Review: Welcome to Lily Port

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The first thing that I noticed on page one is that there is dialogue EVERYWHERE. In fact, it drives the entirety of the story. When it does break out of dialogue mode the POV suddenly reveals a kind of universal narration to help show the reader what he or she is seeing. Anyone who’s read my reviews know my disdain for use of POV beyond 3rd person. Then I realized that this blended 2nd person viewpoint comes from the author’s background as a software designer (it actually hit me because I was thinking of how much the story’s writing style reminded me of an old text-based video game.) I read the author’s bio before I started the book (I know—I’m kind of a freak like that, I guess.) That helped reconcile my POV qualms and enjoy the story.

Without giving away any parts of the story, it opens in short order on a grisly scene and the apparent emergence of serial killer. It all takes on a very “Skinsaw Murders” kind of feel (in case you’re familiar with the classic Pathfinder module from Rise of the Runelords) but it’s not a fantastical setting. The story is more of a mystery and has a Choose Your Own Adventure feel, except that you don’t make any choices—although you still feel involved in the mystery because of the POV which makes the reader feel as if he or she is there (although I got a kind of Ebeneezer Scrooge vibe, like I was just an observer trying to figure out if Lincoln will ever catch his nemesis, the murderer known as Wishbone.

You can check it out on Smashwords.

Noteworthy Book News: Family Christian Book Stores closing… yes, all of them.

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The largest brick and mortar retailer of Christian books and merchandise is closing its door after eightyfive years. I wonder how much of that is related to the fact that the term “Brick and Mortar” is actually a thing. Basically, they couldn’t keep step with the pace of the world (technology, trends, etc.) especially in regards to selling a product in the age of POD, Indies, and online distribution. I think theirs is a lesson for both book sellers and Christians in general–if we aren’t alive, active, and walking within the ebb and flow of the world at large we will become stagnant, irrelevant, and die. The Bible would talk about this as being salty vs. being worthless. I’ll stop preaching now, but that’s in my nature.

What does their closing mean for writers? I think it shows a bunch of things–Indie authors may have an easier time in online venues where the purchasers of books will be pushed to, but it means the burden to prove your legitimacy is even higher as the market might swell some. I think it may also bode well for mom and pop faith-based retail stores. Other, smaller chains may feel it’s okay to drop franchise titles and be independent in the future. Overall, I’m not sure how I feel about FCS’s closing.I’m at least a little discouraged (if a big player like them can’t make it, what kind of chance do I have? …and then I think of books like Twilight or 50 Shades and realize my chances might be fine.)

Read more about their closing here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2017/february/all-family-christian-stores-closing-fcs-liquidation.html

When Size Matters

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I remember writing in high school when our class was assigned to write a short story. Of course, everyone groaned to learn that it had to be at least a page long, printed. And that was double-spaced, of course. One classmate commented, “Of course Schmitz is gonna write at least ten pages and make us all look bad.” Guilty as charged. But size and length does beg the question, What defines a short story?

I’m often referring back to a list that I have regarding definitions of stories by word lengths.  We humans tend to judge things by comparison and so I’ll add some famous story word lengths, too, for you… just remember  word count is not a true measure of quality and more than weight is a measurement of physical beauty.

Completing Nanowrimo also sounded so impressive. I just wrote half the requirements in 2 weeks to complete One Star, my newest story that struck in a bolt of inspiration. It helps when you learn that the minimum word count of a Novel is probably less than you think.

Here are the story types based on word count
Novel: 40,000+
Novella: 17,500-40,000
Novelette: 7,500-17,500
Short Story: 1,000-7,500
Flash Fiction: a type of 500-1,000 word short story often done as contests (including 6 word stories, twitter stories, etc.)

My Short works typically fall in the Novelette category, however, I’ve written and published stories in each of these categories.

Many types of books expected word counts vary depending on the specific genre of the story. That said, it’s important to note that it’s virtually unheard of in our modern era to be traditionally published with a debut novel of over 150,000 words and PH.D. dissertations are typically limited to 100,000. Rein it in people.

I think back to that high school experience nowadays and think, that requirement was only like 250 words. That’s barely a rant on twitter by modern comparison. Here are some of your favorite modern and classic books by word length, starting with the largest English work for reference.

History of a Young Lady, Samuel Richardson, 985,000
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, 565,000
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, 560,000
Battlefield Earth, L. Ron Hubbard, 420,000
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, 77,000
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling, 191,000
Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 100,000
The Maze Runner, James Dashner, 101,000
Twilight, Stephanie Meyers, 119,000
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, 293,000
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien, 177,000
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, 95,000
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 89,000
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, 101,000
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis, 36,000
Old Yeller, Fred Gibson, 36,000
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary, 22,000

Hopefully this gives you some good reference points. Happy writing.

Review: Kayos-The Bad and the Worse

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Kayos features a diverse cast of characters intertwined in a future dystopia and featuring a twisty love story. The intolerance of the future might be a little all-too-real, but that makes the book convincing.

The story is certainly character heavy, which is certainly the direction storytelling must go with dystopia—which has become something of a dime-a-dozen trope. If you don’t have people like Lareina, Christian, Mckade, and Yukiyo moving the story it would just be more noise on the book shelf. I did especially enjoy the occasional text exchanges between characters. Also, Christian is cold as ice, and he owns it in a way that doesn’t make him unhuman.

The only thing that irked me somewhat is that it sometimes felt very YA. That’s not usually a concern, but if it was YA it might find its way into different hands. I guess I’m saying that this should maybe have a broader audience than what it’s listed under. There are adult novels with teen protagonists and then there are YA novels which nearly ALWAYS feature teenage main characters.

Check it out here, and also search for Tracy Ball’s other novels.

State of Writing

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Had a pretty intense work week (and especially weekend) with kids. As a youth worker, I swing between wild optimism to severe pessimism over the next generation. I was pretty excited on Monday. Friday turned to the dark side with teenage drama. I didn’t get much writing done this week. My only real goal was to finish the prologue for WotT2. I didn’t make it. I guess that will be my goal for this week.

I did send out some queries and try to do some promo/networking for a book signing I have in a few weeks. It’s been an uphill battle for me since New Years, it seems. It’ll get better next week.

What You Need to Know Before Signing With Westbow Press

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I’m sure you’ve heard of or seen Westbow books if you’ve ever been through a Christian bookstore. They’re a part of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan—so they’ve got some serious backing. They are the “co-publishing” wing of the bigger house and they guarantee that everyone who publishes through them will have their manuscript evaluated by their parent houses.

Over the last couple of years and last couple books I’ve had a few conversations with them. I went into a scheduled phone call with them with some numbers already determined. Like most indie writers, you’d probably look at their “publishing packages” and think—I’d probably have to save up but could maybe swing the lowest costing option—still over $1,000.

Being the creative guru I am and knowing what it actually costs to bring an indie book to print, I ran the numbers. I’d planned on a 160 page paperback in a 6×9 format and price it at 9.99. I can have that made via Createspace at no setup cost and my copies will cost 2.77, leaving a profit margin of 7.22 per book—I did it for both comparison purposes and to find out where my break-even price is. In my mind, co-publishing means that they would want to do something to make a part of the profits, right? Wrong. That’s not how they work. They sell you a package and then you still do all the long-term work such as marketing—unless you pay them more money to do added services… sounds an awful lot like Xulon to me. Or, gasp, Publish America?

Since most of the services they list in their publishing packages have little or no actual cost (for real? A cost to insert images into your book? Haven’t they heard of drag and drop?) for someone with a little talent or willingness to put in some effort, the lowest package amounts to those 5 “free” paperback copies actually costing you $220 apiece. Also, they won’t do anything in ebook unless you upgrade your package and pay them another $900 and upgrade into the next package (or put the book on Amazon or B&N).

Of course, there’s the usual spiel: “we only plan to make money off our sales percent,” (which is way too high and you only get a 25% author discount… if this were true you would get the books at close to cost.) This is untrue. I pointed that out when the Westbow sales agent tried to get me to bite on the lowest package after learning I couldn’t be talked into a more expensive one. She had tried to steer me to a higher one by mentioning I would not have U.S. Copyright registration provided as a service. “Um,” I replied, “you always have the copyright to anything you publish or self publish… this is not my first rodeo.” Of course she also tried the typical sales script, “One of the things we allow for is for you to retain complete copyright of your book.” I’m sure she hated talking to me since I responded with facts like, “the whole publishing industry is built on selling rights for an author’s work—why would I pay money to a publisher for them to be able to make money off selling my hard work? I’m here to actually sell, my ultimate goal is to sell the rights. Keeping them is the opposite of what I want! Give me money and you can have the rights—that’s how this works!”

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I would have less issues with a company that charged (even forced the charges as part of a package) if they were truly geared towards making authors successful, but with the price margins set up the way they are, companies are CERTAINLY trying to take advantage of enthusiastic indies and use them as free marketing employees. This isn’t just Westbow. It’s everyone. And it’s got to stop if you want to honestly say “we are about making money off of your book sales instead of off fees to authors.” One of the reasons there are so many indie authors that get burned out after the first book is that they flame out in a colossal heap of ruin… but the publisher still turns a profit because they made at least a thousand bucks even if the author could never sell a copy. There needs to be some kind of intermediate company out there to work with co-published indies which spends the bulk of their resources doing targeted sales of their books to brick and mortars as well as distribution and targeted individual sales via creative advertising methods. A publisher that is truly about the writers—it would succeed, but they couldn’t print everyone and instantly capitalize on the unpolished dreams of the writers as it seems all “copublishers” do. I wasn’t asked very many questions about my book; nobody qualified it to see if it should really be printed (and if it is, is there a market and how much refining work needs to go into the text to make it “not suck.” And let’s face it, most first time authors looking at self-publishing are still a few drafts away from “ready.” But don’t worry, at the $2,000 mark you also get an editorial assessment—but according to disgruntled Westbow authors you might be better off having a class of sixth graders group edit your manuscript as an English class project—they might even work for Cheetos and soda.) The reason they pull all these shenanigans: their folks get commissions for their sales packages (I verified later from an internet search, but as a commissioned salesman in years past I spotted the all the signs and pressure sales tactics a mile away.)

Basically I came away with the understanding that the only reason to use Westbow (provided you can do some of the very basic things like hire your own editor, utilize the createspace cover designer, or pretty much anything I’ve taught people to do through my blog,) is get a cursory look at your manuscript by a slush-pile sifter at Zondervan/Thomas Nelson and (if you pay for a package $2,000 or more) have access to be purchased via shoppers at Christian Book Distrubutors/CBD (see an earlier post about my frustrations over the impossibility of getting in there.) For just a few hundred bucks, though, you could go to a Christian writers conference, get some skills and contacts, and also have the same ability to pitch your work to reps from a bigger house (only it might be more convincing in person,) and I told the nice lady at Westbow as much. I think she thought her sale was a slam dunk—she had salesmanship talents, but I had facts and predetermined numbers from my experience as an indie.

Westbow might be a decent alternative if you have a large platform and have already got a strong enough sales records/expectations because of a traveling ministry circuit to allow for a $3,200 or more package just so you can be carried on Christian Bookstore shelves (your copies will be otherwise be just as unreturnable as any Createspace titles.) And if you want any sort of media campaign to have publicists work on your behalf to get the title into those stores without doing all the legwork yourself then be prepared to swallow an $18,000 price tag.

Here’s the rub… if you’re going to need to do all of the legwork yourself anyhow you would be better off financially if you went the indie route (even spring an extra chunk of change to invent the name of your own imprint publisher so that it doesn’t come up as Createspace—it’s a $100 add on) and independently hired a publicist… it would cost about $6,000 on top of getting your book ready and comparable promotional materials. A savvy indie author (or someone who just followed my blog religiously,) could realistically get their book out with paperback copies and promotional materials in hand AND have returnability via Ingram distribution for only a few hundred dollars—something that Westbow would charge more than $2,000 to do… you could even hire that personal publicist and come out at a third of Westbow’s service charges.

In the end they wanted me to buy in at a minimum of $3,150 so that they could sell a ten dollar book for $15 and charge me 11.25 per copy despite actual production costs closer to $3 (meaning they make $2 for every dollar I make AFTER PRODUCTION COSTS—and that’s if I inflate the production costs to about $4.) At least at this price point the stores have returnability so I could theoretically get my books on shelves… if I can personally contact a bunch of stores and get them on shelves through my own efforts… that makes the break-even point for me a minimum of 840 book sales. Up to the break-even point Westbow will make $15,749 gross profit before you earn your first real penny in the black—but that’s only if you work your rear-end off to market and sell the product that you already poured your heart, soul, and more money by way of editors, time, etc. into.)

If I up my price to $15 and sell the book on my own through Ingram at the max discount (it’s around 60%) I’ll still make about $3 per book and I can sell it on Amazon as well for ten bucks and make $3.25 per sale. If I was smart and follow this blog I did it for no cost and have already broken even—I could still do that promo and legwork and if I sell 840 books I’ve made over $2,500.
(you can check out package costs here:
http://www.westbowpress.com/Packages/PackageCompare.aspx
and the Createspace creation calculator here:
https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/)

For a certain type of writer this might be a great option for a publisher (and I’m honestly considering using them for my devotional book in the off chance I can’t secure regular publishing for it.) However, one thing was certain: when she told me “our goal is to make money off of your book sales and NOT from the author,” that is certainly a falsehood. Christian-book-publishing might be as secular as any other cut-throat business, regardless of the product’s contents.

Until the copublishing/price-sharing/self-publishing houses figure out that authors aren’t stupid people they will continue running schemes and scams on us. Unfortunately, most starry-eyed first-timers are just happy to talk to a publisher (of any variety) and so they get suckered into agreements. Hopefully this post has been of help to you (I know it’s long) and please share it and become a regular follower of my adventures in writing.

Review: Dahler & Nicholls Fight Crime (Crime Wins)

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I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect when I agreed to review Dahler & Nicholls Fight Crime (Crime Wins). I don’t remember what I expected (in fact, I’d quite lost track of the fact that I’d even agreed to it as I keep a pretty regular slew of things in my reading pile—and then it arrived in the mail and jogged my memory.)  I’m only certain that I didn’t really expect this. I was pleasantly surprised.

While growing up I read about everything I could get my hands on and Dahler & Nicholls reminds me of a few comic collections my grandmother had and brought on some of the feels. It most reminded me of some Marmaduke collections I’d read because of the art style and format (single pane comic installments) and the character of Nicholls made me think of a witless Dick Tracy, but that’s probably because his suit and hat are yellow on the cover.

The humor leans whimsical and into irony so it’s a light-hearted read. The only thing that threw me was the size of the book (8.5 x 11). I thought it was a coloring book when I got it in the mail. There’s no real gripe there—I’m just familiar with a format that’s so much smaller (like a 5 x 8) so it threw me a bit at first, but I’d recommend this title. You can get a copy of Dahler & Nicholls Fight Crime by clicking here.

State of Writing

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So much happened last week. I started writing the sequel to Wolf of the Tesseract and nearly finished the prologue. I also sat down to talk with a man who found my nonfiction book on the internet and arranged to meet and discuss the book and how I might be able to help with HIS research. That was pretty cool.

I went to the #mnww Minnesota Writers Workshop which I’d been planning on for almost two years, now. Not only did I learn a ton, but I also got the chance to meet some agents and pitch them Fear in a Land Without Shadows. I’ve got agents requesting chapters 🙂
I also met some other authors, two of whom were also faith-based writers.

Beyond that, I discovered my Kakos Realm series was also mentioned in the UK spec fic podcast. Super cool… now I just need to decide two things. 1. Will I attend Realm Makers writers conference this summer in Reno (they have a teen track I could take my daughter to–she is a budding writer–and Ted Dekker is the keynote speaker). 2. If I go to Realm Makers where I would have the opportunity to pitch faith-based agents and publishers,  should I switch gears and begin my Hidden Rings of Myrddin the Cambion series? My thoughts are that too much attention on WotT might distract from a new book with another, bigger publisher and it would be easier to get another publisher/agent if I had something fresh and new–on the other hand, perhaps someone like Castle Gate Press might like to pick up the series (but I’d have to show very strong sales from the first book). Lots to think about.

 

I came across a great article last night while doing some reading. It brings up both the psychology about how we decide what kind of fiction we prefer (based on the question, “what kind of setting is our ideal paradise?”) and how Sci-Fi and Fantasy are barely even a mention within the Christian genre of fiction. They’ve got plenty of Amish Romance, but Amish Vampires in Space is a no-no.

The crazy thing is (and nobody talks about it, although I did hear Chip Ingram’s radio sermon briefly touch on it,) Romance-novel escapism is basically the equivalent to porno-mags for many people. They are wholesale endorsed (as long as there are no exposed, rippling muscles on the cover, and references to a “turgid member” are kept to a minimum,) by the Christian market. We can thank Pat Pulling‘s spec-fic McCarthyism for that… but more on that topic later. It will be the subject of a future nonfiction I’m working on.

Check out the intriguing article, Why Does Christian Romance Outsell Christian Fantasy?
http://www.speculativefaith.com/why-does-christian-romance-outsell-christian-fantasy/