Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Children of the Mandrake (Self-horn tooting likely)

...I shrugged, and stepped back off the fine woven rug that was fast soaking with blood. I said nothing. I couldn't, possessing neither tongue nor mouth. After father had made Lyssa, he’d decided children should be seen and not heard. 

Children of the Mandrake is the first publishable story I ever wrote. It's a disturbing tale that, oddly enough, sprang into my consciousness after reading a fantastic story by Sarah Prineas, author extraordinaire. (The story was From the Journals of Professor Copernicus Finch, M. S. Hex. D. in case you were interested. A fantastic story.)



As part of my 2012 self-pledge to clear the decks, I released Children as a standalone short story (It's also included in The Sorcerer's Lament.) I like the story of course, or else I would never have let it see the light of day. But I've lived with it for so long, longer than any other piece of my writing except some very dubious poetry, that I don't really see it as anything remarkable.

But it's doing well at the iBookstore. Currently free, despite my wishes, but well:


USA

New & Noteworthy #12, Horror
New & Noteworthy #3, Fantasy Short Stories

Australia

New & Noteworthy #5, Horror
New & Noteworthy #3, Fantasy Short Stories

Not bad, kids, not bad.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Waste Land is getting a sequel

For those who might be interested in such news, Marie tapped me on the shoulder on the train the other day and started telling me some stuff that happened next.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Smashwords fail. Again.

So as you may know, my short story collection 'The Sorcerer's Lament & Other Tales' had begun to get a little traction, was making some sales, was even showing up on iTunes charts in various English speaking countries.

Had been. Was. Notice the past tense there?

Here's a picture of what happened. We all like car crash pictures, right? No? Well here it is anyway:


What happened? Suddenly my book was made free at iTunes. In consequence, it dropped off the chart. A couple other of my books also went free, mysteriously, at the same time, but this is the one that hurt.

Why was my book made free at iTunes? I have no clue.

Now I suppose Apple may have screwed up (though I think it unlikely). I have to go through Smashwords to make price changes, and considering how buggy Smashwords is, Occam's razor would suggest it's Mark Coker's company that should shoulder the responsibility on this one.

But that only leads me to the next Smashwords fail - their customer support is simply unacceptably slow. The 'official' response time is 4-7 days, but then the 'official' wait for premium catalog approval was 15 days, when reality, and things like calendars, pointed to the fact that it was more like 21 days.

I put in my support request on Friday. I sincerely doubt I'll hear from them this week.

And in any case, I shouldn't have to hear from them. I updated all my books' prices on Thursday (my time), and since Smashwords supposedly now has same-day multiple metadata shipments to Apple, my prices should already have self-corrected. Another Smashwords fail.

So what should I do? Go straight to Apple? Well, there are two problems with that. First, Smashwords tells you NOT to contact the vendor directly (though I had to with Barnes & Noble once as Smashwords support staff didn't even understand my problem once they finally got around to answering my request - yet another Smashwords fail). Second problem, Apple only talks to the distributor.

So let's recap:


  • I give Smashwords 10% of my slowly but steadily growing writing income, and in return they distribute my ebooks to two online stores that matter (Apple and B&N), one that might at some point matter (Kobo), and a bunch that don't and won't matter to any individual author (Sony, Diesel, Axis 360, Blio, page Foundry) but not the one that matters most (Amazon) until I earn $1,000 to make it worth their while.


  • There are consistent problems, mistakes and other issues that range from annoying to infuriating.
  • The response time in dealing with said problems has been unacceptably slow for the last year.
  • With a little upfront hassle and a small investment, I can distribute myself to the stores that matter (Apple, B&N and Kobo), save 10%, and not have to wait days to deal with problems that might arise, or at least be talking directly to the source of the problem without having to go through a middleman who may or may not know what the hell I am talking about.
 Here, ultimately, is the problem with Smashwords: they are a distribution company that, frankly, isn't very good at their core service: distributing what amounts to data. An ebook is, at its heart, a very long string of 1s and 0s. The metadata attached to that ebook is a series of much shorter strings of 1s and 0s. Communication of 1s and 0s in today's world is, practically speaking, instantaneous.

And yet Smashwords has, time and again in my particular case, not been able to deliver in a timely fashion, not been able to update in a timely fashion, not been able to respond to issues in a timely fashion or reply positively to some pretty basic requests. And I know I'm not alone.

So every cent of my writing income will now go to getting incorporated here in Singapore and distributing directly to online retailers, bypassing Smashwords entirely and saving myself 10% and chronic heartburn in the process.

You had me for a year, Mark. I wanted to be happy with you and your company. But you just made it too hard to do so, too many times.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tired

Please note this is a whiny post, probably better skipped.

I'm tired, creatively. Everything I write, everything I have written, seems limp and lifeless. I've been here before, I know it will pass. That doesn't help right now.

I don't know if it is cause or effect, but I look at what's going on in the self-publishing scene and I feel deeply underwhelmed. From the current top dog, E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Trite right on down to the relentless self-promotion of all the indie authors on my twitter stream, I just want to stand up on a table and say 'Stop. Right now, just stop. Cap your pen, close your laptop. Take a deep breath. Now ask yourself honestly, are you writing the best possible thing you can? Forget about 'you must have an editor/cover artist/facebook page/mystical understanding of Amazon alogorithms/four books a year' and tell me the truth. That piece of writing in front of you: do you believe there's even a chance that people will still be reading and enjoying it after you pass away? Do you believe that abandoning it right now would be like suffering a miscarriage? Or is your work in progress, honestly, more akin to literary Doritos?

How much time have you spent on craft? How much time have you spent on marketing?

Tell me why I should buy and read your book. Tell me why I should invest what little time I have immersing myself in your creation. Make me believe in your make-believe. For fuck's sake, don't try and sell me; try and convince me. Because I want to be convinced, Mr/Ms/Mrs self-published author, I truly do. But if your best argument is that it's free/99 cents this weekend only, well, that's some pretty weak tea. I've got a shelf full of books I can revisit for free, and it will be like seeing old friends again that I know I will have a great time with.

Right now, your 99 cent book looks an awful lot like spending hours with a time share salesman.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Aesop's royalty statement*

Couple things: I've been reading, literally, hundreds of fables this week (work related, don't ask).  Now even less fond of ants.**

Also, I rec'd my final royalty statement (and payment) from Random House. So there's a page I can turn. How much did Thagoth earn me over its lifetime, you ask? US$580.14 in 9 years. 678 copies sold, 211 of which were in the last year.

I don't think it will take 9 years to sell 678 copies of the revised Thagoth. I also don't think it will take 9 years for me to make $580 from it, either. For me, self-publishing for all its problems is a better path than the one I was on.

Also, I should mention that The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye is currently on sale for 99 cents at Amazon (US). So, you know, if you objectively would have no problem buying me a cup of coffee in return for me telling you a story, you could buy it instead. Objective reviews are also welcome.

*Not really. But it sounded cool, so I went with it.

**Seriously, In one fable ants were greedy humans who Jupiter turned into ants for their wicked ways. In another, they are all holier than thou on the grasshopper who just wanted to get his groove on during the summer, and let him starve. I bet they were just waiting for the grasshopper to die so they could eat him, too. What's the moral of that story? 'Ants suck ass.'






Thursday, August 02, 2012

Four-fold, $500, and undisclosed retirement locations

The first quarter I sent my writing out into the world as a self-publisher, I earned zero dollars. $0.00.

This did not disturb me, since all my offerings were free, and people rarely chase you down and force you to take money from them.

The second quarter, I added a couple non-free titles. I netted $15.50 (USD).

This does not mean that I only sold that many books. Due to the vagaries of the accounting departments at the various ebook retailers and the distributor I use (Smashwords), I realized it was virtually impossible to tidily put sales into a real-time quarterly perspective (not, at least, until months afterwards) and so I determined to just go by the quarterly statements I am given and not obsess over who bought what when and from where.

The third quarter, just past, saw me earn $63.52.

For those keeping track at home, that's almost exactly a four-fold increase. If my sales increase four-fold every quarter, then this next quarter I can expect about $254.

So far in this, my fourth indie quarter, I'm up to $119 (give or take, exchange rates being what they are), and still have two months to go. And as I've just released a few more titles into the wild, with more to come, I don't see meeting my four-fold target as much of an issue, this quarter at least.

Of course, after that, it all gets a little more dubious. If the four-fold increases held up, I'd be writing this blog from my (undisclosed location) early retirement home in less than 2 years. Somehow I don't see that happening.

So what are some realistic sales targets? I've already talked about The Minimum, the idea of making minimum wage as an indie writer, and what it would take. That's one. But there's another, more easily attained goal, that I like to think of as 'the break point'. Half of the self-published crowd never make more than $500 in their careers, apparently. If you can earn more than $500 with your writing, you're literally more financially successful than half the independent writers out there.

Now, this idea is chock full of problems and issues. Many people don't write for money. Many more haven't earned their $500 yet, but with infinite shelf space and forever to find an audience, this arbitrary $500 mark doesn't actually mean much at all. It's just a snapshot, and not nearly the reality check I believe the writer intended it to be. But it's a goal, arbitrary or otherwise. If you  add in my royalties from Random House, I've already passed it, of course- but I don't count Random House, just as I don't bother to count the pittance I have so far earned from Amazon.

Okay, I had to check Amazon. $38.26 from March, 2011 through June, 2012. This doesn't count sales of Thagoth, though, as Random House did the collection for that one (and still hasn't sent me the last royalty statement).

So. Yes. A rambly lunchtime blog post to, I suspect, clarify my own thinking more than inform/amuse you, Dear Reader. Sorry about that.

What to take away from all this? I'm really, really hoping that sales continue to increase four-fold. If they do, I promise I will invite you to my early retirement bash in 2014.