Plans for the Immediate Future…

As I’m getting ready for the Eat Local, Read Local event, I’m also finishing off the third Law of Swords book, In Division Imperiled (as I mentioned in the epilog of my last post). (Oh, and my birthday is this Thursday, but that’s unrelated to this post).  Trying to make everything happen at once hasn’t given me all that much time to think about my business plans beyond those few things, but in search of a topic for this week’s blog I spent some time thinking about it, anyway, and made a few decisions. I know this looks like another of my boring old status reports, but you will probably want to pay attention to this blog — I’ve made some important decisions,

To begin with, recapping what I mentioned last week, I’m going to need to find another cover artist soon as the cover for In Division Imperiled flunked with my test audience. I haven’t sent out any queries to any artists, yet, but I have identified a short list of people from varying levels of professional experience to try. Hopefully at least one of them will respond to my query and be willing to work within my budget (which, uh, I need to decide on, as I’ve already used my book cover budget on the flunked-out cover).  Will this delay In Division Imperiled’s release?  Probably not (though it depends how the cover art search goes).  But it may delay my marketing plan.  And to think — for once, I thought I was getting ahead of things by arranging for the cover art even before the book was over, and would be able to do a lot more pre-release marketing than I have in the past.  It’s a shame, but an unsatisfactory cover is… well, unsatisfactory.

Second, once the Eat Local, Read Local event is taken care of, I intend to see if I can’t get an actual store going on the Fennec Fox Press website to sell signed copies of my print editions. Given past print sales, I’m not expecting to do much business through said store, but since I’ve had the website for a while, I’ve got enough books to justify it, and now I’ve got the Square account to take credit cards, and soon (if I can just get the paperwork completed!) I’ll be able to take sales tax, there’s no reason NOT to open such a store.

I’m not sure whether I’ll have anything to offer other than my few books (and possibly some of the little plushie Fennec Fox keychains I was giving away at Ravencon, but I’m still undecided on that), but I might decide to do things like sell some used books, or help my mother sell some of her quilts (haven’t yet discussed this with her; I know she tries to sell some of her quilts off her own page, and I’m not sure how it would work), or maybe I would look into a deal with some of my author-friends to sell their books through my store (the big problem with trying to sell someone else’s work is the legal liabilities; I’d have to turn my little sole proprietorship into an LLC first, so I probably won’t be doing this to start with).  I’ll still have to work out the technical details, but I’m fairly certain I can manage a small web-based storefront, and at the very least all of my signed books will be made available on it.

Third, once BOTH the Eat Local, Read Local event AND the In Division Imperiled manuscripts are completed, I’ll use the library’s new sound recording studio that I surveyed a few weeks ago to begin turning A Gun For Shalla, my story in the Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders anthology, into an audiobook with myself as the narrator.  I don’t want this to prevent me from starting work on the next Shieldclads book, however, so I’ll be restricting myself to trying this experimental project just one day a week.

If it works out, then maybe I’ll also try the same thing with The Kitsune Stratagem (the book that I think Tantor, who produced the Merrimack Event audiobook, is the least likely to buy the rights to).  If THAT works out, and I can’t convince Tantor to do the audiobook for the Law of Swords books, maybe I’ll do those, too.  But, at one day a week (at most), that would put those books pretty far in the future, and this post is more for my immediate plans.

Finally… most of the previous things you might have caught in my previous blog posts, but this one I decided just as I was working on this blog:  If you are interesting in buying either of the Law of Swords books in ebook form somewhere OTHER than Amazon (such as through Kobo, Smashwords, or the Nook), you might want to buy them now.  When the rest of In Division Imperiled is off to the editor and I’m ready to start really marketing it, I am going to (experimentally) withdraw my previous books in the series from wide distribution, and see if I can’t put the whole series into the KDP select program for at least one enrollment period (90 days).

I’ve not done this in the past because I’ve found most of the technical issues reported with KDP Select (at least, most of the ones that don’t ultimately turn out to be the result of bad practices on the author’s part, or an author’s advertiser’s part) happen because the author took a book that is already in wide distribution out of wide distribution in order to meet the exclusivity requirement of KDP Select.  I haven’t heard about one of those particular issues in a while, though, so maybe they’ve been fixed?  And, in conjunction with the release of the third book, I think it might make a huge difference sales-wise.

I plan to return to wide distribution before too long, but I thought the same about The Merrimack Event, and the number of page reads I get in a month is STILL too high for me to pull it out of the program and try wider distribution.  Crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong when I do it, though.

Link Shares!

Well, I’m still going to push for the Starflight 3 crowdfunding campaign.  It’s falling behind the pace it needs to set, but I’m hopeful some investors will come in at the end to save the campaign (which has been hinted, if they can get close), and in the meantime it could use your support.

But I do have actual books, this week.  First there is Billy the Kid, by Link Share regular Cyn Bagley, and is related to some of the EJ Hunter werewolf stories I’ve shared links to in earlier link-share entries.

Second, there is Fire and Forge by Holly Chism, another link-share regular; the third book in her Modern Gods series.

That’s all for now!  I may or may not be taking off next week (depending on how my birthday celebration plays out), but I’ll see you all soon!

Getting Ready for an Event…

Earlier this week, I had a moment of panic when the official webpage for the Eat Local, Read Local library event — an event that I’ve been telling you for months, on this blog, that I would be a part of — went live and, well, my name wasn’t on the list of participants.

An e-mail to the library took care of that quickly enough. There was a miscommunication, but we got it all straightened out, and so yes I’m still going to be there… (and by the time this blog goes out, my name should have been added to the list on that link, as it should have been from the start).  So, if you’re interested, I’ll be selling and signing any of my print-edition books, as well as any swag I have on hand, at the event.  I won’t be alone; there will be many other authors at the event, including (of particular note for fans of the sci-fi\fantasy genre) the bestselling and multiple-award-winning, multi-talented author, teacher, scientist, ballet dancer, and musician Catherine Asaro.

But the issue prompted me to think about everything I’ve gone through so far for what will be my first sales event:

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I took inventory of my books a couple weeks ago. I ordered some copies of the one book that I didn’t have any copies of, but I already had enough of the others to be okay. I also bought a few display stands at the same time — I already had a few for conventions, but I figured I would need more for this event.  They shipped just this morning, but they’re supposed to arrive well before the event.

I also took inventory of my swag. I still have plenty of my keychain-sized stuffed fennec foxes, but not enough of them have the bow ties that include the Fennec Fox Press branding. We have the ribbon on hand, but my mother needs to get her embroidery machine up and running to put the branding on it. I’ll have a few on hand, though, at a minimum, and they’ll be for sale as long as I have a surplus.  I also have some postcards and a few other little things of that nature.

I want to get some additional swag made, though — something cheap enough to give away, but useful enough people won’t toss it in the trash the moment they get home.  Most commonly, when other authors try for this type of swag, it includes things such as pens and refrigerator magnets.  I was hoping the people who did my postcards would be able to make these, but they say that their particular franchise won’t do magnets (though some other franchises in their company will).

There are two alternatives I’ve considered that might be able to do those magnets.  The first, and the more expensive option, is Vistaprint, a business that a number of other authors I know recommend for business cards and the like.  The other is a local option, both on the front-end and in the manufacturing capacities, and it has the advantage of allowing me to REAL PEOPLE about my needs… and it’s cheaper, as well.  I still need to go and talk to the local option before making my decision final; I’ll have to do that soon, though, because there isn’t much time before the event.

There’s also legal stuff. I’ve been running Fennec Fox Press as a sole proprietor with a DBA (Doing Business As, a legal business\fictitious name) from the beginning of my writing career, and will continue to do so (for now, though if I ever bring in other authors for anthologies or the like I’ll be switching to a LLC), but I’ve never needed to bother with the aspects of the business that would put me in a position to have to collect sales tax.  I’ve actively avoided doing certain things because I didn’t want to deal with that, and I didn’t see much short-term return on them.  I’ve been thinking about setting this up for some time, thinking I would maybe try selling some of my books at Marscon or Ravencon earlier this year, but things didn’t quite come together in time and so I never bothered.

For an event like this, however, I’ll almost certainly have to collect sales tax. I have yet to complete all of the paperwork, but it’s in process and I SHOULD have it ready in time. (From a legal perspective, according to the research I’ve done on the local regulations, I won’t be getting in any significant trouble if the paperwork is a little late; I just need to make sure I collect the appropriate tax when I do the sales, and file the paperwork as soon as possible)

And this means I’ll need to set things up to take credit card payments.  I’ve set up a Square account, and I’m waiting on a card reader now.  The card reader is very basic (it’s the one that only works with magnetic strips, not chips), but it should see me through this event just fine.  Long term, once I learn my way around this system, I’ll be able to set up a store for directly selling my books from my website, and maybe replace that card reader with a more modern one that’ll also work with chip-based cards and the like.

So… I’m not ready yet.  I’ve got a lot of things in progress, though, so hopefully, by September 29th (the date of the Eat Local, Read Local event), I’ll have everything done.

And if Loudoun County is just slightly outside of your driving range but you still want to go to a book sales event, you’re in luck.  Turns out on the same day, at the same time, in Fredricksburg Virginia, there’s the Fredricksburg Independent Book Festival, where Martin Wilsey, one of the other authors of the Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders anthology, will be selling his wares.

Meanwhile, a PARTIAL manuscript for the next Law of Swords book is with the editor.  I had to rip out an entire subplot right before deadline, in order to make things work in the conclusion, and that’s going to involve re-writing two complete chapters and portions of several others.  That has delayed completion a little, but if I can win the race of finishing those rewrites before he reaches the end of the portion of the manuscript I’ve already sent him, I ultimately won’t lose any time.

The book will certainly be out before the end of the year, regardless… (though, sadly, it doesn’t look like it will be out before the Eat Local, Read Local event.  Ah, well).  It may not have the cover that I showed off earlier this year, though — my test-audience doesn’t like that cover for a variety of reasons.

I hired a skilled and experienced artist, and liked the artwork myself, but I did have a few reservations.  I thought the problems I had with all had to do with the change of style — no-one is going to match the style of the original artwork perfectly — but the test audience I’ve shown it to has several objections, some of which I share.  None of them, surprisingly, are about the subject of the cover; mostly it’s about the coloring, the proportional size of the dragon, Euleilla’s hairstyle, and the texture of the stonework on the castle wall), so I may need to replace that artwork.  Which probably will mean a new artist search.  I’ve still got that cover as a fall-back, though.

As far as the next Shieldclads book is concerned (something I know many visitors to my blog are interested in), I’ll be starting that as soon as I’m done with the Law of Swords manuscript and can get the rest of it off to the editor… though, by now, I’ve learned better than to try and predict a completion date.

Link Shares

I don’t think there are any link-shares this week (something may have come in this morning, but I can’t check right now), so instead I’ll use this space to plug the crowdfunding campaign for Starflight 3.  The fondness I have for the original games has me pushing for this to succeed, though the fundraising target they’ve set has me worried for it.  If you’re willing to help me support a sequel to one of the very best PC computer games of the 1980s, please look into it.

Createspace is Going Away…

I started the week not knowing what I would post this week, but figured — with Dragoncon happening, and roughly half of my Facebook friends at Dragoncon — I would have something to talk about by the end of the week.  Turns out I do have something to talk about, but it has nothing to do with Dragoncon after all.

It’s been rumored for months, but the shoe has dropped and its no longer just a rumor. The POD service that does my print editions, Createspace, is being phased into KDP Print.  Now, you could go through that link to read some of the details, but honestly it’s probably more than you want to know.  It won’t be happening right away, though, as apparently they’ve been having issues with the migration and the “tools” needed for authors to make the transition smoother are being restricted to specific authors in batches; I still don’t have the ability to access those tools, and it may be weeks before I get them.  However, by all accounts Createspace will be no more by the end of the year.

So, what does it mean?  Not much to you.  Depending on how smooth the transition goes, there may be zero disruption of sales or it may be my print books will be taken off the market for as much as two-to-three days.  Most likely, it’ll be offline for a few minutes and that’s it.

To me, for now, it means a little administrative work.  Some of my record keeping might need to change.  I don’t think this will have any effect on any of my eBooks, so if you’re like the majority of my customers it won’t matter (the ratio has improved slightly, but I’m still selling something close to a 200-to-1 ratio of ebook to print book).  If you want to buy print copies of my books and you live somewhere OTHER than the United States, there’s a greater likelihood you’ll be able to get it (KDP Print and Createspace have had two different “territories” they would distribute books to; those territories are being merged along with the two companies).

This won’t effect me much, but the distribution merger can result in some oddities you might find from other indie authors.  For example, IF I had a Japanese-language translation of my books, you could get it in Japan… but only if the text is written in Romaji (the English-language alphabet and not kana or kanji (the Japanese ‘alphabet,’ or rather syllabary).  Japanese characters and fonts are not supported, even if distribution to Japan is.

That doesn’t mean the only changes you’ll see are a few minutes when my books won’t be on sale and some added distribution.  The other changes may not show up for a while, however; they don’t need to be done right away, and they’ll take some doing, so they can wait until I’ve finished the current projects I’m working on.

From my previous experience with KDP Print, I know that they have slightly different cover design requirements (things like KDP Print is less flexible with where you place the ISBN code).  So, some time in the next few months (probably to coincide with the release of In Division Imperiled, the third book of the Law of Swords series) I’ll be tweaking the cover a bit so that the designs of the new books and the old books will match better.  The old cover art will be used for all of the old books (well, with the possible exception of The Kitsune Stratagem.  I like the current cover art, but based on the criticism I’ve received, I’m coming to the conclusion that one big reason it has been such a slow-seller compared to my other books is the cover art), but there will be slight differences to all of my major print books to conform better to KDP Print design standards.

The interiors should remain the same, though, regardless, so if you already have a copy there won’t be a point in buying another one… though I won’t object if you do.  If you were thinking of buying one, though, and haven’t, (for any of In Treachery Forged, In Forgery Divided, The Kitsune Stratagem, or The Merrimack Event), and you would like the old cover, you probably should buy one now.  (It shouldn’t matter much, but if my books ever become collectables these older covers should be worth more).

Now that they’ve added many of the features I was missing the last time I tried it out, I think KDP Print will work out fine once the transition is complete… but I’ll miss Createspace.

Link Exchange

Just two things again, this week.  And I was worried this link exchange thing was going to bury my blog…

From Cyn Bagley, the third book of her EJ Hunter series (the previous two having been featured in prior blogs), Diamond Butterfly.

From Holly Chism comes a short story collection, Normalcy Bias.

Taking Inventory

While I haven’t heard anything from it since I was told I would be part of the event, I’m still looking ahead to the “Eat Local, Read Local” event, which will be at the Cascades (Loudoun County, Virginia) Library on September 29th. It will be the first sales event I’ve been to as an author (sales events typically involve print books, and while I do have print editions for most of my books they aren’t a big part of my income, so it’s never been a priority), and while I know how these sorts of things work (more or less) there are a few details I don’t know.

For example, I have no idea how much inventory I will need. The advice I’ve read always seems to suggest I refer to “similar events” or “past performance of others at the event” (I’ve never been part of a “similar event” as this, and I have no idea what other people who’ve been part of this event in the past have sold), so it’s pretty much useless.

Maybe, if I could track down some other writers from last year’s version of the event, I could get some sort of idea… but that would take time, and (given Createspace’s infamously slow shipping times) I need to decide, soon, if I need to order more copies of any of my books.

I almost always buy a batch of my own books right after publication, even if I’m not selling then. Having a few copies I can give away to friends and reviewers, or show off in front of a panel at a convention, etc. just makes sense. So I have some in stock… but I’ve not really been keeping track of how many I’ve given away, nor (off the top of my head) do I know how many I’ve ordered. All I been concerned with is “I’ve still got enough.” So, I had to take inventory.

According to that inventory, available for sale at this coming event I have:

In Treachery Forged: 8 Copies
In Forgery Divided: 6 Copies
The Kitsune Stratagem: 7 Copies
The Merrimack Event: 7 Copies
Worlds Enough, Fantastic Defenders: 6 Copies (actually 7, but the seventh isn’t for sale as it’s the only copy I have signed by some of the other authors)
This Book Cannot Make Any Money: 0 (uh… probably should order a supply of those)
Total:  34

(I also have a supply of old proofs and misprints for all of those books, but they aren’t for sale).

With the exception of “This Book Cannot Make Any Money,” I think I’m actually fairly well stocked for now.  I don’t want to lug much more than that around with me, at any rate.  Do any writing veterans reading this think differently?  Should I buy more copies of anything?  Could I leave some at home and lighten the load?

And, for those who AREN’T writing veterans, I’ll let you know how things go. But that won’t be for a month, so keep this post in mind…

LINK SHARING

As last week seemed to work, I’m going with text links only.  The only two new link-share requests, this week, are sequels to earlier link-shares, so I won’t bother breaking them down by genre.

As the sequel to last week’s “The Godshead,” Holly Chism presents “Highway to Tartarus.”

And as the sequel to last week’s “She Called it, Wolf,” Cyn Bagley presents “Dark Moon Rising.”

Enjoy!

 

Library Services

I’ve long tried to write this article before, either on its own or as part of a larger article, but I always seem to get side-tracked and never seem to get my point across.  As related, below, I wound up doing something this week that may finally help me get it out there.  Here’s hoping it works, this time.

Earlier this week, I took my mother to a particular branch of my local public library. As background, my mother is an competitive art quilter (if you’ve been around long enough, you’ll probably have heard me mention that point before) who incorporates some pretty high-tech tools in her quilting. Sewing and embroidery machines with advanced computerization, a long-arm quilting machine, computer-aided design software and hardware (including printers which are designed for printing on fabric, scanners, Wacom pen-tools and tablets, and lots and lots of embroidery and quilting software).

One thing she doesn’t have, however, is a type of cutting tool called a curio or cameo cutter.  But, it turns out, one of the local branches of the public library does

I’d never been to this particular branch, so I went along.  I was surprised to find that the librarian was actually quite skilled with the device (my past experience with public libraries — as opposed to academic libraries — is that often they acquire interesting pieces of technology or software, but the librarians find themselves out of their depths when it comes to using them), and my mother managed to get everything done with it that she needed it for.

But the library has more there than just the cameo cutter.  If you notice on that list of “features” in the library branch, there’s something there called a “sound studio with electronic instruments.”  I went and took a look at it, again just expecting a large room with glass walls (just like most of their “Study Rooms”) with some low-end recording equipment and maybe a couple cheap electronic music instruments in it.

What I found was a room the size of a small closet… but also high-quality sound-dampening insulation on the walls, a special, heavy-duty sound-proof door, and recording gear that was actually professional grade.  I think there was also an electronic piano or something like that in there, but I couldn’t go in and take a look at the time.  Whether there was a piano or not, however, it wouldn’t be acceptable as a recording studio for musical performances — it was far too cramped.

But it would be absolutely perfect for audiobook recording.  And (unlike something I was told when querying about an older recording studio in another branch of this library system, which was much like how I envisioned this studio would be) they have technical expertise, there, to help people get set up.

I am thinking of trying to shop my larger books to Tantor (as audiobooks only; I’m not planning to sell them my other rights), so that they will be produced by the same people who did the successful audiobook version of The Merrimack Event, but I don’t think my shorter fiction will go there.

I still haven’t quite finished book 3 of The Law of Swords, but once that’s done I think I might see if I can’t record myself reading A Gun for Shalla.  And now I know where to record it.

So, if you’re a writer, or some other type of creative, and you’re missing resources for some aspect of your career, you might want to check your local library.  Not every library system is as well equipped as mine, but some are even better… and maybe, even if they aren’t, your librarians may know where to go.


Link-Sharing

Well, after some technical issues from last week’s link-sharing post (it seems ad-blockers were preventing the links from showing up for some people), I’ve decided to change the links from text-and-graphic to just text.  That should also help reduce their footprint, which should make the link-sharing section less likely to take over the whole post.

Science Fiction

By Laura Montgomery comes a pair of what I believe should be classified in the “Sword and Planet” sub-genre of science fiction, though perhaps with harder science than some.  She is looking for a boost among sci-fi readers, especially:

Sleeping Duty
Out of the Dark

Fantasy

By Cyn Bagley, an urban fantasy novel dealing with werewolves.  She says that she’s pushing it as a re-launch, after heavy revisions and updates.

She Called It, Wolf

By Holly Chism, another urban fantasy novel, this time dealing with a forgotten god from the mythological pantheons (or at least the North pantheon, because the summary mentions Loki).

The Godshead

Linksharing

Remember how, last week, I mentioned a Facebook effort for authors to share links to their books? It’s now active.  VERY active (I’m hoping the volume dies down as time goes on; it seems to have, but whether it’s hit manageable levels or not, I’m not sure).  If the volume doesn’t go down, I’ll have to think about how to handle this.  I originally thought this would all be a footnote to this week’s post, but it grew so long that, even restricting it to fantasy, science fiction, and alternate history, it became an entire post itself.  I don’t want this blog to become nothing BUT link-shares, so either the group needs to slow down some or I need to revise how I’d planned to do this.

Keep in mind this is merely link-sharing, not endorsement (got that, Amazon?  It’s JUST link-sharing, not endorsement, not an attempt to “manipulate the sales rankings” (whatever that excuse for de-listing authors was supposed to mean), JUST sharing a bunch of links), so I suggest you use the blurbs and sample chapters to help you make purchasing decisions.  That’s what those features are there for, right?

Fantasy:
Kenton Kilgore describes his debut YA Fantasy novel as “Little House on the Prarie… but with dragons!”

L.A. Gregory presents her debut novel, a YA “Sword and Sorcery” fantasy novel dealing with shapeshifters.

In the subgenre of “YA Medieval Fantasy”, a book by Blake Smith.

In the Sword and Sorcery subgenre, a book by Cyn Bagley.  The first book in this series was well received and sold reasonably well, but its sequel hasn’t caught on, yet:

Science Fiction:
From Cynthia Bagley, the author describes this as a short fiction piece with a comedy component.

From Stephanie Osborne, this (the seventh in the series; the Facebook group also had other books in the set listed, but there is no one link to the series at this time) is described as “Spy SF with a touch of Space Opera.”

This Two-fer is listed as a science fiction on Amazon.  From the description, I’d think it was fantasy, but I’m guessing the author knows the difference….

Described by the author as “part mil-sf, part space opera,” a book by Amanda S. Green (under the not-so-secret psuedonym Sam Schall).

Hey, it’s another Space Opera!  By Pamela Uphoff.

Alternate History:
The author (Ron S. Friedman) lists this as ‘Science Fiction\Alternate History,’ so I’m inlcuding it here.  It sounds like it’s really time travel, though.

Kacey Ezell’s Minds of Men. This is already up for a Dragon Award, but is out-of-genre for her usual audience, and she’s particularly hoping to ‘train’ Amazon’s also-bots to recommend her book to readers of Alternate History instead of just her usual military science-fiction readers.  So, for this next week or so, she mostly wants to push this at people with a history of reading other alternate history novels.  Keep that in mind if you’re checking it out.

Odds and Ends

A wrap up of a number of things I’ve wanted to talk about over the past few weeks, but which I didn’t have enough to talk about to justify a seperate blog post…

1. Author Earnings recently made a “state of the market” presentation to the Science Fiction Writers of America at their annual Nebula conference. There’s been some discussion that the market for science fiction and fantasy was dying, but that doesn’t appear so. Seems instead that it’s the untracked market of self-published\indie writers taking over to explain the supposed “decline.”

2.  I had a moment where I was worried my books had completely dried up — no sales and almost no page reads for several days in a row.  Turns out reporting was just down (or broken, in my case; I was showing a slight trickle, but only a small fraction of what I should have been getting) and page reads and sales went back to my typical numbers once it was fixed… (though it still seems a bit unstable).

3.  While I occasionally express controversial opinions on some subjects on this blog, I have a policy of never discussing anything contentious from a political or religious perspective.  (I may occasionally mention sports, but not to argue).  Occasionally, things come up I REALLY want to talk about, but… no.  Not going to say anything.  I will say, though, that I think while some people on all sides have had success bringing real-world politics into the BUSINESS and or MARKETING of their writing, but unless you’re already well-established, I think in a long-term sense it is a poor strategy for MOST writers.

4.  It’s been out for a year, so I just got my first royalty payment for Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders.  It hasn’t sold very well, so far, but it’s been well-received by those who have bought it.  Also, the period of exclusivity for my short story (novella, technically, I think) in that anthology is over, so I can publish “A Gun for Shalla” elsewhere, if I want.  Hm.  It would require its own cover, probably need to be re-formatted, etc.  I’ll think about it, but it’ll have to wait until I’m done with the next Law of Swords, first.

5.  Apparently, there’s been some kerfuffle about someone claiming a .PDF file is not an ebook.  This is foolish, because it IS an eBook, and has been an eBook format longer than any of the more common eBook formats used, today.  It’s not a great eBook format (at least, unless your eBook has certain technical requirements), and the format is far better used to prepare your print book, but that doesn’t negate the fact its an eBook.

6.  I met up for lunch, earlier today, with David Keener, a fellow author (who was also the project manager) in the aforementioned “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders” anthology (there was someone else there, too, but I’m afraid I didn’t ever catch his name).  We criticized a few authors who are wildly more successful than we are (heh), talked some about where each of us are in our writing careers, recommended the odd book\movie\TV show or two to each other, etc.  As we were leaving, he mentioned another anthology project he was thinking of that my silly story involving the robot cook-turned-burger flipper-turned-detective (which you can find a portion of in This Book Cannot Make Any Money) might be a good fit for.  So maybe I should finish that up, at some point… but, uh, first I think I need to finish the next Law of Swords and Shieldclads novels.  At any rate, it’s nice to be able to talk shop with other authors, now and then.

7.  I’m on a particular writer’s Facebook group who is talking about setting up some sort of link-sharing for authors’ mutual book releases or something like that.  I may get involved in that, in which case I’ll be sharing some of those links on this blog… but we’ll see whether this effort actually turns into anything or not.  She just sent out the feelers for it today.

And that’s it for this week.  Tune in next weekend, same blog time (roughly), same blog URL (well, you wouldn’t call it a channel, would you?).

Titular Inspiration

This post will be one of those dreaded “status report” posts I mentioned last week; sigh.  At least there’s some actual news in this one.

I’m approaching the end of the next Law of Swords manuscript, and earlier this week I was distracted a bit by thinking about “What’s next?”

Well, what I WANT to work on is the sequel to the Kitsune Stratagem, or maybe the Rink of War novel-length expansion, but the success of The Merrimack Event has bumped the next installment of that series to “highest priority,” so that’s next in the queue.

There is still quite a bit of work I need to do before I can get started on that, however. First off, I need to finish the next Law of Swords book, and fast — my editor has an unexpected opening in his schedule, but if I don’t finish it soon I’ll have to hire someone else.  But once that’s done, I’ll have to immediately go into planning out the Shieldclads series.

I do have an outline for the next several books, but it’s been untouched for the past 13 years.  I’ve grown as a writer since then, and see lots of weaknesses in those outlines, so I think I’m just going to start over.  I’ll cannibalize those planned elements from the outlines that I THINK (13 years; I have a good long-term memory, but not THAT good) I was setting up, mind you, and I intend to keep the gist of the story each outline tells together, but I’ll need to re-do them as if from scratch.

And I’ll need a title.  Even if it’s just “Untitled Number (#N)”, I need at least a working title before I can begin.  It’ll just bug me if I don’t (and even having a working title can be a distraction).

Well, I DID need a title.  Even knowing I was going to re-do the outline, I have some idea of how the rest of the series should go.  I spent a large part of a day, this past week, working out titles for the next several books in the series… and would up coming up with a few other ideas along the way.  Each title has a historic reference which you can probably guess relates, in some way, to the book.

With that in mind, the next few Shieldclads books will (at least for now; I may re-arrange the order or change other things about them along the way) be entitled:

Book II:  The Farragut Affair

Book III:  The Casemate Incident

Book IV:  The Lissa Experience

But, as I said, I came up with some other ideas along the way.  Researching the titles themselves inspired some other ideas, which may (MAY) result in a set of short stories set in the same universe, as well.  These would be:

I.  The Gwiseon Enigma (A prequel story about earlier experiments in creating Shieldclads, named after the first-generation Korean Turtle Ships).

II.  The Keokuk Occasion (Named for the USS Keokuk, and set between The Farragut Affair and The Casemate Incident.  I’d explain this one but, uh, spoilers.

III.  The Manassas Mishap (Named for the CSS Manassas, and set during The Casemate Incident)

IV.  The Novara Farewell (named for the SMS Novara and set during The Lissa Experience).

So, that’s the big news:  I am thinking of writing a set of short stories to go with each new Shieldclads book… and I’m thinking about giving them away for FREE!  (Okay, if you’re any kind of reader of indie books at all, you probably have seen a ton of “FREE” books, and have downloaded so many that you couldn’t possibly read them all)  At least they’ll be free at first, and exclusively off of my website (FennecFoxPress.com, though with the limitations of the site my internet provider imposes, the actual downloads may need to come from somewhere on Maelgyn.com (note this blog’s URL).  That’s why my website is spread across two URLs — some features are only available on one or the other.  But that’s a technical issue I’ll resolve when I get to it, not something you need to know right now).  Then, at some point not TOO long afterwards (say, a week or two?), I’ll be uploading them to Amazon.  KDP requires a minimum of $0.99 per “book” (short story, or whatever), so I’ll then be pulling the free copies down.  So, it’ll really only be free for people who follow my blog (hi!), my newsletter, and\or my Facebook\Twitter\Etc. pages.  So… stay tuned.

I have other news, however.  My local library is hosting an “Eat Local, Read Local” event (note that the website is referring to last year’s event; they don’t have a website for this year’s, yet) and as a local author I’ve been invited to participate.  It will be held at the Cascades Library on September 29th, from 10am to 1pm, and I will be selling my print books (signing them, if you want) at the event.  I’ll present more details as we get closer to the event (and I get them, myself).

And… that’s it, for today.

Inspiration for the OTHER Parts of Writing….

I wasn’t entirely sure what to write for a blog this week. Most of the things I could think of were too involved to complete in a week, and doing yet another status report (I’m still working on the next book. I hope to have the next installment of the Law of Swords series sent off to the editor by August (I better; he has an unexpected opening in his schedule, and if I get it to him by then I may not have to find another editor for this series, after all), which should allow for it to be published by year’s end, and for me to move on to the second Shieldclads book) when I had no real news felt a little boring.

Fortunately, I was saved from having to either skip this week or do just that when a certain crowdfunding project popped up in my newsfeed and inspired this post. It is an effort, by one of the original creators, to produce the sequel to one of my favorite computer game series… from the 1980s: Starflight (well, technically, Starflight 2 was the only one I played back then). The campaign is not fully launched, yet (they’re trying to get a handle on how much funding they need), but it’s looking like a direct sequel to the originals. I haven’t had time to play an involved computer game in quite some time, however — it’s been months, I think, since I even opened a game significantly more complex than the “Reversi Free” game on my cell phone.  Despite that, I did make a small pledge to support the game, already.  The earliest it will be out is 2020 (and if they actually make that deadline, I’ll be shocked; I’ve never known a crowd-funded computer game that was delivered on time), so maybe I’ll be able to fit it into my schedule by then.

I loved those games. Some of my other favorite games from that era were the Ancient Art of War (and its sequel, the Ancient Art of War at Sea), Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Red Storm Rising (also by Sid Meier, curiously enough, but based on the Tom Clancy novel), and (squeaking in at the end of that era) the Wing Commander series.*

One thing all these games had in common: Absolutely fantastic, well-designed, well-illustrated, and heavily lore-filled… manuals (sometimes not just manuals; some games came with other material that just added to the fun of getting a boxed game edition.  Nowadays, it seems every game manual you get, even with a boxed game, is little more than what the quick start guide was back then). In the days before every lore-rich game has its own fan-compiled Wiki and computer games had their own novel series written for them (and sometimes even after they started getting their own books), the game manual would often be the definitive source of canon for the lore.

The Ancient Art of War included a complex discussion of strategy and tactics (and the differences between the two, and it included an abridged version of Sun Tzu’s original text). It’s sequel had textbook-level discussions of many of the greatest naval battles in the history of the age of sail. Sid Meier’s Pirates! had bits of humor, a discussion of the different types of ships and arms and bits of history from the era of the early colonization of the Caribbean. It explained why they programmed the ships in the game to react to wind the way they do, and they made it FUN. I learned more about the history of fighting sail from those game manuals than I EVER did in school (and later would read quite a bit more, and learned that while there were some inaccuracies, these manuals were closer to the scholarly accepted truth of these events than any account I could find in my high-school era or earlier texts, including some produced by the US Navy for JROTC). They weren’t novels, nor were they textbooks, nor were they scholarly texts. I’d hesitate to say they were even manuals (at least, compared to what most people think of when they hear the words “software manual”). But they were brilliant examples of writing. I’ve saved a couple of them until today… (I would have saved all of them, but I think the Pirates! manual fell apart from over-use).

I’d say the same was true of the Starflight manuals, and the Wing Commander manuals. These were fun, small texts, again filled with lore, and were excellent examples of worldbuilding.  The Starflight manuals opened with briefing notes on the state of the universe, before discussing the game functions in a less “in-character” way.  (Just curious — does anybody know a term for the inverse of ‘breaking the fourth wall,’ where you’re writing a non-fiction account of a fictional matter, then switch “in character” to the fiction for a moment?  Because these manuals did just that, once or twice).  They would describe the mechanics of the game, give touches of gameplay advice, and intersperse all of that with snippets of fictional “transmissions” and “captains logs” and the like, which were meant to give you clues on how to solve various puzzles throughout the game.  Then it would have an appendix with charts, illustrations, etc. regarding the materials that could be collected in game.

The Wing Commander series manuals (and, curiously, the Red Storm Rising manual) started out in similar fashion (If I recall correctly; I was able to find a copy of the original Starflight manuals online to verify my recollections, but I couldn’t with these).  Their appendices instead were more like “Janes Fighting Ships” entries, detailing the various fighters, capital ships, and equipment you could encounter throughout the game.

I won’t say these sorts of game manuals have gone away completely (I don’t buy NEARLY enough games, nowadays, to say anything of the sort; I do know the 2004 Pirates! remake had a similar style manual, but I’m coming to believe that was a rare exception), but I think a lot of what used to be in the manuals aren’t there any more.  The material’s still around, but its been moved inside the game itself, like the “books” your create-a-character can read in the Elder Scrolls games.  In some ways, this allows for even more of these worldbuilding bits to be included in the lore.  You can’t curl up in bed with them like you can a book (or a Kindle), though (don’t be pedantic and mention laptops; yes, technically, that can work, but laptops generally aren’t that good for gaming, and are harder to “curl up” with than a book).

Again, I’ve tried to keep these books around, but I think I was a bit less successful here — the Starflight 2 manual was once dropped in a bathtub (don’t ask), and I haven’t found the game manuals from the Wing Commander series since my last move.  While I had them, though, they were fun reading — sometimes, even after I stopped playing the games, I would pull them out, curl up in bed, and read these manuals just for nostalgic fun.

So what is the point of all this?  Well, as much as I was waxing nostalgic, it isn’t just to lament the long-forgotten art of computer game manuals.  It’s to talk about applying writing lessons from unexpected sources.  In this case, those old computer game manuals proved to be an excellent model of worldbuilding, for me.

Were I to do a touch of editing (and some additional reconstruction; a portion of them were lost in one of the incidents that delayed The Merrimack Event’s release, and while I reconstructed the important bits I did that a little haphazardly), the notes I wrote up for my own use in the Rink of War universe would greatly resemble the Wing Commander\Red Storm Rising\etc.-style appendices.  My outlines will sometimes include little diary entries\captains logs like you find in the Starflight manuals — things which likely won’t ever make it into the books, themselves, but which help me figure out what the characters are thinking.

You often hear people say “Inspiration comes in many forms” when it comes to story ideas, and writers often take experiences from real life to plot their books around. I’ve come up with childrens book ideas (which I’m not sure I’ll ever have time to write) just by watching the birds at our birdfeeder, myself.  I don’t think most writers think to apply the same thought process to other aspects of their writing careers, however.  When veteran book designers are giving advice to amateurs, they often say to “look at books you like” as examples to base their books around, but there are a lot of self-publishers who still have no idea how to go about formatting their books.  So how many writers would think to apply the lessons learned from game manuals from the 1980s when it comes to writing up notes for their books?

Just a thought.

*- I’d also like to mention the Sierra Classic games, which are also favorites of mine from that era and also contain lots of good examples of good worldbuilding and complex lore. Most of the best examples of the writing of those games were IN the games, not the manuals, however. Oh, and while I’m at it, I might as well mention “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego,” which I think was the last game I bought for my old Commodore 64; I didn’t play that game for very long (I switched over to a PC not long after), but it came with a copy of a (real, unadulterated for the game) desk encyclopedia I still have and may occasionally still use now and then.

On Easter Eggs…

(I had this post in mind to write months ago, last Easter, but it wasn’t possible to write and post it back then for a variety of reasons.  Even though it’s no longer Easter, there’s no real connection beyond the name, so I figured I’d go ahead and write it now)

In 1979, a programmer for Atari, working on the game “Adventure,” was fed up with not being credited for his work. In secret, he added a feature that could be used to display his name, and never told his bosses even after he left the company. When Atari management learned of it, they considered removing the unauthorized feature, but instead decided to leave it in. Atari started adding more ‘hidden’ features for customers, calling them “Easter Eggs.”  (I pulled this bit of history entirely from the link; I’ll just assume it’s the truth and not apocryphal)  These of often fun little inside jokes, though sometimes (in software, at least) can add quite a bit of enjoyment to the game.

I like to have fun with my writing, even when writing about serious things.  Among other ways of doing so, I include ‘Easter Eggs,’ ‘Inside Jokes,’ whatever you want to call them.  Often, for me, this is in the form of ‘fantasy’ languages (for example, mid-way through In Treachery Forged, the characters partake in a Dwarven ‘Fu’Ro Bath‘), making subtle references to my other books and stories (such as when, in one draft (not the first) of The Merrimack Event‘s prologue, the archaeology expedition was digging up a building which greatly resembled the Royal Castle of Svieda; those details did not survive to the final draft, however), or giving characters certain meaningful names (like when I use one of the monuments in the city of Norre to add a expy-like tribute to the 1974 Washington Capitals season (and, in an earlier draft, to a certain Monty Python movie, but again that didn’t survive to the final version).  In my fantasy novels, many of the names I use are derived from names pulled off of international hockey rosters, and the Washington Capitals have long been my favorite team (WE GOT THE CUP! Uh… sorry; it’s been weeks and I’m still quite happy about that one).  Their inaugural season, in 1974, was an exercise in futility, however).

The difference between an inside joke and an ‘easter egg’ (at least, in this context) is that an easter egg is hidden away, but could be recognized if you know to look for it.  Most of the jokes mentioned above?  I try not to give any indication that they’re jokes, when seen in context, but it might be obvious to people in the know.  If you know Japanese, the ‘Fu’Ro bath’ was probably pretty obvious.  The archaeological dig’s discoveries might have been a bit obvious to my regular readers, if that scene had survived intact.  I’m not so sure casual fans of the Washington Capitals would recognize that particular tribute, but someone who was particularly knowledgeable on the team’s history might see it an go “wait, what?”

The trouble comes with what happens if you want your Easter Egg to refer to one thing, but readers might think it refers to something else.  I really, really wanted to name a character of a recently-written scene Ubleck the Unbreakable, who would have had an odd fondness for certain types of custard-like puddings, but would readers (those who recognized the reference, anyway) think of the non-newtonian fluid, or the Dr. Seuss book it was named after?  Or would people recognize the reference at all?  Does it even matter?

Well, sadly, Ubleck the Unbreakable will NOT be appearing in the next Law of Swords book — I’ve already cut the character and merged his role in with someone else’s, so the pudding fiend will be saved for another time… perhaps.  But at least he reminded me of something I wanted to blog about, so there is that.