Two Year Anniversary

This month I celebrate two years being an independent author/publisher. Since November 2014, I’ve published 11 novels, 2 novellas, 2 collections of shorter works, and 6 short stories. Plus one flash fic was published by One for a Thousand ezine. I’ve had over 220 downloads of my books and stories and have made a wee bit over $500. Certainly not bestseller status nor am I making a king’s ransom.

However, I am published and I am selling books. If I’d gone the traditional route, I very well could still be looking for an agent. And most likely would be, as traditional publishers accept less than 300 new fiction authors each year. If one thinks the competition is stiff being an indie author/publisher, at least we’re competing for sales — not the “privilege” of being allowed entrance to the “club”.

So I’d have to say that my numbers are pretty decent. Especially considering I’ve done little advertising. And another thing to consider is that a mere 15 years ago, viable self-publishing on a large scale didn’t even exist. Thank you to Amazon and their Kindle and Apple and their iPad for making all this possible. Today we truly have desktop publishing.

However, as one can also see, if anyone is thinking self-publishing is the path to riches, think again. I know of indie authors who sell one or two copies a month. A lot of work for very small returns. As with any self-employment venture, it takes time, hard work, money, and patience before you begin to see a return. One writer recently told me it takes 5 to 7 years before a self-employment venture takes off — if it’s going to take off. Given that, I have 3 to 5 years of work ahead of me.

Aside from publishing books, I’ve spent the past year boning up on marketing. I had a bit of marketing in an economics class in high school some 50 years ago. Needless to say, I don’t remember much. I sunk over $600 into Mark Dawson’s Facebook Advertising for Authors course and I learned a lot. I think the course was worth the money. I’ve also taken numerous free courses and read a few books.

What I’ve realized is an indie author/publisher is a business. A self-employed business. A self-employed direct marketing business. Therefore I must think like a self-employed direct marketing businessman. Not as an artist. Otherwise, I don’t stand much of a chance of succeeding. And I certainly don’t want to not succeed. At the very least, I hope to recoup my initial costs and be able to break even on the ongoing costs. Sure I’d like more, but I’ll be satisfied to at least break even.

What does the next year hold? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. Certainly more writing and publishing.

Early in the new year, I’ll bring out the seventh volume in The Rocheport Saga. I’m also hard at work on the next Justinia Wright novel. In addition I have two adventures for Lady Dru I’m champing at the bit to get written. Plus I have a partially written time travel adventure I’d like to finish. That’s on the fiction side.

Over the past year I’ve been thinking about non-fiction. My sister racks up at least 10 sales a month on her art therapy book without fail. And she does absolutely no advertising. Statistically (data from AuthorEarnings.com) non-fiction is the second largest category after romance for book sales. Very old advice from back in the day before the internet said non-fiction was the way to go if one wanted steady income to put food on the table, pay the rent, and buy clothes. Apparently that advice is still valid.

So I’ve been thinking about writing some non-fiction. What would I write about? That is a good question. For many years now I’ve been fascinated by the concept of simple living and how groups and individuals have gone about simplifying their lives. I’m also very much interested in silence and solitude, both as a spiritual exercise and one to simply bring tranquility to one’s daily life. And ever since high school I’ve admired Stoic philosophy. Stoicism not only touches on simple living and inner tranquility, but I believe holds the key for how we in the 21st century can best realize our potential. I think Stoicism is a far better practice for we Westerners than the eastern philosophies and faiths.

If I decide to go the non-fiction route, I’ll probably write on what I’ve noted above. Self-help books related to silence and solitude, simple living, and Stoicism for the 21st century. Stay tuned!

The past two years have been fun, a bit frustrating, an educational experience, and very rewarding. There is nothing that can beat being your own person, in control of your own destiny.

Mark Dawson started publishing a year before I did. He now pulls in seven figures. That’s a lot of cash. He’s worked hard and invested a LOT of money in his self-publishing enterprise. So the rewards are out there, if one is willing to work at it.

I’m also going to work on the business end. Because that’s what Dawson did. He wrote books and advertised the heck out of them. But first he built up his mailing list. So that is my next step. Grow my mailing list from the 21 it’s currently at to… Well, as high as I can. Two, three, four, ten, twenty, thirty thousand. However high it gets.

Write and publish books — keep the product coming, build the mailing list, and market. That’s what’s in store for me for next year.

And I’m very excited about it!

As always, I look forward to your comments! Until next time, happy reading!

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One Year

A year ago I self-published four novels. That act was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had ever since I can remember. Now, on my one year anniversary as a published writer, I have seven novels, five novellas (three collected into one book), and a short story in digital print. Two more short stories will be out this month and next month I will publish my third book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

How Did I Get Here?

Even though I wanted to be a writer, I never actually did a lot of writing when young. Those early years saw a few poems, stories, and plays. A couple things were published and my high school drama class performed one of my plays. The early and middle decades of my life, however, are littered with far more abandoned then completed projects.

Lack of encouragement is a dreadful thing and harsh words are destructive. I had yet to read Rainer Maria Rilke’s first letter to the young poet. I looked without and not within. Encouragement and support are important, and I seek to be so to others, but looking within and knowing one must write in spite of what others say is vital. When I did so, I knew I had to write.

In 1989 I wrote a novel in the span of one year. The novel, however, was not good and after a couple rejected queries I put it away and turned to poetry. Poetry, I found, was something I could much better sandwich in and amongst my other responsibilities and day job on a regular basis. And I’m proud to say I achieved something of a name in certain poetry circles.

Ultimately, I found I wanted a bigger canvas. Painting miniatures was fun and fulfilling to a point. I wanted bigger worlds. I wanted to create worlds.

Consequently, I returned to my first love: fiction. I wrote and wrote and wrote one abortion after another. I always got hung up on plot. I’d never plotted a poem. I just wrote them. For some reason, I thought I had to plot fiction. Once I disabused myself of that idea, the stories and books have flowed out of my pen and pencil. I had found what worked for me — just write the story. I found I was in good company, as well. Ray Bradbury didn’t believe in intentional plotting. Create your characters, let them do their thing, and that’s the plot. Works for me.

Why Self-Publish?

Why self publish indeed? Doesn’t that smack of the old vanity press? Didn’t I need an editor’s approval? Someone to put that imprimatur on my work that signified it was “good”?

I thought long and hard about going the traditional route or to self publish. I’m old enough to be permanently scarred with the fear of the vanity press.

Yet the publishing industry as we know it is no more then two hundred years old. Thoreau’s book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was self-published after he couldn’t find a publisher in 1849. Anthony Trollope commented in his Autobiography that a publisher of one of his early books was willing to publish the book at his own expense. That Trollope notes this is significant. It means even in the middle 1800s publishers weren’t overly generous or willing to take risks on novice authors and that the author might have to defray the costs of publishing in part or in whole.

The world of publishing I grew up with was gone. Dozens and dozens of publishers no longer exist. One is left with the small press or the Big 5. The slush pile and its editor has been replaced by the agent taking on a new role — that of the editor.

Dean Wesley Smith challenges the myths that surround the publishing industry and agents. Every writer needs to read to his article on agents.

My personal experience with the writers I have known is that the publisher does not hold your hand, the publisher does not provide you advertising dollars, and if you do not sell and make them money — you are kicked to the curb. Publishing is a business. And too often a cruel business. Today a new author, even to be looked at by an agent, needs to have a platform (social media presence and blog or website, hopefully with lots of traffic) in place so that the agent can tell the publisher this person might be able to sell a book.

However, not only does an author have to have a platform in place — but the author’s novel must conform to arbitrary publisher and bookseller norms. A friend tried to interest an agent in her 100,000 word YA fantasy novel. The prospective agent she had queried flat out told her no one will buy a YA book of that length from an unknown author. The agent then suggested various ways to mutilate the novel to fit the norms.

Then there is the money. A lousy 10% at best from the publishing house versus a minimum of 35% and a maximum of 70% when self-publishing. I asked myself, Why if I have to do all the work myself do I want 10% instead of 35% or 70% and then give an agent 15% of that measly 10%? Why indeed?

And then there is Rilke’s advice to the young poet:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

And if out of this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.

My decision seemed easy. Why ask some agent or editor if my work is good? If I have to build my own audience, do my own editing, buy my own advertising, and hold my own hand — then why not self-publish and at least have a shot at making a pile of money?

So I did. I kicked the rules to the curb and took advantage of modern technology. Gutenberg is dead. Brick and mortar stores are dying. The Kindle and iPad are everywhere. I haven’t made piles of money. At least not yet. Then again I haven’t paid a dime for advertising either. Nevertheless, I am making some money. My marketing plan is this: when I have at least four titles in a series, then I’ll start looking at marketing on a big scale.

To pay for advertising on one or two books is the big mistake, in my opinion. With 3000 new books a day being published, one is easily lost in a sea of virtual ink. To market one book, with no follow up for the reader to buy, it is to my mind paying to be forgotten. At least in the indie publishing world.

But what about the traditional world? It takes a publisher two years to get your book in print. Perhaps less for a small press, but then they have little clout. If you don’t have something to follow-up right away, you’ll be lost in the traditional world too. Because it will take years for your next book to see print. And if your book isn’t a good seller, it will get remainder. A sure fire way to be forgotten. In addition, publishers don’t want to publish a follow-up novel in less than a year. They are afraid of you competing with yourself. All these rules. And who do they benefit?

As a self published author, I can publish as many books as I want in a year. They are never remaindered. After all, I’m the publisher as well as the writer. Robert E Howard once wrote to H. P. Lovecraft the reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. I think Howard would have loved today’s self-publishing world — it is the ultimate freedom.

What’s Next?

I’m having a blast. I write every day. I write the best story I can. I put many hours into editing and proofing so I can put out a quality product. I am learning every day new aspects of writing and publishing. All I can say is I’m having the time of my life. And I’m my own boss.

During this next year I’m building inventory. More novels. More stories. Then I will get serious about marketing and develop a comprehensive strategy. I continue to read and learn what works for writers and what doesn’t.

I confess I have a golden parachute. I’m retired. Sure, I’d like to make piles of money from my writing. But if I don’t, I’m still a full-time writer. I write because I have to. I’ve gone deep into myself and found out I must write. I must create. My books have been born out of necessity. “A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity.” It’s the only way Rilke could judge a work and it’s the only way I can judge. No editor or agent say otherwise.

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Moving Into Autumn

It’s mid-September, which means autumn is underway in Minnesota. The summer heat and humidity has pretty much left us. Temps have cooled down and we’re waiting for the leaves to change.

My summer has been very busy. My pencil and keyboard are never quiet. I thought I’d give you all a peek into what I’ve been up to and what will be coming out in virtual and actual print in the coming months.

The Rocheport Saga

My post-apocalyptic steam-powered future series, The Rocheport Saga, is moving right along. The Troubled City, Book #4, is in the final proofread. I should publish it by the end of September. Once it’s published, I’ll begin editing Book #5.

Love is Little (The Rocheport Saga #3) and The Troubled City should be out in paperback by the end of the year.

Justinia Wright and Cozies

I love mysteries, but I’m fussy at the same time. I like private eye mysteries, preferably told by the ‘Watson’ character. I’m currently reading the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam series by Earl Stanley Gardner, written under the pen name of AA Fair, and the Sharon McCone series by Marsha Muller. Both are very good.

What I like most about mysteries, isn’t the puzzle — it’s the characters. So my mysteries are heavy on the lives of the characters and what I call puzzle lite.

My own private detective, Justinia Wright, has new cases cooking. The novel, But Jesus Never Wept, will hopefully see publication in October. I’m in the middle of typing it and doing the initial edit. I’ve also written two short stories which feature cases predating Festival of Death, the first Justinia Wright novel. These I’ll publish in October. And I’ve started on Justinia Wright #4.

I’m hoping to have the Justinia Wright series available in paperback early next year.

I don’t like cozies. At least generally speaking. Clerical sleuths, like Father Brown, are an exception. Having written that, the Muse gave me a cozy character and setting. Now what on earth am I going to do with that? Write the story, of course.

So in addition to working on the fourth Justinia Wright novel, I’m working on a cozy. I’m not sure how the cozy will turn out. So I’m not saying much about it at this point.

Rand Hart

On this blog and on 8 Sentence Sunday on dieselpunks.org, I’ve been serializing the first chapter of my dieselpunk adventure novella featuring a new character, Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is with the beta readers and I’m looking to publish it in October.

I’m always puzzled when people ask me where do my ideas come from. Where do I find things to write about. I’m puzzled by these questions because stories are everywhere. One just needs to look. Everyone’s day to day interactions are stories waiting to be told.

Rand Hart is actually a take off of another character I created years ago and who is still in the drawer. I like dieselpunk and thought a gambler set in a dieselpunk world would be interesting. And so Rand Hart came into being. A retro version of my original character.

So where’s the story? The year is 1938 in the story. I started looking online for interesting events that happened in 1938 and stumbled on the May Pajama Putsch in Brazil where the Integralists tried to topple the government of Getúlio Vargas. Add the fact that a beautiful Brazilian movie star was involved and this was a perfect setting for a story.

Finding a story isn’t hard. What’s hard is finding the time to write all the stories.

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse

I’m not a fan of zombies. I think them ridiculous. I do, however, like post-apocalyptic novels; in particular, the cozy catastrophe kind. Okay, so the world as we knew it came to an end. Now what? It’s the ‘now what’ that I’m interested in. What happens after?

The sci-fi classic Earth Abides by George R Stewart was my first foray into the cozy catastrophe. I didn’t even know they were called that until recently. Other classics are When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide by Wylie and Balmer, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, and the TV series Survivors created by Terry Nation. There are more, of course, and many are worth reading.

The Rocheport Saga is a cozy catastrophe. And who can write just one? A year ago I wrote a novella with some thought of it being the initial installment in a series. The series hasn’t yet materialized. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish the novella. Look for Magdalena’s Tale sometime in November or December.

Lady Dru

Lady Dru fans needn’t despair. I haven’t forgotten you. Our intrepid reporter has some new adventures cooking. I’m thinking next year we’ll see at least two new tales From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond. We’ll also see more retro-futurism appear in the stories.

I was born in the ‘50s and I remember some of the wonderful things predicted for us back then. And, yes, I’m still waiting for my flying car.

Odds and Ends

Also coming down the publishing pipeline will be a vampire short story and a Cthulhu mythos story. Maybe December for those. As well as a couple other short stories of the macabre.

In addition, I’m trying to get all of my books uploaded to Draft 2 Digital which will make them available on Kobo, iTunes, Nook, Oyster, and Scribd, as well as the 17 vendors for those who have Tolino, Germany’s answer to the Kindle.

My psychological/supernatural horror novella, Do One Thing For Me, is now live on iTunes, Kobo, Nook, and Oyster.

I’m loving retirement. At long last I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. We spend so much time doing things that are not important to obtaining our heart’s desire. We live sidetracked lives.

Simple living naturalist guru John Burroughs wrote we need to live lives that matter. The question is matter to whom? I think our lives must matter to ourselves first and foremost. If my life doesn’t matter to me, it sure as heck isn’t going to matter to anyone else.

I think writing is fun. But it isn’t all play. Every writer, whether he or she realizes it, is presenting his or her view of life, his or her world view. Writing is philosophy, whether we realize it or not. At base, my books are about people who must deal with life and who come away with some sense of how they are going to continue living so that, at the very least, their lives matter to them. And hopefully others.

Is that any different than what we should be doing?

May your autumn or your spring, for those of you on the other side of our wonderful world, be a fabulous one. Make the most of your day. For each one only comes once.

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What’s Cooking?

Today is the last day of June. Half the year is over and I thought I’d give an update as to where things are at in my little corner of the world. You can read here what I planned for 2015 and make comparisons, if you like.

Writing

Thus far, I have 8 books published in 3 series with a standalone novella. Sales are exceedingly modest, but then I’ve done little to advertise them. Right now I’m writing and to be honest I feel the weight of years. Statistically speaking, I have about 20 years remaining. Morbid sounding, I know. But as Eeyore said, I’m not complaining, that’s just how it is.

I have so many book and story ideas, I don’t know if 20 years will be enough. So at present, I feel compelled to write and not do much marketing. But there is also the fact that while I have 8 books published, they are in 4 different genres and sub-genres.

My contribution to post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophes, The Rocheport Saga, has 3 books thus far. My mystery series, Justinia Wright, PI, stands at one novel and a novella collection. The dieselpunk alternative history series From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond also consists of a mere two books. And then there is the one psychological/supernatural horror novella, Do One Thing For Me.

Looking at it by genre, I don’t have many books in each genre. Hugh Howey had 7 science fiction books published when Wool appeared. I have a little ways to go to reach 8 books in one genre/sub-genre. So, taking a page out of Howey’s book, I’m writing now and marketing later.

But most importantly, I’m having fun!

Works in Progress

I do not have a dearth of ideas. If anything, I have a surfeit. Makes it difficult for me to focus at times. At the moment, I’m trying to concentrate on three stories.

Currently I’m working on typing and editing/revising book number four in The Rocheport Saga. Word count thus far is at 15,000. The series is my best seller to date. And there is a lot more manuscript material to go through. I’m guessing I wrote something over a half-million words (2200 handwritten pages) and the three novels out at this point comprise about 160 to 170 thousand words. So I’m guessing the series will have 9, maybe 10 novels when it finally ends.

I’m writing Justinia Wright, PI #3. After several fits and starts, I think I finally have a handle on the story. To date, I have 10,700 words typed and much more handwritten. I’m hoping to finish the book in the next month or two.

My new dieselpunk tale, featuring a new character, Rand Hart, stands at 14,300 words written and typed. Given where I’m at in the storyline and how much I have written, the story might reach novella length. Otherwise it will be a long novelette. And it too I hope to have out by September.

Future Books

If I get my wish, there will be lots. I’ve recently completed 3 flash fiction pieces (or short short stories as they used to be called) which I intend to include in a short story collection, hopefully published before year’s end.

In addition to the short story collection, I’d like to try to bring out The Rocheport Saga #5 before January 1st.

I have a completed short novella which might be the start of another post-apocalyptic series of possibly 7 books. Instead of waiting to publish it when I have additional books written, I’m thinking of publishing the tale as a standalone in the fall.

Lady Dru Drummond fans, do not despair! I have two ideas for further adventures of our intrepid reporter and once Rand Hart and Justinia Wright are completed, I intend to focus on Lady Dru.

In addition to the above, I have two potential space opera series on which I’ve spent time writing. These are incomplete and I’d like to return to them at some point. I also have partially completed: a fantasy novel, sci-fi historical novel, a seafaring novel, and a bunch of short stories.

In short, more is a comin’.

KDP Select

As of today, my books are no longer enrolled in KDP Select. I’ve written about that here, so I won’t spend much more time on it. In the coming weeks, they will be available in other markets.

I believe the free market is the best economic model. But the “free” in free market means everyone gets to compete without government control (which is fascism, by the way) and monopolies are not tolerated, because monopolies are just another form of control.

Amazon has taken over the book business. Everyone has to deal with Amazon. Whether we want to or not. Also keep in mind no monopoly or near monopoly is our friend.

So I’ve decided it is time to put my eggs into more than one basket and to give Amazon a bit of competition. Which I’ve also taken to a personal level: if I can get anything at a vendor other than Amazon, I will. The only way to beat a monopoly is to support the competition. Which is why I will also encourage folks to buy my books from vendors other than Amazon.

Draft 2 Digital

After researching Smashwords and alternatives to Smashwords, I’ve decided to use Draft 2 Digital as my aggregator to reach other markets.

Why not Smashwords? I think The Passive Voice article and the comments (link below) make the case why Smashwords is not my aggregator of choice. Take a moment to read MCA Hogarth’s “Leaving Smashwords”.

A friend recently uploaded her book to D2D and was done in half an hour or less. No problems whatsoever. Within several days, it was on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, and the other vendors D2D contracts with. I like no problems.

D2D takes 15% of net royalties (or about 10% of gross). But it saves me time uploading to the vendors myself, which leaves me more time to write.

Other Formats

For the remainder of this year, I will be working on putting out paper versions of my books. I know there are folks who truly prefer paper books. There is a tactile experience with a paper book that one doesn’t get with an eReader. Personally, I like looking at shelves of books and holding a book in my hand. So paperbacks are coming. Although, ironically, I read more books on my iPad.

I’m also exploring audiobooks, because I have friends who prefer to listen to a book being read. The problem is production of an audiobook is expensive. Three to four thousand dollars. So I’m exploring doing it myself. As this unfolds, I’ll keep you all in the loop.

My Reading List

Like most writers, I like to read. In fact I enjoyed reading before I ever considered writing. So if you have a great book you’ve read, please share it with me! So what’s on my reading list?

Fiction

  • The works of Kazuo Ishiguro. That’s 7 novels and a short story collection.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson: Thrawn Janet and The Suicide Club
  • The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle

Non-Fiction

  • Simon Garfield’s We Are At War and Our Hidden Lives
  • Because this is the centenary of World War I, The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
  • And re-read David Shi’s excellent studies in simple living: The Simple Life and In Search of the Simple Life

Life In General

Being retired is wonderful. I recommend it to everyone. Work is so very much overrated! I think I’m enjoying retirement because I planned for it. Throughout 2014 I worked on my novels, built my website, learned social media, and prepared for my new career as an author. When I left work Friday afternoon on the 23rd of January 2015, I had a few regrets — after all one makes friends working at a place for 30 years. But when I woke up on the 24th, I sat at my desk and put pencil to paper. And when Monday rolled around, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no virtual clock to punch. I WAS FREE!! And I put pencil to paper and wrote.

April, May, and a week in June I spent with my sister. It was a wonderful time. Then I spent a week with my dad in Arizona and finally returned to Minnesota.

Life is good. Life is what you make it. And right now, writing everyday, I’m having the time of my life.

One downer is that the freighter cruise to Samoa I so much wanted to take, doesn’t seem to be offered any longer. A whole bunch to China, but I’m not interested in seeing China. I want to see Samoa! More research is needed on that front.

Now that I’m back home, I am going to go bicycle shopping. I’d like to get a nice used bike and take advantage of the summer to get out from behind my desk for an hour or two each day.

One thing I have found of interest is that since I’ve retired, I’m seeing everything in somewhat of a different light. I’m more content and satisfied. I truly have time for enjoying il dolce far niente — the sweetness of doing nothing. And I love it! I find little things are very satisfying. To watch a favorite show on TV. To read that book, or write a letter. To just sit and listen to a piece of music. Or to drink tea and savor it or cherries (I so love cherries!). Even grocery shopping is a delight.

Life is what you make it. Make it good.

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