Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't Obsess. Think Big Picture.

As an author, it's easy to become downtrodden with sales numbers.  This is especially true if you primarily write short stories.  You sell so few in the beginning that every sale counts.  Other authors may complain about only selling 10 copies a day for the past week.  You may laugh and commiserate that your sales are also down, conveniently neglecting to mention that you've never in your life had a double-digit sales day.  Selling 3 copies on Amazon is a fantastic day for you.

In situations such as these it's more important than ever to keep the big picture in mind.  Right now I make about $15 a month from Amazon from ebook sales.  Will this pay my rent?  Not even close.  But that's $15 I didn't have before.

I first published on Amazon November 2010.  So I pulled up my December 2010 Excel sales report.  In December 2010 I made $0.70 from Amazon US.  Yes, that is a decimal in front of the 7.  70 cents.  I sold two copies during that whole month.

In any area of self-employment it takes 3-5 years to establish yourself.  As in, you are projected to lose money or just barely break even for the first two years.  It's important to keep in mind that we are talking about years here, not weeks or days.  Easily confused increments of time in the self-publishing world.

So then I pulled up my December 2011 Excel sales report.  One year later I made $12.23 from Amazon US.  No, I will not be buying groceries with this.  But as a company, I am making over 1000% more.  If you want to be specific, my income increased 1,647%.

That's an enormous increase.  No, I don't expect this kind of increase every year.  I have also not yet broken even in amount spent on various expenses such as covers.  As I said before, losses are to be expected the first two years.  But the fact that I saw any increase over the course of one year means that my "company" is heading in the right direction.

So don't sweat it if one month you sold 4 copies and the next you sold 3.5 (you had a return but the sales ranking boost still counts for a .5, right?).  Look at your overall growth as a company.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review of three stories from "The Short, the Long and the Tall," collection by Andrew McIntyre

The Short, the Long, and the Tall is a collection of 34 stories published during the last 10 years, many of the stories sections that follow on from one another to constitute single narratives. The recurrent metaphorical theme of the collection is armed conflict, and the question of civilization, presented against contemporary events and the repetition of history.

War and the military are associated with barbarity yet, in order to survive, a civilized state needs a strong armed force. How this force is used in harmony with our ethics is the test we face. Set in jungles and third world cities, the stories feature hard-bitten, thoroughly disillusioned Westerners enduring far from home, struggling against insurgencies, and confronting this paradox.

The stories contained in this collection are more flash fiction style rather than short story; most of them clock in around 500 words.  Overall I feel that if McIntyre could tighten up his presentation just a little more, his stories could have the potential to go from "ok" to "excellent."

For this review I am going to focus on three of the stories found in this collection: "Art for Art's Sake, Money for God's Sake," "The Big Man," and "The Game."  To McIntyre's credit, all three of these stories were very different but, at the same time, you felt a sense of underlying connection.  Respectively, the settings in the stories go from WWII to a jungle in a 3rd world country to an at-home chess game.  Each time McIntyre delves into the idea of disillusionment.  What society expects vs. what actually occurs.

As a stylistic choice, McIntyre seems to avoid using quotation marks and prefers large, block paragraphs.  As a reader, I found this to be annoying.  The quotation marks I could overlook; the author does a good job clearly expressing what is stated out loud.  The block paragraphs, however, were more of a hinderance than a help.  No literary effect would have been lost if an extra indentation or two had been added.

The plots themselves had a good pacing to them.  Each time I was immediately grabbed into the action. But each time I felt a little disappointed by the ending.  Part of a short story's success (even more so with flash fiction) is dependent on the author's ability to keep the reader thinking about their story long after they finish reading it.  The author provides the framework and then the reader puts together the pieces.

After each story concluded, I felt like everything had been a little too spelled-out.  It was like every single conclusion I could come to had already been drawn up for me so I had nothing left to mull over or figure out.  A good example would be "The Game."  Essentially it's about a father cheating at a chess game with his son in order to teach the son a life lesson.  The story literally ends with the father saying he did it to teach his son about life.  Personally, I think that's the kind of conclusion a reader should be left to draw on their own.  Present me with the scenario of a father cheating and then let me fill in the "whys."  Make me work a little for the ending.

So definitely an interesting concept for a collection.  The good pacing a variety of plots keeps you engaged as you read.  But, as I said in the beginning of this review, the writing could use just a little tightening up.

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Allure of Being an Author

I think it's really interesting how many people are drawn to being published.  There's a whole spectrum of commitment that goes from "Like the idea of writing" to "Aspiring author" to "Published author of ____ series."  Go on Twitter and you can see the whole range.

I think the desire to be published is different from a desire to write.  Writers write because they enjoy creating their own little worlds.  Anything is possible so long as you can find the right words to string together.  Writing gives your imagination a sense of freedom.

Publishing seems to be, in my opinion, aiming for real life freedom.  So many things are limited in our lives simply because we don't have enough hours in the day to do more.  I can only see so many clients in day and, therefore, can only earn so much per hour.

But writing is a limitless prospect and I think that's what draws people in.  In theory, there's really no cap to what you could do/earn.  Book sales are not confined by number of hours in the day.  And I think that's really what attracts people to the idea of being an author.  It's that ideal of total freedom.

Realistically, only a small percentage of authors ever make millions of dollars.  But it's still a tempting prospect to those that are already naturally inclined to be dreamers.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review of "Dalston Junction," short story by MeiLin Miranda

Unwed motherhood in Victorian England spells the end--your chances of marrying, chances even of working, disappear. Unless you can somehow "disappear" the evidence...

That's where "baby farmers" Amelia and Margaret come in. They'll care for your unwanted infant--for a fee.

But what are they really doing with the babies? When the police find dozens of tickets for pawned baby clothes and no evidence of the babies themselves, Amelia and Margaret become wanted women, and the life of a newborn hangs in the balance.

**WARNING! This review contains spoilers**

An very interesting story by Miranda.  I had to read it through twice to catch everything.  Both times I feel like there are some strong pros and cons.

Miranda can certainly write short stories well.  She understands how to provide elaborate description and character traits using minimalistic wording.  The plot flows well and I felt compelled to keep reading to find out how everything turns out.

There is a twist at the end of this story.  I really thought about whether or not I wanted to disclose it in this review but I feel that I should in order to really describe why I'm conflicted.  Basically the twist is that our two protagonists are time travelers.  Essentially, they pose as baby farmers in the 19th century, take the infant into the future and then put the baby up for adoption where childless people are looking for healthy newborns... I think.

This is really my major beef with the story: how the heck are these two women making money from this business?  The actual nature of their scheme remains frustratingly vague.  Is there a huge market for these babies in the future?  Are people suddenly unable to procreate and are willing to pay a fortune for a child?  Are there no adoptable children available in the future?  

Plus, as an avid Star Trek watcher, I feel the need to wonder what impact this would have on the timeline.  So they're saving children and taking them to the future.  What if one of those kids was the ancestor of Gandhi?

I get the story that the author was trying to tell.  And she certainly has a compelling style of writing.  But if one is concluding a story using a time travel element, there needs to be a clear reason as to why.  Even if the protagonists are totally profit driven, I have no idea what the future is like in this author's world.  As a reader, I need to have a sense of what kind of world those women are trying to make a living in. 

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars and Book Sales

I'm kind of addicted to the shows Deadliest Catch and Storage Wars.  My family makes fun of me constantly for watching them but I've noticed that whenever I turn on an episode they plop down and watch it right along with me.  At least I'm honest about my addiction.

I feel like aside from the chain smoking, poor nutrition habits, incessant swearing, and high risk of death/injury while on the job... I can really relate to those crab captains.  While I would not personally want to be on a boat chucked around by 40 foot waves, I can understand why they do what they do.  Same goes for Storage Wars.  I would not have the patience to sift through piles of worthless c*ap every day.  But I still get it.

It's that feeling of uncertainty when gambling what it is that will make you rich.  I think indie authors have to have that streak in them to some extent to push them to keep writing.  It's really not the same thing as casino gambling.  That kind of stuff really doesn't have an attraction for me.  I get bored pretty quickly playing poker (not nearly enough mana cards in that game) and I just feel like I'm throwing money in a trash can with fancy lights when I play slots.  Horse races are fun but only because you get to scream at the horses.

No, the book sales thing is a different kind of gambling.  You're not up against "the house."  There's a personal challenge element to the whole thing.  Much like with the crab fishermen and storage bidders, a lot of your success boils down to experience.

It's also kind of fun not knowing what your sales will be like for the day.  That's the grab that keeps making you want to publish more.  When you work for an hourly rate, you pretty much know exactly what you will make over year.  But you can only work so many hours in a day.  Book sales are much more dynamic and, in a sense, limitless.  There's always that off chance that today will be the day one of them catches on and sells thousands of copies....

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review of "A Jar of Mixed Treats," short story collection by Michael Kingswood

A collection of five short stories. Included in this collection are:

Lords of the Remnant.
- Aliens strike at the Centauri colony, overrunning it completely. Then, sooner than anyone imagined they could, they arrived at Earth to continue their conquest. An infantryman, certain resistance is futile, nevertheless deploys with his unit to fight against the first wave of invaders. As his comrades die around him and all hope seems lost, he finds the courage to fight on, but is confronted with a choice that will not only affect his own future, but that of all mankind as well.

How NOT To Rescue A Damsel In Distress
- Larian, a young soldier fresh from the Martial Academy, goes home on leave to find his village attacked by brigands and his girl kidnapped. He immediately sets out to rescue her, but things do not quite go as planned. This is a fantasy short story of gallantry, daring, swordplay, and romance.

A Chat Before Dinner
- The record of a Zombie’s rant about the trials and tribulations of his life as a disrespected member of the Undead. His rant centers around humans’ inherent racism, and he attempts to cajole his human listener into understanding his point of view. Darkly humorous and snarky, this story paints a new picture of a Zombie’s life.

Falling Softly
- An assassin and his partner embark on the biggest job of their careers. The payment if they succeed is enough to set them up for life, potentially allowing the assassin to get out of the business and finally live a normal life. But even succeeding in a high profile job like this carries its own danger.

Measuring Up
- Larian Elesir, a young recruit in the Citizens' Army, arrives at his first post. Eager to join the war effort, he is nonetheless nervous in his new environment and worried about setting a foot wrong. During his first day in camp, his new companions put him through his paces as they both learn who he is and teach him the basics he'll need to survive in his job in the army.

The cover is slightly misleading.  All of the stories in this collection are "soldier" stories though they all take place in different time periods.  However, this delightful collection is aptly named.  I really did feel like each story was its own little treat.

Kingswood has an excellent writing voice that keeps you engaged from beginning to end with every story.  Unlike some of his war author counterparts, he doesn't get bogged down with every single depressing detail.  Every story was fun and fast paced.  I genuinely looked forward to reading the next story in the collection after I finished the current one.

I only really have one complaint about this collection and that is the story Kingswood chose to end it with.  The final tale, Measuring Up, seems to be a continuation of a character introduced in an earlier story, How NOT to Rescue a Damsel in Distress.  While the first story is self-contained, the continuation is not.  It feels like Kingswood used the story as the beginning of what could easily be a serial action tale.  As serial action, I think these stories have a lot of promise.  As the finale to a collection of self-contained stories, it felt a little out of place.

Other than that, I would highly recommend this collection. 

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Concept behind "Cure" by Alain Gomez

I've always thought the concept of time an interesting subject.  I know next to nothing about physics but I think it's safe to assume that at this point, even expert physicists are in the dark about time as well.  I mean, we really have no way of knowing how time travel would affect things unless we actually tried it (IF we could even try it).  It's like speculating about the afterlife or something.  No one is truly an expert.

The concept behind Cure came from my interest in time and my second favorite speculative subject: toying with the moment of death.  I truly believe that when it's your time to go, that's it.  You can't cheat death.  It's like the line from the Emily Dickinson poem: "Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me."

I've only sold a handful of copies of this story thus far but so far it's been one of my more favorite ones to write.  Basically the whole premis is about a guy preparing to go into cryogenic freezing for 100 years.  So it was fun getting into the midset.  What would he have to do to prepare for a thing like that?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Short Story Collections

To-date, I have several collections out for sale, each with a different focus.

The Next Stop - 3 stories will Twilight Zone-esque twists

Elusive Enchantments - 3 unusual romances

The Space Hotel Series Collection - All 5 of my Space Hotel stories

Lunchable Short Stories - 5 fun, slightly humorous stories to be enjoyed at lunch

Of the four collections, the Space Hotel one is definitely my best seller.  I credit this largely to the fact that I had Celebrity Space (part 1) up for free for several months.  Before the free period, it didn't sell at all.

The rest of them I get the random sale here an there but nothing consistent.  I have standalone short stories that have been out on the market long enough that they are starting to pick up slow, steady sales.  This just hasn't seemed to happen with any of my collections.

I suppose I could go through and pick apart the "presentation" of each collection.  You know, analyze the cover and the blurb... things like that.  But I honestly think that all of my stories and collections have a pretty uniform appearance.  I mean, is the cover of A Model Railway Man really that much more thought provoking than The Next Stop?

The purpose of this post was not to gripe and whine about people not buying my collections.  Merely to address what I think are two important marketing points.   The first is that it is important to have both standalones and collections on the market.  Don't miss out on that sales opportunity if you primarily write short stories.

The second thing goes more into the realm of speculation.  Why do the the standalones sell better?  Maybe people really are reading a lot on their cell phones or on their Kindle in the doctor's office.  Despite the naysayers, maybe there really are cult followers for short stories still.

I really wish there was some way to conduct a study on this...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

December 2011 Short Story Sales Stats

Man, where did 2011 go??  I was just starting to get used to it.  But at least the December sales were decent.  I have now gotten to a point in my writing career where I'm not sure if my sales are increasing due to the season (large numbers of kindles/nooks being gifted) or if it's just because my author name has existed long enough that it starting to "get out there."  Hopefully both?

No new selling gimmicks for December for me.  I admit, I've been too busy with holiday stuff to really focus on my writing.  I did add my latest collection to the KDP select program.  But I'm going to wait a bit before I create a conclusion drawing post about it.

Just the usual reminder that these are my paid 10,000 words or less and their collections only numbers.

Amazon (US/UK/DE/FR/IT/ES):
  # of works:  23
  # of sales:  34

  # of works:  22
  # of sales:  3

Apple (November):

  # of works:  18
  # of sales:  1

Kobo (November):

  # of works:  18
  # of sales:  1

Sony (November):

  # of works:  18
  # of sales:  0

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reflections on "Free"

So it's been just shy of a month since Celebrity Space went "unfree."  Right after the story switched back to paid I was getting 1-3 sales a day for about two weeks.  I have noticed a slow down lately.  Hard to say if it's because of the right before Christmas season or if it's just a natural slow down.

I thought I would ramble a bit about my overall impression of my "free" experience.  One major con is that if you make the story free through Smashwords it takes a long time.  Several months even.  So if you want to take the free route, plan accordingly.

I did notice that my overall number of free downloads were very low compared to what other authors have reported about their free novels.  This is just a good tidbit to digest if you're writing short stories.  For me I think it proves that there is an audience out there but it is definitely smaller than the novel reading crowd.  There are literally people you can't even give away a short story to.

Free did increase the number of reviews that I have.  Some of them were good.  The not so good ones always complained about the length being too short.  A review is a review in my mind.  The more you rack up, the better.  But again this proves that there is a strong prejudice that short story writers are up against.

I think the exposure that I gained as an author by taking the free route has been invaluable.  I have tried just about everything at this point in the advertising department.  I've probably dropped hundreds of dollars tried various paid features.  Nothing has been as effective as going free for a time on Amazon.  While Celebrity Space was free, I saw a large boost in the sales for the other stories.  After it went back to paid, there was definitely a spike in the number of units sold.

Overall, I am selling more now than I was before free.  Admittedly, this could be just due to the fact that I've been "an author" for that many more months.  But I think the general increase in sales is large enough to fairly say that free had something to do with it.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Writing Goals

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone was able to bring it in with a smash.  Or, at the very least, a smashing new story if you decided to stay in =)

I gave up making resolutions long ago.  I enjoy celebrating the new year but it's just not a big enough holiday in my mind to make me feel any sort of guilt about breaking resolutions I made mere hours before.  But goals I can do.  At least they help me to stay on track and keep a good pace.

Life goals are too vague.  Plus I usually forget about them a week later.  But I thought some New Year's writing goals might be nice.  So here are some things I'd like to get done in 2012 before the Mayan apocalypse occurs:

1.  I really want to finish my latest western novella.

2.  Try and keep up last year's pace of publishing one story and/or collection a month.

3.  My Photoshop skills are still pretty rudimentary so I'd like to work on those a bit.

4.  Publish at least one non-fiction work.  I've really been slacking off in my non-fiction writing.  I have a few works in progress that just need me to sit down and finish them.

And that's pretty much it.  I figure four is a reasonable enough number.  Anyone else have any writing goals for this year?