Thursday, February 9, 2012

Derailed and rebuilding the tracks.

At the start of January, I spent a week creating the most detailed notes I have ever written for a project titled "The War of Antiquities".  It made it so easy to write that in the first eleven days I had written around 43,822 words.  I think by anyone's standards, that is a pretty break neck speed, easily double what you need to finish NaNo.  "The War of Antiquities" takes place just after the war is declared over and will end at the prologue of Requiem.  It develops all of the back story and characters like Duke Falconcrest, Therion, Vincent, Rhonin and Rayne Masterson, as well as several other characters.  I project the series to finish somewhere around the 200,000 word mark, spread out over 22 short stories approximately 8,000-10,000 words each.  Currently the project sits with story 5 about half finished at 5,800 words.

So how did everything get derailed?  It's been about 3 almost 4 weeks and I haven't written anything of substance.  There were plenty of times I sat down, looked at my notes, fired up MSWord and just turned off the monitors and walked away.  It's not burn out, that I can assure you.  On Jan 11, my grandmother died.  She was the last of my grandparents to die and had been living near my parents at their place on the river where all of the photos I like to post come from.  She was in her 80's, but in fine health, so her death was pretty unexpected.  There are certain things in life that we tend to ignore or take advantage of and when something happens to them, everything else becomes a lesser priority.

Aside from spending time with the family, I had a lot of time to catch up on things I had neglected these last few weeks.  I read a couple of books.  I have read several times that authors say you should keep reading while you write.  I'll be honest and say that I hadn't read a book since I sat down and started writing Requiem back in March of 2010.  I also sat down and played some video games.  Another past time that I had ignored.  I picked up a copy of "The Old Republic" and chopped my way to level 50 as a Sith Juggernaut.  Reading, and playing a game with a very good story line feels like my creative writing gas tank just got refiled.  I look at my stack of notes that you can see in the photo and it's time to start writing again.  There is an excellent story that needs to be told.

Monday, January 16, 2012

SOPA PIPA, $1.70 a rental, current project update.

If you are not familiar with the Stop Online Piracy Act or it's sister bill Protect IP Act, then you should do some Google searches and familiarize yourself with them.  Especially if you are going to write and market your books for online sale and distribution.  On the surface I doubt you will find too many people who overtly support piracy when asked, so the supporters of these bills would logically conclude, and have advertised that everyone should support these bills.  Problem is these bills are not designed to stop anything, but give ultimate control and censorship of the internet to the government.  It gets even weirder, simply linking to an internet location that contains unauthorized (not illegal) copyright material makes you the villain.  This would be the same as the cops coming to your house to arrest you because you know someone who does drugs and where they live.

Another weird thing these acts would allow is for anyone to shut down the internet.  For example, if someone takes the cover of Requiem, links to or actually hosts the picture and writes a nasty article about my book and includes some excerpts they didn't like, I could claim that the copyright of my book and cover is being hosted illegally,  file a complaint, and let the retardation begin.  If the offending site is Blogger, not only could I get the blog pulled, but I could also get blogger shut down, and I could get Google shut down for linking to the blog.  I could also get every web site that ever hosted a link to blogger or the offending blog shut down like Twitter and Facebook.  So any other website or forum that anyone ever left a link to could be shut down.  Next, I could get Visa shut down for conducting transactions with these villainous websites.  I won't even get into the parts of the bills that would allow for DNS filtering by the government.  These are pretty extreme examples, but are exactly what would allow the government and any corporation with enough money to do.  It has absolutely nothing to do with stopping online piracy.  Copyright enforcement has always been the copyright holders responsibility, and there are already laws in place both domestic and foreign for you to use.  At least the white house came out and told these people to rewrite their bills or Obama is not going to sign them.  It makes me laugh that the supporters of the bills took this as a sign that they should be passed immediately.

We finally have the first payout of Amazon's lending library for KDP Select users.  $1.70 per lend.  I predicted a $1 a lend.  $1.70 is what we got and in my opinion is pretty damn high.  Amazon also announced that the January pool had been raised to a total of $700,000 to be divided among the lends.  This tells me a couple of things.  First is that the payout was lower than they expected so they want to raise it.  But if you look at all the naysayers who were expecting 10c a lend, a buck seventy was damn good and I haven't found anyone complaining about the $1.70 payout except for the guy who priced his book at $9.99 and is complaining about losing so much.  Then again, I put him in with the same people who can't understand why Amazon isn't paying them when they made their book free.  So my other conclusion is, there are already a lot of borrows for January and the extra $200k is to keep the payout near the same.  Remember, all of those Kindle Fire's sold at Christmas came with a month of prime and people have started to figure out what that means.  Regardless each month the payout is going to be different and every month, the Lending Library will be a hot topic.

I predict that we will see some changes to how much people will get paid per borrow.  For example a 99c book gets paid 35c if someone buys the book, but $1.70 if they borrow/rent it?  I don't see this lasting.  I fully expect there to be changes that limit the payout to match the royalty rate on cheap books, or at least limit to the retail value of the book.  So a 99c book would either get the same $$ as a sale, 35c or the retail value 99c.  This allows Amazon to have a higher payout to more expensive works, and people who opt in with 99c books make the full value of a sale, or even more.  I just don't see Amazon paying almost 5 times the cash for a borrowed 99c book than a bought 99c book.

Last week I said I would mention my current WIP.  Instead of barreling into the third book of my series, I am writing the prequel.  It's current working title is "The War of Antiquities" but I may change that because the setting is right after the war ends.  It revolves around Kail's father, Duke Falconcrest, and Therion, the main bad guy.  It also delves into other characters like Kail's mother, Therion, and Bastiana's origins.  The story is going to end at the prologue of Requiem when Duke is at the Mage Council and has his magic sealed and bound from him.  One of the things I am doing with this project is episodic writing.  If The Eternal Gateway trilogy were movies, The War of Antiquities would be a TV series.  So far I have outlined 22 'episodes' and I have written four of them.  The plan is to release each episode as a short story, and then offer discounted volume sets, and maybe a bound paperback with all of them.  Right now the average length is 9,200 words.  The shortest was 8,800 and the longest has been 10,100 words long.

I am finding that these are extremely simple to write.  In eight days of writing I have 37,000 ish words so far.  Its taking me two days of writing about 5-6 hours a day to complete an episode.  If I can keep my current pace, I should have the whole thing completed by the end of Febuary or early March.  The math is a bit crazy because it took me three months to write Requiem and six for Guardian.  They are the same length at 73,000 words, and here I am going to write 200,000 words in less than three months.  I may be deluded so we will see.

I contribute the ease and quickness of being able to write these to stepping up the level of detail in the outline.  Requiem's outline was a sentence or two per chapter,  Guardian had about two or three paragraphs per chapter.  Each episode of Antiquites has a page to a page and a half of notes.  Each scene is broken down and I would estimate there are 500-1000 words of notes per episode.  It flows a lot like a soap opera on TV.  25-30 little scenes between all of the players.  For Example. (warning, completely unedited)

Notes say:
Randoms traveling to Courduff by horse and cart.  Talking about trains and cant wait for them, refuges, one has powers, weak, Therion (unknown to reader) finds them and kills them.  Takes power.  Intro to focusing stones and bracer/wristband glyph to filter.

What was written:

“It will be a nice day when the train tracks are built,” Alice said after the last rut in the road bounced her on the cart’s seat.  “And faster,” she finished adjusting herself.
            “I’m not so sure.  Have you heard them?  I bet you can’t hear anything for a week after riding one, and I’m told the ride is worse,” Edgar said as the cart jostled both of them, emphasizing his point.  “Besides, the less people we see the better, remember.”
            “Yes, I remember,” she sighed.  “It seems like forever ago when we didn’t have to run.”
            Edgar nodded his head in response, splitting his attention to keeping the cart on the road and listening to Alice talk about better times before the war.
            Alice noticed a man standing next to the road ahead of them.  “Who is that?”
            Edgar’s mind quickly focused on the stranger, sensing nothing dangerous.  “I’m not sure, but I don’t sense anything,” he replied.
            Alice gave a knowing nod as Edgar continued the cart towards the stranger.
            “Hello,” the man said.  “Spare a ride?  I have been walking all day.”
            “Sure thing friend.” Edgar offered, nodding to the back of the cart.  “Can’t say it will be worth it though, been hearing complaints about it all day.”
            Alice flashed him an angry glare as the stranger jumped into the back of the cart and made himself comfortable.  Edgar shrugged and snapped the reigns, starting the cart down the road again.
            “Courduff?” the man asked.
            “Not quite that far.  Aldervale,” Edgar answered.
            “The right direction at least,” the man answered.
            Edgar screamed as he felt the hot pain in the center of his back.
            Alice shrieked after taking one look at Edgar.  The stranger from the road had his hand at Edgars back.  A jeweled bracelet covered in strange markings was glowing and foggy energy was being pulled out of Edgar and into the bracelet.  Jumping from the cart she ran down the road yelling for help.  She didn’t make it very far before the strangers magic hit her from behind.  Her last thought was, Necromancer, before her body was incinerated.

Requiem's notes would have said: Hook, kill someone.
Guardian's notes would have been something like: Hook, Therion kills someone, steals power.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Best Week Ever. Payment Scheduling.

So how do you top the best week ever?  Sit down and write your next book, that's how.  My first two books, Requiem and Guardian sold a lot of books last week.  I won't lie, more books moved in those days than the last 6 months combined.  Requiem sold 134 books and received 40 borrows from Amazon Prime members and Guardian sold 39 copies with 8 borrows.  173 books and 48 borrows.  Borrows kind of have me scratching my head on where to fit them in the grand scheme of things.  People didn't buy the book, but I do get paid for each borrow.  So on the business end, it's like a rental.  One question I get asked a lot is "How many books have you sold?"  That used to be easy, right now about 112 books since June.  No one asks, "How many books were rented?" so i'm not sure if I should include them in my numbers yet, however there is actually a lot more because I quit trying to keep track of live sales because the reporting tools just suck and it became a whole lot easier to just record the numbers from the remittance statements.  So when someone asks how many books I've sold,  I tell them, "I've been paid for 112ish".  Also, I'm not going to pay taxes on money I haven't received yet either.

If you haven't published a book before one of the things you will need to get used to is the payment schedule of royalties and advances.  I won't go into traditional publishing, but I have read that they still mail checks out from England and if the row boat makes it across the Atlantic, you might see a check once a year if you managed to earn out your advance.  I use Lightning Source for print and Amazon for e-books.  Both are good and pay out monthly.  Both are bad because Lightning Source is three months delayed and Amazon is two months delayed. But it beats Smashwords pay out schedule of once a quarter.  Downside of delays is obvious. You don't get your money.  For example, back in November I had a sell out book signing at Barnes and Noble.  I have yet to see a dime from all of those books ordered and sold.  I should see it sometime in February.  Same goes for my best week ever on Amazon.  March will be the "Best paycheck ever" month.

Payment schedules get even worse when you add layers of distribution.  Smashwords pays 4 times a year remember.  They use Lightning Source for print.  So if the first week of January is your best week ever and I had sold hundreds of paperback books.  Lightning Source wouldn't pay Smashwords until April.  Smashwords would have just payed out for Q1, so you would have to wait till the end of Q2 for Smashwords to pay you.  Six months delay.  Ouch, I hope you didn't quit your day job because you finally started selling books.  The publishing forums are rife with posts and people claiming that Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Lightning Source etc are stealing their money, holding it hostage, blah blah blah.  But it's funny to read about and point at people who get upset from this because they stepped into a business they don't understand.

I am working on my next piece already.  Come Monday of next week, I will blog about it's progress.  If I maintain my word count, it should be done by the end of February.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

KDP Select, results not typical.

Like TV diets, I am going to start this entry with a disclaimer because KDP Select is still only 3 weeks old and Amazon just dumped millions and millions of new e-readers on the consuming public for Christmas.

I planned for my second novel, Guardian, to be released right before Christmas with the idea that it would be fresh on the "whats new" lists just in time for millions of new e-reader owners to find and buy.  A week before it dropped, Amazon tipped the e-book world upside down with its KDP Select program.  While the internet was buzzing with $$ in their eyes over a half million dollar "prize pool" and "it's the end of capitalism" 90 day exclusivity clause, I found my stomach doing flip flops over the little bit at the bottom that allowed you to set your book for free for 5 days.  Half million dollars? Who cares.  90 day contracts? So what.  5 days free?  Screech, what! Santo Gold! Sign me up!

What better way to promote a new book than making the first one free?  Honestly, I didn't even have to think about it.  Three clicks later and Requiem was pulled from Barnes and Noble and enrolled in KDP Select.  Enough back story and lets get to the good parts.  I set my expectations for the giveaway pretty low.  Two hundred a day with 1,000 total.  The end goal being that over the next 90 days. 1-10% of the free downloaders go on to buy Guardian.  So somewhere between 10-100 sales of Guardian by March.

Lets take a look at some hard numbers that most people do not like to share.  Requiem had a crappy quarter.  September was good, breaking the "One a Day" sales goal, but October flopped with 4 ebooks sold and November followed suit with 4 sales and December was going for a three-peat with 4 sales before the free promo at a ranking of 267,591.  Dec 26 the promotion started and it was supposed to end Dec 30 at 11:59pm  In reality, it ended sometime around 5am on Dec 31.  It ended up with 3030 downloads.  150 of them from European domains.

3030>1000 so expectations were exceeded.  While Requiem was free, it climbed to the number two spot of the Science Fiction/Adventure category right behind The Time Machine which cheated because it was auto downloaded by new kindle owners by default on some profiles.  My purchase history had me auto downloading it along with Treasure Island and Pride and Predigious.  It was a fun moment because I was beating out Joe Konrath and Requiem stayed in the top 10 for the last four days of the promotion.  Only falling out of the number two spot on the last day.

When the free ride was over, Requiem was back on the paid ranking side where it was prior. Rank 330,000ish.  Guardian started to sell.  Not much, but 6 copies during the promo.  This is a win. because it's up 600% prior to the give away.  A good start only 4 away from my original 1% low end goal of 10 books and reaching 100 a real possibility.  Then the magic happened, Requiem continued to move units.  35 copies sold on Dec 31st and so far today (Jan 1) it's at 38 units sold.  73 PAID units in less than two days.  Just what does that do to a paid book?  Well, Requiem landed on three top 100 sellers lists on Amazon.

This was not anticipated at all.  I expected to have these types of sales spread out over the next couple of months for Guardian.  Customers like the first book and purchase the second one.  I even included the first 9 chapters of Guardian with Requiem and a link to buy Guardian if they read that far.  Why Requiem instantly shot onto best selling charts is a complete mystery to me.  Guardian is doing well with 5 units sold today.  Back to the blog topic, I have 84 sales in two days.  I am more than happy with KDP Select, but I feel these are not typical results.  Only time will tell if this is a flash in the pan and gone tomorrow, or the starting sparks of a career.  Either way, Requiem can now be called a Best Seller, if only for a short time.