So…how’s the writing going?

Well, it’s the time of year to do some accounting.

 

Writing:

In 2017 I indie-published 7 ebooks, two of which were novels, 1 collection, and 4 short stories. I also put out two novella-length ebooks to my Patreon patrons that were not published to the general public. In addition, I pretty much serialized all of The Amiestrin Gambit (about 100K) and have started on the second book in that series.

 

I received the following incomes:

Royalties from my 4 Roc novels: 278

Royalties from sale of indie books: 1550  (still working on final number)

Patreon donations: 917

For a total estimated writer income of  $2745

 

My writing-only expenses this year included: 

Covers (for the 4 DD books and PB covers for the two Horn books) 680

Editing/ formatting (for the Horn series) 655

And more loosely: 

Mailing 240

Promotional 286

Webpage/Software 400

So that’s a loose expenditure total of $2261

 

This leaves off things like travel expenses, purchasing of research books and author copies, supplies, and various webstuff. Plus it doesn’t account for the supplies that I purchased for making book covers, like my memberships to various stock photo sites and paying for photoshop, etc.  I’m counting that part of my nascent cover business, and therefore separate from the writing.

When I add the other stuff in, I will break even or be in the red, I’m afraid.

Please note that my Patreon patrons are saving me from being hideously in the red. If not for them, I would not even be close to breaking even, so I want to thank them all here for keeping me afloat one more year. 

 

How will I do better next year? (2018)

Well, here’s the current plan:

  1. I will publish more novels. One thing that helps the sales of an indie author is simply to have more available. In that effort, I intend to publish 5-7 full length novels next year. It’s a bit intimidating, but 3 of them are written and mainly need editing, one is -mostly- written and needing editing, and one is the Patreon serial that I’ve been working on for a while now. The remaining two may not squeak into this year, but I’ll be working hard to get them done.
  2. I will start advertising. When an indie author doesn’t have much to promote, there’s little point in throwing money at it, so I did very few ads this last year. Next year I will be working toward the summer’s debuts to get the advertising ball rolling.
  3. I will make some appearances. At this point I’m only scheduled for Boskone and looking at Gencon’s Writer Symposium, but I’m determined to wisely choose some new venues and work more with the local libraries.
  4. I will streamline costs by making some of the covers myself. I have been working pretty hard to learn graphic design, and if you want to see how my current efforts are looking, pop over to my cover designer page to see my first batch of covers up for sale.  They’re not perfect (I can’t get the lighting on #4 correct), but they’re not ‘bad’ either. (Also, I paid for the 4 Dreaming Death covers in 2017, so those won’t need to be charged into 2018.)
  5. I will be working to learn InDesign software to decrease my formatting/editing costs, and publish some of my books under my own press label, Dream Palace Press. (I will still have to hire editors, though. I refuse to put out a novel that hasn’t had a good editor look at it.)

I will need to be working at light speed to get all these things done, so if the housework falls to one side, I apologize to my husband and dogs now.  I plan to be on the internet less, so I will be dropping in less frequently. And this year, I really need to get out and exercize more. Really.

But for now, 2017 is tied up with a bow and gone.

For 2018:

Get more of the important things done.

Spend less time letting the man get us down.

Get out and vote whenever the time rolls around. 

Historical Research Roundup

Posts on  Research for Writers of Historical Fiction

RWHF#1 / RWHF#2 / RWHF#3 / RWHF#4 / RWHF#5 / RWHF#6 / RWHF #7 / RWHF #8 / RWHF #9 / RWHF #10 / HISTORICAL RESEARCH ADDENDUM: USING WIKIPEDIA AS A PORTAL

 

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Guest Posts on  Research Rabbit Holes

RHONDA EUDALY: IT’S ALL RELATIVE

LAURA ANNE GILMAN: THE EVENTUAL EMERGENCE OF EXTINCT ANIMALS EPIC FANTASY

JULIET MCKENNA: WHEN YOUR RESEARCH GOES TO THE DOGS

MIKE REEVES-MCMILLAN: HOW RESEARCH HELPED CREATE MY STORY

LYDA MOREHOUSE: SAMURAI SH*T

ALLISON MULDER: ZOOMBIE TO ZOMBEE, AN ACCIDENTAL FLIGHT PATH

WENDY NIKEL: TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION

KAT OTIS: ONCE UPON A TIME IN WHITEHALL, OR, WHY THE FIELDS OF ALT-HISTORY ARE FULL OF RABBIT HOLES

KATHRYN SULLIVAN: RESEARCH FOR WRITING YA AND MIDDLE GRADE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
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Other Research Posts

STEWART C. BAKER: GOOGLE-FU: INTERNET RESEARCH, LIBRARIAN-STYLE

BETH CATO: RESEARCHING THE GREAT SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE OF 1906

Running like my hair is on fire…

I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like here, but life circumstances have been busy recently. However, I wanted to touch bases with readers on where various projects are, so here we go!

 

The Truth Undiscovered is my current Patreon serial, a prequel to The Golden City where the four members of what I secretly called ‘my Torchwood’ meet and work out their first case. This December I will put out Book Two for my Patrons, hopefully before Christmas.  So I’m scrambling to get that last chapter written and format the things for ebooks.

Then in the new year I will work on the last part of the story, which in my tentative plan would take me into May. At that point I’ll hand the book over to my patrons and work on getting the novel version up for sale in the summer. I have been toying with cover ideas, and have been looking at this one, which is meant to depict how Gaspar sees a specific bit of magic.

Interestingly enough, this illustration, in turn, inspired the final chapter of the book. So perhaps one day all the stuff in the sky will make sense.

(Non-final cover possibilites below.)


 

 

My other serial, The King’s Daughter, is currently paused as I try to get the edit pass on Book One done. Once I finish that, I’ll start posting bits from Book Two.

My current plan is to wrap up the first three books of this  and publish them summer of 2018. I’m hoping to have all three edited and ready to go by then.

(Also non-final covers)

 

And I’m feverishly working on the Dreaming Death sequels when I’m not editing. I’m hoping to publish at least one of them next year, with the best case scenario of getting all three done IF life doesn’t interfere too much.

My cover artist, Kate @ Kate Marshall Designs has been working on the covers for those, and we’re almost done, although I won’t be revealing the whole cover for a while, I’ll show a snippet of an earlier version….

 

So just an update, so you know where I am with things…

Arbitrary Numbers…

Authors tend to put a lot of emphasis on numbers, and I’m no different. I see milestones where none actually exist.

My first novel, The Golden City, is slowly creeping up to its 1000th rating on Goodreads.

The 1000 number is arbitrary, but the interesting thing about it is that there are lists on GR that specify ‘at least 1000 ratings’ for books to be included. Not that getting on these lists is a major life goal for me…but instead, it’s nice to know I’m eligible.

(There’s varying schools of logic out there for how many people will rate a book. I’ve seen people claim anywhere from 1-10% of books sold are rated, but according to the numbers from my publisher, my last two books are closer to 20-25%, so I have no idea how to judge the relationship between how many ratings I have and how many books were actually sold.)

It’s not a big deal, but you can bet your buttons I’ll be checking GR every day until I cross that threshold ;o)

Now Available for PreOrder: Overseer, The Horn~Book 3

Special Preorder Price: $2.99

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others

Those who hold the secrets of the Fortresses

can remake the world…

A new player has arrived at Horn Keep, and it’s up to Amal to decide whether he’s the key to keeping her people safe, or the threat they’ve feared the most. Aulis is, like Dalyan, a version of the same long-dead engineer, a Founder of the Salonen Fortress. That alone should make him worth keeping alive.

But he’s served the Cince Empire for almost two decades, the very people who want to steal Salonen Fortress. Now Amal is faced with the task of deciding whether he’s even capable of telling the truth, whether he can lie to Dalyan. The question is…are they the same man or not?

And is buying Aulis’ loyalty worth the risk of giving him the one thing he wants more than life itself? It’s within Amal’s power, but she knows that doing so will forever change her people’s world…

 

 

Also on sale*

Oathbreaker, The Horn, Book 1

Only 99¢

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others

 

*prices good though 10/22/17

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Arrrrr!)

Yes, today is the annual celebration of piracy, although not the literary kind (which still sucks.)

In order to help people get in the mood, I have a new ebook out, A Hand for Each!

Available via: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others

This short story was originally published in Shimmer Magazine‘s Pirate Issue (November 2007), and is a historical fantasy about…well, what it takes to be a pirate.

So I’m going to tell you semi-amusing tales about getting this story published:

  1. I first heard of this issue being planned at the Shimmer Magazine Party at World Fantasy Con a year earlier, and immediately decided I wanted to take a stab at a pirate story.
  2. Knowing nothing about sailing, I had to research for a couple of months before I began writing, but I got the story in before the deadline.
  3. The deadline was then extended, because they didn’t feel they had enough appropriate stories.
  4. The next MAY, I was contacted by the special editor (John Joseph Adams) about making some changes. They turned out to be comparatively small changes, BUT…
    1. I was in the middle of the OWFI conference that weekend (and I was the organization’s treasurer)
    2. I was also hosting a writers group meeting in my hotel room
    3. and because JJA kept saying ‘make it more like POE’, I was frantically searching online for Poe stories to read to try to get the feel the editor wanted. (That was a little difficult, because I had worked hard to mimic the ‘voice’ of Richard Henry Dana for the story…but what the editor wants, the editor gets.)
    4. I had no idea at the time whether he actually wanted to purchase the story or whether I was spending time that would end up being thrown away.
  5. But I persisted, and he ended up buying the story (and putting it in the pole position in the issue!)

The hardest part of this whole sales process was that I knew because there were two other pirate anthologies open for submission, there would be a gazillion pirate stories floating around out there, all of which my story would have to challenge if JJA didn’t purchase it!

Anyhow, that worked out, to my great relief!

And now the story is back, haunting you from its watery grave! So go buy a copy…it’s only 99 cents!

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: Freebies

As authors, we’re constantly scrambling to find what works (promotion-wise), and one of the unfortunate truths is that the thing that worked 5 months ago might be dead by the time that we find out about it. It’s very hard to know.

One of the things in our arsenal is the ability to give away books. Over the last year, I’ve tried a lot of giveaways, searching for the right balance of free and paid…since I’m also here to make money (someday.)  Some giveaways had very specific requests attached to them, some did not. Some were successful, and some were massive failures.

So here are some of the things I’ve tried. (Remember, your mileage may vary.) 

 

Freebies for reviews:

About a year ago, I signed up for a service called Instafreebie via which readers could pick up my books and…well, do something. One of the options is a Review Request, so I tried that out first.

People downloaded over 700 copies of my book Iron Shoes for free.  A year later, I’ve only had one review pop up on Amazon. I did have 11 ratings (not reviews) show up on Goodreads. In that same time, I sold almost 100 copies of the book.  So out of 800 or so books that went out, I got a total of 12 ratings/reviews over the year. Hmmm.

Now, from an author’s standpoint, that offer of ‘free for a review’ didn’t pan out.

 

Freebies for signups:

Now this one, for me actually worked well…sort of. It’s not unusual for writers to give away a book if you join their mailing group. And following switching over to an email signup (rather than a review request), my mailing list grew substantially. In other words, giving away books for a review massively flopped, BUT giving away a book to get a new newsletter person seems to be a pretty good match….except…

There is some question as to the involvement of those new catches with the newsletter AFTER they have their free book.

Back when I had an ‘organic’ mailing list (that means only people who went to my website to sign up), I had about 30-40% of respondents open and click on a link with every newsletter. Now, a year later, it’s about 2-3%.  For example, last September, my newsletter had 22/93 people click on something (perhaps to purchase). This year? 36 out of 1515 recipients clicked.

Essentially, I’d picked up 1400 new subscribers by giving them a free book, BUT only 1 percent of those new people (14/1400) actually opened and clicked on my newsletter.

Well that ‘s rather disheartening. 🙁

 

Freebies as enticement for new readers: 

Authors want to attract new readers by giving away bits of their work as samples. Or we give things away as gifts to readers who’ve historically supported us. Or we give books away hoping for reviews (particularly when a book is new.) But we have to be judicious about this.

Most recently when I set two ebooks to free for two months–hoping to gain new readers–my overall sales dropped by half, so the quick lesson for me was that free books translated to less income.

I have been told by other authors that the free/low price book enticement works best when it’s the first book in a series. So from this point forward, I’ll probably offer lower prices only to spur a series sale…once I get this series finished!

 

Freebies to superfans:

Now this has been the most consistent thing of value to me. I have people I consider my superfans (although they probably would -never- call themselves that because it sounds silly). These are the people I interact with regularly, the patrons on my Patreon, the reviewers I know from my past work. These are the people I can count on to support me by doing amazing things like reviewing, purchasing, and talking about my books.

This, I think, is definitely the most worthwhile, so I’m going to keep giving free books to these people.

 

And that’s my summary of my freebie efforts for the last year. Not as profitable as I would like, but…that’s cool. It’s all a learning curve at this point!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: Diminishing Returns

A few years back, I was at the Romantic Times convention in DFW, and a writer friend (I’ll call her CK) was complaining to us about her sales. “I used to earn $30,000 the first month a book came out,” she told us, “but now it’s $7000 at most.”

After my other friend and I managed to close our gaping mouths, we got more into the nuts and bolts of this situation.

You see, indie authors have one big problem…fluctuating income that’s totally at the mercy of an outside vendor.

Now, this is not a post about the evils of Amazon. After all, most of us make the bulk of our indie money via Amazon, and it’s one of the vendors that you can actually be certain will still exist this time next year. However, because they have the control over our fates, we end up losing our shirts periodically.

 

My friend who is suddenly making $23,000 less on her book debuts? Well, she’s being killed by Amazon KU. KU, while it makes some people lots of money, it makes others lose money. This is a basic feature of any innovation.

And while $7K is NOT small potatoes for one month (it’s more than I made off my novels with Penguin), for someone who was making $30K, it’s a pretty stark difference. It’s painful to see what was a lucrative business slashed down to a percentage of its former glory.

But this is the problem that all indie authors have to deal with.  The algorithms change.

Yes, for some reason, the rules from various publishers (not just Amazon) keep changing. It’s written into the contract that you have with the vendor, for the  most part.

Here’s an example, from way back in 2012: I went on vacation and, for no reason that I knew, downloads of Iron Shoes via Amazon suddenly exploded. I looked at my numbers, and saw that Amazon had set it to FREE. Without warning me.

It’s in the contract that they can do things like that.

Over the next two days, about 15,000 copies of my novella were downloaded, and then a bunch more after it went back to .99 cents. I MADE MONEY! More than I ever had before….but…

It’s important to keep in mind that Amazon made twice as much as I did then due to the royalty structure.  Hmm.

And I had no control over that incident. I was away from home and really couldn’t promote it, either. I just had to sit and watch it happen. 

In the same way, authors have little control over who sees their book on Amazon. We don’t control the “Also Bought”s, we don’t control the “Sponsored Products” (we can buy ads, but I don’t have the resources to track things), we don’t control the order things come up on searches.  These things all control whether people see our books…but there’s little (other than pay for ads) that we can do about it.

The pay part is important, because I’ve paid for ads in the past on Amazon, and spent more on those than I had in resultant sales.

I will pay for an ad when Overseer is about to come out, too. And probably lose money. 🙁

(This is, by the way, true across most advertising platforms for me. I honestly don’t think that any ebook ad I’ve tried has really been profitable.)

My point is that with…

a) traditional publishers becoming more conservative, and

b) ebook publishers regularly changing the rules,

…it’s very hard for authors to make real money. I’ve seen the statistic that only 40 indie authors are ‘profitable’, but that’s for a very high standard of ‘profitable’.  On the other hand, the AVERAGE statistic is that authors who indie-publish a book, only ever make $200-300 off it. So the vast majority of us just aren’t making money, a rather depressing note when most of us have put months’ or years’ worth or work into those books.

The average reader can help with that, but it’s by doing the same things we always ask: Pay for the book, recommend it to friends, and leave a nice review.

And thanks if you do! (I will now go post a review myself.)

 

 

 

Yet again with the Strong Female Characters…

So recently, James Cameron caused a hoopla by suggesting that Wonder Woman was a step back from the great advancement for strong female characters he’d created with Sarah Conner.

There has been SO much said about this online already that I don’t have much to add. I think that Chuck Wendig hit the nail on the head in his post a couple of years ago, where he suggests that strong is more about agency than kicking ass. (I was reminded of this when I read E. J. Wenstrom’s excellent post about the most recent kerfuffle.)

I do think that defining a SFC as one who dresses like a soldier and works out six hours a day is WAY off the mark. Because it defines strength only as a physical characteristic.

I want to talk here about two of my strong heroines: Maia and Marina

Maia is the main character of Whatever Else, a  short story about a young woman learning things about her husband.

Now this story, back when I was subbing it to magazines, got one of two responses. Either it almost made it to the top….or they immediately dumped it.  The problem? It’s hard to see the protagonist DO anything.

Maia doesn’t do kung-fu fighting to save her husband. She doesn’t do detective work, she doesn’t hire a detective. Instead, she sits in her room and closes her eyes and Watches events unfold. (She’s a Watcher, like Llelas Sevireiya in The King’s Daughter).

So why would I talk about her being a strong heroine?

Frankly, at the beginning of this story, she’s not. She lives in a very patriarchal society, where woman have few rights. She was traded off in an arranged marriage to seal a treaty. She loves her husband, and doesn’t question much about her life.

It’s only after the story starts that she’s forced to confront her situation…and make decisions about it.

That’s the whole thrust of the story. What will Maia decide? 

It’s not whether Maia will pick up a machine gun and extract revenge for someone’s death. Or whether she’ll murder someone. Or whether she decides to overthrow a government.

She’s making a small decision. At first. But then a harder decision. And then another.  And she makes those decisions, until at the end she’s making a decision she never thought she would contemplate in all her life.

It’s hard for her, even if it might not seem all that difficult for modern women and men. 

And to me, that’s strength. Being able to step up and do that thing you need to do, to make that call you need to make. So even though a lot of people will read this story and think she’s weak, I like to think of her as one of my strong heroines…

Marina Arenias is one of the other women in my stories whom I think of as strong. She appears in both The Seat of Magic and The Shores of Spain, and is the younger sister of Oriana Paredes.

Now Oriana is tall and strong, she’s well-trained to use  her magical gift (she’s a siren). Oriana is a spy for her people’s government, and later an Ambassador for a foreign government on her own people’s islands. She’s hunting a murderer, the one responsible for her mother’s death…and Marina’s.

Marina has lived all her life in Oriana’s shadow. Oriana protected her and practically raised her. To free Oriana from that responsibility, Marina fled, making her way to Portugal and finding their father as she’s always hoped to do. She’s a quiet girl, a bit shy, and she rather likes the conventional role of women in her adopted country.

So why do I think of her as strong? She’s not exactly the heroine type.

Marina has two strengths: her persistence and the conviction of her beliefs.

When she’s faced with the kidnapping of her husband, Marina immediately sets off to try to rescue him. Not by herself as Oriana would have done, but by finding help. That’s one of Marina’s skills. She knows her limits and knows when she needs help.

But when the moment comes that she can pressure a critical person into helping her, Marina balks. The leverage she has–that the other woman might face persecution for her religious beliefs–is something Marina knows all too well. She’s been persecuted herself.

And in the end, she realizes that even though this woman is the fastest way to get her husband back…she won’t betray the other woman…even if it means risking Joaquim’s life, and spending months trying to get him back. It’s a decision she makes with considerable anguish. (And it’s the one scene that made me cry every time I worked on it.)

It’s a decision to retreat. To save her soul, more or less, and because Joaquim wouldn’t want her to do it.

It’s such a ‘NOT A STRONG WOMAN’ moment. Marina feels weak and batters herself because she thinks Oriana would have done it. But it’s true to Marina’s character. It was stronger for her to stick with her convictions than do the thing that was expedient for the plot.

But the next morning Marina vows to herself that she’ll find another way. She will bother every government official in Spain if she must to get her husband back. She alters her plan and moves on.

And that’s a strength of its own. Not all things will go in the most obvious direction. Being willing to retreat and retrench is sometimes just as important as battling forward.

The point of all that is to say that I think Cameron is off base. Strength is like bravery, not absolute, but defined by one’s fears and needs and abilities. For some characters, stepping outside their own house is terrifying, and doing so takes great strength. Other characters are spies and carry guns.

Both can be strong.

Care and Feeding of Authors: The Waterbed is Leaking…

Okay, not a literal waterbed, but the cushion that suppors authors is bleeding out.

I’m actually taking about piracy. In the book world, piracy doesn’t look like Captain Jack Sparrow, it looks more like this:

(photo via Pixabay) 

With the advent of digital books came a huge upswing in book piracy…because it’s now much easier to get hold of the books in the first place.

It’s a fairly prevalent problem, though. I’ve stood there while someone offered my husband a file with 900 books in it...they’re free! I’ve talked with young people who think all digital tech should be free. There are reddits that specialize in piracy links. I’ve seen my own books pop up on one pirate website after another. In fact, it happens SO often that I no longer bother with reporting it.

(Read an article that talks about this at The Creative Penn: “Why Authors Shouldn’t Worry About Piracy”)

The article above basically says that people who steal books wouldn’t have bought your book anyway. I actually think this is mostly true.

People who pirate books don’t usually think of this as theft. They think they’re just working around the system, like someone who gets an on-line coupon before buying something.

I used to be in retail, and one problem we had was the occasional smash and grab. Someone would bash through a store window, grab all the clothing they could (in our store it was usually Tommy Hilfiger), and then run. Later, that stuff would show up at a nearby flea market…which was essentially fencing stolen goods.

Most people can recognize that I’m talking about stolen goods, there.

Most people realize that if someone is making knock off copies of those Tommy Hilfiger shirts and selling those, it’s illegal. (We call that the black market goods, fakes, forgeries.)

We see both of those in the book world. Not just books handed out free, but also copies–some of which are really suspect–being sold. Yesterday I ran across a site that is SELLING a bundle of 11 of my books for under $10.

Most people who buy like that know that they’re getting a rip off. They know it’s a cheat, and they don’t really care, just like that fake Louis Vuitton bag or that ‘Romex’ watch.

Again, they may never have willingly purchased that book through normal channels.

So writers are just supposed to be happy that people are reading their stuff, right?

It’s amazing, though, how much money the author sees slipping away. Especially for big name authors…I’ve seen calculations of how many thousands of dollars Author X has lost in royalties because Book Y was pirated.

(This is especially bad when an author has a book pirated -before- it comes out. People who’ve been waiting anxiously will pick up the pirated copy instead of waiting two more weeks. There’s a really weird idea floating around out there that the readers make the author and therefore, the author ‘owes’ that book to the readers. Uh…no.)

But that’s not the biggest problem that we have with piracy.

My biggest problem with piracy is that it’s disheartening. It’s growing, and authors wonder if there’s a day coming where no one will pay for anything they write.

Every time we see a pirate site, we’re told to go report it to our publishers. We do that, a take down is sent, and the site drops our books. And then, a week later, another site pops up, which is likely just the same people using a different name.

People playing whack-a-mole game at carnival–Deposit Photos

 

Basically, it’s like that. We can spend all our time whacking moles as they pop up, likely get infected my malware along the way, and endure an annoying amount of stress…and THAT KEEPS US FROM WRITING.

But if we don’t do so, then we’re not protecting ourselves, right? And we therefore have no right to complain about piracy, right?

(This is victim-blaming, if you don’t recognize it.)

The real problem for the writer–the thing that may make them want to quit writing–is constantly seeing this over and over and over until it wears them down. Until they begin to believe that No one is willing to PAY for my writing. 

So they quit.

It happens. Writers are sometimes fragile creatures, barely managing to get stuff out there as it is. And knowing that for your year’s (or longer) worth of work, you’re losing a good portion of your likely income because people who claim they love your work won’t pay for it…that stings.

(See earlier post about how little authors are paid in the first place.)

So if you can, support your author. If you can’t afford the book, ask your public library to carry it, and they’ll support your author. If you want to get that book a week before the publication date…wait.

Be polite, not a pirate.

Addendum: Most writers give away tons of their stuff free already. We send it to people for reviews, for promotions, newsletters, etc.  I am mailing out 5 copies of The Golden City today (prizes on Goodreads). We do that in the hope that those readers will spread goodwill.  Generally, since we control that, we don’t mind it.