can find here), I mentioned some of the reasons I was thinking of leaving the KDP Select program. Now, with both Sensation and Warden coming off the Select this week, I have been putting in a little time preparing to launch them on other publishing platforms.  Between that, having jury duty, and some other issues this week, I've fallen a little behind schedule on finishing the Warden sequel, which I had originally anticipated completing a few days ago. Thankfully, my editor is being extremely patient with me, and I hope to dot that final "i" and cross the last "t" soon.  The Sensation sequel is - from all appearances - just days away from being released as I deal with a few final concerns, and I will, of course, announce it here first.

(FYI: For those interested, I am now compiling a mail list of those who'd like to be informed whenever I release a new novel.  The link for the subscription is in the upper right of this blog.)

Needless to say, I'm both excited and nervous about publishing elsewhere.  I've been blessed to find tremendous support on Amazon, but I've also been stiff-arming a good portion of the market because of my participation in Select.  I'm hoping that readers elsewhere will give me the same warm fuzzy I've been experiencing on Kindle, but there are no guarantees.

It's unfortunate that Select isn't the same juggernaut that it used to be, but that's just my experience.  There are many others who still swear by it, and I can't say that they're absolutely wrong.  I just feel that the current cons of Select outweigh the pros - not to mention the fact that I'm trying to extend my reach as an author as far as possible.  This has become particularly important to me as - throughout July - I've noticed sales dropping significantly.  For instance, Sensation sold over 1200 copies in June, but will come in at less than 700 for July (unless there's a massive surge today). I've heard that sales generally drop in summer (especially in July), but I can't help thinking that having my books in places like Barnes & Noble and Smashwords (assuming I can get through the SW meatgrinder) would help ease the pain.

Basically, I embarking into a new journey here, but hopefully my efforts will eventually pay big dividends. With any luck, I'll get a few sales early on to give me encouragement - and convince me that leaving Select was the right decision.  And if it doesn't work out, I could always come crawling back to Select on my hands and knees, begging like Take That:

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Sensation Sequel

I've obviously been neglecting my blog this month, but not without reason.  I've been hard at work putting the finishing touches on the sequel to Sensation. Part of the problem is that every time I re-read the thing, I keep seeing additional items that I want to tweak. (My editor would probably be horrified to know that, since she proofed what was purportedly the final draft a few weeks back.) I plan to read it for [hopefully] the final time over the next day or so.

My cover artist, Isikol, is also hard at work producing another awesome cover. He did a fantastic job on the first book, so I'm hoping that lightning will strike twice in that regard.

As to a release date, I don't have anything specific in mind yet.  Basically, it will be as soon as I can get all of the essential elements in place - with any luck, some time in the next week or two.  But the announcement of it will probably be something as simple as a short blurb on this blog and a tweet.  (I'm a terrible planner; anything more complicated than that and I'll probably screw it up.)

In other news, I'm also working on the next book in my Warden series.  The plan, for now, is to alternate between the two series - writing a book for one, then the other - as well as maybe penning a few other novels that have been eating away at my brain recently.  Hopefully it will all work out, but right now this entire self-publishing venture feels like one giant experiment. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Results from KDP Select Free Promotion: The Party's Over...

My books Sensation and Warden are both in the KDP Select program. For those unfamiliar with KDP Select, it is a program in which an author agrees to make his or her ebook available exclusively in the Kindle Store for 90 days.  That means no selling your ebook on Smashwords, B&N, etc. (You can still sell print versions wherever you like.)

In exchange, the author receives - among other things - higher royalty rates in some regions and 5 days during that 90-day period in which to offer his/her ebook for free.  The book also gets included in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, where it can be borrowed for free by Amazon Prime members. Books that are borrowed earn of a share of a global fund established by KDP. Each borrow has historically earned about $2 (although the exact figure varies month-to-month), so if you have a book in KDP Select that is borrowed 152 times during the month, you can expect to earn about $304 from that. (That's borrows, not sales, which would be entirely different.)

Needless to say, when you offer your book for free, you can expect for the amount of downloads to increase significantly. Initially, this was a boon for authors since - in the early days of KDP Select - a free download was essentially the same as a sale in terms of how if affected your rankings, and there was a good chance your book would be comfortably positioned in the upper echelons of your category when the free promotion ended (which usually resulted in a post-promo bump in sales). However, Amazon has done a fair amount of tweaking to the algorithms since then that significantly affect the weight given to freebies.
In my case, for example, I published Sensation on Kindle in early May 2013 and picked two days in early June to offer the book for free. (I figured a month would give me enough time to do adequate promotion, if necessary.) Much to my surprise, sales for the book took off, and by the end of May it was #1 in one of its categories.

At that juncture, I became a little nervous. The book was selling well, so I was afraid that free days would cannibalize sales. I was seriously tempted to pull the plug on the free days altogether, but I had already arranged free promotions on a number of sites. Therefore I decided to stick it out, thinking that maybe if there were something like a 10-to-1 ratio between the weighting of free downloads to sales (ie, every 10 freebies were equivalent to 1 sale), I could still make out alright.

Over the next two days, over 3000 copies of Sensation were downloaded, and I broke into the Top 100 of the Kindle Free Store. (I don't know exactly how high I got, but the highest I saw was #90.)  That was far more than I ever anticipated, so I was hoping that the payoff would come in the form of a higher ranking in the Paid Store and the post-promo bump that many other authors have experienced. I got neither.

Both my overall ranking and my daily sales fell following the promotion, and neither has recovered. When I discussed it with a fellow author, he mentioned that it was his understanding that the ratio between free downloads and sales is something like 220:1.  In other words, 220 free downloads is worth about 1 sale.  In essence, a free download is worth almost nothing (outside of additional exposure).

In retrospect, I can't help feeling that KDP Select has lost much of its sex appeal. For instance, while it can help you get your books into the hands of more readers via free promotions, you don't need Select to offer your book for free.  Moreover, I think that borrows - just like freebies - cannibalize sales.  I'm not saying that getting 152 borrows in a month means that you would have gotten 152 additional sales if you weren't in Select. However, I do think that at least some of those borrows definitely would have become sales.
Bearing all this in mind, I will probably pass on renewing with Select when the current exclusivity period expires, as the party is clearly over. This will let me dip my toe into some other waters (B&N, Smashwords, what have you) and hopefully expand my audience. (And if I don't like it, I can always come back to Select.)

Side Note:  For those who may be interested, I had the opportunity to write a guest post on Joe Konrath's blog, which may be found here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

All Authors Blog Blitz

As part of the All Authors Blog Blitz taking place today, I am proud to have my first blog interview with Toni Allen -  tarot reader, astrologer and author. With that, let's launch right into it.

Toni can you tell us a little about your background?

As a child I was always making up stories in my head, but mainly only wrote them down for school. I studied photography at college and it’s still one of my greatest passions, being able to capture a single moment and show others how I see the world around me. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realised that other people don’t relate to the world in quite the same way as myself, and it was only through a long process of self-discovery that I acknowledged the word psychic to explain the many weird and wonderful things that happened around me. As a child I assumed that everyone else had prophetic dreams, saw ghosts and knew what was occurring in other places at the same time. To me this was all normal, a part of who I am.

While at college someone introduced me to Tarot and, due to my early years of self-discovery, I immediately understood the symbols and was able to read the cards without ever having picked up a book on the subject or had any training. Becoming a Tarot reader gave me a platform to use my psychic abilities and help other people with my ability to see beyond the physical realm. As a teenager I was always intrigued by astrology and would do things like sit in the pub with my friends, scribble down birthdays and announce, “Did you know that even though eight people are here we only have Sagittarians and Taureans?” My friends would reply, “Who cares?” And I would say, “I do,” and had to work out why we had homed in on each other. Consequently I learnt astrology.

I now work full time as a tarot reader and astrologer.

You can find out more about me on my blog at http://toniallenauthor.com/

How'd you make the transition to becoming an author?

I started writing novels years ago. Stories populated my head and so I started to write them down. A few poems came along too.

After I started reading tarot I went out and bought a few books on the subject to see what others were thinking and, to be frank, I found them quite irritating because they just gave the meaning of the card but not the reason why it should mean that in the first place. I was already teaching a small group of students and handing out information sheets, and one student said, “You’ve got the making of a book here,” so I started collating my material and putting into book form. Hence the System of Symbols, a new way to look at tarot evolved from my teaching notes.

What kinds of things do you write about?

With my fiction I think a friend of mine put it very well. She said, “I’ve got it. You’re books do have a theme, they’re all about ordinary people that extraordinary things happen to.” These extraordinary things usually have a paranormal twist of some description, but in my experience they are not impossible. My main characters are not ghouls, or vampires they are just ordinary folk…oh yes, and usually there’s some kind of investigation or mystery unfolding as the story progresses. The next novel I’ll be releasing, Visiting Lilly, is a detective mystery, with a paranormal/sci-fi twist.

That's very ineteresting.  Now, can you tell us a little about your latest book?

Being Richard is a story about a very ordinary man who just happens to be an immortal. He wasn’t born immortal. A sacrificial ritual to protect his tribe from an advancing army backfires and instead of killing Sunbeerka, gives him eternal life. So now he’s 2,562 years old, looks like he’s thirty and is yet again scrabbling around for a new identity so that he doesn’t appear to be too young for his alleged age. Choosing to become Richard Ridley, who died as an infant, proves extremely challenging.

He doesn’t want to be Richard, but his nemesis appears in the form of Gilbert Hawkins who works for a secret government department that is hunting down immortals, and is forced to become Richard.
On first meeting Gilbert Sunbeerka asks,

“How long have you been observing me?”
“Long enough to know that you’ve way out lived your four score and ten. Before Julian you were Mike; and killing Bobby off just after the war was a real mistake, maybe one of your biggest. Records, Richard, records and photography, they really have been the bane of your life in recent years, even though you’ve proved extremely camera shy.”
There was no point in answering him. He was my worst nightmare come true, all of my fears realised into one forty something man leaning against my gate thinking he was clever. Those sharp brown eyes were scrutinising me, eyeing me up and down, searching for answers in my face and eyes, and the way I smiled or frowned.
“I have all of the evidence,” he said, turning his collar up against the fine mist of drizzle that had begun to grey the surrounding green.
“I’m sure you do.” I pushed myself off the gate and headed back towards the cottage.

Gilbert admits that he too is an immortal, although he was born like it. It’s not until one of them is wounded that the differences in their immortality start to show; and questions arise as to whether Gilbert is immortal or lying. Persuaded that all the The Department wants is for him to track down other immortals, Sunbeerka plays their game, but cannot rest until he’s discovered how baby Richard really died. Researching the dead child’s family leads him to uncover dark family secrets, living relatives with blood on their hands and murder. Life becomes dangerous, even for an immortal.

Which do you prefer writing - fiction or non-fiction?  Why?

Now that’s a really difficult choice. I think it has to be equal. I enjoy writing non-fiction because I love sharing my knowledge with other people. When people say they have learnt something new from one of my books that gives me a real buzz. With fiction I’m more compulsive addictive. People appear in my head and I have to write about them, they have a story that needs to be told. I enjoy getting to know my characters, but sometimes they’re like naughty children and run off and do their own thing, which is exciting and part of the fun.

What's the most difficult thing you've encountered in your journey as an author?

Finding the time to write all of the novels that I want to write. I have several finished novels waiting to be tweaked ready for publication, but I’m also working on a new project.

Also finding the right platform and audience for my work. I’m not a natural at social media, but I’m having a go and slowly but surely connecting with people who enjoy my style and content.

What words of encouragement would you give to any potential authors out there?

Never give up, never give in. Keep writing. When you’ve finished one piece of work send it out if you’re looking for mainstream publication, but start on your next manuscript, don’t stop writing. In your more creative times always keep a notebook of ideas. A word or two, a scene, any idea that pops into your head. This will become your source book when less creative times leave you feeling dispirited.

Finally, where can readers find your books?

Being Richard is available from Amazon US  |  Amazon UK for Kindle and in paperback. iTunes and from Lulu.

The System of Symbols, a new way to look at tarot is available from Amazon US  | Amazon UK for Kindle and in paperback. iTunes and from Lulu.

 Sex and Tarot is available from Amazon US | Amazon UK for Kindle and paperback. iTunes and Lulu.

 You’ll also find my books on Nook and other platforms. You can join me on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ToniAllenAuthor or my blog http://toniallenauthor.com/ to find out more about me and my latest books.

Thanks, Toni, for taking the time to speak with us today and share your experiences.  We look forward to hearing about your success in the future.

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