29 June 2012

SFFS Substitution

While I did in fact finish up my latest short story "Supply and Demand" (at least the first draft), I decided to take a break this week from any SFFS postings. But feel free to head on over this week and check out all the other talented authors.

In the meantime, I thought I'd mention that my Kasey Reynolds short story "Collateral" is now out in the Ring of Fire Short Story Sampler, Volume 1. And of special note, this short story anthology is currently FREE for your Kindle. So, snag a copy for free starting Saturday (and it's totally legal to do so!), and get your hands on my latest short story to hit the presses.

And if you don't know who Kasey Reynolds is, be sure to check out all the great SFFS snippets I've posted in recent months featuring Kasey (and of course, you can also check out her debut in my Aston West short story "Entrapment")

And I'll be back next week with a snippet to share!

27 June 2012

Experiment (Just Don't Inhale)

This blog post actually got its inspiration from a recent comment on my Facebook fan page...thanks go out to Robert Pollock!

Anyway, everyone knows that the writing business can be rife with disappointment and despair...and if you haven't figured that out, you need to dig a little deeper in your research. Fear not! Situations that disappoint one day are simply circumstances you can turn around to your advantage. All it takes is a "can do" attitude...

The most famous example of my own is my novella Seeker. I'm certain most of you have heard this story at some point or another during my travels around the 'net, but just in case you haven't, I'll share it again. This novella actually came about from a call for anthology submissions from a fairly large romance publisher online. I had about three or four months to write the thing, and took the entire time to get a piece put together for submission. Sadly, it didn't have the level of romance (read: wasn't steamy enough) they were looking for, so they passed. Now, I could have tossed in the towel at that point, and wondered what I was thinking in trying to write romance. Instead, I decided to try something else. I kept up with revising the piece and toning down the level of steam I had put in. If I'd been thinking at the time, I should have kept some of those old drafts so that I could post "deleted scenes" later, but unfortunately, I was considering it as part of my short story line, which I never keep old drafts of. But in any case, I finally polished it up, found a cover artist and put it up for sale on my own. Which, as you may have read, has started me along this wondrous new world of self-publishing.

Long story short, I took a rejection and made something great (another publication and learning about a new avenue of publishing) out of it.

So, as I mentioned, Robert made a comment on my fan page which churned my memory to bring back thoughts of a failed attempt at pulling together an Aston West comic book series. I had someone pulling together the parties involved (including the one with the money to make it happen), an artist was in the loop, and I had put together a pair of "scripts" for the comic (the first being an adaptation of "Little White Truths" and the second was a brand new story specific to the comic). Unfortunately, nothing came out of the deal in the end...so again, I could have just sulked off in disgust and self-pity. But I decided to make something out of that second story. I'd created it specifically for the comic series, but since that had gone nowhere, I went ahead and pulled it together as a short story. That story then went on to earn me money through a short story publication over at ResAliens, and another publication that I'll announce sometime later.

Again, I took a failure and made something out of it.

So, if you ever come across a situation where you've been trampled or beat upon, take my advice and make something happen from it...and I'd love to hear your own examples, if you have one you're willing to share.

26 June 2012

Weekly Goals: June 26, 2012

Somewhat on a roll this week...good to be back in the swing of things, and here's hoping I can keep things moving.

Results for the week:

1. Finished 1100 words on "Supply and Demand"

And now the goals for this week:

1. Complete the first draft of "Supply and Demand"

25 June 2012

Sharing Your Wisdom

So, in case you haven't checked out the right side of my blog, there are a number of blogs I try to read up on when I get the chance. When I do, sometimes there are great posts I'd like to share with the world. Now, copying the link and pasting it into my various social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) isn't all that hard, just very time-consuming. If you notice on each of my blog posts, there are a set of sharing buttons where I can easily click a button, and then share it immediately with my friends and fans.

So, if you don't have those sharing buttons, one of two things is going to happen. I'll either decide it's not worth going to the effort of sharing your posts...or I'll spend way too much time going through the process, and not have enough time to read all of the other blogs I want to (and if there are ten blogs ahead of yours, and the first three don't have sharing buttons, your might not get read at all).

So, in an effort to allow everyone to be read, and to make it easy to share your words of wisdom with the world, I'm going to bring you a step-by-step guide on how to add sharing buttons to your blog post template (so that they'll always show up).

First, if you aren't using the "new" blogger interface, upgrade...it's not going to kill you (it's not Facebook, after all), and all of my instructions are going to have pictures from the new interface.

Now, the steps:

Step 1. Sign in to your blog, and select Dashboard. If you've upgraded to the new interface, it should look similar to the picture below (on the left, you may need to select "Layout" as shown):

Step 2. Scroll down to where you have Blog Posts listed, and select the Edit button as shown here (which should bring up a new window for editing):

Step 3. In the new window that comes up, you'll likely need to scroll down until you see the Show Share Buttons option. Select that box and make sure to save your work...

Now, if you visit your blog (you may have to refresh the browser), you should see share buttons at the bottom of each of your blog posts, similar to what I show in the picture here:

So, now hopefully you've upgraded your blog, and will make it easier for me (and anyone who visits your blog) to share your words of wisdom with the world. And hey, if you know anyone else who hasn't yet set up sharing, feel free to share my post with them as well.

24 June 2012

More Statistics for the Sadists

Because I'm an engineer as well as an author, I salivate at facts and statistics...so bear with me, both of you.

I'm sitting here staring at a check from a recent signing I held (you may have seen the post), and was finding the amount of the check interesting. So, of course, my brain is begging me: Run the numbers, fool!
(and who am I to argue with my mind?)

So, for the purposes of this exercise, we'll start with my two self-published titles in paperback, both of which sold at the event.

The Cure retails for $11.95. Through Createspace, I originally picked up copies for $4.78 each (this includes shipping costs to get them to me). The store sold them at retail price, and sent me 80% of that, taking a 20% cut for themselves (which is phenomenal, since most stores require a 60/40 (their cut being 40%) split). In a nutshell, this netted me $9.56 per copy sold, for a net profit of $4.78 per book (or, a 100% markup).

Death Brings Victory retails for $12.95. Through Createspace, I originally picked up copies for $6.35 (I had to add some rush shipping to get them in time for my trip to ConQuest in Kansas City). Again, my final take from the store (80%) was $10.36 per copy, for a net profit of $4.01 per book (a little over 60% markup).

As a comparison, let's take a look at Heroes Die Young. This book retails for $9.95. For the copies that sold at the store which I supplied, I had originally ordered direct from the publisher. My last order cost me (including shipping) $7.97 per copy. The store also had a copy left over from a previous order from the publisher, which I have no idea what they paid to the publisher...

So, taking the 80% I received on my personal copies, that ends up with me making $7.96 for each book, which (your eyes do not deceive you) means I'm throwing a penny away with each copy that sold during that event. Now, the copies that the store orders direct from the publisher, I do earn royalties on. Looking through my royalty statements, my most recent paperback royalties netted me approximately $0.80 for each copy (which doing some math in the background on my paperback royalty rate, means I've been getting paid based on the cover price? Score!), so we'll assume $0.80 was what I made from the publisher when the store's copies were paid for...

Now, of course, one might be correct in assuming that a book through a publisher is going to sell more, since readers will take that as a sign of quality over self-published works. At least in the case of this event, I sold more copies of Death Brings Victory, and the same number of The Cure as I did for Heroes Die Young.

I'm beginning to come to the realization that readers in general don't seem to notice (unless it's glaringly obvious that that the quality is poor, of course...which I've discussed at length before on my blog). Even some writers have trouble with the distinction...I discovered that one of my writer friends here in Wichita didn't realize that Death Brings Victory didn't come out with the same publisher as the previous two books in the series. That was interesting to me, personally.

So, there you have it...hope you enjoyed this trip through the facts and figures (and a little side trip into opinions)...if you have any questions or would like something broken down a bit more, feel free to ask.

22 June 2012

SFFS: Another Snippet From "Supply and Demand"

Welcome to another installment of Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday on the blog. Thanks for all the feedback you give on my snippets, but be sure to go visit all of the other writers through the SFFS link above as well.

I think this might actually be a first for me, in that today's snippet picks up right where my last one left off. So, without further adieu, I bring you the continuation of "Supply and Demand" (with all the usual warnings about first draft material...and if you'd like to refresh your memory on what the first snippet contained,check it out here)

I called out, “Evasive maneuvers!”

Jeanie banked the ship and jetted off, giving me more information that I didn’t know what to do with. “The blast struck one of the asteroids in the belt.”

I tried to figure out why anyone would be firing at me, and couldn’t come up with anything. Not that there weren’t a myriad of people out there who’d just as soon see me dead, but why they’d have picked now to carry out the deed, I didn’t have a clue.

Jeanie was full of great news. “Several new contacts have appeared on scanners.”

I turned to my left and looked at the cloud of tiny dots spread out like a consuming cloud of fire from the mining station. Another curse came forth along with my words, “What are they, rockets?”

Poor Aston just never can catch a break...his poor luck having me for his creator. Again, I always enjoy your comments!

20 June 2012

Storytelling 101

Having written several short stories and novels, I imagine I have a good idea of what comprises a story. Many others think the same thing, regardless of their level of writing proficiency. All you need to a story is a beginning, middle, and an end, right?

Perhaps on the basic level, yes. In practice, though, not every story that has a beginning, middle, and end will be worth reading.

So, what else is there?

In a nutshell, a story is all about the characters, their goals, and the obstacles they have to overcome to get there. As an example, I'll use my second novel, Friends in Deed (and for those who don't want spoilers, close your eyes until we reach the end of this post)..

This story is about a character (Aston West).

Now, to work on Aston's goals requires us to dive into some additional details. More so with novels than with short stories (which in general are going to be too short to add too many goals into), your character is going to need a major goal spanning the entire book. But in the meantime, Aston is also going to need some smaller goals that pop up throughout the book. Without these intermediate goals, the reader is going to get bored and when that happens, they tend to set books down and not pick them back up (better known as the author's death knell).

Aston's major goal here is to escape from the Cassus twins. This goal starts off very early in the book, spans the entire story and once it happens, it's time for The End.

As far as minor goals, there are several that pop up throughout the book. Some are larger than others, and some are quickly solved. Some are goals that he sets for himself, and others are ones imposed upon him by others. For example, Elijah Cassus (one of the main antagonists) forces Aston to help mount a rescue from the prison planet they once both inhabited. This goal takes place during the first portion of the book (I won't bother going into what the goal is for the second part of the book, to avoid spoiling it all for you). As another example of a slightly smaller goal, a native of the planet captures them all and he needs to convince their (mentally ill) captor into releasing them.

Within these minor goals, you can somewhat see where we're going in terms of setting up obstacles that your character needs to overcome.

Aston needs to escape from the Cassus twins (major goal), but Elijah forces him to help mount a rescue by threatening to turn him in for a mandatory death penalty for past crimes. He can't easily mount an escape without overcoming this threat, so he's going to have to figure out a way to negate this threat.

Aston has to mount a rescue from the prison planet (minor goal). Many obstacles began throwing themselves in his path to prevent him achieving this goal. First off, he and the team leader are at odds with each other (conflict). Then, they discover that the team member they want to rescue has been captured by some of the planet's inhabitants. After they overcome this obstacle, the team's ship is destroyed by the planet's overseers and they end up captured by the mentally ill inmate (setting up another minor goal to achieve). Once they achieve this goal, they have to find a way to make it off the planet (another obstacle to achieving the original minor goal of having a successful rescue).

So, as you can see, goals and their obstacles can (and should often) overlap each other. This is part of what makes an interesting story that people want to read. So, to recap, take one of your stories/novels and ask yourself the following questions:

Who is my main character?
What do they want to achieve? What is their major goal for the book/story?
What's standing in their way of achieving this goal?
(in the case of novels, also ask the following)
What else happens during the story that my main character is going to have to address? What are their minor goals?
What's standing in their way of achieving these minor goals?

(and this doesn't even begin to dive into all of your minor characters and what their goals and obstacles might be...another blog post entirely)

If you're having trouble answering any of these questions, I wholeheartedly suggest that you start brainstorming answers and begin rewrites to incorporate them. Your story/novel will be greatly improved for it...

19 June 2012

Weekly Goals - June 19, 2012

Hard to believe it's been nearly a month since I've actually filled out one of my weekly goals posts...not sure that anyone really noticed but me. Haha. I'll try to get back on track with these...

Results for the week:

1. Finished 900 words on a new short story "Supply and Demand"

And now the goals for this week:

1. 1000 words on "Supply and Demand"

18 June 2012

Event Recap: Author Extravaganza 2012

For those who don't often follow my tweets and fan page postings, I was up in Emporia, KS this past Saturday for their annual Author Extravaganza (this is my third straight year). For those not familiar with the event, it brings together a multitude of Kansas (and surrounding area) authors for a group signing.

The shop who hosts the event, Town Crier, is a bit on the smaller side, so it can tend to be an extremely cozy event. This year was no different, with a projected 51 authors in attendance. Tucked in elbow to elbow is always an experience, but you get used to after a while.

This was all the room allotted to me. I made the most of it...

A pair of pictures taken before the event officially started...thus, plenty of room at the tables.

Overall, I thought it was a decent event. Sold more than I had in several recent outings, and Town Crier always seems to pick up at least one signed copy of each book for stocking on their shelves. I did notice that this year, they reduced the quantity of extra copies they purchased, which may be a sign of things to come in the future.

Some takeaways I had from this event:
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again. Keeping positive during these events is key. It would have been easy for me to get down, since the first 45 minutes or so (of the two-hour event) had no sales. But I kept smiling and maintaining a positive attitude, and sales exploded from then on. Other authors were discussing what made a "successful" signing, claiming it was selling two books an hour. By that criteria, I definitely had a successful event.
  • Interact with customers in a non-threatening way. Customers are really put off by authors who are constantly throwing books in their face with a "buy, buy, buy" persona. I saw this on more than one occasion through other authors around my area. Ask questions about what kinds of books they like to read. Use humor to put them at ease. Give them straight facts about what your books are about, but don't overload them with information.
  • When in tight quarters, use some decorum and etiquette. No, I'm not talking about using copious amounts of deodorant (though that's always important too). When customers are perusing one author's books, wait for them to finish before thrusting yourself upon them. It's important to maintain healthy relationships with other authors, and being rude is one way to cement a negative impression for later.
  • Utilize group signings such as this for not only the sales opportunity, but also for networking with fellow authors, as well as discovering promotional techniques that work well (or don't work at all) for other authors. I plugged the SFFS blog to other sci-fi and fantasy authors around me. Hopefully they'll take that advice to heart, since it's been a useful promotional tool for me personally.
  • Another Kansas author I know, Robert Collins (who was not at this event due to other engagements), had mentioned a tip he heard about placing your books in uneven stacks. I tried to make this happen at this event (with the room I had available). Whether it contributed to my sales, I don't know...but it certainly seemed to help anyway.
  • It's said over and over, but building readership is going to help you sell more books in the future. I had more than one person who had purchased my earlier novels at past events, and wanted to buy the new ones as well.
  • One thing I was surprised about was a total lack of sales for my second "series" novel. Each of my other books sold but this one. Not sure what led to this, but I do wonder if it contributed to the situation I mentioned in one of my earlier posts comparing my sequels.
Again, I thought it was a successful event, and can't wait for next year.

15 June 2012

SFFS: A Snippet From "Supply and Demand"

Welcome to another installment of Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday on the blog. Being away from my normal digs this weekend, I'll try and get around to comment when I can. Thanks for all the feedback you give on my snippets, but be sure to go visit all of the other writers through the SFFS link above as well.

Finally got back into the swing of some new material this past week (while traveling), so decided to post up some more first draft material from one of the short stories I'm currently working. Aston is back, in the preliminarily-titled "Supply and Demand" Again, all the usual warnings about first draft material, but here's the snippet:

“This is our last load of equipment,” Jeanie reminded me. “Do we have a destination following this, so I can prepare our flight plan?”

There was something to be said about having steady, repetitive income like I had been recently. On the flip side, I remembered why it was I’d gotten out of the scheduled cargo ship pilot business so long ago in the first place. The monotony of it all nearly had me yanking my hair out.

A thick, green line shot across the viewscreen past us, moments before I was thrown against my seat as we jolted off to one side. A curse flew from my lips, before I called out, “Jeanie, status!”

“An energy pulse originating from the planet narrowly missed us. It appears someone is attacking us.”

So much for monotony.

Hope you enjoyed it, and again, I always enjoy your comments! And here's hoping I finish this one before long so I can get it out for publication.

14 June 2012

Self-Publishing: Not Just For Hacks Like Me

For those who've been following me for a while, you'll know that I often times give my thoughts and statistics about self-publishing. Of course, there will always be those nay-say my posts...I don't sell astronomical amounts of books, I'm not the world's premiere authority on publishing. But heck, when most of my commentary matches up with an author who originally signed a deal for six books with HarperCollins who has now decided to go it alone herself, maybe I do have a few smarts in the noggin after all.

For comparison, my three-post series on "Why Self-Publishing?" (and so far, many of the items between the two match up):

Why Self-Publishing? (1)
Why Self-Publishing? (2)
Why Self-Publishing? (3)

So, there you have it...

11 June 2012

A Study in Sequels

Not to worry, I'll be putting together a more comprehensive post on sales information sometime after the end of this quarter. Today, I wanted to do a small comparison just between two of my sequels, Friends in Deed (FID) and Death Brings Victory (DBV). Since both are sequel novels (following Heroes Die Young), I figured it would be a true apples-to-apples comparison. There is a slight price differential between the two, which I'll be discussing later, but for the purposes of the comparison, it's slight enough that it shouldn't be an issue. Cover art is also different, in that the book shown below on the left was done by my publisher and the other (on the right) was done by the wonderful and talented T. K. Toppin (who I wholeheartedly recommend for your own cover art needs, if you should ever be in the market for it). Again, for the purposes of comparison, shouldn't be an issue (even if I personally think DBV has the better cover...).

So, here we go:

My latest novel (DBV) has been out since March, so I only have data for about one quarter. Even so, it's sold 15 copies over on Amazon and another 4 on Smashwords (sadly, due to technical snafus, it just went up on Barnes and Noble's site a few weeks ago, so no sales from there yet). Total sales for the last quarter, 19.

For (FID) the earlier sequel, which came out in January 2010, I have multiple sets of information. The first quarter it was available, it sold 9 copies through its various online outlets. Via my publisher, there's no breakdown of where copies sold, though based on royalty percentage, I'd hazard a guess that 4 of those copies sold through the publisher itself. This leaves the other 5 through places like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Since e-book sales have started becoming more commonplace in recent history, we can also do a comparison of the same quarter, this past one. Compared to the 19 total copies of DBV this past quarter, there were 8 copies of FID (not counting 2 paperback copies) paid for in the first quarter 2012. It's hard to know when those copies actually sold, but likely from the previous quarter considering the timing issue of payments made from Amazon to the publisher (which is the timing upon which royalties are paid).

For comparison, the full year of 2010 brought about 28 e-book sales for FID (compared to 19 copies of DBV for one quarter of 2012).

A couple of things could be said about this. FID is priced at $4.99, where DBV was priced at $3.99 (and has been priced at $2.99 for the last two months...one aspect of self-publishing being that I can toy with pricing until I find the sweet spot). So, does the lower price boost sales? Perhaps. Of course, it could be that sales of my first two novels have gained me several new fans, who are primed and ready to buy the newest novel when it comes out. It's not for me to decide, just to offer facts and let the reader of this post draw their own conclusions. It's possible that I'd sell far more copies at a 99-cent point.

So, that's the comparison of sales numbers. But how about royalties? Although it's not all about the money, it sure does bring a smile to my face when I get paid to do the things I enjoy...

In this past quarter, those 19 copies of DBV have brought in royalties of just over $58. Some of that, I'm still waiting on payment for, but the vast majority has already made it into my pocket. The 9 copies of FID sold from the first quarter 2010 netted me just under $10 (which was paid in full with that royalty statement, but most of the time, the publisher delays payment until the following royalty period if you don't meet a $25 threshold...versus a $10 threshold from both Amazon and Smashwords).

For comparison, the full year of 2010 (28 e-books) netted me just under $27 (this counts the 4Q2010 royalties that were actually paid in 2011).

So, recapping the facts as I've presented them, I sold fewer books (19) in one quarter than (28) in a full year, yet I more than doubled the royalties received ($58 vs. $27).

Looking at the facts behind the scenes, this isn't all that surprising, even considering that DBV is priced lower than FID. Royalties through my publisher are based on net receipts, which are the payments they receive from the online retailers (unless those sales come through the publisher's storefront). So, where I would receive around 70% royalties from Amazon (the percentages vary at Smashwords, depending on the outlet the books sell at), the publisher would receive the 70%, and then I would receive 30% of that amount. So, while I make $2.05 a copy (at a sales price of $2.99) on e-books sold at Amazon, my projected royalties on those same sales through a publisher would be 30% of the $2.05, or $0.62 each. So, for 19 copies, my comparable royalty payment would have been a little under $12 (compared to $58).

On a side note, I commented earlier about possibly selling more copies at the 99-cent price point. I've seen enough evidence of my own to know that it does tend to boost sales, though it also tends to deflate royalty rates due to only a 35% rate on those price levels from Amazon (oddly enough, Smashwords tends to give higher royalties on the sub-2.99 prices). So, sales do increase, but royalties decrease...all about the goals you have for your books, as I've mentioned many times before.

But I digress...

Financially, then, it doesn't seem to make sense to use a publisher. This isn't to say that it doesn't make sense in other areas (for example, the publisher for FID attends several Sci-Fi conventions in Canada which I don't currently have access to, and of course, there's still a stigma about books put out by the author themselves, whether anyone cares to admit it or not). Every author deciding whether to dive in on their own should read my series of posts on self-publishing (this link is to the final segment of the series, which has links to the previous two posts on the topic). But for my own situation, I'm able to do most of the editing on my own, as well as most of the formatting for e-book readers. For other authors, a publisher may have what they need, and they'll just be giving up royalty money to do so.

And of course, e-books are long-term, so a single quarter may not show the full story. It's possible that DBV may not make another sale for the rest of the year (I certainly hope that's not the case, but...). If that turns out to be the case, I'll still have sold fewer and made more money in a year doing so......but I'd still be one sad panda.

Again, I'll be putting together another compilation of sales statistics for all of my books before long. Until then, be sure to check out the two books I've been discussing here, Friends in Deed and Death Brings Victory. Both are awesome titles, and well worth your investment of time and money. And if you've already read one or both of these novels, I'd appreciate if you could (if you haven't already) type up a little review over on Amazon, Goodreads, and any other spot you can find.