Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Immediate Aftermath

I've sold six eBooks.

Yeah, it's not many. And the earnings from those six books aren't enough for Amazon to even bother paying me the money yet (they don't pay until your earnings clear $10 for direct deposit). No worries, cuz right now the money isn't the point.

What is the point? I published The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth on the 25th of January. I did not tell everyone immediately, but by the next evening 2 people had bought it, based on nothing but the sample and the blurb (and okay, maybe that gorgeous cover had something to do with it!). By the time I posted that second blog I sold another two. I've still done very little marketing (I've only got one small story out there, I plan to focus on putting up work for awhile before I bother doing a lot of outreach).

That's pretty great - I figured the only sales I'd make in the beginning would be to friends and family. Here I am, though, and none of those losers have bought it.

Amazon has a pretty amazing setup here. Discoverability may still be difficult, but I think that if you tag your work properly and package it attractively, you have a leg up. Makes it a lot easier to overlook their rather hostile business practices... though I still hope that avenues like Smashwords find success.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Launch of my first eBook

The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth is now live on Amazon and Smashwords! Eventually it'll be on the Barnes and Noble and Apple stores as well, once Smashwords ships their most recent list...

Amazon: Find it Here

Smashwords: Find it Here

Okay, technically this is my second eBook, but Le Morte d'Arthur (also available at both of the above) doesn't really count. A) It's free and B) It was meant more as a test of technologies, so I could get used to formatting, uploading, etc. Worked as that (and certainly more people have read it, if Smashwords downloads are any indication) but still, I consider Swordsman my real first entry.

I currently have two stories in the pipeline publication - one, the Three Fingers of Death, is previewed in the Swordsman eBook. They are both part of The Wandering Tale (more on that later). I figure I'll publish that next month. The other, Ogre, is unrelated and I'm not sure on the timetable.

According to Amazon, Swordsman has already sold 4 copies. That doesn't amount to much in dollars and cents, but it certainly helps the ego. I only hope I'll start garnering a review here and there soon. If you're reading this, remember to review the things you like! (sigh... and the things you don't like, I suppose). Internet reviews may be suspect, but they can sway people.

Now, to try and focus on getting non-writerly things done and quit obsessively refreshing my stats pages.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

eBook Cover of Swordsman of Carn Nebeth

Viewed the finished painting that is the cover to my first big self-publication, and it is beautiful.

The lettering is currently placeholder, but is a good representation of the final product. I can't express just how much I love this cover - the artist basically brought out my exact mental picture of it.

Expect "The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth" to hit Amazon and other markets soon!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More on eBook Formatting

Now that I've played around with it a bit, I feel pretty comfortable with formatting for Smashwords - and I imagine that I'll be able to transfer that knowledge to Amazon, as well. I'll give a few tips here, but I'll also try and release some sort of step-by-step guide soon (especially for OpenOffice users, who don't get enough love).

First of all and as I've mentioned before, use the nuclear option. Do not bother trying to work around all the crap modern word processors insert into your file - copy/paste it into notepad or another 'barebones' editor, and then past it back into Word or OpenOffice or whatever you use. This rids it of extraneous formatting, including italics underlines, bolded text, etc. I suggest you either go through and note where these things exist - or, even better, just do a close read after you've 'nuked' it, and decide anew where they are needed. Chances are you've italicized too much. I know I do.

A big problem with Smashwords is their improper treatment of page breaks. They don't seem to see a problem with letting your title page run into your table of contents run into your book run into your Coming Soon teaser run into your About the Author page.

I do.

I'm self-published, as are many of the people on Smashwords. We need every little trick to make us look professional because we haven't been vetted by some outside authority. Thus, the page breaks. Fortunately, and despite their own guide, there is a way to make Smashwords' Meatgrinder respect page breaks. Note: I found this at Paul Salvette's Blog. I reproduce it here for convenience.

Basically, page breaks can be made a part of a style. You can create a Heading style (I called mine "New Page Heading") that automatically inserts a page break BEFORE itself. Thus, if you make the heading of your TOC a New Page Heading, then it will appear on a new page.

The process is like so: Create a style from a copy of your normal heading style. For Word users, refer to the above link to Paul Salvette's blog post on the subject. For OpenOffice users (or, I imagine, LibreOffice users), navigate to Format->Styles and Formatting. Then click on the "Text Flow" tab.

You'll see a window like that pictured above. In the Breaks heading, check the "Insert" box. For Type select 'Page" and for Position select "Before."

There. Apply this style to your section headings, and they'll be sitting pretty on their very own pages.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pretty Pictures and eBook Formatting

Finalized the cover for my first published story. You may note that I published it before now, and that is because I didn't know I would have a better cover until yesterday. Here it is, in all it's glory:

A pretty drastic improvement over the crap I put up at first. I love finding helpful artists! This is the work of the excellent Graham Hanks. That is a link to his website. Visit. Oggle. He branched out a bit with me, having not done much in the way of sci-fi visuals. Some people have all the talent... not that I'm complaining.

In this case.

In other news, I'm experimenting with the formatting of my first eBook a bit more. Trying a few tips and tricks I've found in the dark corners of the net. After I dusted them off, they seemed like they might actually work. I want my books looking as professional as possible. I don't want any of that 'self-pubbed' stigma getting on me. It's a bitch to wash off.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Smashwords Publishing First Thoughts

I've just published my first story, "Le Morte d'Arthur," on Smashwords.


Now that I've got that out of the way, here's what I found out about the Smashwords Publishing Process:

Following the Style Guide
I had no difficulty breezing through the style guide and formatting my story. It took me about an hour and that was moving slowly because I wanted to be thorough - it should be noted, however, that I am pretty well versed with the editing software I use (OpenOffice) and the 'book' was quite short, coming out to ~2300 words with all the fixins (About the Author, preview of coming work, that kind of stuff).

One suggestion I do have for anybody formatting an eBook for the first time is the use what Smashwords terms 'the nuclear option.' This involves pasting your entire document into notepad (or a similar bare-bones editor) and then copying it back over to your normal editor. They suggest it as a last resort, but I would recommend using it at the very start, every time. Modern word processors put ridiculous amounts of junk in with your actual text, and you don't want to risk that messing up your careful styling work. Kill it with nuclear option fire.

My only other suggestion is to be sure to use line indents of 1/3 inches. I used 1/2 the first time around and it looks funny on my Nook. 

Other Things You'll Need

 First and foremost - and I'll be speaking on these a lot in the coming days of my career, I'm sure - is a decent book cover. I admit, I've skimped for my first story. This was more or less a trial run with a short, free eBook and I don't have much money to spare. I used GIMP to create a minimalist cover with practically nothing but text.

Second, synopses. One short and one long. Short one has a 400 character limit, and the long gives you up to 4k characters of space. Even in my few browses through the eBook stores, I've depending a lot on reading these to convince me whether or not to even sample a book. Work on writing tight, engaging summaries.

Third, think of the genre you'll be categorizing it in, because you need to pick one. I had trouble with that already. I consider any story without some sort of actual science speculation as fantasy, but this story was set on a spaceship. In the end I went with the more likely public opinion: Spaceship == Sci Fi.

Fourth, think of key words to link to your eBook. Smashwords gives you the ability to 'tag' it with a few. I'm not sure of the limit; I used five or six.

There is more info to give on this page, such as pricing, the formats you want your book in, etc, but I'm sure you can figure those out on your own. If not, feel free to ask about anything in the comments.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Don't Worry, You didn't Spoil It

I've never really understood why people get so worried about 'spoiler alerts.' Maybe it's a result of reading so much, watching so many movies, and just generally following so many stories, but I haven't been genuinely surprised by any bit of media, be it movie or book or TV show, in ages. That doesn't mean I always accurately predict where something will go, but I haven't encountered anything new and shocking, that's for sure. My reaction to plot twists is usually "Oh, so they went that way with it."

Besides, we don't watch and read things for the plot twists. That is only one tiny part of the deal. Even a movie like the Sixth Sense, where so many people were worried about spoiling the ending for those who hadn't seen it, wasn't ruined by knowing the ending beforehand (which I did, do to my tendency to eavesdrop) - it wasn't even particularly harmed. So what if I knew the guy was a ghost? I can still enjoy the story, and observe/admire the storytelling. I basically just skip ahead to my second watch, where I look for all the tricks they use to keep the secret without making it obvious.

That being said, I do tend to avoid reading reviews or watching trailers for movies - I've avoided learning much about the Hobbit - but that is because they DO reveal something I want to wait for. The visuals, the spoken lines, the little things behind bringing fantasy to life. The more I learn about things like that the less I can sink into the fantasy. I want at least one viewing unadulterated with the minutiae of what the cast might have been doing before/during/after a particular scene.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Finding my Voice

Lately I think I've found my own voice as a writer. Ever since reading The Phoenix Guards in middle school I've been very aware of 'voice' as a component of stories. In that book Brust grabs you with the voice of his narration. It's flamboyant, unique, and at all times amusing. A masterpiece.

My voice isn't like that, and for a time I thought that because my voice wasn't immediately noticeable, it wasn't really a voice at all. It's taken me years to realize that voice often is subtle. It doesn't 'grab' the reader. Most voices are, for the most part, unnoticeable until attention is called to them.

It can be thought of like any natural, human voice. Some people have voices so distinctive that after hearing it once you'll know it forever. James Earl Jones, Gilbert Godfried,  Patrick Stewart - these are the folks with voices so unique they grab you. However, most everyone's voice is distinct. Nine times out of ten you can identify your friends and even acquaintances by their voice. You wouldn't know how to describe it, because while their voice is unique it isn't particularly distinctive.

So, my writing voice isn't a James Earl Jones type of writing voice. I can live with that. Because the folks who do end up reading my work will still know my voice, even if they can't really describe what it's like to their friends (which is fine - they can just tell their friends to read my stories!).

For a long time I studied and imitated voice. I knew what I wanted from each author I read - the legendary feel of Tolkien, the conviction and viscerality of Goodkind, the whimsy of Brust, etc. I thought at the time that if I managed to synthesize all these things into one voice then that would be mine.

Eventually I moved on to focusing on other things, and lost my focus on - and keen awareness of - voice. This was a good thing, because as obsessed as I was in siphoning out those elements from each voice, I was doing nothing more than imitating them. Each passage of my work read like a different author, depending on which feel I wanted it to have. I didn't have my own voice - Like a literary Ursula I'd stolen (poorly, no doubt) numerous others. (Manly Disney Reference!)

When my focus drifted, my own voice finally emerged - or re-emerged, as I look back and read early stories from before that period, I see that my voice had already been developing. It had just been hijacked when I focused too much on the issue. Lately a lot of blogs and tweets I've been reading have concerned themselves with voice (and thus imply that the reader should be likewise concerned about it) and I can't help but cringe. Now, I think the best thing a writer can do when concerned about voice is to ignore it completely. It will inevitably come on its own.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Dark Age of Technology

I've always liked the Warhammer and Warhammer 40k universes. They were created to give a background narrative to tabletop battle games, and yet they have become incredibly deep, rich, and extensive. Who knew that the dystopian dreams of tabletop gaming nerds could be so compelling?

In Warhammer 40k (hereafter referred to, as in gaming culture, as simply '40k'), a part of the invented history is a time called the Dark Age of Technology. Ironically, it refers to a period in which the human civilization - the Imperium - was at its technological peak. Shortly after it experiences a long, catastrophic fall, and never recovers.

However, some of the relics of that bygone age still exist - and more importantly, still function. To a degree. They are maintained as much as possible by the technicians of the age, who - while they don't really understand HOW these things work - know just enough to KEEP them working. Entire planets sometimes depend on these machines.

I work in datacenters (big rooms where info-heavy institutions keep their main computer systems). Recently, in the basement of an older datacenter, a few machines were found, part of a system that nobody could seem to identify. It took almost a month to dig up the one person in the company who knew anything about the system - and it turns out, it was a very important system. It had been quietly humming along for ten years, forgotten by the people who were supposed to maintain it.

Kind of scary. If these machines had suddenly developed problems, it could have taken days, even weeks to fix it. We're talking about serious money lost, perhaps even jobs, because a company nearly let the so-called secrets of a machine pass out of its gestalt knowledgebase.

Obviously, this is not quite a parallel to the fictional world of 40k. These were old and obsolete machines - ten years in the world of computer systems is a few generations. We'd lost the knowledge of it because we'd since replaced them with far better models. Still, with the current dearth of science and math students in the western world, and with this experience, I suddenly wonder just how easy it might be for our society to slip into the strange scenario of depending on technology we don't understand anymore.