Category Archives: On Writing

In Forgery Divided, Two Months In

It’s been (very roughly) two months since In Forgery Divided‘s release, and I thought I would do a little comparison and contrast for the sales between it and it’s predecessor, In Treachery Forged.

First, a few differences in how the releases went:  When I released In Treachery Forged, it only took me one month to get the print book out.  Two months in and there still is no print edition for In Forgery Divided, and the biggest delay has been the cover.  (I just couldn’t bring myself to approve that cover.  I went back to my cover artist to see if he could help, and he’s sent me a “watered down” version that might not become quite so blacked out in print.  A new proof just arrived, and it actually looks like it’s supposed to.  I’ll have to make a quick check to make sure nothing odd has creeped into it since my last proof, but I should be approving it this week regardless).

The world has changed some; namely, taxes on eBooks in Europe have gone up significantly (they used to be a negligible sales tax; now they’re a 20% VAT tax)

Also, I attempted a few more new-release promotions, trying to get advertisements on Awesome Gang and another company (which I’m not linking to here; from what I can tell, they never showed my ad after agreeing to do so, negotiating a fee, and scheduling a date to show it.  They also never charged me, however, so I suppose it’s no harm, no foul).  I should also note I have twice as many Facebook followers, twenty more mailing list members, infinitely more twitter followers (I opened my twitter account for the first time a few months after In Treachery Forged’s release, so one person would be infinitely more), and… oh, yeah — this blog.

Some things remain the same.  The prices for both are identical at US$5.99, and I haven’t (for either book) run any price promotions; I will note that some portion of oversees books (mostly in Europe) will cost readers more because of the aforementioned changes in tax laws.  Both times, I submitted the cover to the Monthly Indie eBook Cover Design Awards (one difference:  For In Treachery Forged, I was able to submit the cover such that, by a fluke, it was shown by these awards during its first month of release.  For In Forgery Divided, however, it only showed up on the awards well into the second month after publication).  Both books have been given wide releases; I have never availed myself of Amazon’s KDP Select marketing program because of the exclusivity demands.

With that out of the way…

Two months in, with In Forgery Divided, I had sold a total of 1,505 eBooks (and a lone print book, but we can ignore that for now).  Or, rather, I sold 1548 eBooks and had 43 returns for a net of 1,505.  Most of them (1,406 of these net sales) were purchased on Amazon.com’s US store.  I also had 8 net sales on Amazon.uk (curiously, I had 4 returns, so 1/3 of my gross UK sales were returned at that point — by far the largest percentage at the time.  This trend did NOT continue, but at the time I was wondering if something odd was was going on), 20 net on Amazon.de (Germany), 2 from Amazon.fr (France), 4 net from Amazon.in (India), 1 from Amazon.bs (Brasil), 26 net from Amazon.ca (Canada), 27 net from Amazon.au (Australia), 7 from Nook (two of these sales are not technically part of the 1,505 figure even though they did occur in the first two months; the explanation for why is too long and involved for here), and 6 from Smashwords.  (I may have sold as many as 3 additional copies through Apple iBooks via Smashwords during this period; those weren’t credited to my account for another month, however, so I couldn’t count them here. I now go to Apple directly, thanks to my brother owning an Apple computer).

Most of those sales didn’t start until the book was in its second week of sales, but when it started selling it went right up the charts.  I do not have screencaps, but in 2014, I had a few weeks in the top-50 (topping, for one day, in the top-20) on several genre list bestsellers.  At the peak on those lists, I was getting 50-100 sales a day.

I will note that those 1,505 sales were roughly half of my sales of In Treachery Forged prior to publishing In Forgery Divided (which sparked a resurgence of sales in the former).  Another thousand (roughly) were sold over the next four months, and since then the sales dropped to a mere trickle, selling a mere 500 copies over the next year and a half.  So, what my experience with In Treachery Forged suggests is that the “New Release” burst of sales, even when successful, only lasts about six months (to a degree, I saw the same pattern with The Kitsune Stratagem, but that book never had the sales of In Treachery Forged).  Ideally, I’d have another book out before then… but it took over two years for Book 2 to come out.  (I’ll try to be faster with Book 3)

Unsurprisingly (given that not everyone who buys the first book of a series will buy its sequels… especially after a two year wait), sales for In Forgery Divided have not been as strong (on their own, anyway; as I said, it inspired a resurgence in sales of In Treachery Forged, which is making up much of the difference).  They’ve been pretty good, however, considering how long it took me to get book 2 out.

In Forgery Divided’s sales started strong, with its heaviest day of sales occuring just a week and a half after it was published.  The totals for the (roughly) first two months of sales are as follows:

Total Gross Sales:  702 (note: Amazon gives you three different ways of checking your sales; your ranking on the sale page, a graph on your sales dashboard, and a full accounting of your “month-to-date sales.”  These all report at different rates; I’m using the month-to-date sales for these records, because it’s the only one of these that also lets me know about returns… but it’s also the slowest one to report.  I think I have somewhere between 3-5 more gross sales that haven’t been accounted for in this record, yet)

Total Net Sales:  694 (only 8 returns, total?  That’s a real improvement over In Treachery Forged’s initial release)

Net Amazon.com (US) Sales:  603

Net Amazon.co.uk (UK) Sales:  31

Net Amazon.de (Germany) Sales:  18

Net Amazon.fr (France) Sales:  1

Net Amazon.ca (Canada) Sales:  8

Net Amazon.au (Australia) Sales:  27

Net Smashwords sales:  2

Net Nook Sales:  3

Net Apple iBooks Sales:  1

Far fewer returns, even accounting for the fewer sales.  I guess people who read book I are less likely to return book II.

UK sales are much stronger (the UK did, eventually, become the #2 purchaser of “In Treachery Forged,” but for some reason most of those sales didn’t start coming in until four months after its release), and there are even small improvements to sales in Australia and Germany.

It’s only in the US (both on Amazon and with the other vendors) where my initial sales are significantly weaker.  And much of that gap is being compensated for by sales boosts for my other books — over the past two months, the boost in sales to In Treachery Forged can account for approximately five hunded eBooks sold, and even my unrelated novel, The Kitsune Stratagem, has had another twenty or thirty sales generated by the new book release.

I’m not really sure what to make of these numbers, just yet, but as time goes on and I get more data ponts to go on, these numbers might start to mean something.

In the meantime, I’d better keep writing — I want to know what effect Book III will have on sales.

Lessons Learned From Ravencon

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, here is everything (new) I learned from the panels and workshops at Ravencon. Before we begin, however, a little bit about how I’m going to do this:

Some of the “lessons learned” weren’t in things anyone said, but were more conclusions drawn by putting a little of what person A said, a little of what person B said, and my own experiences together, which might make it hard to properly attribute.  Besides, I didn’t properly attribute everything in my notes (hey, I couldn’t even remember who some of the speakers WERE without a program book, and I would have lost valuable information looking them up). So… sorry, but I’m not going to identify just which panel or panelist inspired these “lessons.”  Still, I’d recommend reading my Ravencon Recap to get a list of the panelists from whom these lessons were derived.

I.  On Marketing

A lot of the things that I heard from this convention on marketing were things I already knew, but maybe haven’t thought to mention on this blog before.

For example, an emphasis was made on doing things in what I would call the “set-up phase” of getting your eBook ready.  By this I mean things like making sure you add the right keywords to get in the most categories on Amazon and making sure you set up your Author Central page on Amazon (the guest who said this pointed out that he’d checked the author pages for the guests at Ravencon, and roughly two thirds of the authors attending had never filled out this page.  This is something to do even if you’re trad-pubbed, guys!).

One thing I did not know about this involved the keywords.  I knew you could get your ebook into more Amazon categories with the right keywords in the KDP set-up process, but I didn’t know that worked with Createspace as well, and you could use the keywords with your Createspace books to get you into even more categories.

I also didn’t know how many categories you could get a single book into — one of the panelists pointed out that he had his book in over fifteen different categories on Amazon.

I will note that the panelist who gave this example said the keywords you need to get into specific niche categories were listed on Amazon, but I don’t think that’s a complete listing — at any rate, I’m still not sure what specific keyword got The Kitsune Stratagem into the Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Myths & Legends > Asian category.

Another phrase I heard that I already knew (and recent experience says is pretty true) is that the best marketing you can do for Book I is to release Book II.  Now, I also know it’s kind of hard to do that if you haven’t written Book II, yet, so I was hoping for a little more advice on what to do in the interim.

Several panelists emphasized keeping up with your social media — your Facebook feed, your Twitter page, your home page, your blog (heh).  You need to be sure to not just spam your followers with “Buy my book!” type posts, but rather try to engage them with interesting posts on whatever subject matter you can — politics, cats, the paranormal, etc., and anything else that might interest the people you’re marketing to.

Blogging about writing and publishing isn’t enough (again, something I knew, but I couldn’t think of what else to focus this blog around), because then you’re marketing to other writers.  I came to the conclusion I’m just too boring for social media marketing, as most of the posts I have are either on writing or are “buy my book” type posts.  I don’t want to talk about politics, I have no interest in the paranormal, and I don’t have any cats.  And even if I did have cats, I’m too lousy of a photography to take funny pictures of them, as my pictures from the first Ravencon recap likely demonstrate.  What can you do?  I apologize to my fans for boring you all.  Sorry.

Several panelists discussed the boost (or lack thereof) in sales that giving your book away or offering some books for free can give you.  A lot of things were said, but I think the point that newer authors shouldn’t go this route (it’s entirely ineffective if you don’t have much of anything for people who liked the free book to buy when they’re done) is a good one.  On the other hand, if you have a long series, making the first book free can help… though even this is of limited worth, especially considering how long a series has been out.

One suggestion regarding the free book path that I thought made a lot of sense, though, is — instead of making the first book free — you release an entirely new prequel book that you make free, with the hope the readers of that book will move on to the completed series.  That way, you get both the “new release” buzz and the “free book” buzz.

I also heard a call for joining professional organizations, because they can offer networking opportunities and marketing opportunities you just won’t find anywhere else.  Also, for some of these organizations, being eligible to join is proof you can show to the outside world that you’ve sold a certain number of books.

I’m a bit dubious of joining the SFWA, though if I did join one it would be that one.  Once they opened the doors to self-publishers who could demonstrate certain sales figures, I was eligible through the sales of “In Treachery Forged” (and In Forgery Divided, while selling at a rate a little slower than its predecessor, should cross that same threshold this month, barring a very sudden and dramatic decline in the sales).

I’m still thinking about it.  While I’m dubious about whether such an organization has any value to self-publishers, outside of the “proof my books sell” label, there were a few pilot programs mentioned that sound like they might be useful.  Things like a program to help people who use crowdfunding platforms when launching their books.

If any of my readers are current SFWA members, contact me — I have a few questions that the “Ask SFWA” panel didn’t sound willing to answer.

One self-published writer noted that being a guest at a convention was good promotion for their book, as well (something I’ve long suspected, but had no proof of).   She said that sales for her books jumped higher than they ever had, before, once she was announced as a guest at Ravencon.  Well, I’ve started applying to be a guest at several conventions (though, as I said before, I was too late for this year’s Ravencon, or really any 2016 conventions), so hopefully I’ll be able to tell you how true this is soon.

There was some talk about “swag.”  In this case, swag refers to bookmarks, postcards, and that kind of thing, which can be given away at conventions (like Ravencon) and bookstores as promotional material.  Now I’ve heard from other sources that bookmarks and postcards are increasingly useless, with so many authors trying to be discovered using them that they appear to be nothing more than litter.

However, some forms of re-usable swag (t-shirts, tote bags, tumblers, that sort of thing) can still be good advertising, if done right — giving them away for free (or even charging for them, if you can find buyers) may target only one customer, but then everyone who wears those T-shirts or carries those tote bags displays the logo, website address, book cover, etc., just like a billboard.

Providing enough free t-shirts or tote bags for an entire convention would get pretty expensive (Ravencon requires a minimum of 600 copies of an item to include it in their swag bag.  At $14.14 per t-shirt (drawn from the bulk pricing estimate at Cafepress; you might find it cheaper elsewhere, but it’s a good enough number for this estimate) that’s well over $8000), but having a few made to give away at an event like a book signing, or offering some branded gear for sale on your website, can be worth a little expense.  (Whether you make back your money from that level of advertising is another question, but it does work)

Another interesting piece of “swag” was a small excerpt, eleven pages long, of J.T. Bock’s The Grandfather Paradox.  It’s something that might have been made by your local Kinko’s or UPS Store, or even by the author herself using a laser printer and a long-arm stapler.  The last page of this chapbook has the text “Find out what happens next!  Get a FREE ebook of A Grandfather Paradox short story.  Go to www.JTBock.com and sign up for the ezine.”  I don’t know how many sales this has generated for the author, but this is something that someone would be far more likely to pay attention to than a simple bookmark, and if you can keep the costs down by DIYing it, you might find it cheaper than purchasing a set of bookmarks.

Another thing that was discussed was cross-promotion.  By this, I mean having several authors work jointly to market their books to each others fanbases.  In my earlier Self-Publishing Roundtable post on marketing, I did discuss the theory of this type of promotion as one of the more effective (in concept, at least).  In that article, I mostly was considering the idea of anthologies, but that was the limit to what I really thought of.  At Ravencon, the idea of sharing your backmatter advertising space with other indie authors (some above you in the genre rankings, others below you, all providing quid-pro-quo for the other authors) was proposed.  It sounds intriguing enough I might just try it, next time.

Finally, there were several mentions of getting reviews out for your book.  Enough points were raised it deserves a topic of its own.

II.  On Reviews

“The hardest thing to do in publishing is getting people to review.”  (Since that’s a direct quote, I’ll note that it was Chris Kennedy who said that line).  In my experience, this is true — in terms of “natural” (unsolicited) reviews, it seems less than 0.75% of the people who purchase my books review them (it used to be 1%, but the older my books have gotten the smaller that percentage has become).  When it comes to solicited reviews, I gave away signed several signed print copies of The Kitsune Stratagem in exchange for a promise that the people getting them would give me a honest review in exchange.  Less than 25% of the people who took this offer actually provided a review of any kind.

So, I went to the conference hunting for suggestions on how to get more customer reviews.  I’m not so sure I heard anything I hadn’t tried, before (at least, not that I currently have the connections and\or other resources to try) but I did hear a few other things about reviews which either add to or contradict what I’ve heard before.

To begin with, I heard that the fantasy genre (which all of my currently published books are in) is one of the hardest to get reviews in.  I didn’t hear any explanation as to why that might be, but it seems to agree with the reality I’ve heard from authors in other genre.

Fortunately, reviews aren’t quite as important as I originally believed.  Amazon’s algorithms (Amazon has several algorithms that help an author sell something; some are used to determine sales rank, others to determine your book’s also-bot mentions, others are used to determine how much free promotion they provide, others are used to determine where your book appears in Amazon’s search engine relative to other books with a similar title… and there are probably others as well) are not as reliant on the number of reviews as much as they are by how they’re weighted.  Reviews are weighted based on how many people vote a review as being useful (or not useful), how old the review is, whether a review comes from a verified purchaser or not, and so forth.

In other words, even if you don’t write reviews, it can help support the writer to click “this review is helpful” on positive reviews.

Where the number of reviews is still important is in getting into promotional websites.  Bookbub (while it doesn’t say so on its website) and Pixel of Ink, generally regarded as the two most effective promotional websites, won’t accept your book for promotion until you get at least 20 reviews.   Ereadernewstoday has a minimum of 10.   Book Blast requires 5.  These are but a few examples where the quantity is more important than the quality of the reviews you get.

While the discussion did not come up at Ravencon, a few things said by the panelists have me looking more into the value of editorial reviews.  Editorial reviews do not get submitted to Amazon in the same way as customer reviews; they are solicited, and even “best practice” includes a fee for the service (paid for either by the author, in self-publishing, or the publisher, for some trad-pub.  I’ve heard that the prices are cheaper for trad-pub, but I can’t be sure about that).  These are the sorts of reviews journals that libraries and other bookstores look at when deciding whether to buy your book. You pay them, they write a review, and you can include a quote or two in a special section (at Amazon’s Author Central, they have a section for entering these called, curiously enough, “Editorial Reviews.”  This section is even open for trad-pub authors to add such reviews.)

Createspace offers one such editorial review service, itself, but it’s far too expensive (Kirkus; as I once mentioned in a past blog post, this is a once quite reputable review journal that went bankrupt and was bought out, and now makes its money by gouging authors for such reviews, though they do seem to be maintaining their good reputation when they deal with trad-pub).  There may be better such services, however; after hearing a few writers talk about this, I’m thinking of experimenting with one or two I know of.  If I do (still a big if), I’ll get back to you on how effective they seem to be.

III.  Story Ideas

Of course, there was more to the convention than lessons for self-publishing.

I’ve decided I need a mascot.  Too many authors have started carrying around there own mascots (dragons, treecats, buffalitos, etc.), and I have too many potential mascots in my own books (foxes, dragons, and other creatures) to ignore this trend.

An intriguing discussion of “sciences not used in science fiction” (which was really “well, everything has been done at least once, but these are far less common sciences featured in science fiction”) gave me an idea for an anthology or collection of stories featuring, well, sciences not commonly featured in the harder forms of science fiction.  Library sciences, linguistics, historians, anthropologists, geologists, meteorologists (in a non-climatological sense; there’s been a recent spate of “Cli-Fi” (Climatologically-messaged science fiction) which has become more common, but other aspects of a meteorologist’s job are still largely ignored), etc.

A tip for con-goers:  Even if you plan to do all of your dining in the hotel restaurant, bring along at least one meal you can safely store in your room that’s grab-and-go.  Even if it’s just the fixings for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  That way, if you get talked into going to a panel that takes over the window of time you scheduled for yourself to get your dinner, you’re less likely to miss another panel you want to attend to make up for it.  I usually bring drinks and snacks, but I REALLY could have used a sandwich that Saturday night.

And I’ll conclude with one more tip for the con-goer:  If you’re going to take notes on the panels you attend, it’s so much easier to keep them on your laptop than to try and type them on your iPod or tablet device.  And those notes can be really helpful when you’re trying to write your blog on the lessons you learned at the convention.  And it’s really a good idea to remember to take that laptop with you… even on the first day of the convention.  (Oops)

So, I’m Cleaning Up My Edits…

As I’ve mentioned the past couple of weeks, I’ve been cleaning up the edits for “In Forgery Divided” in preparation for its release (I’m still waiting on the cover art, as well. I was promised a copy of the pending-final-approval finished product “in a week” last Monday. Still 29 hours to go…). I’ve noticed a few things that should be mentioned (and those of you who follow me on Facebook might have seen a couple of these points before):

1. I’ve frequently heard “Your book will shrink by 20-30% as it’s edited.” When I edited book one (In Treachery Forged), this was largely true, but it hasn’t been true since. “The Kitsune Stratagem” increased in size, starting at just over 140,000 words and ending almost exactly 10,000 words larger. So far, about five chapters in, “In Forgery Divided” is keeping pretty darn close to the same number of words as it was in the first draft (despite a number of changes, the cuts and the additions seem to have balanced each other out). (I wish I could say what “The Merrimack Event” was doing, but I have yet to decide on an editor for it. In pre-editor self-edits, however, I did cut out about 30,000 words).

2. I’ve frequently heard “Those parts you struggled with the most when writing will be the best parts; the ones you thought were easy will wind up needing the most edits.” Again, this just hasn’t matched up with my experience. Through everything I’ve written, the things that I’ve had the easiest time with have had the fewest editorial comments (save some proofreading issues largely caused by my mild dyslexia; that doesn’t seem effected by the difficulty of the writing at all). The things I’ve struggled with the most in writing have had the most editorial comments. That pattern is (SO FAR) matching my experience with “In Forgery Divided” as well.

3. I didn’t really think of it as editing, but as I clean up the edits I recieve I’m doing a lot of editing myself. I’d say I’m more of a second-pass self-editor at this stage. I don’t just make the corrections my paid for (or bartered for, in this case) editor suggest; I read every word (well, more or less) and do my own editorial work. I don’t know if I do more edits than the paid for editor or not, but I do a lot of them.

4. I hate missing opportunities, but that can happen in the middle of a big project like this. When I was working to get “In Treachery Forged” released, I missed out on an opportunity to be part of a cross-promotional anthology because I was too busy. This time, an opportunity came up to volunteer as a beta reader for a bigger-named author — something which can really help a guy in the professional networking department. Unfortunately, I’m deep into the edits, and didn’t have time. I almost volunteered anyway, but by the time I figured out how I could handle it the author was full up.

5. Lots of people enjoy snow because it gives them time off. When you’re writing or editing, you get no time off; you lose time. You still have to work and you ALSO have to tire yourself (or injure yourself; pulled a muscle in my shovel arm) out shovelling on the same day. A blizzard can really kill your momentum.

I’m sure I’ll have more observations at some point. I may even get them into blog form, some day… but my blogs will continue to be a bit sparse until I finally get the book out.

I Can’t Possibly Make Any Money With This Post…

(Note:  I experimented with typing this post in notepad and pasting it here.  It seemed to have a few bugs with paragraph returns; I tried to fix the formatting as much as I could, but if I missed something I apologize)

Well, last week’s poll didn’t work.  There seems to be a bug of some sort in the polling plug-in, because it kept closing fifteen minutes or so after I posted it, and nothing I would do would re-open it.  So much for that idea.

I would love to be able to give you an update on the status of In Forgery Divided or The Merrimack Event, today.  Unfortunately, there is nothing I can tell you that I haven’t already said.  I’ve heard nothing new from editor, and have nothing I can post from my cover artist.  So, both still have some time to go.

I’d still like to talk books, though, rather than go into a ramble.  I recall, a while back, talking about a project I referred to as “This Book Cannot Make Any Money!”  The idea was to, instead of writing another blog series on Self-Publishing, to walk people through the self-publishing process while I compiled and built a new book.

However, since I’ve already launched (or am about to launch) three series of novels already, I don’t intend to write anything new for it.  Instead, I’m going to make it a compilation of a things I’ve written in the past that, for one reason or another, aren’t worth trying to sell… (at least not on their own).

So, in this first edition of the “Can’t Possibly Make Any Money!” blog series, I’ll assess what I’ve got in terms of content… and why I figured they wouldn’t make any money in the first place.

The first thing is a short story entitled “Voices.”  Running only about 1,500-2,000 words, it’s not exactly large enough to self-publish on its own.  I’m actually very proud of this story, but it’s a hard sell to literary magazines as it’s experimental\paranormal fiction (in more ways than one).  The story was inspired by more than one English teacher saying, with absolute certitude, that “You should never write a novel from the first person omniscient perpective — it will never work.”  So, of course, I set about to prove them wrong.  I decided to give it a very ambiguous ending (you’re left to decide if the character REALLY was as omniscient as he claims).  Years ago, I tried shopping this story around, but it was always rejected (though I recieved nice handwritten rejections from the likes of the prestigious Atlantic Monthly for it; sadly, my copy of that rejection was lost in a move, but in it the editor said I should make the ending less ambiguous… which went against what I was trying to do with the story in the first place.  Ah, well).

The second item is an (untitled, but I’ll figure one out before publication) five page short story written entirely as an inside joke.  This takes a touch of background to explain:  I once joined a small writer’s group (The LCPS “Writer’s Circle”) sponsored by my local county’s public school system (why?  Because it was the only writing-oriented thing I could find near me open to adults).

It was a… very interesting experience.  There were five “enrolled” participants (including me) and the “instructor” (because it was operated by the Adult Education program of the public school system, an “instructor” was required; his being an “instructor” was a title of bureaucratic necessity, only).  My fellow enrollees were as follows:  A children’s book author who didn’t like children (she said so repeatedly and insisted she wasn’t joking), a woman writing a memoir of her battle against Lyme Disease (ugh), a blogger for “Voice of America” who never returned after our first meeting, and an octogenarian nurse on the verge of retirement whose only previous writing experience was writing reports for her job.  All four of the other enrollees specifically said they hated science fiction and fantasy stories, like the ones I had hoped to share with the circle.  Yay.

The instructor was fairly knowledgeable, however.  He was a thriller\mystery novelist, and enjoyed reading in the science fiction and fantasy genre.  He had appeared as a panelist at some conventions alongside the likes of Kevin J. Anderson, and for the most part knew what he was talking about (or at least, I agreed with many of his opinons on things).  However, there was one small problem.  We were all responsible for turning in five pages of writing every week for discussion, and INVARIABLY he had the same comment for everyone:  “You need more details about [the scene\the character\the setting\the background].”  If we made things as detailed as he wanted, though, it would take far more than five pages.  So, as a prank, in the last week of the Writer’s Circle I wrote a five-page story that was so focused on these details that there was only room for two lines of actual story.  Along the way, I used every synonym of the color red I could find to describe things.

He got the joke, and was amused… but his comment was “You spent all this time on the visual, but we never got any details on the sounds and smells!”  *sigh*

It’s all an inside joke, and being an inside joke I don’t think it could make any money on its own.  At least, not without some explanation.  An explanation I could type up for the compilation without a problem.

And then there’s the third item on the list of things I plan to include in this compilation:  Poetry.  Which, well, every author I know of says you can’t make any money selling poetry… and honestly, these poems are probably not what people who LIKE writing poetry would try selling.  And, honestly, I don’t like writing poetry all that much.

“Wait,” I know (some) of you want to say.  “Why have you even written poems if you don’t like poetry?”

Well, uh… the poems I plan to include are partly the result of high school English-class poetry assignments.  There are three High School poems (well, two high school poems and a tryptych  of linked theme poems, two of which were added post-high school), some haiku I wrote for my days as a fanfic writer (there is a character in a particular anime I was a fan of who always tried to speak in haiku; I always hated writing his dialog), and maybe one or two other pieces I’ve forgotten about which I’ll find going through my old records.  Not enough for a whole book full of poetry, but there is some.

And that’s it for COMPLETED work that might be included.  However, nothing says I have to just use completed work — in the many years before I self-published, I wrote a whole heck of a lot.  Much of it will never be published (in some cases, as with my fanfiction, it isn’t legal to; in other cases, I decided it just wasn’t good enough; with the upcoming release of “The Merrimack Event,” we’ll be through all of the work I thought was publishable in my past writing; In Forgery Divided is the first novel-length work I’ve written since I started self-publishing).  Some of that body of work, however, includes material which might still be interesting clipped out of the original work.  Keeping with the theme, though, it’s not likely you’d make any money as a writer trying to sell clippings of books you’ll never publish.

I’m not really sure what genre I’ll file a collection that contains paranormal, high fantasy, novel fragments, and poetry all together… but that’s another blog.  (Note:  Next week is Star Wars: The Force Awakens week.  I’m probably not going to work on this blog at all, so my first follow-up on this post won’t be for at least two weeks)

Edit:  Comments disabled due to spamming.

On Reviews…

I had a blog prepared for today, but I decided to bump it to next week. Instead, something came up this weekend I want to discuss (and no, I’m not referring to the horrific events in Paris right now — that’s not the sort of thing I talk about on this blog): Reviews.

There are two types of reviews.  Well, actually, there’s more than that, but I really only want to talk about two different kinds of reviews:  Editorial reviews and customer (or “reader”) reviews.  Editorial reviews, for the purposes of this blog, are reviews produced by professional reviewers (such as the New York Times Book Review).  These sometimes have to be solicited (you might even need to pay for them, and in this case it isn’t bad practice).  Reader reviews are produced by your customers, and should always be done for free (there are disreputable outfits who will sell you these kinds of reviews; Amazon has started filing lawsuits against these people.  For the record, it is NOT considered bad practice to give a free copy of your book away in exchange for a review of either type).

As a writer, you desperately, desperately want reviews — especially, when dealing with Amazon, reader reviews.  Reviews are your best source of “word-of-mouth” marketing, which is the most effective type of marketing for any writer.  Amazon is also known to provide you with some free marketing (in the form of “also-bought” recommendations, some e-mail promotions, and the like) once you reach a certain number of reviews, and more free marketing still if you can reach that number within the first month of publication.

But you should never respond to those reviews — it is considered unprofessional, in most cases (and yes, this is an unfair situation where one or more reviewers can abuse, sometimes even libel an author.  It is still considered unprofessional to respond).  Even esteemed writers have gotten themselves in trouble by replying to negative reviews.

In fact, it might be worth it to ignore your reviews completely.  Now, this can be hard (I’ve known several authors say “You should never read your reviews.  And if you can figure out how to do this, let me know too, will you?”), but it will probably do you a lot of good.

Some writers think that their reviews will provide them with wonderful insight into what their readers think, tons of constructive criticism, and hopefully even some encouraging words.  Now, the encouraging words is entirely possible, but the rest of it…

Yes, if you have a lot of people bringing up the same problem, you might be able to pinpoint a detail or two that can be fixed.  But… reviewers don’t necessarily agree on what the good and bad points of your writing are.  A few of your most vocal readers could be drawn to your writing through Aspect A, but vehemently dislike Aspect B.  Aspect B might also be the favorite thing that the silent majority of your readers enjoy.

Even professional reviewers won’t agree.  Now, I’m going to use an example from an entirely different artistic medium (in this case, quilting), because it’s partly what inspired this post, but it applies to editorial reviews, too.

My mother entered a quilt into the Houston International Quilt Festival.  This is a judged competition, and is sometimes compared to the Academy Awards for the competitive show quilt world.  The judges in these quilt festivals, in this case a team of three, are quite similar to those professional editorial reviewers in the writing world.  As I interpret the judges comments, and she mentioned on her own blog, the judges for her quilt thought it:

  1.   Was a good use of color.
  2.   Was a bad use of color.
  3.   Looked a lot like an illuminated manuscript, as set by an appropriate border.
  4.   Had a border that overwhelmed and detracted from the central figure.
  5.   Integrated the expected design elements well.
  6.   Integrated the expected design elements poorly.
  7.   Had a pleasing overall appearance.
  8.   Did not have a pleasing overall appearance.

Etc., etc., etc.  You get the idea, right?  These are trained, professional “reviewers” of quilts.  There are far more objective (or at least somewhat objective) elements for these “reviewers” to consider than what most reviewers of writing bother to consider.  And yet they are completely and totally contradictory from one another.

This is also why, as a writer, you don’t always have to agree with everything your editors tell you.  Editors are professionals, but they are not infallible.  You should at least consider everything they say critically.  Usually, what they tell you is something that needs to be fixed.  Sometimes they can point out a problem, but you might want to use a different solution than they provide.  Sometimes, however, your editor might be trying to fix a problem that isn’t there, though, and the solution is worse than your original text.

Editors at least make an effort to be objective in their edits.  Reviewers, however, aren’t reviewing your work to fix your problems like an editor is — they are giving you their entirely subjective view on what they liked and what they didn’t.  And everyone has different opinions about what they like and what they don’t, so it’s not worth it to try and pander to them all.  It’s a bit of a cliché to say it, but you need to write to please yourself.

You might want to have someone else read those reviews for you, though.  You write to please yourself, but you publish (or enter quilt shows, or sell your artwork, or whatnot) to make money.  If the majority of your readers have a problem with a certain aspect of your writing, give that issue a critical eye.  It might be something you’re determined to do, regardless, but if not it just might be worth it to address that issue in your future writing.

Edit:  Spammers are forcing me to close these comments for a while.  If you would like me to re-open them, please let me know.

Trying Out An Author Bio

INTRODUCTION

So far, in my writing career, I haven’t added an author bio anywhere.  They used to be found mostly on one of the inside flaps of the dust jacket for your hardback books, which would make them a pretty low priority when you aren’t publishing any hardback books (especially none with dust jackets), but they do have other uses.  For example, they’re often included in the guest section of Convention websites and programs.  With two books (In Forgery Divided and The Merrimack Event) just waiting on edits and cover art (my cover artist, just a couple weeks ago, announced his engagement.  I don’t know whether\how this might effect my cover art, but I haven’t heard from him since), I’d been considering applying to a be a guest at some local conventions… which means it’s probably high time I come up with an author bio for myself.  The problem is I couldn’t think of anything interesting to put in it.

But then I saw this article, and thought “You know, I bet I could come up with something like this… but everything in it would be (sort of) true!” So… here’s my attempt (and the explanation below).

AUTHOR BIO (FIRST DRAFT)

David A. Tatum was born in Ithaca, NY, the son of a fashion designer and a book-collecting librarian who later became a spy.  By the time he was four years old, he’d mastered how to spell the word “cat,” which made inevitable his decision to become an author.

Moving to Washington DC in order to keep his parents company, he started training in kenpo by the age of seven.  Sadly, after failing to achieve his blackbelt after twenty years of training, he gave up hopes of a career in martial arts and resumed his love of writing.

By the time he was in high school, he joined a national organization — later becoming a chapter president — with the goal of using it to identify a route into the center of the Earth.  Unfortunately, the Suffolk, Virginia caves he explored to find this route failed to provide this route.

When his father died he inherited a large library there was no space for in his home and a life-threatening dental condition.  He spent the next year and a half dealing with both.

When he found that a degree in history offered him no local job opportunities better than your average fast food joint, he decided on a career that typically earns even less money:  Professional writing.

Now he’s trying to juggle writing and publishing far too many series of books at once in a variety of genre, predominantly fantasy and science fiction.

Find his books at FennecFoxPress.com.

EXPLANATIONS

I was, in fact, born in Ithaca, NY.  My father really was a book-collecting librarian and my mother really was really a fashion designer.  After he retired from a career as an Academic librarian at such institutions as Cornell University, George Mason University, Goddard Space Flight Center, and a few other locations, he went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency as… a librarian.  Imagine that.  Okay, probably an exaggeration to call him a spy, but that’s sort of the point of this, isn’t it?

We moved to DC when I was five… maybe six years old (I don’t remember exactly).  In the summer after I turned seven, I went to a four week kenpo summer school class.  I also signed up for tae kwon do in my high school years, and studied karate (as a college elective) and hiep tinh mon later on.  While I like to say I “studied martial arts off and on for twenty years,” I probably had about three years of serious study, and another several years of self-study, but it was spread across four schools and twenty years of time.

And no, I never got a black belt, and never seriously dreamed of a career in martial arts.  And if you saw me, today, you’d think the idea of me doing martial arts was laughable.

The “national organization” I joined was an Explorer Post.  I think they’re now called something else, which may include some changes in effect, but what they were then were young adult co-ed versions of the Boy Scouts (which, at least in my group’s case, were very un-Boy Scout; the movie nights, at the very least, were proof of that).  I served one term as President of my unit (Explorer Post 250).  During my time with the Explorer Post, I participated in several camping trips, half a dozen of which were also spelunking trips through some privately owned caves near Suffolk, Virginia.  Any effort to actually find a route to the center of the Earth went unvoiced.

When my father died, I did inherit a large library — some 15,000 books strong.  There was no way to keep the entire collection intact, so I spent several months paring it down into something more manageable.  A few boxes full, most of which were valuable small-press books from the post-impressionistic and early beatnik (from pre-Ginsburg to pre-Warhol) American literati scene, went to join previously donated books in the George Marvin Tatum Collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (in the special collections department).  A few hundred were auctioned off.  The bulk of what we got rid of — maybe five to nine thousand books (depending on whose estimate you believe) — were sold to a bookstore.

For those of you who may wind up having to get rid of a library full of books in the future, I’ll note that we earned far more from the tax benefits of the small donation than we earned from the few hundred books we sold in auction, and far more in the auctioned books than we did from the large bookstore purchase.  I’d also say, pricing them based on online retail prices at the time, we earned a larger percentage of value in the same order — almost 100% of the value from the donations, about 75% of the value from the auction, and maybe 0.3% from the bulk sale to the bookstore.  If I’d had a few more months to dispose of the collection, I probably could have done much, much better.

As far as the life-threatening dental condition is concerned, that may sound like a joke, but it wasn’t exaggerated at all.  While suffering from the flu one day, I suffered a dizzy spell and collapsed to the tile floor in my bathroom.  I don’t really remember how it happened, exactly, but I bashed my jaw in the process and broke several teeth.  Before I could see a dentist to get any work done, my entire lower jaw (and most of the upper jaw) became infected.  Treatment (which involved three bridges, caps on all my teeth, six tooth extractions — three of which were wisdom teeth — and two dozen root canals) left me ill for most of a year (did I mention that novocaine — or whatever painkiller the dentist favored — left me ill for days afterwards?).  The dentist told me that the reason my teeth were so vulnerable was a congenital (inherited) defect in the enamel of my teeth — a flaw my father and grandfather both were known to suffer from (and one which may have contributed to their deaths, if the link between poor dental health and heart disease is accurate).

It should be noted that, according to many surveys (including such authorities as the Author’s Guild), the average author earns far less annually than a full-time minimum wage job.  These surveys aren’t exactly trustworthy, however.  Either they focus primarily on part-time writers who may traditionally publish only one book every other year, or they are self-selecting by people in only one segment of the market (such as “High Literature” or “Poetry”), or they include ALL authors (including those who don’t actually publish anything), or they are self-selecting among a community that is atypical, or — as with the Authors Guild survey, they are all-of-the-above.

While I had been scribbling stories and the like for years — mostly fanfiction — it was only after recovering from my “life-threatening dental condition” that I started seriously pursuing a career as an author.  And while it took quite a while after that before my first book was launched, I don’t regret my decision one bit.  The only thing I do regret was not moving to self-publishing sooner; I spent far too many years in slush piles waiting for answers that never came.  As a consequence of waiting so long to get published, I wound up starting too many series; rather than work on sequels to the books under submission, I decided I would start something new.  I wrote quite a few things, not all of which is publishable.

What I did, eventually, decide was worth keeping were the first books of three series:  In Treachery Forged (Book I of The Law of Swords; Book 2 will be out soonish), The Kitsune Stratagem (published but, due to sales, I’ll probably hold off on the sequels for a bit), and The Merrimack Event (Book I of the Shieldclads series; sales figures will determine how quickly I get around to sequels).   I know a lot of authors who would say three series were too many to juggle at once.

CONCLUSION

This is just a draft; I may include some things more or cut some things out.  Let me know what you think, because there’s still plenty of time to change things.

Weird Things I’ve Had to Research (Part 5/?): Youtube Wanderings

Before we begin, I would like to notify people that I made a very brief update of my blog entry on ISBNs regarding their use in eBook formats.  You don’t have to go back to that entry if you’ve already read it, however — I’ll just cover it here.  Basically , this article has led me to revise my opinion on best practice.  I now think, for the sake of future-proofing your identifiers, that it might be wise to use a seperate ISBN to distinguish .pdf format eBooks from other types… though I still think you do not need to distinguish between the ePub and .mobi formats.

Also, this just happens to be my Birthday!  I’d take honest reviews of my books as a present.  ^_^

As a reminder, this is the fifth part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

Not all of the research I’ve done has been reading. At times, I need to research something for which no written source will do.  Sometimes, I need to go somewhere else — like to attend an event in person, or to see something done on Youtube.

Often, when I do this sort of research, I find more than I’m looking for.  Sometimes a lot more.  This is more about finding material for future books and stories while attempting to do research on something else.

Of course, it’s also about how you can use resources like Youtube in your normal research… but sometimes it’s fun (and useful) to dig a little further than you need to.

HAIR-RAISING DISCOVERIES

For my first example, I was once trying to decide on what hairstyle a certain character in The Kitsune Stratagem should be wearing.  Note:  If you go looking for hairstyles in the book, you won’t find any.  I never found the right one.  So, in this case, I failed to find the thing I was researching for, and wound up writing around it.

I went to Youtube.  I knew that there were a number of hairstylists (both professional and amateur) who liked to show off their home styles on Youtube.  I needed to see how the hairstyles were achieved, with an eye towards how the same or a similar hairstyle could be managed with the technology present in my book.  (The hairstyle had certain other requirements which I was never able to satisfy, but that’s immaterial for this post).

You’d be surprised the kinds of things you find Youtube recommends alongside something like hairstyling.  At the time I was doing this research, I was also expecting to attend a convention a few weeks later.  I saw a video recommended which included two very interesting words — “Packing tips.”  I wasn’t sure what, if anything, it had to teach me, but I always struggle with making sure I had everything I needed.

Well, the video didn’t give me much information on packing that mattered to me — the woman giving the presentation was a fashion model, and most of her tips were focused on keeping stylish — but she did mention a few things that I had never heard of, before.  Namely, I had never heard of powdered toothpaste — at least, not in the modern sense.  I knew about baking soda toothpastes, but I was under the impression that even the homemade toothpastes using baking soda were still a paste, not a powder.

Now, you won’t find anything in any of my current books using powdered toothpaste… yet.  But, after this video inspired me to look more into powdered toothpaste, I’ve come to the conclusion that tooth powders could be a good thing to include both in fantasy novels and in science fiction novels, if I ever need to discuss “daily life” issues with the characters.  After all, tooth powders can be made with just about any level of technology I’m likely to use in my books; they are effective; and they are good for travel, as a jar of tooth powder will last a lot longer than a similar-sized container of toothpaste.

It might also be easier to disguise a poison as toothpowder than as toothpaste.  Or to hide your valuables in the jar of toothpowder so that they are never seen.  Or to contaminate it so that using it becomes unpleasant or impossible, if I want to make an issue of my characters “running low on supplies.”  (First world problem?  Maybe.  But if your characters are stranded and can’t replace their dental care products, that can forshadow health problems that they’ll need to deal with later on).

I know — this is just a very small detail, and in the normal course of things probably wouldn’t even be worth mentioning.  Some of you may think “Tooth powder?  That’s not a big deal — I thought everyone knew about that!”  But it was new to me; something I found while looking for something else.  I may never use it, but now I can add this little drop of information into the bucket that is my worldbuilding resources.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

There are all kinds of things you can learn directly from Youtube.  You want to learn karate?  Well, someone (actually, more than one someone, but I couldn’t find the original video I viewed on this when I went looking again) has an entire online course in a single hour and a half long video.  You want to learn how to cook Japanese food?  I know of two very good cooking channels on Youtube.  Want to know how to tie a specific kind of knot?  There are videos for that.  But you can also learn things which are just embarrasing to ask about, because they’re so obvious to people who know it.

Now, I’m a fan of Lindsey Stirling.  Fun, bubbly, and she makes good music, too.  I like watching the behind-the-scenes stuff just as much as the music videos, sometimes.  So, I encountered this video that I’d probably normally never watch, but I was sort of hoping for a bit of an interview during it:

Well, they never really got into the interview I was hoping for (they kind of hinted at it, but then got distracted by the actual work they were doing).

But I have no clue how to put on makeup.  Well, okay, when I was in a theater class one time, I learned a bit about using latex body paint to simulate a wound and things like that, but I mean the typical everyday makeup — eye shadow, blush, foundation, and all that.  I could guess at some of it (foundation is what you put on underneath other makeup, right?  I mean, that just makes sense), but there are a few things that — if I were to ever write about — I wouldn’t have a clue how to portray.

For example, how the heck do you use an eyelash curler?  I mean, for someone who doesn’t know what it does, it looks like some kind of medieval torture device designed to pluck a person’s eye out, not something to curl eyelashes.

Well… now, after watching that video, I know.  And it’s such a silly little thing — but it’d be so embarrassing (for any number of reasons) to ask anyone I know.  But there, in that video, is a simple demonstration that shows me exactly how it works… and some advice to let me know why the quality of an eyelash curler matters.  Who knew?

A FEW CAUTIONS

Just as a warning, when doing research on Youtube, the material you are looking at can disappear in a moment.  I was looking for a video a couple weeks ago for this blog that I first saw a month ago — a video describing the formula for calculating orbits — and the video was gone.  I’m not sure why — it might have been a copyright violation claim (there are a lot of copyright violators on Youtube; there are also far more false claims of copyright violations, made by crawler bots, and most of the time these are never overturned), but there are quite a few other reasons why a youtube video may be removed.  Likewise, a video I’d found on homemade musical instruments (which originally appeared in my suggestions list near the Lindsey Sterling videos I was watching) is gone, as was one (following a trail of links a little more outwards) on various historical forms of dance.

You need to find some way to preserve that information — take notes or whatnot.  Do not rely on this youtube video existing a year from now, a week from now, or tomorrow.  It might not be there.

Also, keep in mind that Youtube videos are not reliable.  Some people like doing special effect tricks with Youtube, so just as with “don’t believe everything you see on TV,” you shouldn’t believe everything you find on Youtube.  Also, people can upload instructional videos as if they were experts even if they aren’t experts in the field (which doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them — especially in the cooking videos sections and the like — just that they shouldn’t be granted automatic authority status just because they’re on Youtube and have a lot of followers).  I generally feel as if these sorts of cautions shouldn’t be needed, but you never know.

CONCLUSION

Youtube videos are a great way to learn certain kinds of things.  Especially if you have time to let your attention wander and go looking through the “suggested” videos — you never know what you’ll find.

And it’s proof that a research tool can be good both for targetted research (if you really want to know how to tie a square knot, you can use the onboard search engine specifically for videos on tying square knots) and for less specific, general, or inspirational research (okay, maybe I’m looking for information on hairstyles, but ooh — packing advice!  And you know, I may need to know how an eyelash curler works some day.  And oh, look, while watching that musician whose videos I like, I see a link to making homemade musical instruments, which surely could be handy!  And… well, you get the idea.

I realize some people are reading these articles and thinking “Wait, where’s the research on all this?  This stuff is mostly common knowledge, or all he’s doing is a quick trip to wikipedia and youtube.  This isn’t research!”  Surprise — yes it is.  The whole point of this series is that this is that you would be surprised at just what you need to research, or what qualifies AS research.

If you ever want to try and create a spreadsheet comparing your actual writing time to your research time (especially for those accountants out there who think you need to do that kind of thing for proof that your writing is a “career” and not a “hobby”), you need to know that yes, looking up a how-to-do-makeup video on youtube can qualify as actual research, however basic the knowledge might be.  So can an afternoon going through wikipedia tracking down women’s (historical forms of) underwear, or trying to figure out the mating habits of the wild haggis.  You don’t have to be sorting through scholarly journals on quantum wheels or whatnot in order for it to count as research.  (I’ve done that, too, though)

That said, I’m probably going to be taking a break from this series for a little bit (waiting for more inspiration, perhaps).  I’m not sure what I’ll be posting next weekend, but I promise I’ll have something.

Self-Publishing Roundtable Addendum I

INTRODUCTION

I have been very busy working on In Forgery Divided this week (the sequel to In Treachery Forged). Because of that, I haven’t had as much time as I usually do to work on my blog. The blog I was planning for this week (Weird Research Part 5) is half-finished, but it doesn’t look as if I’ll get it done in time for my usual Sunday post.  Not because it is especially long, but because it requires I replicate some of my old research in order to complete it, and I just haven’t had time for that.

But I will not go content-less this week. I thought I might lay out some “quick-hits” addendums to my Self-Publishing Roundtable series.

#1: KINDLE PREVIEWER

I look through a lot of blogs on writing and self-publishing. Some I give more attention than others, but even some of the less-relevant to my needs blogs have useful information from time to time.

Such is the case with Aaron Shepard’s Publishing Blog.  By the time I discovered his blog, he no longer felt as if he was an “authority” on self-publishing.  With the words “The Party’s Over,” he effectively went into semi-retirement as a self-publishing guru, and a lot of his articles have been left aging and out-of-date.

He does still publish the occasional blog post, however (mostly on things like the paper quality of Createspace vs. Ingram POD books, if you’re interested), and every now and then he has new news to share.

Last week, he pointed out something I was unaware of:  That the “virtual proof” you can get for your Kindle eBooks from Amazon’s Kindle Previewer no longer resemble the final version of the ebook your readers buy.  This is apparently because of Kindle’s still-in-progress attempts to improve typographic features for their .kf8 proprietary ebook file standard.  (keep in mind that, as far as 99.999% of writers are concerned, it doesn’t matter what the file standard it.  It just matters what the book looks like in the end.  Some book designers might have issues with it, however, and sometimes as a self-publisher you need to handle both jobs).

What this means is that — at least for the moment — you should probably buy at least one copy of your own eBook after release, just to double-check and make sure things look the way you intended them do.  I suspect it won’t make a noticable change for most of you, but there’s always the chance of something going wonky.

#2:  TRENDS IN SELF-PUBLISHING BLOGGING: FONTS

There are a few issues in self-publishing which rise up on occasion.  Some of these are bred by controversy, and I tend to avoid saying much on those topics (I usually have an opinion, but I rarely feel strongly enough — or well-informed enough — to get into an argument over these topics), but there are other topics which very well might be “trend by coincidence.”

For example, I saw, over the course of two weeks, five or six articles on font selection.  I doubt this was a co-ordinated effort by this blogs, but by happenstance a trend was developing among self-publishing blogs.  So, I guess I’ll follow suit.

Keep in mind — it generally isn’t advisable to use a specific font in eBooks; you might (as I do) use something a touch fancy as a title font (the font used on your title page, chapter headers, etc.; this can be, and frequently is, identical to the font used on your front cover), but otherwise leave fonts alone for your eBooks.

If you are designing your own print books, however, you’re going to need to pay attention to your font choice.  In print, for the interior of your book, you probably want a serif font rather than a san-serif because it’s easier on the eyes (this is reversed on an electronic screen, though probably not an eInk eReader).  And you don’t want the font choice to distract your reader by being too fancy, too stylistic, or too, well…

Book designers, in particular, have issue with certain fonts such as Times New Roman because they are “boring” (or rather, because they make the interior of your book look like it was printed on your home computer on default settings).  They think these styles are so boring that they can throw the reader out of the story.  I’m not sure how much stock I put into these pronouncements, but I do agree there are fonts that look more stylized than TNR without breeching that “too fancy” line.

When picking a font for the inside of your book, you should ensure you’ve picked something that displays all of your punctuation correctly.  It can be a particular issue if you’re using a more obscure font; some fonts were designed for “Display” or for particular specific uses, and any unneeded punctuation (like, say, an apostrophe) simply was never designed for it.  And some fonts have a complete set of punctuation marks that look quite nice… until you see, for example, an em-dash placed next to a curvy letter like b, p, u, g, etc.  (I know that specific one because it is a known issue with the print edition of “In Treachery Forged.”  For some reason, the kerning — the space between letters — looks far too wide with the font I chose)

You also want to make sure you have the right to use these fonts you choose commercially.  Don’t trust that, just because you can pick it in the font selector of your computer, you can just use any old font.  Most fonts are copywritten, and some have very peculiar restrictions for their use.  I like using nice, free fonts without commercial restrictions, such as Alegreya, which can be found on Fontsquirrel.  There are some fonts that come with software, however, and you are still permitted to use some of them… but you had better check before you do.  There are some fonts that come with Microsoft Word, for example, that you are not allowed to use on commercial projects.

Beyond that, I don’t really have much advice.  Just use stuff that you think looks professional — don’t do something “fun” and use Comic Sans or a similar font in your interior because “it makes the book look handwritten.”  Maybe it does make your book look handwritten… but it also makes it hard to read, and that discourages your customers from wanting to finish your book.

Try and get it right the first time, though.  Changing a font after the proof has come out can be very daunting — if you change the font you change the font size; changing the font size means you’ll have to re-do all of those corrections you made for justification, widows and orphans, etc.; re-doing all of those corrections will change the page count; changing the page count changes the thickness of your book spine.  Basically, after a certain point, if you change the font you have to completely re-design your book.

#3: BOOKS OFFERED ON EBAY, BUT NO-ONE BOUGHT IT!

I see people in this scenario a lot:

They do a search for their own book.   Surprise, surprise, they find a copy of their print book for sale on eBay… but they have yet to sell a single print copy, so how can it possible be offered on eBay?

Well, the thing to remember is that your book is Print-on-Demand, and that many legitimate small-business book dealers use eBay as their storefront.

If your book is made available on expanded distribution, any dealer can buy the book for resale.  Some dealers will list books they don’t yet have on eBay, knowing that they can buy those books on-demand, if someone orders it from them.  It is only after someone buys the book from them that your book would be sold to them.

So, if you see your book listed on eBay even though it hasn’t been sold, no, it doesn’t mean that the seller is “ripping you off” and should be reported to eBay for fraud.  Most likely, they’re trying to sell your book for you, and you should be thanking them.

#4: FUTURE SELF-PUBLISHING ROUNDTABLE PLANS

I’m very busy with In Forgery Divided, but I have a plan to continue the Self-Publishing Roundtable once that’s out the door.

On Facebook (and in a few other spots) I’ve talked about an anthology (or rather, in this case, a compilation; the difference is the number of authors involved) entitled “This Book Cannot Make Any Money.”  It would consist of various things (poetry, experimental fiction, an inside joke, story fragments, etc.) that were too small to sell on their own, too wierd to sell on their own, too incomplete (and never-to-be-completed) to sell on their own, or some combination of the above.  In other words, it’s a compilation of a bunch of things that will never make any money (as the title says).

What I was thinking I might do (extreme emphasis on the ‘might’) is compile that book, and make a set of blogs dovetailing off of both this Self-Publishing Roundtable Series and my still-to-be-debuted Writing Software Review Series.  I would blog the entire process of going from “I’m done writing; time to find an editor” to “Ebook and Print Book Both Published, Copywritten, and the First Month of ‘Marketing’ Complete” completing this project with zero budget and in my “off hours.”

The idea would be I’d walk people through the process.  I would also try building the same book multiple times (using different software; I’d build the eBook once with Scriveners, once with Sigil, maybe even once with Jutoh or similar paid-for software (again, if you want me to buy Jutoh to review it, I need AT LEAST ONE COMMENT asking about it).  Then I’ll build the print book in Adobe InDesign (CS6), Microsoft Publisher (2007), and Scribus (1.4.5).  Then I’d walk through the process of setting prices, assigning ISBNs, and publishing through Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, Draft2Digital, Apple, various niche stores, etc.

Again, this is a very tentative plan.  It will go very, very slowly, because I’ll be trying to manage it around the writing, publishing, and marketing work I’m doing that I hope can make some money.

CONCLUSION

Well, this is the first “unplanned” update for the Self-Publishing Review.  There’ll probably be others in addition to item #4, above… but not for a while.  Expect another Weird Research post next week.

 

Edit:  Comments on this post have been disabled because of spammers; contact me if you’re a real person and want me to re-open comments.

Weird Things I’ve Had to Research (Part 4/?): Thoughts On Constructed Languages

As a reminder, this is the fourth part for my Weird Things I’ve Had To Research series.  You can find my series introduction, which will include a (growing) table of contents, here.

INTRODUCTION

If you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy, you’re probably aware that J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguist, and he invented multiple languages over the course of writing the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings saga.  A lot of fantasy and science fiction requires the writer to create an entirely new language for their characters to speak; after all, it’s highly unlikely aliens or foriegn elves or whatnot would be speaking English (or Common, or whatever you call the your viewpoint characters’ default language).  The technical term is “constructed language.”

J.R.R. Tolkien may be best known for it (he created not just individual languages, but whole families of languages with dialect trees and the like), but he was hardly the only person to ever create a new language for a book.  Edgar Rice Burroughs actually came up with one for his “A Princess of Mars” before Tolkien’s first sample of Elven appeared in the literary world.  There have been multiple languages created for the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, Game of Thrones, Babylon 5, Avatar, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and many, many more.  Heck, a very basic form of constructed language was a central plot point of the video game Skyrim.

Well, when I was first writing In Treachery Forged, I gave serious thought to construction one or more such languages for the novel.  I got the rudiments down for one of them, and came up with a thing or two for another… and then I quit.  I didn’t really need to have a complete constructed language for these characters — a few words here or there for flavor, sure, but nowhere in my plans were any of my characters conversing in one of these constructed languages.

And… well, I am not Tolkien.  I did enjoy some parts of constructing a language, but other parts of it became a grind… and it was those grinding elements that had me stop.

Of course, I did save a lot of my notes, and I’m having my characters largely follow those bits of grammar and so forth I’d developed whenever one of these unfinished languages come up, so I might complete things some day.  Who knows?  But I think, from what I did manage, that it’s quite possible to construct a language for your books (or video games, or movies, or whatever other reason you might want your own language) even if you aren’t a trained linguist like Tolkien.

Constructing a language requires a number of elements:  You must create some rules of grammar, add in a set of vocabulary, and then figure out how best to include your language’s use in your story.  Tolkien managed to do it a lot of times… but most of us aren’t Tolkien.

NEEDING NEW LANGUAGES

J.R.R. Tolkien created not just one or two languages, but whole language trees.  Several types of Elvish, Dwarvish, Numenorean, and probably others I’m not thinking of.  Tolkien’s passion, however, was languages; mine was not.

But while writing In Treachery Forged, I was thinking about the possibility of developing multiple languages.  I couldn’t use Tolkien’s languages without permission (not that I really wanted to), and didn’t really know them anyway, so I had to construct some new languages, myself.  (Note:  Calling this an article on research is perhaps a bit strong; think of it more as applying pre-existing knowledge to your writing career)

My Human culture was a formerly single civilization in diaspora, so some of the language issues (namely, the difference between Porosian, Sviedan, maybe even Oregalian) could simply be dialect choices; Sviedan is portrayed as English; I have yet to have to portray native Porosian or any of those other foriegn dialects (well, in what’s published), so I haven’t had to do much in that regard, but In Treachery Forged did encounter Elven, Dwarven, and Tel’Curlan as seperate languages.

Tel’Curlan, I’d determined, would have been a cross between Porosian, Dwarven, and Elven languages (reflecting the country’s origins).  I also felt the Nekoji and Merfolk would have their own languages, but they would be languages that were beyond Human speech.

But I needed seperate Elven and Dwarven languages.  And because of the first in-novel encounters with these two languages, one I started with my focus on grammar and the other started with a focus on vocabulary.

GRAMMAR RULES

I had no prior experience or education in creating a language.  I’m not sure many do, and I’m not sure if there is an established method for creating one.  I couldn’t find any “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Constructing Your Own Language” type books, if there are.  So I had to come up with my own method of creating a language.  I reverse engineered the foriegn language courses I’d taken and came up with two.

I am a native American-English speaker, and for the most part the grammar in my head is American-English style.  I have a passing familiarity with the differences between that and British or Australian English, but I really have to think about it.

I’ve also studied (never to fluency, I’m afraid) two foriegn languages in my life.  One of these was Japanese.  It was a difficult language for me.  Even if I resumed practicing my studies on a regular basis, at best I’ll be functionally illiterate in the language:  At one point I knew all the ‘letters’ (syllables?) in both hiragana and katakana, but never managed to learn to read them when put together as words; I have what is usually a mild case of dyslexia, but when I look at Japanese writing — and knowing that it might be written in any of three directions based on context — I can never figure out what order to read those Japanese characters should be read in.  For me, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn to read, and every word looks like this:

I had a lot of reasons for wanting to learn Japanese, however (yes, I am a fan of Japanese anime and generally prefer those shows with their original Japanese voice actors, but my interest came from other places as well), so conceding to the idea of being a functional illiterate in another language I concentrated on learning verbal Japanese.

Curiously, I never learned much vocabulary in these lessons.  A bare minimum, I would say, that would be necessary for the primary thing they were teaching:  Japanese grammar.

So, when I got started on the Elven language, I started with the structure of the grammar.

I began by looking into sentence structure.  English is generally subject-verb-object.  In Japanese, it can sometimes be subject-object-verb.  I didn’t want my Elven language to just be wordswapped English, because that felt… cheap.  I also didn’t want it to just be wordswapped Japanese for the same reasons.

Then I came up with a wonderfully original — and, in the end, awful — idea:  Bifurcated verbs, one part to indicate the actual action and the second to indicate the tense of the verb.  It would go subject-verb (action)-object-verb (tense).  I liked the idea of it, and in the samples I constructed it gave the language a truly foriegn feel while still allowing a strong sense of “yes, there are real grammar rules I need to follow.”  That one rule, by itself, gave the language its own character.

It might have worked for the language I was building, but it made things very difficult for the novel.  This rule gave my Elves a unique verbal tick, but it became horribly confusing when rendered into English.  All too frequently I found myself losing track of what I was doing.  The phrasing, which initially seemed quite lyrical, became horribly awkward half the time.  My editor didn’t understand it and corrected it wrong, and I’d make an even more wrong mistake trying to correct him.

In the end, at least when they were speaking in English, all that survived of this plan was that the Elves would frequently repeat their verbs (usually with one of those two being a contraction and the other the full word, but not always) at the end of most sentences.

I had other “rules of Elvish grammar” I was employing, but this was the most central of them… and it proved too complicated to make it viable.  Oh, words of the language I’d been working on have and will surface from time to time, but I doubt I’ll have any of the characters conversing in Elvish, very often.

VOCABULARY LISTS

Remember me saying I studied two foriegn languages (outside of various official forms of English)?  Well, while my study of Japanese began with grammar (and only just enough Japanese vocabulary to learn this grammar), when I was in Junior High, High School, and even College, my classes all tried to teach me Spanish by focusing almost entirely on vocabulary.

I never enjoyed those classes… but when I started on the Dwarven language I found myself starting here by working out some vocabulary lists.  I figured these lists could also, eventually, be used to fill out the Elvish language, as well.

But how to create these lists?  I couldn’t just grab a dictionary and go through it (too many words would be too irrelevant, as I found from the very first page when I tried it), and it would be unethical to just steal another language guide’s vocabulary lists.  So how should I build them?

Well, I started by trying to think of book-relevant verbs.  Dwarf or Elf, the characters would want to be able to call out that they were surrendering (verb: To Surrender).  I make Dwarven archers a serious component of the armies, so I needed something “to shoot.”  And that reminded me of other martial commands — to attack, to march, to hone, to punch, to kick, to burn, to follow, to train, to provoke, etc.  And then these are Dwarves, and I kept some of the stereotypical Dwarven characteristics (such as business accumen being critical to your social standing).  That would require words like to trade, to buy, to count, to add, to subtract, to bribe, to want, to serve, to appraise, to offer, etc., etc.  Then I went into figuring out verbs specific to various jobs that I figured characters in a fantasy might need.  And so on, and so forth.

So I started with these verb lists.  I had somewhere between three hundred and four hundred verbs that, I figured, had a good chance of coming up in my books.  But a bunch of job-specific verbs do not a language make; even if I duplicated English grammar, I still needed more vocabulary to make things work.  Nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, expletives, etc.  I couldn’t build even one sentence with all of the vocabulary lists I’d created.

Well, statistics say that half of everything written in English is made up of the one hundred most common words… and it also just so happens that there’s a lot of disagreement about what those hundred most common words are.  You’ve got opinions by Prentice Hall and Brown University Press, the Oxford English Dictionary, and more.

I combined all of these “100 most common English Words” list and came up with a few more than one hundred words:

the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, that, it, he, was, for, on, are, as, with, his, they, I, at, be, this, have, from, or, one, had, by, word, but, not, what, all, were, we, when, your, can, said, there, use, an, each, which, she, do, how, their, if, will, up, their, about, out, many, then, them, these, so, some, her, would, make, like, him, into, time, has, look, two, more, write, go, see, number, no, way, could, people, my, than, first, water, been, call. who, oil, its, now, find, long, down, day, did, get, come, made, may, part, only, other, time, new, any, over, such, our, man, me, even, most, after, also, off, before, must, well, back, years, much, and where.

Put those together with the 300+ words I’d already come up with, and you’re starting to get enough words to make complete sentences.  Your Elves, Dwarves, and whatnot can start talking to each other in their own languages, and you can add more words as needed.

WHAT YOU CAN DO WHEN IT’S TOO MUCH WORK

Well, “too much work” is probably the wrong way to put it.  “Too much of a distraction from my writing” might be, however, as I found myself putting all my time into developing these languages and not in writing.  Again, I’m not Tolkien, I don’t have a special interest in linguistics, and I really don’t want to have to put that much time into a constructed language when I’d rather be writing.  I still have pages of notes full of vocabulary lists, sketched out grammar rules, and more for both of these languages I was working on, but development has been halted on them for more than ten years, now.  Writing the actual book was far, far more important.

Building a language was getting tedious.  I’d overloaded myself, and was losing interest.  Rather than giving up on the book, I gave up on the new languages.  I have done my best, since then, to keep the books compatible with my old notes, but I haven’t really made any advancements.

Well, I take that back.  There were a few times I added a word or two of vocabulary when needed (a specialized Elven weapon would be referred to in Elvish, for example).  Or when I wanted to apply the “rule of fun” for a 4th-wall joke, like when I gave a Dwarven Inn a Japanese style bath and called it a “fu’ro bathing system” (basically, the Japanese word for that kind of bath with the fantasy cliché apostrophe in the middle).

Creating a language as I was writing the book was too much work… but keeping to the rudiments, and adding the odd additional word or two on occasion, will allow me to finish these languages some day.  If I ever need them.

CONCLUSION

Creating a language is a lot of work.  You may find, like I did, that it’s too much effort for what you’re trying to do, or for where you are at this point in your writing or your story.

But if you really want to, nothing is stopping you from making up your own words, developing your own system of grammar, and constructing your own language.

(Incidentally, if you haven’t already heard, I have updated the Convention Calender this week.  I added two new conventions, and put in 2016 dates for several more.  I’m always looking for new suggestions for appropriate conventions)

Software Reviews Series (0/?)

I mentioned this in my last post, but didn’t explain.  A problem with Windows 10 had me downgrading to Windows 7; unfortunately, that downgrade didn’t work right, and I wound up having to wipe out my C drive and reinstall all my software) ate most of the time I had to work on my blog this week.  It did, however, remind me of another series I was considering:  Reviewing “Software for the Author.”  It was never my intention to only run one series at a time, especially as open-ended as the Research series is, so I figured I could introduce this new planned series even if I’m not ready to start the actual articles.

Now, DO NOT EXPECT THIS SERIES TO START NEXT WEEK.  It requires research (hm…), and I’m not prepared for it.  I’m only adding this post now because I didn’t have time to do any of the other blog posts I have planned.

Keep in mind I am not a technical expert on these pieces of software. There are things I will not, or do not know how to, test (for example, I can’t test cross-platform compatability for many of the products that claim this as a feature).  There are things that you might think are vitally important in a piece of software, but I don’t even think to look at them because (in my experience) they’ve never come up.  This is just based on my personal experiences with this software (or, at least, simulations of my normal experience, if I’m doing a comparison with something I haven’t used often).

In some cases, I will be comparing the latest version of a freeware program (such as Scribus or LibreOffice) with older versions of professional software (I intend to do a review of Adobe InDesign, but I refuse to use their latest, cloud-only offering.  I have access to Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, and — if I borrowed my mother’s computer — whatever version of Microsoft Word she got off the cloud, though not any of the other parts of the suite)

I also have no intention of testing every feature of this software.  These will just be reviews of how I use them, why I — as a writer — might choose them over various alternatives, and what I think a writer would be most interested in with them.

Now, I reiterate — don’t expect me to start this next week.  I hope to go right back to the Review Series (with something on Constructing Languages and why I’ve only made rudimentary efforts, so far) — but below you will be able to find an index for what I plan on reviewing (not necessarily in order; depends how long I have to test some of these things), below.  I’ll add  hotlinks when I start.

  1. The Hemmingway App (vs. Grammarly, perhaps?)
  2. Scrivener
  3. Sigil
  4. InDesign vs. Publisher (2003 and 2007) vs. Scribus (this one may be bumped down, folks; I’ll need to figure out something I can use as a sample to compare these with)
  5. EPub to MOBI
  6. LibreOffice (vs. OpenOffice vs AbiWord vs. WPS Office Free vs. Microsoft Office 2003 vs. Microsoft Office 2007 vs. whatever other free Office packages or word processors I can find between now and then, perhaps?  Recommendations might be nice)
  7. Jutoh, maybe? (I haven’t bought it, yet, but I will if there’s interest.  Yes, that means I need at least ONE comment, somewhere, if you want me to test this)
  8. ???