Sheperd

I was contacted a couple of months ago by Sheperd: Discover the best books. They wanted to showcase a book I wrote. Naturally I accepted. I have been pretty horrible at marketing my book, so anything that could help was welcome. However, the way they do so is pretty unique.

An author gives them a book to showcase, but that’s not the endpoint. The author then lists five books that had an impact on them and gives them a short review and how they were impacted. Ideally, there’s a common link between the recommended books to tie them together. It was a cool idea and had me reminiscing over the books that I read when I was growing up and exactly why I liked them and how they affected my writing style.

If you want to see the books I recommended and why, hop over to the website. They have also done this for other authors, so you may just find another writer you like… and the books that impacted them. Sheperd.

Power of the Pencil

No, change that to…

All the edits are in. Finally. Books 1-3 have been reviewed again and corrected. The Omnibus is also updated. Sigh. This part is possibly my least favorite part of writing. It’s also probably the most important. Few things bump you out of a good reading fugue than spelling and grammar errors.

One of the reasons I did all this now, was that I paid for one month of Grammarly’s premium service. Every time I use it, the service gets a bit better. Usually. This year was odd. I am not sure whether it was because of Windows 11 or just a weird interaction but the Grammarly corrections only showed up highlighted in Word for the last 2/3 of the document. You could get to the 1/3 ‘invisible’ corrections but you have to click forward from the start one at a time and it constantly reset so you had to start over. It’s hard to explain but trust me, it was tedious. I am not sure I’ll be using their services again unless I can verify this bug is fixed.

I doubt anyone actually buys the paperback or the hardback, but I try to make them available anyway. I noticed an oddity with Amazon’s services that the maximum paperback size is about 775 pages and the maximum hardback size is about 550 pages. I only noticed this when I tried to finalize the Omnibus and found it couldn’t do either one because the manuscript is about 1400 pages. That would have been nice but I guess it can’t happen. I suppose I could play with the font size but who wants to buy a book with font size 6? I wouldn’t be able to read my own book without a magnifying glass! This is why the Omnibus is only available as a Kindle ebook.

After I published Book 4, I have to admit I got nervous when the first review was a two-star. The comment was the events reflected reality too much. It took me a few minutes to think of what they were talking about since, well frankly I try to make all the events reflect reality or at least as much as I can predict without a crystal ball. Or at least make the events internally consistent so the consequences make sense. There have been a couple times I wrote something and specific real-life events happened a few weeks or months later and I was like “OMG, this almost identical thing happened! What if someone thinks I am mocking it!” The good thing is that it took so darn long the get this book out that I think most of my coincidental events won’t evoke immediate finger-pointing and blowouts. Though I was wrong about at least one of them, I guess.

Edit 12/31/21: Something is wonky with Amazon’s paperback and hardcover creator. It shows correctly when editing it but under the actual purchasing page, it’s messed up. I think everything is good except Book 4. As I mentioned, I don’t think anyone actually purchases these but I am trying to tweak it so what it shows is what it actually gets.

Getting the Ducks in a Row

The fourth book will be published on Thursday, December 17th. I am experimenting with the Amazon Pre-Order function so it should just automagically be available that day. Or midnight or whatever. Amazon’s documentation isn’t the clearest. Basically, it’s done. It’s also been Grammarly checked but I am hoping to give it another read-through before it goes out. There are always more errors to find.

I also updated the first book, using the updated version of Grammarly. I don’t know if it’s because I used a newer version of Grammarly (the book was published 7 years ago) or because I bought the full subscription but it found a lot more errors. I also added chapter titles and fixed a few minor discontinuities I noticed. I plan to do the same for Book 2 and Book 3 in the next couple of weeks. Then I can update the Omnibus and completely eliminate those embarrassing errors!

Amazon has some interesting new features too. You can publish hardback versions and make paperback versions available for libraries. You don’t make any money off of that but it’s nice I guess.

And For My Next Trick…

I see it! Just a little more!

One of my readers had some kind advice on marketing. I did go to Shadow Valley Press and looked at the information they had. Shadow Valley Press actually had an entire tutorial and pointed to a matchmaking system for getting agents and through them publishers. I am not actually married to the idea of be an independent writer. I think most such writers do it more from the lack of options. So I was actually excited that there was an an organized forum where I could contact the agents, show them my work and get some support to work with a publisher.

That is, until I read through their guide. It seems that one of the taboos of writing… or at least submitting to an agent… is to have a manuscript that is too long. I think the number they gave was over 100k (it’s power level is over 9000!). Apparently the publishers don’t want to print anything that long. No profit in it or something like that. That was depressing. All my work is between 110-120k. I aimed it to that length because that is the minimum length I like to read. Any shorter and I tear through it on my bathroom break. So, I guess I stay independent.

In other news, book #4 hit 120k words. You could say it was done except for proof reading… except that it would be ending in a cliffhanger. Pretty good as cliffhangers go, but still a cliffhanger. I know I don’t publish as often as I should, so it would be rather cruel to publish a cliffhanger that likely wouldn’t be resolved for another two years. So I will try to get to a non-cliffhangery place in the story to wrap up the current events a bit better. Its not like the last two Dresden books where you need another 200k words to finish it. So unless anyone objects to a book about 130-140k words I’ll wrap it up there, rather than cut it off.

And yes, I estimated I would be done a few months ago and yet here I am. I apologize.

Distracted Drivings

One of my readers asked a few questions. I responded via e-mail and later through the chat on my website (she was the first to ever use it…. whoot!), however I thought I should update everyone else about what’s up.

Her first question was the name. I really delayed answering this because I only have a very tentative title. Right now its “An Exchange of Hostages” but that may change. Then she asked when I was going to release the 4th book (not including the Omnibus).

“Believe it or not, Covid hasn’t really been good for my writing.  Or the rest of the world, of course.  My job is defined (by my employer) as essential so I go to work.  It’s medical adjacent.  Meaning, I evaluate and test medical equipment.  My family, including my two seven-year-olds, are at home all the time and while I love them, the screaming, playing and fighting aren’t great for writing.
Okay, enough of the excuses.  How far am I?  About halfway.  I slipped during the last release past December.  This made me pretty sad since December is a good time for releases.  People home from work with nothing to do read books.  Considering the issue of diminishing returns with sequels (people buy, read and review the sequels less and less as the series gets longer) this isn’t really good.  It’s not even that I write slowly.  The first book was written in a few months once I sat down and did it.  See excuse #1 above.  
So getting to the point.  I want it to be December but unless I get more quiet time, I think early next year is more realistic.  Sorry to ramble😉 .”

By early this year I did not mean January. Or February. We’ll see how things go. I am picking up a bit of speed and even finished the cover. Is it odd that the cover is done when its only about 2/3’s done? Lets pretend that’s normal. My first cover took ages and I had to use one of the cludgiest pieces of garbage editor to splice it together. I think it was a PowerDirector companion app. Now I use Paint.net and its so much easier that its actually fun. It almost inspired me to restart my children’s book but I think I came to my senses. I would still have to practice an ungodly amount to make consistent looking characters. I am spread a little too thin as it is. Its still dead and the unfinished pages can be found on my website.

As a side note, while I write this, one of my girls is laying on the bed next to me playing some beeping (literally beeping) video game while talking and singing to herself. Its cute but incredibly distracting.

The Corona Virus Huddle

Shelter
Well, here we are ‘Sheltering In Place”.  Wow.  What a different world.  I couldn’t imagine this a year ago.  I only had to stay at home for about two weeks before my business declared themselves as essential services.  We test medical devices so it makes sense, I suppose.  So I have a job.  Yay!  But it’s a scary world out there.  Boo!  Hopefully, everyone is doing their best to stay safe.

As many have likely learned, staying at home with your children doesn’t usually mean you’re more productive.  I’m an introvert, so I like being alone for long stretches.  While I love my kids, being alone with them for long stretches strains my sanity… and is NOT being alone.  I think the entire world is learning this as well.

Anyway, as I have posted before I have my own non-WP website.  It has some cheapo games under the “Rifts and RPG/Games We Play”, under “WP &Blogs” it has my site blog, which is not precisely a mirror of here.  Under “WP &Blogs/Andy’s Game” is a semi-weekly blog of a D&D game I play in along with a description of the setting and gaming stuff.  It may be a bit dry unless you’re into that kind of thing.  Under “Community” you’ll find a link to the community page listing all the members and where you can make an see the member pages, publish your own blog or Article page (like a webpage and can be linked to other articles BUT must be approved by the moderator).  There’s also a brief tutorial on the features available at the top level.  Go there if you are bored.

A reader named Sean contacted me a few weeks ago.  He pointed out that my contact page was borked and the optional field “webpage” was preventing the submission of… well, contact.  It is a bug of course.  Sharing your webpage should be a fun addition, not a requirement, so I removed it.  Hopefully, the thousands of people that were trying to contact me can now do that.  Or maybe not.  He also suggested I publish an Omnibus for my previously published books.  <Lightning Striking Head>  It was a brilliant idea.  Obvious in retrospect but then again the best ones are like that.  So that’s what I did.  People reading this likely already have read the series but I thought you should know.  Sorry, its not a new book but progress has been made on book 4 despite screaming children.

The other books have hit their own roadblocks.  “A Virtual Invasion” which I have been publishing on Royal Roads is mostly on hiatus due to “not enough time to split among projects”.  I actually have a couple chapters I haven’t published.  I haven’t forgotten it… well not completely but I may have to re-read it to prevent stupid continuity errors.  I really wish I had a photographic memory.

My other book, the children’s book that I am sure you all remember?  No? Um… anyway, it went well.  I had the plot, drew the backgrounds with, frankly, more skill than I remembered having when I used to draw, back when I was younger.  Then I hit a snag.  Well, a couple but only one was critical.   Drawing the main character in a cutsie manner AND making them consistent.  Apparently, I am capable of drawing things as long as I don’t have to make them recognizable in the next frame.  Awkward.  So this will likely be put on hold until I find a partner to do this with me.  I had originally planned to have this as a gift for my kids on their fifth birthday since I used to tell them a variation of this story for fun, however, they barely remember it these days so I guess that ship has sailed.  On a side note, if you go to my web site and look at my profile page you can listen to a recording of me reading the original version.

Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

Lightning

Well, the new year is here and a lot happened… yet so little.  First of all before Christmas I was able to knock out a few chapters.  I was hoping to keep some momentum going since it is difficult to get going again once you pause.  A certain paralysis.  Fate intervened and I was able to spend an inordinate amount of time with my family during Christmas.  While lovely by itself it did mean that I wasn’t able to actually do anything that required concentration.  So I haven’t been able to put pen to paper much since a bit before the holidays.  I can’t say exactly when this will change.

This isn’t to say I haven’t been productive.  There have been a ton of miscellaneous activities I have been able to fit in between family.  My website underwent a complete makeover, adding content, aesthetics and mobile-friendly content.  I love my menu with the popup icons but it looked terrible on a mobile device.  The book samples look much better… though whether these are mobile-friendly is up in the air, and I added a lot of images to the pages to make them more interesting.  Much like the image here I am trying out.  So the webpage blog gained a newsticker and news item summary a separate page for the website blog (in addition to the side module elsewhere).

I also added a forum and a messaging system because… well I always wanted one.  I don’t expect anyone to use it but it was fun to set up.  I also have a friend who started a D&D campaign and I have devoted a page to that.  Although Fantasy Grounds (basically an online platform to play with the GM and players) is pretty nice its drawback is that when the DM is offline so are all the campaign notes.  This makes it difficult to plan things in between games.  So we have some resources, history, notes and a calendar.  So far only one other player has even looked their but again, it was fun to set up and I learned more about Joomla.  One other player makes a log of all the events that happened each game session and he gave me permission to upload it under his name as a game blog.  Again I don’t think he’s seen his own work yet.  Ironic.

Fantasy Grounds… the online RPG platform you love to hate.  A bit buggy at times but better than the alternatives.  If you have been reading this blog and my website blog you may have realized that my favorite RPG game is Rifts, not D&D.  However, Palladium is pretty conservative when backing 3rd parties so there hasn’t been a way to play it online.  Over the holidays I spent some time working with an Extension for a FG ruleset that should allow people to use FG to play Rifts online.  It takes a bit more elbow grease than D&D since Palladium hasn’t licensed the content but if the GM is willing to put in the work it should be pretty darn compatible.  I even did an online tutorial on how to use the FG Extension and put the Youtube video on my website.

There is also a program that allows you to update the Theme (GMW Campaign Toolkit, it basically modifies the artwork in FG) that I played around with.  I re-used some of that work in the website upgrade.  I wanted to do another tutorial to explain a few grey areas on the use of the software but I have literally not been alone in the house since the first video tutorial.  It’s hard to get the quiet needed to do that kind of work and frankly its been so long now that the specifics I had wanted to talk about are not as sharp in my memory.  Oh well, it was a nice dream.

And finally, getting back to the book and all that boring writing stuff… when I first published the third book I submitted to many reviewers.  More than fifty I think, though I didn’t keep exact track.  Most of them rejected it due to lack of time, interest or it being the third book in a series.  However, two Reviewers actually came through.  One back in October “Mrs Y” and “Amy Shannon” just recently.  Neither one is really a stellar rating but they are actually the only ones I have gotten in five years of asking… so yay!  Also, neither one had read the previous books.  I doubt I could tolerate reading a book starting in the middle of the series so it worked out as best as I could expect.

 

Forked Process

ForkedA visitor to my blog had an interesting idea.  There is a website called Royal Road.  People go there to publish their stories in a chapter by chapter method.  They get feedback and in some cases financial support (through Patreon and Paypal).  He suggested I publish my “Chained Worlds Chronicles” there.  Until he brought it up I hadn’t even heard of the website so I didn’t know what to think.  I am still not completely convinced it is a good idea but I thought I’d give it a try with the other book I am writing.  See how it feels.  So I am now slowly proofing and publishing “A Virtual Invasion” to Royal Roads and Webnovel.

Personally, I am a little skeptical.  Both of these sites don’t make it practical to promote yourself or let people know you have other series or even where else you exist on the web.  Also, there are truly a ridiculous number of books/chapters being published every minute that new novels are pushed down the list so fast it’s a wonder people are aware they exist.  Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it a try and see what it’s like to do something besides Amazon.  Those of you who have read my blog in the past know I tried Barnes and Nobles and Apple with truly pathetic results, but time marches on and I suppose I need to keep up with the alternatives out there, even if I later decide it’s not for me.  Anyway, look for it here:

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/25326/a-virtual-invasion

https://www.webnovel.com/book/13992152105836405/A-Virtual-Invasion

 

I Blinked Again

non-blinking eyes

When I first published my book (#1) in 2014 Indie reviews weren’t really a thing.  They may have existed but either I didn’t find them or I simply don’t remember them.  With my second book, I definitely knew they existed but I think I only found about 5 people/sites to request reviews from.  There were others but they were all pay sites.  None of them decided to review my work so I had to depend solely on my readers.

Then I blinked.  Two years later and I am looking for reviewers again and OMG there’s a ton!  I have just been going through one list (The Indie Review list) and there are 297 entries!  Some of them don’t count for me since they only do romance or historical or non-fiction but that still leaves a ton.

The community changed a bit.  They have a lot of pull.  Each site has a review policy and checklist (as required by the Indie Review List).  Some have automated contact sheets and are pretty mechanical others want the personal touch.  There was one site that wasn’t taking reviews but they pointed out that a lot of writers are pretty rude when requesting a review, sending out impersonal request letters that didn’t even have their name.  They had a good point.  Until I went to that site and read that I did the same thing.  She suggested at least addressing the reviewer by name.  A simple but very personal touch.

Now keep in mind that a lot of review sites are run but groups that don’t release their names or enter a queue so you don’t actually know who will read your request.  Others use a contact form that is straight to the point and no frills.  Still, if you are sending a request to a single person this can really change the tone of the e-mail.

Another reviewer had a neat angle.  He required you send the contents of page 69 of your book.  Apparently, there’s a theory that this can decide whether to buy the book or give it a pass.  Fortunately, my MC was doing something interesting on that page instead of brushing his teeth or taking a nap.  Or researching.  He does that a lot, which important for character progress but I suppose would be a somewhat lacking excerpt.  Wow, I really dodged that bullet.

Another thing that is new is author interviews.  I have no idea what they are but they sound interesting.  Well, kinda.  I have a hard time imaging people want to hear how I deal with two crazy twins every day but I suppose I could talk about my creative style… or something.  Maybe my shopping habit.  I did do some question and answers over on Goodreads.  Maybe someone read that.

One problem I am doubtless going to run into is that this is book #3.  I know that if I was a reviewer I wouldn’t want to review a book in the middle of a series on its own merits.  Heck, I am not sure I want them to.  after I had submitted about 20 requests I realized this and I offered to send them the earlier books.  Of course, considering that most of them barely have time to read the book you request I have my doubts they will want to read 2 others first.  Still, with over a hundred relevant reviewers, I have hope that some of them will want to jump in.

Ready, Set… Go!

Races Button Up

I have just submitted the third book to the Amazon store!  So its almost out.  Of course, Amazon has to review the submitted content for horrible errors but they usually do that within a day or so.  They say it could be up to 72 hours but I think that’s just to allow them some leeway.

Reviewing your own work for errors is always entertaining.  Not.  I used Grammarly for the initial review.  Either this add-on has degraded or my memory isn’t as good as it used to be  (a given).  My second pass review, where I read the entire story from scratch, caught a ton of glaring mistakes that I could have sworn Grammarly used to fix.  Perhaps in an attempt to get you to buy the complete version they moved the useful part of the program into the pay only section.  As much as I try to review the story, I always have heaps of incredibly useful feedback from readers that catch errors.  Thank you for that! The books wouldn’t be nearly as readable without your help.

Every time I upload a new book to Amazon, their system has changed slightly.  This time I found they have a program where they offer your paperback book to be picked up to alternate distributors.  I am not sure who this is… bookstores?  Coffee shops?  Car parts depots?  Probably not the last one.  The program is promising until you realize that you get 40% royalties instead of 60%.  This plus the base price increase means that you have to increase the book price.  Who is going to buy a $20 paperback?  Despite this, I signed up for it.  After all, no one buys my paperbacks anyway;)  Does that count as a Hail Mary pass?

On another front, I joined Amazon Associates.  It allows you to place targeted ads on your website that point to specific products.  If people click on that link and buy stuff on Amazon then you get something back.  I forget how much but a percent or so.  I signed up because I have a new (well not so new anymore) website that I wanted to display my books on.  I was trying to find an add-on that would display the reviews from Amazon for each book.  Needless to say, I failed.

There do seem to be such add-ons in existence but each seems to require you apply for Amazon’s API program.  Not user-friendly and the requirements for Amazon accepting you into the program are…unclear.  The Amazon Associates program allows you to go to Amazon and have them make a targeted advertisement for up to 4 items.  This includes a tiny cover graphic, the cost, and the star review rating total.  Not exactly what I wanted but it was something.

Anyway, I got kicked out of the program.  Apparently, if you don’t get a minimum number of sales from this advertisement within 180 days you get kicked out.  In other words, you aren’t allowed to advertise for them…  That’s odd logic but it does tell me that no one looks at my webpage;)