State of Writing

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I got my requisite chapter completed! But barely. I forgot how big some of those chapters are. The Kakos Realm is a wholly different animal compared to my other stories: chapters are about twice the length, prose is a bit higher brow (though I’m editing out some of the purple prose I occasionally slid into–most of this story was originally written a decade ago, right after the initial first parts and I can see how my writing has improved and tightened since then.)

Another of last weeks accomplishments were to finish a WIP cover for TKR3 as well as for my new nonfiction mystery project.

Maybe you noticed that my writing column did post last wed? It should be straightened out now.

I may or may not edit a chapter this week (but I’d guess I get to it). My main goal is to work on some more on the articles needed for my new nonfic which I’ll unveil soon.

Review: Wrestling Demons

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I finally got around to reading Jason Brick’s Wrestling Demons after the ARC sat at the top of my reading list for a few months. The book felt very familiar to me—I feel like I’ve seen many iterations of this exact book before. In fact, I wrote this book, or one so very similar. This one, however, is better than most… even if it’s written in a first person POV (which, if you follow my reviews, you would know I detest.) The POV does seem to drop at times, but it’s not highly noticeable and far better than the forced perspective many shoehorn authors write a story into.

The writing is tight and the YA nature of the book is appropriate and authentic. The protagonist, Connor Morgan seems like a real person and his situations (and responses) feel real. Connor discovers that there is a kind of demonic presence permeating his school. Brick writes this supernatural realm with a detailed hierarchy that is rooted in far eastern mythology and Connor is dragged into this world (this is a familiar trope, and you could look up the comic book I worked on called Warrior Gift of Sight a decade ago to find my own take on it—but Brick executes the story well, perhaps better than most.) I did appreciate the line about how his demonic oni are attracted to drama and misery and that’s why Connor’s school is basically an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The story has a great cast of characters and is paced well (though it started a little more slowly than I preferred, but that might be due to the POV demanding a few extra steps to establish characters without an info dump/as-you-know-bob which Brick resists.)

(I got a free copy in exchange for an honest review.) I’d recommend this story. You can pick it up by clicking here.

State of Writing

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Had a great weekend at the first ever Chapelcon in Albert Lea. It was a smallish comic convention that really shot high. they learned a few things (organizer said so himself at the end) and will hopefully come back bigger and better next year.

I got one chapter edited in TKR3, and sold a number of copies of the series at the con, plus networked with a bunch of other writers and affiliated nerds. I also got a back issue of superman I’ve been looking to purchase for 25 years (I feel so old being able to write that sentence).

I’m in a crazy hectic week for youth work and fundraising, so setting a low bar, but I still want to edit a new chapter. I’ve also been working on a top secret nonfiction project and hope to have that done in the near future.

Setting the Price of Your Book

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This is a pretty tricky thing—it’s much more difficult than you might think and it’s, quite honestly, something I’ve always struggled with. Many smaller presses have what feels like outrageously inflated prices… sometimes that’s true, but sometimes that my own background context wreaking havoc with my economic sense. I grew up as a reader from a young age and often bought books at library sales, used book bins, and mass market copies off a shelf at the local drug store; if I was about anything close to $20 it had to be a hardcover novel that just released. In the back of my mind I’m still thinking that all paperbacks ought to be $5.99, just like my dad thinks a soda ought to cost a nickel and we should crack open a fire hydrant if we want to cool down in the summer heat.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to live in the past and to base your books’ prices on that… even if you print copies of your book in bulk to resell, you’re going to have paid around $5.99 (give or take a dollar) apiece just to have it printed and shipped to you. I’m constantly tweaking my prices and looking at the issue and realizing that many readers nowadays are used to paying $12-15 for a new book. Their metric is different; $12.99 is the new $5.99… people interested in my books at signings seldom balk at an approx $15 price tag given the size and weight of the book they are looking at.

But that’s not to say that you should price all your books at $15. You’ve got to decide a few things with your pricing: 1. What is your goal/purpose in writing, 2. Are you communicating true value with your book, and 3. Is your price market feasible.

  1. Are you in this to make some money or are you willing to make less money so that more people will be able to buy your book based on a low price? Many writers (myself included) are more interested in having readers and building a solid base and fandom than they are with making money. This may change at some point, but at least for now I am just trying to break even with my book sales. If you are trying to price your book so cheap that people can’t hardly refuse to buy it (trust me—they still will) then you might be limiting your books potential market feasibility.
  2. If you set your book price too low, you do risk communicating that your writing has low value/worth… sometimes low cost things are “cheap” and oftentimes free things aren’t worth the $0.00 price tag. If you want people to buy in and take you seriously as a writer do two things: make sure that it is indeed good (honest reviews from beta readers, your book was edited well, it’s not a rip-off of some other story) and don’t give away something that has real value/cost (unless it’s a specific promo tactic).
  3. You need to make sure that your book can enter mainstream distribution and is feasible. Regardless of whether or not you would give away your book, resellers/bookstores do not feel the same way. If your book costs $5 to manufacture and you want to sell it for $7.50, it will not be available on Amazon and bookstores won’t sell it because there is no margin for them to mark it up and sell it. You could buy copies and store them and then enter them into distribution, but for a bookstore to carry it, they demand certain wholesale prices (they will sell the book at $7.50, but will only pay $3.37 per copy which you will have about $7 invested into at the end of the day after production and 2-way shipping costs… plus another dollar or so that it will cost you if the book is returned to clear space for new books—that $7.50 book costs you about $8 at the end of the day—it’s just not feasible to lose $5 on every book that you “sell” (wholesale cost versus your actual cost). You’ve got to take that into consideration when looking at the costs. Thankfully, there are some handy built-in guides within Createspace and IngramSpark that will help you, and some general recommendations at the bottom of this article.

I sell my books at a discount at conventions for a slightly reduced price…I sell my $16.95 book for $15 for a nice and simple round number. I plan on changing that in the future, unless a buyer signs up for my newsletter, tweets a pic of meeting me, or buys multiple books. At the end of the day, even if I discount my book to $15, I still have to pay sales tax on that. If I am invested into the book for $6 and take $15, my profit isn’t $9. Sales tax is about $1.50, making my profit $7.50, and another $0.50 for a credit card fee at 3% (all these figures are rounded and approximate) but you can see how nickels and dimes hemorrhage out of the sale. You’re only taking home $7 off of that $17 book, and you still have to pay for a booth/table fee as is common to most conventions… and this is at the self-published rate. This same book gets way worse if you’re published through a small press and your author discount is something like 20-40% off rather than the actual production cost. (by the above metric, before I pay for my booth fees I’ve lost about $2 for every book sold if I bought it from my traditional publisher at a 20% discount. Bleeding. Money.)

The solution is to be smart and not flush your wallet down the toilet. If I sell my 350 page  fantasy novel that costs me about $5 shipped for $16.99 and then add tax (Square does this nicely for you in their app) then the consumer pays their tax and you pay about .50 in banking fees, netting you about 11.50 (more, actually, but you need to keep that portion set aside to pay taxes at the end of the year).

I know… this seems like math overload and you just want to write stories, right? Here is some good info on how to set a price point which I’ve gleaned from the internet (after arriving at similar numbers from my own experience over the years.) There is as much danger in setting a price too low as there is in setting it too high… although, setting it too low has a built in lowest-price threshold since it can’t go into distribution if it’s too low.

Most average sized (300-400 page) trade paperbacks fall into the 13.95-17.95 price range. Of course, you should still visit a few bookstores for books similar to genre before landing on a reasonable price. Don’t fall prey to the thought that someone will buy your YA dystopia instead of the newest Maze Runner because its $2 cheaper. Readers buy consumable content—you have to have a good story and convince them of it. Plus, they are probably going to buy both rather than picking a title (and then you’ve just lost money you shouldn’t have and undersold/devalued yourself). Avid readers are more both/and than they are either/or.

The best place to find your low-price threshold will be the most expensive distributor you will use. I am an advocate of using both Createspace and Ingramspark for a variety of reasons written about elsewhere. The latter is slightly more expensive to both print and distribute, but it helps you determine what your lowest price will be after allowing for all costs, fees, and wholesaler discounts.

Thinking about it in these terms is cold and calculating, I know, but it’s a must to establish pricing boundaries. However, don’t think about it only in these terms. Think about it also from the value readers get and the investment of your time. But hold your horses… you can’t sell it for $100, either. You have to find a balance, like all things in life, and then feel free to find the best path that works for you.

As far as ebook pricing goes, all the same ideas still apply, but the costs are different and more relative to bandwidth and electronic gobbledygook that few understand or care about (it’s less real to us on this side of the internet.) Luckily there is a general consensus and rough guide for pricing based on word length:
$0.99 Flash Short-stories: Under 3K
$1.99 Short-stories: 3-7K
$2.99 Novellette Stories: 7-15K
$3.99 Novella Short-stories: 15-35K
$4.99 Short Novels: 35-50K
$5.99 Mid-sized Novels 50-70K
$6.99 Large Novels: 70-140K

Of course, all of these are just suggested guidelines. If you’re either famous or unknown these rules go straight out the window with great frequency. Besides, I’m just a guy with a blog who has learned a few things via the school of hardknocks—what do I know, anyway? Find what works for you—and if something isn’t clicking, change it!

Review: Visions of a Dream

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I have always had a fickle interest in Alexander the Great. My problem is that while he is such an incredibly interesting figure I’ve been so disappointed with how he has been portrayed through Hollywood and other media. I won’t go into it in great detail, but I’ve always found modern portrayal either lacking in substance or too fixated on one feature or another that I lost all interest. That said, I found Justine Hemmestad’s Alexander to be very interesting as the man struggles with philosophy and deity (which is a very Greek thing to do!) but while still remaining the beloved conquering hero. Spiritual themes intersperse the narrative in an interesting way as the intrigue of his court unfolds and he conquers the known world—but yearns to conquer another: the one inside him.

Hemmestad has obviously done her homework and more than Alexander comes to life in the story which includes many of the key players from his era as he wars across Persia, Egypt, the far east, and more. Her Alexander feels both historically accurate, and like a real man—a difficult balance to achieve—and it flows well. If you enjoy Greek history with a kind of Stephen Lawhead flair, this book may be a worthy read.

Pick up a copy of it here.

State of Writing

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I didn’t do much writing or editing last week. I got a chapter and the prologue edited for TKR3, but that’s about it. hoping to do 2 or 3 chapters this week plus have a great turnout at a comicon I’ll be at. Still editing… and will be for weeks to come.

On a sidenote, still looking forward to John in the John’s September release. I’ve got plenty of material for a followup book… now to get some more submissions to it as the series will eventually morph into a kind of devo-anthology with me editing and contributing rather than writing the whole book outright.

Books-A-Million Hates Indie Authors

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Books-A-Million hates Indie authors. There. I said it. After jumping through hoops with their extremely reluctant to talk corporate guys via email I’ve been told that there is no wiggle room. It doesn’t matter that I have a following in an area near a store I wanted to do a signing at, not does it matter that the manager was excited and wanted me to come. Under no circumstances will they carry a book that was printed at a POD press. If it hasn’t sat on a shelf in a warehouse somewhere, they refuse to let it in a store. Of course, they still want you sell it through their online portal where they can enjoy the convenience of making profit without the overhead of storage (the main point of POD) which is just hypocrisy.

Their iron-clad principle is a huge slap in the face of indie writers across the board. It shows their unwavering allegiance to the giant book machine that churns out only mass-produced rewrites of the last “big thing” that corporate suits decided was good literature and guards against any new voices in the industry. It stifles the creative ones and force-feeds readers the same old stuff. Not that all of it is bad (I enjoy Crichton and King, but wouldn’t have read some great stories had I not also read Indie books).  Really, there is much truth in Pierre Tristam’s column when he responded to a New York Times Article about bookstores, BAM in particular. (see https://flaglerlive.com/65608/end-of-bookstores-pt)

Tristam predicts that they will eventually go out of business because of their self-serving interests. “They’re to literature what Steak and Shake is to good food. They have merchandise, but they have no soul… When’s the last time our Books-A-Million hosted a writer’s reading, an interesting lecture, a book party of any sort? The company is too interested in pushing marketing gimmicks to care much about books and writers.”

I anticipate the rise of Indie bookstores—places that care about you and what you are reading, and even have recommendations. I go into chain stores and love the smell, but I’m increasingly discouraged by employees who clearly haven’t read a book since grade school. (“How do you even work here?” “I know how to brew espresso; I don’t need to know how to read.”) I’m envisioning a place like the record store in John Cusack’s High Fidelity…and I’ve been in stores just like that. Hopefully they can figure out how to work with Indie authors and not see them as a revenue source to be exploited (see other article’s I’ve written). That will mean not screwing over writers with terrible consignment terms and demands for wholesale pricing terms lower than market norms… it will also mean Indie retailers ought to find a familiarity with a work they agree to carry and not pretend to be a mini-me version of the soulless bookstore giants in an effort to make a couple bucks.

If larger stores (and smaller ones too) don’t figure out how to connect with real people again they fall the way Family Christian Stores and Borders have done. We can cry about the decline of brick and mortar or stores can try and retain their relevance. Tristam doesn’t even think that Amazon killed the retail giants—rather, they shot themselves in the foot. The internet does a much better job at being a nameless, faceless conglomerate that has everything in stock at any given time—and that’s where Books A Million will fail: they can’t stay afloat if they try to compete while limiting their stock, remaining as the fifty shades of beige that is their consumer appeal, and poking Indies in the eye at the same time.

Maybe BAM doesn’t hate indie authors—but they certainly don’t like us very much.

Review: Shadows of the Dark Crystal

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So I just finished Shadows of the Dark Crystal by J.M. Lee which I kind of picked up on a whim. As an author who found immense inspiration as a child seeing this film, I’m always drawn to anything about it (or anything from the 80s involving MotU, Thundercats, etc.) I was in a Twin Cities bookstore with my daughter (an aspiring teen author) and was telling her about the movie, which she hadn’t seen yet when another customer told me that Lee was also from MN and how he’d won a writing contest sponsored by Henson’s estate which eventually turned into a book deal… it turned out that was the author’s mother. I couldn’t very well not buy the book after that. (also, my daughter watched the movie the next day.) Perhaps my favorite part of the book is actually the dedication page—as a father whose tried to influence his kids with some of my favorite films and stories, I connected with that right out of the gate.

On to the story.

The first two chapters felt confusing because of the total immersiveness into the gelfling culture. I didn’t find the glossary until I’d completed the book (I found the second glossary when I looked the first time but didn’t see the terminology page.) By the time the third chapter came round I’d learned most of the common terms by context and so it came easier. The story was wonderful and very much in line with the film.

This book is #1 in a series and there promises to be more. From what I gather, Lee’s story may have some kind of connection and relevance to the new Netflix show coming in 2018 (maybe the only thing that could, in my mind, be a greater original series than Daredevil or Stranger Things.) The expansive nature and the worldbuilding Lee has accomplished certainly leave room for lots of story and exploration in the new show—and that’s even if the world feels small (perhaps my only complaint—though, the map and appendices in the book don’t necessarily limit the world of Thra. (I especially loved the expansion on the gelfling clans, their differences, and the race’s hero legend of Jarra-Jen).

I assume that Lee has been active in online Dark Crystal communities and read the other source material (perhaps even some of Henson’s notes not readily available to the community at large) in order to achieve the mythopoeic level he’s achieved. But what amazes me is how he did it in this format: the book’s flow, language, and characters are so easily accessible that this is a book with an upper-middle-grade audience. That takes both skill and savvy editing. I will definitely pick up the next, and perhaps some of the other books and explore the rest of the larger mythos (Legends of the Dark Crystal and Henson’s Creation Myths,) before Netflix really expands the story in the original medium.

Pick up this book. While you’re at it, go ahead and pre-order book #2, Song of the Dark Crystal which releases in exactly one week. Follow my blog for more reviews and info!

State of Writing

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I had a great book signing in the Mankato Mall’s B&N… almost sold out of books there (despite it seeming slow. I asked the manager for the best sales hours and so we did an event in the evening. Always default to local expertise.) Those people who were in the store were serious shoppers. One lady bought a copy of all my titles they carried, another was looking for bookclub ideas, and another awesome family of readers and fellow nerds had an armload of books and I got to help their teenage son get a couple of mine and then shop for other stories in the SF/F section with him to guide him towards some stuff I thought he might like. That’s a total win. (also a newspaper interview and stuff.)

I really did not do much on my writing besides some blogging (I try to keep at least a month’s worth of articles scheduled in advance.) My art team has pulled together some good stuff. Final pages of the WotT comic are still coming in and I had a deviantart user complete a repaint of my cover for TKR1 so that it matches the second book (more of a fantasy oil-painting) so that the motif stays consistent.

An email went out to my mailing list about beta readers for WotT2 (contact me if you want to read it and provide feedback—be forewarned, it’s bigger, badder, and darker…about 400 pages.) I will begin edits on TKR3 this week! As soon As that’s done I can start sketching out The Hidden Rings of Myrddin the Cambion.

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cover comparison

State of Writing

I usually write these updates on Mondays but I was recovering from my job and doing some family vacation stuff… I did want to get t it. I’m just late. My biggest report is that I completed the second draft of WotT2 on the 4th of July! I also did some prep and promo work for upcoming book signings, etc. I’m about to take a needed break to brainstorm and outline some upcoming projects and begin the final draft for TKR3 (while doing a cover art revision for TKR1 and finish producing the WotT comic).