Friday, December 2, 2016

December Progress Report

November has come and gone. Did you get your 50K word novel written?

I certainly wrote 50K words, but deleted half of them. However, I'm happy to report that I still ended up with 27,000 fairly decent words and that having written so many of them over several times, I ended up with a pretty solid second draft of new episode in The Lost Star's Sea saga. (I hope.) I'm glad to have it a'stern. It wasn't an easy piece to write. I wanted a brisk, lighthearted, fast action episode, and it didn't work like that. After half a million words, you can't make your characters do what you'd like. They have to be who they are. I felt that I had to force myself to get through it. Hopefully that doesn't show.

I've now started on the next episode. I'm hoping this one will be the lighthearted adventure I wanted to write – a short, simple adventure – say 15K words. Since I know what I want to do, with any luck, I should have it done by the end of December, even with all the holiday comings and going.

After this one there are only two more episodes that remain to be written.

For the penultimate one I want a fairly long picturesque travel piece across a large island with relatively primitive civilization, sort of like traveling 200 to 300 years ago through many parts of the world. I have the locale well pictured in my mind along with an idea for a new character I'd like to write about, but I currently have no story line to go with the journey – which is a problem. I can't just do a travelogue of wonders – there has to be some sort of plot, with dangers to faced (or avoided if Litang has his way) and something worthwhile to win, during that journey. I have one idea, but I'm not sure how it can, or if it can be fleshed out yet. The good thing is that I have a month to think about it (while I walk in circles around my basement, since it's now too cold to go out on my bike). Worst come to worst, I could probably just skip this episode entirely, since it doesn't include anything relevant to the main thrust of the story and move on to the concluding episode – which I have well in hand. Or I could buy some time and write the last episode before the travel one.

I'm happy with the way the story wraps up, especially since the plot I decided on for this volume made it rather hard to tie both volumes together. Luckily, I found a plausible way to tie up a lot of the loose ends from The Bright Black Sea, and some explanations of the mysteries of the Pela I tossed in this story along the way for "color" as well – back when they were still mysteries to me.

My goal is to have everything done in first/second draft by the end of March. Including the Castaways story I've already released, I currently have some 207K words written in pretty close to final form, and the last three episodes should add 100K more words (or more, given how I write) so The Lost Star's Sea should be a fitting companion volume to The Bright Black Sea. If all goes as planned. We'll see.

If anyone is interested in reading the next to final draft of these stories to provide volunteer feed back, proof reading, or just an early read, send me an email and I will put you on the list. There's no obligation to do anything since the book will be released for free, so I can't even offer you a free book.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Bright Black Sea Ver.3.4 is released



I've released version 3.4 of The Bright Black Sea. I would like to thank Walt for pointing out some typos that remained in version 3.3. I corrected those as took the opportunity to add a few sentences to deal with a couple of small things issues that I wanted to address.

The first was that as the story evolved, medical technology sort of evolved as well – and I had Captain Miccall dying on page 1 while at a full medical center. I added a sentence to explain that – Miccall was old, over the "Unity Standard" life span of 200 and a decade or two more years. This life span is limited by biological factors and the ability of the med-machines to manipulate older cells. And perhaps by Unity policy as well.

I should mention that the human specie in these stories, which are likely set some 80K years in the future, are “homo stellar” rather than homo sapien. In addition to being far more tolerant of weightless conditions than current humans, they have a far more robust body and immune system in order to tolerate a wider variety of non-Terran worlds. I would assume this was done by design rather than by evolution. I should acknowledge that by keeping my characters very human and familiar, in effect, turning a blind eye to 80,000 years of social and technological evolution, I'm cheating. The humans 80,000 years from now, if they exist, are likely very different from us – but I have no interest in exploring just how.

The second place I added a few sentences is where the Lost Star is accelerating on it's interstellar voyage to Zilantre. I have them accelerating to “Mark 7”, more than twice as fast as normal, and so the pseudo-gravitational effect of inertia would be something like twice what than they were accustomed to during normal acceleration and braking. I wanted to mention that effect in passing. While I tried to keep my cheating with physics to a minimum, I did not go so far as to calculate just how fast the ship needed to be going, and how fast or long it needed to be accelerated to reach that speed. From my research it seemed that you can get pretty far, pretty fast by accelerating at 1 gravity for extended periods of time, so I don't think it would have been much more than that, it's just that being used to free fall, any gravity was a pain for spaceers – though being homo stellar, they could easily adopt to it after prolonged periods of weightlessness.

Again, thanks to Walt and all the others who have helped make the story more enjoyable for the readers that follow them. Once The Lost Star's Sea is nearing completion, hopefully this coming spring, I will be putting out the call for volunteer beta readers. I'll offer more detail when it's closer to the time, but if you think you might be interested, just email me at cmlitka@gmail.com and I'll put you on the list to get the details.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Amateur Author Report



Six months ago I posted the results of my first year in self-publishing -- sales, free downloads, rating, and review numbers. 

In that post I also placed my experience in the context of self publishing as a whole. Rather than wait another year, I thought I'd update those numbers at the year and a half mark, since we crossed a significant milestone this month – 10,000+ downloads of my stories.

Here are the download numbers: 12 mo.   18 mo.     last 6 mo.
A Summer in Amber                  2,222     3,075      853
Some Day Days                         1,139     1,445      306
The Bright Black Sea                 3,176     4,855    1,679
Castaways of the Lost Star          ----     1,108    1,108 (3 months)

Total books distributed:                6,537    10,483

These totals include a few books sold, either in the non-USA Amazon store where they are not price-matched, or in the case of The Black Bright Sea, from 10 March to 1 Sept during which time it was on sale for $3.99 on Amazon until some time in July when I reduced it to $.99 for the release of Castaways of the Lost Star. I sold about 30 copies of The Black Bright Sea during that 6 month period. All together I may have sold a bit over 55 copies world-wide of all my books in the last year and a half, putting my total royalties well into double figures! (Four, if you count cents.)

A fair chunk of the 4,000 books downloaded in the last six months can be attributed to the release of The Bright Black Sea sequel, Castaways of the Lost Sea, which bumped up downloads across the board as well as contributing it's 1,100 copies to the total. In May I was thinking of not releasing a book in 2016, but since Castaways has a fairly stand alone story arc and was long enough to be released as a sequel on its own, I decided to go ahead and release it as this year's book.

I'd like to thank all of you for downloading, reading and rating my stories. I hope you discovered some new, and pleasant worlds to live in for a few hours. And as always, I enjoy hearing from you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How Indie are Indie Publishers?

The recent Author Earnings October report, that tracks Amazon book sales, showed a steep drop in the market share and earnings of indie published books. This is the first time in the nearly three years they been reporting indie published ebooks have declined and came as a shock to many indie publishers. No one knows why sales declined. Nor if this is just a one quarter bump in the road or the shape of things to come. However, several reasons have been suggested for this drop in sales. Some indie authors believe Amazon is miscounting pages reads in its Kindle Unlimited program, not only reducing author earnings for books in that program, but because page reads also factor into the sales rank charts, fewer page reads can depress a book's ranking, making it less visible which results in fewer sales. It has also been suggested that other tweak in the way Amazon promotes books have recently favored traditional publishers' books. Others suggest that traditional publishers, large, medium, small, and Amazon, are now more effectively competing with indies published titles – using social medium and special sale prices more aggressively. One last suggestion is that the book promoting newsletter BookBub is featuring many more traditionally published books than it did in the past, and that it now too expensive for indie publishers to place paid ads in the newsletter to promote their books. I gather that BookBub was a major selling engine for indie publishers. However, no one knows for sure. We'll have to see how it all pays out. Still, it did get me to thinking about just how independent indie publishers really are that minor changes in their retail channel or promotional opportunities can cause a 20% dip in sales.

The short answer is not very. When you come to think about it, how independent can any ebook publisher be when they do 73% to 100% of their business with one retailer? Amazon controls about 73% of the ebook market, with iBook, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, and Smashwords dividing the remaining 27%. So even if an indie publisher puts their books for sale in all the viable ebook stores, they still are relying on only half a dozen retailers – a very narrow base to build a business on.

But their dependence goes deeper than just the limited retail channels. It goes right to the heart of their product. Indie publishers produce a digital file on a hard drive which has little to no intrinsic value. It may have potential value, but no commercial value until it is placed in its retail container – an ebook format – which is owned by the retailers via either a proprietary format or through their DRM software, and then sold exclusively in their stores. In essence, indie publishers are simply content providers for a handful of retailers. And indeed, they actually provide this content for free, in exchange for a cut of any sales their content might generate, though they have no say in how their content will be sold. Amazon, for example, displays competing books on every book's product, and will gladly sell ad space on a book's product page to competitors as well. Amazon is simply selling books. What book it sells doesn't matter to Amazon and the more books it has to offer – the more competition the book producers must face – the better it is for Amazon.

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program perfectly illustrates how little clout indie publishers have with Amazon. To get in the program – which allows subscribers to read an unlimited number of mostly indie published books for free – publishers must agree not to sell their ebooks in any other ebook store. In return Amazon pays these publishers each month for however many pages it determines have been read in each book. The entire process is a black box, completely opaque to publishers in the program. Not only does Amazon alone decide what rate they'll pay out each month, but publishers have no idea how Amazon counts their pages read – the sort of deal you get when you have no negotiating power at all.

The bottom line is that indie publisher' business is dependent on Amazon and a few smaller retailers. Amazon can promote and sell the products they carry however they like. And even if indie publishers expand their offerings to paper books and audio books, Amazon is still the major seller of these versions as well, commanding about 50% of the print book market. And since it is extremely hard for indie publishers to get their paper books into brick and mortar stores, Amazon would likely sell upwards of 95% of any paper and audio books produced as well. In short, indie publishers are simply Amazon suppliers of a commodity that is not, and unlikely ever will be, in short enough supply for indie publishers to have any control of their market, or indeed, commercial product.

I suppose it can be argued that this has always been the case. Authors may have many more options to sell their work to big, medium and small traditional publishers, but seeing that they pretty much have to crawl through the eye of a needle to get anything published, they are just as dependent on the whims of large corporations as indie publishers. But at least the select few who do sell their work are paid up front for their work, and, at least in the past, offered a contract that provided some financial security – something indie publishers completely lack. The truth is that being an author is a poor business choice. That, however, has never kept people from writing, nor is it likely to prevent authors from self-publishing.







Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What's up with the Lost Star's Sea?


The short answer is not much. However, as winter closes in, the writing season opens up. Trapped in the house, I have little to distract me from writing. Well, actually I have a lot of things that I could use to distract me, but a lot less in winter than in summer.

To bring you up to date on the project, I can report that the next three episodes, The Shadow Marches, The Mountain of Gold, and The Voyage of the Lora Lake, are nearly completed. Each needs to be read over on my ipad, and polished up a bit before being proof read. Worst come to worst, they would be available for release in 2017. Together they total over 125K words, each running something like 40K words each. (That's about half the size of The Castaways of the Lost Star.) The problem is that while I hope that readers would find each of the stories entertaining, they are very much “Act 2,” which is to say, none of the over-arching issues and mysteries get resolved. Given this, I am very reluctant to release them as I think they would be a disappointing installment in the series. (Which is why I released the Castaways episode as a stand alone one – it at least had a beginning, middle and end – though not the final end.)

The bad news is that up till now I've not been very fired up to embark on writing the final series of episodes. And since writing is not a job for me, I've no pressing reason to write until I'm fired up. I think there's a risk that if the story is written as a job, the lack of enthusiasm might come across in the story. There are, however, two pieces of good news. The first is that I'm slowly getting more fired up to start and I am spending lots of time daydreaming about the story. This is a fairly long process because I generally have to daydream up dozens of versions of every scene to get something that works well. But that's half the fun. There's far more to every story than what gets put into words – plus many alternate histories…

The second bit of good news is that I just completed an 8 page, 6K word outline of the remaining story. I don't need this outline to write the story, but I wanted to set it out just in case the story never get written. While I have no reason to suspect that I'm at death's door, at 66, if I did not wake up tomorrow morning and it would raise few eyebrows. And then there's the chance that I'll never be able to write it for some other reason short of death. In either case, I want you, my readers, to know what happens to Litang and all his friends. And well, I'm also pretty amazed at how it all fell into place. It is my practice to toss a lot of little items into the mix to serve as color and just for the heck of it because they sound interesting, only to discover later on that I could use them as a key feature of the story. Botts is a perfect example. I knew I might be able to use it, but I had no idea how until the perfect time came to introduce him. So, now, when I found that I was able to use a lot of those little things I had tossed in The Bright Black Sea as well as the Castaways to tie up a whole lot of loose ends in the story that I had no idea how, or even if I could, I was pretty proud of myself. And well, I hate to deny you the chance to see how amazingly well I managed to do wrap things up and answer a lot of questions I would've though I might have had to leave hanging should worst come to wrorst. Hopefully you'll get to read the whole story, but at least the truth is out there. Or in my Lost Star's Sea file, anyway.

So the plan is to finish the last half of the story by the end of March. I'm going to try to do a very complete job of the first draft this time around, so that I can cut down on the number of subsequent revisions. Up to now I was more concerned about getting the story down than how it read. I save that part for the next two or three or six revisions. Now I'm hoping to get it down to three – a second run through and then a polishing version. The target date is early fall 2017, about a year from now. I started the third part of The Bright Black Sea at this time and had it out in September, after half a dozen rewrites. So it should be doable, if all goes well.


The Lost Star's Sea will conclude the adventures of Wil Litang.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Propsects for Indie Publishing Look Dim

Ebooks and the simplicity of self publishing have ushered in a golden era for both readers and writers. Metaphorically. When it comes to real gold, the intensely competitive nature of the ebook market dooms any prospect for a long term commercial business or professional career in writing and selling ebooks. The same characteristics of ebooks that bedevil traditional publishers – their vast number and cheapness – applies to indie ebook publishers as well – the vast number of cheaper ebooks. While fortunes have been made in indie publishing and money will still be made in the future, it will be increasingly difficult to make enough money, reliably, year in year out, to build anything more than a cottage industry once the price of indie ebooks falls to $.99 or less – as it will. It is simply a matter of basic economics.

Traditional publishers manage their business – publishing only enough books to satisfy the market. One book, out of hundreds of submissions, is published, with the unpublished ones finding a home in the bottom drawers of desks. Ebooks and self publishing have changed publishing. Stories, novels, and nonfiction writing once consigned to a drawer can now be easily and inexpensively published as ebooks. Anyone who can produce a manuscript can convert it to a book – at little or no cost – and offer it for sale alongside the traditional publishers in a market that reaches millions of readers. With hundreds of unpublished writers for every published one, there is every reason to expect that the ebook market will continue its rapid growth. In this easily accessible, unfettered market, with more than a hundred thousand individual producers already offerings 4+ million ebooks, with tens of thousands more being added each month, the ultimate selling price of ebooks will be determined by the law of supply and demand. And since ebooks can be produced with just a home computer and spare time – no money required – one can expect intense competition to eventually drive indie ebook prices down to Amazon's minimum price of $.99 over the next five to ten years.

The theory of supply and demand says that when the supply of a product exceeds the demand for the product, the price will fall. Prices fall because the producers cut prices to sell unsold inventory and drive the less efficient and weaker producers out of the market. When enough producers have abandoned the market and the surplus inventory dries up, the remaining producers can then raise prices. Since ebooks can cost so little to produce and writers are accustomed to producing books with little chance of making money, it will be impossible to drive enough producers out of the ebook market to raise prices. And those who do exit the market, have no incentive to take their existing ebooks with them, so the surplus will continue to grow. Given the number of new writers entering the ebook market, it seem unlikely that the mechanism of supply and demand will stem the rapid increase in the number of indie ebooks, or keep prices from falling.

Assuming, of course, that there is an oversupply of ebooks in the market. Lets look at some numbers.

At the time of this writing, Amazon has added 109,086 new ebooks in the last 30 days, including 11,757 new romance titles, 2,597 science fiction titles 3,704 fantasy titles, and 6,077 thrillers. This is in addition to the 4,000,000 plus ebooks already in stock. Intuitively, this seems like far more books than the market can profitably support.

Still, this has been the case for several years now, and it has not driven all prices down to $.99. Indeed, the average price of indie ebooks has stayed fairly stable, moving between $3.67 to $4.25. In Jan. 2016 it was $3.76. The percent of $.99 has also been fairly stable. Author Earnings' “Data Guy” has provided these figures:
36.3% of all indie unit sales in May 2015
40.4% of all indie unit sales in September 2015
43.0% of all indie unit sales in November 2015
37.7% of all indie unit sales in January 2016
30.9% of all indie unit sales in May 2016
40.4% of all indie unit sales in October 2016

Clearly, prices are not going to fall over night. However, the market is still a very young one and still in flux. Since the indie publishing market has been growing in both revenue and market share, this growth may have protected it from some of the competitive pressure that would tend to drive down prices. Recently, it has stopped growing and revenues have fallen, which might explain the nearly 10% jump in $.99 ebooks from May to October. Still, change in the market will be a slow process for a number of reasons.

One reason is that only a small portion of the market is actively in competition. Despite the size of the market, only about 2.5% or so of the the ebooks on the market sell in any meaningful quantities at all.

Author Earnings provides the chart below from their presentation at the Digital Book World Conference.


The top selling 100,000 books from all publishers (the upper 2.5%) account for 75% of the sales. This top 2.5% includes books selling at a rate of one book a day, or 365 books a year. The fact is that even today the vast majority of indie authors don't have enough sales to constitute a commercial enterprise even with the average price at $3.76.

As I mentioned, writers are unlikely to be easily discouraged and will stay in the market even if it can not be justified as a business. The reverse is also likely to be true; they are in the in the market not as a business but as a way getting their work "out there" for people to read, and so, may not act as a business and may not respond to the usual market pressures. This being the case, the functional indie ebook market is likely much smaller than the numbers would suggest, and the over supply issue not as pressing. To date. However, with the market continuing to grow, every day is bring active competitors with viable products into the market, so competition will only increase.

Ironically, another reason for price stability may be that the high price of traditional published ebooks which makes indie ebooks that sell in the $1 to $5 range seem like a bargain, and thus, giving them breathing room to maintain their price structure. Indie authors often criticize traditionally published books – often in the $12 - $15 range for new releases, as being far too high, but those prices may well be providing a price umbrella that protects indie publishers' current prices.

As I mentioned, the indie publishing market has been growing, and gaining market share from traditional publishers – so the future looked rosy for the successful indie publishers as a group, giving them no incentive to cut prices. That may have been changing over the last several months. The Author Earning's October 2016 Survey
shows that indie publishing took a fairly steep nosedive in sales – giving up a year's worth of growth. There are a number of theories why this happened, but the most likely seem to revolve around traditional publishers putting more effort into to advertising and special price deals – both on Amazon and on BookBub, a popular newsletter for readers that offers special deals and is a driving force for sales.It seems that it has become increasingly hard for indie publishers to get their books selected for inclusion in BookBub, and paid advertising is too expensive for most indie publishers. In addition, Amazon may be tilting its pricing practices in a way that favors bigger publishers. This is only a single quarter survey, so nothing can be said for certain about the future, but from what indie publishers are saying, the industry might be facing more headwinds from some deep pocket competitors than it had before. We will see how it responds.

One other factor may come into play as well, and that is Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program, which offers subscribers unlimited access to over a million largely indie published ebooks for free. Amazon pays publishers based on the number of pages in the book read. Seeing that they are already offering their books to readers for free in this program, publishers have little incentive to cut the price of their stand alone sales book since a $4.99 book for free looks like a better deal than a $.99 one.

The mechanism of supply and demand is not an automatic one. Individual producers must make the decision to cut prices in response to the sales environment. In the indie publishing world, that decision has to be made by thousands of producers within the small best selling sector. While 35%-43% of indie books are priced at $.99 is not an insignificant number, it appear that the indie publishers selling most of the books have not felt a pressing need lower their prices. Since it would be very hard – and likely impossible – to build an indie publishing business at the $.99 price point, it is easy to understand their reluctance to do so. The $.99 price is used as an introductory or sale price. Using it as a regular price is little better than making no sales at higher prices, so prices are not going to fall fast. But as more and better ebooks enter the market -- often at the $.99 price point -- in the coming years, it is going to be increasingly hard to maintain the higher price points.

I should make it clear that the universal $.99 ebook will be an indie published ebook and clearly, it is not going to happen over night. Traditional publishers are very unlikely to let their ebooks fall to this level. Traditional publishers' main business is in print sales, and they are likely in the ebook market simply to hedge their bets. They have absolutely no incentive to underprice their print books by offering their ebooks too cheaply, even if it means few, if any ebook sales. 

Will the demand side ride to indie publishing's rescue before indie ebooks sell for $.99? Ebooks, after all, are touted to be the future of books. Not likely. The 2016 Pew Research Survey
chart below, shows that ebook readership rose from from 14% to 28% in 2014 and has since plateaued.



While three years is not long enough to prove that ebooks have found and filled their niche, it certainly hints that they have. We have further evidence of this from a survey commissioned by Kobo.(https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/digital-reading-driven-by-older-women-study-claims
This survey found that the ebook market is being “driven” by 10% of all ebook customers – prolific readers who purchase, an average, 60 ebooks a year.

To get a rough estimate of the ebook market, I'll combine both surveys. There are about 250 million adults in America, so 28% of adults comes out to 70 million people who read an ebook in the past year. And if 10% of readers are driving the market, we have a core readership of 7 million prolific readers who will purchase 420 million ebooks a year. Amazon is selling 1,064,000 books a day or 388 million books a year and does about 73% of the ebook business, which means that about 532 million ebooks in total are sold in a year in the US. Less than half of them, however, are indie published. Clearly there are hundreds of millions of dollars in play, but the question is if any indie publishing company can reliably capture enough of that money, year after year, to support a profession or a commercial enterprise.

I wish to emphasize “reliable” since I think that is the basis of any ongoing career or business. In the print world, contracts provide a reliable source of income to writers. They are paid advances not dependent on actual sales and so they have a reliable, if not necessarily lucrative, income for as long as they remain under contract. Indie publishers, on the other hand, make their money one sale at a time, one day at a time, with no guarantees as to how long those sales will last. Moreover, writers in traditional publishing have perhaps a hundred significant competitors – and are probably not even viewed as competitors since authors are paid by the publishing house who worry about competition. In contrast, indie authors must contend with thousands of competitors – more added each month. In short, the economic environment of the indie author/publisher is vastly different than that of the cloistered traditional published author, and it is far more brutal.

Still, books are not bushels of grain or pork bellies. Each book is unique, each author has a style of their own. Both books and authors can vary greatly in the quality and style of writing and in the stories they tell. Because of this, some argue that the number of competitors doesn't matter because authors have loyal fans who will buy their books. There is some truth to this, but in the end, the differences between books and authors fade in the face of tens of thousands of competing books.

As for quality – potboilers and pulp stories have always found a ready market, despite their lack of literary quality. Readers in most genres value stories over writing, so that good enough writing is good enough. With the quality bar set fairly low, and with so many ebooks to choose from, quality is unlikely to limit competition in most genres.

Distinctive differences between two books can be significant, but when considering thousands, the differences pale in comparison to the similarities. This is especially true in popular fiction genres where writers are often instructed to study the most popular works in their field and imitate them, right down to cover design. This works because people like variations on familiar themes and styles. With the vast selection of indie ebooks, readers have many acceptable choices from many familiar authors.

Prolific readers read books faster than prolific writers write them – according to the Kobo survey, they'll have read 59 other books between the books of one novel a year writers. Given their need for books to read, prolific readers read many authors and likely have a long and ever growing list of favorites, and since authors are not sports teams, readers can have many favorite authors. From the comments on the Author Earnings October 2016 report, it appears that a lot of writers have recently experienced sharp drops in their sales. Some blame missing page counts in the Kindle Unlimited program, some changes in Bookbub or Amazon policies, but I suspect a lot has to do with an increasingly crowded and competitive market. We have some data to suggest this. The Author Earnings' May 2016 report
broke down the earnings of the highest grossing authors into three categories – those earning at a rate of over $10K per year, those over $25K and those over $50K. In each of these categories, half of the authors had only published their first book within the last three years. Since we know that the market has not doubled in size over the last three years, these new authors had to have reached the dizzying heights of publishing success by taking sales away from other authors. Fan loyalty is no shield against competition.

I have one last illustration of the business prospects of the indie ebook market. Below is a chart from the Author Earnings' presentation to the Romance Writers of America.



This chart shows that a romance author can expect to make $2 a day, or $730 a year with one ebook on the market – though for how long that revenue lasts is not stated. Once an author has written 20 to 30 books – perhaps 10, or 20 years down the road, an author might be earning about $30,000 a year. And these figures are based on past sales levels, when most books were sold for more than $.99. An indie author/publisher selling books at $.99 each, would have to sell 28,571 copies to earn $10K, 71,428 copies for $25K and 142,857 copies to earn $50K in royalties – though most ebooks sell in the 100's of copies. And for an indie publisher to make a commercial business out of it, they would need to sell that many ebooks – year after year for a decade or more for a “career” as a “professional” indie author/publisher.

The gold rush days of indie publishing are over. Millionaires may have been made in the gold rush era, and there are many indie authors who made good money in the first years of the Kindle ebook market, but those days are over. Like any gold rush, the late comers find slim pickings. I live in rural Wisconsin, surrounded by the ruins of ma & pa businesses – dairy barns slowly falling to ruin, empty storefronts on main streets – yet the fields are planted and harvested by giant machines, and vast sheds house a thousand or more dairy cows that are milked around the clock. WalMart is never far away. Big wins. The one author, ma & pa indie publisher, simply has no viable commercial future.

Still, that doesn't mean this isn't a golden era for writers whose primary concern is to write and reach an audience with their writings. It is. Day jobs were created so that writers – and artist of all sorts – could earn enough money to be able to bring their stories, art, and ideas into the world and not starve while doing so. Do it.





Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bright Black Sea & Castaways are now Free on Amazon

I dropped Amazon a line with links to let them know that both of these books are being offered free elsewhere and they very kindly dropped the price to free on Amazon as well. As I have mentioned before, I can not list a book for free on Amazon, but they can match the lowest available price -- if they choose to. This can change at any time.

Since giving my stories away -- or selling them at the lowest price I can --  is my way of "advertising", I'm very happy that Amazon has once more dropped the price to free. In the nearly 6 months The Bright Black Sea was for sale at $3.99 and then $.99 I may have sold less than 30 copies. Ten times that many were downloaded in the first 10 days after being reduced to free. The way I look at is that the price of getting read by hundreds of readers is the royalties of half a dozen books sold a month. In short, not much.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Note on Fauna


One of the Pela's any sorts of feathered fauna, a “sentry serpent” first appeared in The Black Bright Sea. In the first edition of this story, the sentry serpent was incorrectly described as a snake rather than as a serpent type of dragon. I regret this error. I can only claim that term “sentry serpent” led me to assume the creature was a snake rather than the long, Chinese-style " serpent dragons" of the Pela. That, and the great distance from which this story originates – untold numbers of light years and perhaps 80,000 years in the future. At the time I rather wondered how this creature could move – my inaccurate description had it moving by a combination of wiggling and expanding and contracting it's feathers never seemed to make much sense. And so on further investigation I discovered my mistake.

This mistake was corrected in later editions of the story. (Non-Amazon editions can be updated with new editions from Smashwords and iBooks. Newer editions, in addition to this correction have many typos corrected as well. Highly recommended.)


Siss

The actual sentry-serpent, or Simla dragon as it is know in the part of the Pela that the Castaways of the Lost Star takes place in, is a serpent dragon which looks much like a rather slim, feathered crocodile. (See the quick sketch above.) Simla dragons move in weightless conditions much like earth crocodiles swim through water, using their tail, with it's feathers extended to create a broad paddle, and with a little help from their legs.

I mention this because that a Simla dragon is a character in the Castaways of the Lost Star, and if anyone reads that story from the first edition of The Bright Black Star, may well be confused by the metamorphosis of this sentry-serpent into something rather different.



Thursday, August 4, 2016

Castaways of the Lost Star


The adventures, and misadventures of Captain Wil Litang continue with the release of The Lost Star Tales #2, Castaways of the Lost Star. Wil Litang is back to spin another of his “old spaceer's” tales, this time of danger and romance amongst the floating islands of the Archipelago of the Tenth Star. When we had last seen Litang, at the end of The Bright Black Sea, he had embarked on what proved to be an ill considered mission to warn the friends he'd left behind that the old leader of the counter-revolution, Hawker Vinden, could not be trusted. And that he was brutally ruthless enough to murder a dozen people, including old friends and shipmates, just to insure the secret of the Tenth Star did not leak out.

As we know from the end of The Bright Black Sea, something went awry. Litang awakens in the wreckage of the gig smashed into on a small floating island that is drifting ever deeper into the archipelago. And he finds that he's not alone – a very mixed blessing.

Castaways of the Lost Star is the first story, or “episode” in Litang's adventures amongst the islands of the Archipelago that will be (hopefully) eventually collected into The Lost Star's Sea, a companion volume to The Bright Black Sea. It is, however, a novel length story – nearly 73K words long – and acts as the hinge between Litang's adventures in the Nines Star Nebula and his new adventures in the Archipelago of the Tenth Star, wrapping up the loose ends in the former and introducing some of the mysteries and settings in the latter.

Whereas the first book of Litang's adventures was an old style space opera, written in a richer, more character-driven style than the old pulp adventures, Castaways of the Lost Star is a “planetary romance” redone in a similar matter. It seems that the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories that I read in my teen years, many years ago, left their mark in all my writings, and in this story I've taken the typical Burroughs story with a shipwrecked hero in a strange land filled with danger and romance and re-imaged it my style, turning a few of the conventions upside down, while still paying homage to those wonderful stories of Barsoom, Venus, Pellucidar and the Land that Time Forgot.

Castaways of the Lost Star is available for FREE on Smashwords, and will make its way to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo in the next few days. It is also available on Amazon for $.99, Amazon's minimum price, along with The Bright Black Sea. Smashwords offers a FREE kindle compatible version if you care to take the trouble to side load the mobi version on to your kindle. I am not in the “business” of writing or selling books. I write and publish my stories simply because I enjoy the writing and sharing of them, so that FREE is my preferred price.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Are Indie-published Ebooks the New Pulps?

Indie eBooks or ePulps?


Indie-publishing may be a very different beast than most people give it credit for. Its readership and reader expectations differ significantly from those of traditional publishing. It might pay to view ebooks, and especially indie-publishing, not as the 21st century version of traditional book publishing, but as the 21st century version of the fiction magazine – the “pulps” of the past. If this is the case, then ebooks may not be the future of book publishing, but rather, destined to remain a semi-autonomous niche market. Far fetched? Let's look at the many parallels between the pulps and indie-publishing so that you can decide for yourself.

The pulp magazines of the first half of the last century were "cheap reads," like the indie-published ebooks today. In the pulp era, when hardcover books cost between $2 to $3, with the cheaper reprints at a $1, most pulp magazines sold for $.10 to $.20. Today, with hardcover books' cover price in the $20 to $30 range, and traditionally published ebooks running $12 to $16, most indie-published ebooks cost between $1 and $5; priced just like the pulps when compared to traditionally published books, and aimed at same, budget conscious readers. The similarities, however, go much deeper than just price.

Like the pulps, indie-published ebooks appeal to avid readers – readers who consume stories faster than traditional publishers release them. Just as the pulps met the demand for more stories, more often, indie-published books, released by the thousands each week, supplement the traditional publishers' slower release cycle.


And like the pulps, indie-publishing, with it's low overhead and cheap, ebook format, can profitably serve niche markets; markets too small, or too controversial, for traditional publishers to bother with. In addition, many indie-authors, like pulp publishers, often make slim profits on each issue, but enough to keep cranking out titles year after year.

The similarities extend beyond price, volume, and profits. It's reflected in content as well. As I mentioned above, the pulps offered stories for every reader, every interest and taste. There were pulp magazines devoted to railroads, air planes, submarines, zeppelins, ships and the sea, cowboys, detectives, gangsters, science fiction, fantasy, horror, boxing, sports, and all types of romance stories. Indie-published ebooks offer the same sweeping spectrum of stories for every taste, no matter how obscure.

The distribution model of pulps and ebooks also share the distinction that, unlike traditionally published books, you're not likely to find them in bookstores. The pulps were sold on newsstands, in drug stores, and in other non-traditional book venues. Today indie-ebooks, POD print books, and audio books are mostly sold online, rarely finding their way into bookstores.


Indie-ebooks and pulps share more than just a similar market. Their subject matter, writing styles, and writing philosophy are very similar as well. Of course there is a wide variety of small press and indie-published books, many of which don't follow the pulp formula, yet it seems that many of the most successful ones do. Readers of both the pulps, and indie-published ebooks, tend to be story orientated readers rather than style orientated ones. The great secret in publishing is that many readers are not all that fussy when it comes to how stories are written. If the story draws them in, and they find it entertaining, they'll turn a blind eye to how well it's written. “Pot boilers” have always sold well. Moreover, not only do readers value stories more than writing, they like the familiar. Stories written in familiar formulas are welcomed, rather than despised. Much of the advice given to aspiring indie-writers promote the pulp, formula of writing. Give them stories you know they like – research your market. Write fast, one draft if you can. Write short, 50K word novels, short novellas, and short stories. Publish frequently to keep readers engaged. Find a formula that works and stick with it. And write series, where not only the formula, but the characters are familiar. I'm not saying that this style is universal in indie-writing, only that it makes up a good portion of the commercially successful indie-ebooks exactly because it appeals to the same type of reader that was attracted to the pulps in their day.


Some pulp writers, like indie-writers, found great commercially success, despite the fact that neither the pulps or indies stories are reviewed in the mainstream media. In the hay day of pulps, there were pulp writers making movie star incomes, just as there are millionaire indie-writers today. And, like today's indie-authors, many new writers wrote for the pulps before moving on (or “up”) to traditional publishing – just like the many successful indie-writers do today. Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, P G Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, and H P Lovecraft, just to name a few started their careers writing for the pulps. Like their modern counterparts, pulp writers sold their work in many formats from traditional books to Hollywood screen plays, like today's hybrid writers and indie-writers who diversify into POD books and audio books. The first Tarzan movie came out only a few years after it appeared in the pulps, like The Martian today. This entrepreneur spirit, is a feature of both the successful pulp and indie author
.
There are, of course, many differences as well. Pulp writers, for example, wrote for a much smaller audience – pulp magazine editors. The magazines offered an established brand and provided services like editing and story guidance, ideas, proofreading, and marketing at no charge to the writer. The magazines, being anthologies, helped new writers reach readers and convey credibility by their association with both the magazine and its more well known contributors. These days, indie-authors must pay for many of these services out of pockets– and bear the financial risks involved in publishing as well.


Despite the differences, it seems to me that the indie-publisher today is the direct descendant of pulp writers of the past. And that their markets are functionally the same. If that is the case, then the indie-published ebook market should be viewed as something distinct and different from the tradition print book market – not only in form, but in function as well.

So what?

Well, for the indie-writer it may mean looking at their business a bit differently, since it's a different tradition with, perhaps, a different future than traditional book publishing. Traditional book publishers might want to take a hard look at their position in that market with a historical perspective. They co-existed with, and survived long after the pulp market died off. They may not be able to outlive the indie-ebook market, but they can almost certainly co-exist with it.


The question then arises, do they need to compete in the ebook market at all? They left the pulps be pulps, so could they not turn a blind eye on ebook publishing as well? Given that they make something like 1/3rd of their incomes comes from ebooks, the answer might be a “No!” – if it meant abandoning that income entirely. But does it? If a publisher has a stable of proven, popular authors, wouldn't these authors draw most of their readers back to the print, if that was their only option (at least on first release)? How many ebook customers of traditionally published ebooks are entirely committed to reading ebooks and only ebooks? Is there not still time to draw a line between “books” in paper, and indie-published ebooks or in effect,“ePulps”?

Given that the (discounted) price of the paper edition is not much more than the agency ebook price, any resistance to this change would likely arise only from the format rather than price. I would argue that as of today, that risk seems modest. So, with the modest risk of leaving a few customers behind, traditional book publishers would create the opportunity of redefining both ebooks and print books. By exiting the ebook market, at least for hardcover and trade paperbacks, they could then draw a bold line in the sand. They could then make the case (rightly or wrongly) that there is a clear distinction between “real,” traditionally published authors, who write “real” books that are carefully selected and edited for a quality reading experience, vs the non-curated indie-published, “ePulps”, rejected stories written by beginners and amateurs, and published in great numbers on the cheap. And by removing their hardcover and trade paperback library from their ebook offering, they would drive business back into the business they know best – paper publishing.


Still, they need not abandon the ebook market entirely. They could release the ebook versions of their “real” books a month or two after the book's mass market paperback release, priced competitively with indie ebooks, say $5.99 or less. In this way they would eventually reach every potential customer; from the eager hardcover buyer to the budget reader willing to wait for the cheap ebook, without diluting the idea that traditionally published books are fundamentally different from indie-published “ePulps.”

While I'm playing the devil's advocate here as far as what traditional publishers might think and do in the ebook market, I feel comparing indie-publishing to pulps is valid. A lot of people think the big five publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with their high prices for ebooks, but they may just be too timid. Yes, the higher prices set them apart from the indies, but by withdrawing their newest, most in-demand books, they might make that distinction even sharper. In the past there was a distinction between “pulp writers” and “paperback writers” and published authors of "books." Fair or not, they could make that distinction again, and reinforce it by keeping their authors out of the indie-writers' ebook market, and perhaps secure a mindset for their paper books for many decades to come.


There are many people who say that ebooks are the books of the future, and if traditional publishers don't embrace change, they are doomed for irrelevance down the road. I'm old enough to know, that, even if they are right, it's unlikely happen before we're all driving flying cars. And when you consider that cassettes, eight-track, CDs, itunes, and streaming music services haven't managed to push vinyl records into the dumpster of history (They're Back!), I have to believe that paper books have a long, long future ahead of them no matter what. Indeed, since ebooks are dependent on digital technology, which changes very rapidly, I'd say that one should wonder more about the staying power of ebooks than that of paper books.

For information on the pulps I consulted The Pulps, Fifty Years of American Pop Culture, edited by Tony Goodstone, researched consultant: Sam Moskowitz





Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Castaways of the Lost Star Arrives 4 August 2016


Coming 4 August 2016!


It is back to plan A -- releasing the first story in the story cycle that will hopefully make up The Lost Star's Sea as a stand alone novel. Writing went well over last fall and winter, and I'd gotten at least half, and more likely 2/3rd of the way through The Lost Star's Sea, and though that I might publish it in two volumes. However, on going over it again while doing the 2nd draft, I realized that I had ended that part in the middle of nowhere -- I would've taken you some 180K words into the world, and then leave you stranded, with no clear objective in sight.

Not publishing something, however, would mean no story for at least a year. I decided that wasn't wise either, so it's back to plan A.

The good thing is that I think that the first episode or story in the story cycle -- Castaways of the Lost Star -- works well as a novel. It has a beginning, middle, and an end -- though, of course, the end is far from final. Moreover, it serves as a hinge between The Bright Black Sea set in the Nine Star Nebula, and The Lost Star's Sea set in the Archipelago of the Tenth Star tying up some loose threads from the first while beginning the world-building of the Pela.

I've also decided to give the series the over all title of "The Lost Star Tales".

Here's the blurb for Castaways of the Lost Star:

Captain Wil Litang's adventures, and misadventures, continue with Litang finding himself shipwrecked on a small drifting island after a rather ill-advised return to the Archipelago of the Tenth Star to warn his friend of treachery. Unless he can repair his space boat and contract his friends, he faces the daunting task of surviving among the floating islands of a vast ocean of air --islands populated by telepathic dragons, strange, and savage beasts, dangerous, and mysterious peoples and civilizations. In the grand tradition of “planetary romances” Litang must survive, and, if not quite conquer, at least find his place, in the uncounted and unknown islands of the fabled Tenth Star.

Just as The Bright Black Sea reworked the classic space opera into a modern, character focused novel, Castaways of the Lost Star starts a new series that revisits and resets the classic planetary romances from the pens of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack Vance, into a long, rich, and character focused novel.

Castaways of the Lost Star is the novel length, 72K word, opening chapter of an extended story cycle that will form a fitting companion volume to The Bright Black Sea.

As before, this story will be released for FREE on Smashwords and distributed to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, on Amazon it will be $.99. (In most cases Amazon requires a price of at least $.99. They might match the FREE price when I call their attention to the fact that they're being undersold.) I've also reduced the price of The Bright Black Sea to $.99 for a limited time. 







Monday, July 4, 2016

New Cover Art for The Bright Black Sea


I've uploaded new cover art for The Bright Black Sea for the Amazon edition. This actually (if far from ideally) illustrates a scene from the story. As I've mentioned, I don't really have anything more than an impression of the scenes I write, so that I'm left with constructing one limited by my artistic talents. Luckily, gimp provides digital tools to greatly enhance my efforts. Trust me, the original of this is really bad.

I will be updating the cover of my other editions shortly. 

I've also changed the name of the series to The Lost Star Tales, with The Bright Black Sea being volume #1, at least for now. I am somewhat torn in that the Volume #1 could be considered a collection of the first three tales and The Lost Star Tales #2 will be only one tale, so it should be more accurately numbered #4 since it will be only the first episode in the full story of  Wil Litang's adventures and misadventures in the Archipelago of the Tenth Star. The complete work, The Lost Star's Sea will likely be as long as The Bright Black Sea. However, since I don't see that project being completed before mid to late 2017,  The Lost Star Tales #2Castaways of the Lost Star will be a stopgap measure, consisting of the opening tale or episode of the larger book. I'll be posting more details on that in the coming days.

Once I have the #2 in the series out, we'll see if Amazon will let me once more list The Bright Black Sea for FREE. I believe they allow authors to give away the first book in a series to prime the pump for the rest of the books. I'm going to have to look into that once I have Castaways of the Lost Star listed.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

It Has A Name

The name is aphantasia.

In the blog post where I talked about the failed covers of The Bright Black Sea, I mentioned that I could not picture peoples' faces in my head, or indeed, as I explored my mind more, that I could not picture anything clearly in my head. At best I'd “see” a vague impression, from which I might be able to piece by piece reconstruct an image. For example, I can probably draw a good picture of my house without looking at it, because I “know” what it looks like without actually “seeing” it in my mind, at least not as a complete image.

The reason why I mentioned this in the post was because I had considered a cover with characters on it, and rejected it for two reasons. The first was that I had no clear mental images of my characters. In my writing, you'll find few references to how they look, most are vague and you're free to ignore them, which reflects the fact that I don't have pictures of real people, people I see everyday and/or have known all my life, much less make believe ones. I could, I suppose, make a spread sheet of each character's physical characteristics, tall,/short, blond/black/brown/red hair, etc. and then just plug those features in when writing about that character, but since there appearance isn't important to me, I'd probably never think about doing it anyways.

The upside is that rather than try to compensate for this imaginative gap with a cheat sheet, I just outsource the job to you, my readers. You're free to imagine them anyway you like. Anyway they appear in your mind while reading about them goes. And that being the case, I didn't want to give them any physical appearance on a cover or interior art. They're yours to image.

A few weeks after that post, I came across an article that describes this condition of not being able to see images in one's mind, a condition called aphantasia.


I suppose there are degrees in every condition. I have no trouble finding my car in a parking lot, and I don't think I would even if it wasn't bright green. (My wife's choice.) I still can find my way around places I've visited in many years. And strangely enough, I'm pretty certain that I dream in fairly images, though that's a bit hard to say, because while I retain the impression of images, I can't recall more than an impression of those images – the condition reasserts itself in my waking mind.

I found this interesting. I had realized long before this article that other people could recall events much more vividly in mind than I could, so the condition itself was no surprise, only that it was a diagnosed condition. I don't see it as any sort of handicap. I'm a painter, after all, and most of my paintings are strictly from “imagination”. While my later acrylics are often impressionistic, my earlier work is much more realistic. (There are a few samples of this style on my DeviantArt site.) In all of them, I wasn't painting from what I could “see” in my mind, so much as taking an impression of a place,/time/mood and then engineering something like it onto the paper or board – and as often as not, into something different than what I set out to paint.


The one downside is that I don't get my money's worth as a tourist. I know I was there, but the only way to relive it, is to look at the photos taken. I can not replay the sights and sounds in my mind over and over again, like other people can. Seeing that I hate to travel, that's no big deal, though I wonder if this inability to relive the experience has something to do with my disinclination to travel. What's the cart, what's the horse? And since I can easily find plenty of photos of everywhere, and view many places on street view, going so place to take pictures, and putting up with all the wear and tear and stress of travel is not worth it.