Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Lost Star's Sea Update

The bad news: I've decided to push back the release of The Lost Star's Sea until mid-2017.
The good news: I've decided to release the complete story instead of only Part One this fall and Part Two at some later date.

This decision came about after finishing the second draft of Part One. I felt disappointed in it after reading through it this last month. It just wasn't “it”. And if I felt this way, I'm pretty sure you'd be disappointed too. Luckily I don't think the reason is what I've written, but what I've not written.

intended to split The Lost Star's Sea in two parts. The first would cover Wil Litang initial adventures as a shipwrecked spaceer in the endless skies of the Pela, and how he managed to survive and made a new life for himself in the Pela. Part Two would then shake that life up by bringing back the lingering questions and loose threads from The Bright Black Sea and questions raised in Part One. That, however, isn't going to work. I found that only half the story isn't enough, even though I had it ending a inportant story arc. Or maybe because of it, since that ending struck me as trite and cheesy. Too easy.

The thing is, this story continues the episodic pattern from the first volume, which is to say, a series of semi-self-contained stories. Part One has 3 to 5 of them (depending on how you divide them). This works best if each episode builds on the larger story arc. But if that larger story arc is not very evident, as it is in Part One, then it becomes just a flat recital of this adventure ant that adventure. (I'm not known for brevity in my writing, and this book will be no exception, evident by the fact that I'm 180K+ words into the story and am still laying the ground work, so to speak.) While I hope this series of adventures are interesting in themselves, they do not address the questions left hanging at the end of The Bright Black Sea and when I came to the end of my revisions, I felt sort of cheated – I'd been promised a story, but only given half of one. I'm not going to settle for that.

And if I felt that way, I could only imagine how you might feel. This is especially true since I've only come to realize that The Lost Star's Sea might not be the book you're expecting. I knew what I wanted to do with the next book halfway though writing the last one, but I'm not sure that I telegraphed that in the story. (Not that I wanted to.) So that if the story doesn't start out like you expect and then ends before what you expected ever appears, well, I don't think you'd be happy. I'm not going to risk that.

I realize that series writers do this all the time stringing stories along, book by book for financial reasons. And readers, at least some of them, put up with this. I just came across a new fantasy series, Emperor of the Eight Islands, that is being published in four volumes – at $9.99 each for 270 page book – so that by the time readers reach the length of The Bright Black Sea, they'll have paid $40 for the story. This makes financial sense – assuming you can keep readers interested enough to reach the final volume, but my stories are not commercial endeavors (when I can help it), so I have no incentive to break my long novels into bite size pieces. I can afford to present them in the best way possible, as a complete story.

By deciding to publish the whole story in one volume, I now must begin daydreaming up what happens in the second half of the story, something I'd not ventured to do until now. It can be hard. When you're half a million words into a story, the characters no longer do what you want them to. They have character. And I'm a stickler for avoiding plot holes. Action must flow naturally. Characters may occasionally do ill advised things, but they can't do obviously stupid things just to make a nice scene. So coming up with a story involves a lot of “what-ifs?”. "Would they do that?" and then “Does it make sense?” I'm hoping to release the complete story by next summer, if all goes well. But you never know about that. It's the goal. Hopefully, it will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Failed Art of The Bright Black Sea

For the last dozen years or so I've been painting landscape paintings. I've pretty much developed an impressionistic landscape style that is fairly unique. Not too popular, but unique. Which is what counts. This style, however, does not translate well into illustrations. It lacks detail and mine, at least often lack people. For A Summer in Amber and Some Day Days, I managed to do two landscapes, that while they're not really good cover illustrations, do at least set a tone for the stories. The Bright Black Sea has so far evaded my attempts to create a cover I like.

There are several reasons for this. First, as I mentioned, is that my style is vague on details, and most s-f book covers are big on details. Secondly, no matter how well designed the Lost Star is for it's environment, it lacks gee-galls and thingamajigs sticking out all over the place to make for an interesting cover illustration. The Lost Star is basically the most boring space ship imaginable, from every angle. It doesn't even have the fins like the old style rockets of s-f. Thirdly, being the author of the story, I know the story too well to just page through the book and find a scene that I care to do, irregardless of how important or unimportant that scene is in the story. A good cover might be one of the battle scenes, which have plenty of space ships and Star Wars type fighters. Throw in a bunch of explosions and you have a typical space opera cover. Except that episode plays only a small part of the story, and would be misleading, since The Bright Black Sea is not a military s-f book. I want to find something that represents the whole story, and that mostly comes back around to the Lost Star/Starry Shore. The boring old Lost Star without any thingamajigs.

Right now, the image I am using for my non-Amazon cover is this one:

You simply need to inverse it, rotate and crop it get rid of that house in the corner and put in a few “nova” effects in Gimp and you have the cover – the Nine Star Nebula and a star or two.

I did, at one time, knock off some small sketches, but none turned out good enough to use:

The four pieces above were all little 6x8" sketches.

I also made several attempts to do a cover with the Lost Star more than a speck in the painting, neither of them made the grade:

In these cases, I used filters in Gimp to give them some additional and some lighting effects as well. As I said, both turned out looking too crude and amateurishThe one I'm using for my Amazon cover is another painting using Gimp filters, but does not have a crude space ship in it.

Recently, I tried one with people instead of the ship -- a scene from the Lost Star's bridge. As you can see below, it did not go well. Still way too amateurish. Not professional looking at all. But there was one other problem, and for me, a greater problem -- I don't want to define how my characters look. I want to leave that up to you, the readers.

In part this reflects a quirk in the way my mind works. I can't picture living people in my mind. I recognize them, at least so far, but I can't picture them. I have a little bit better luck picturing photos of people, but still, it's pretty vague. Not surprisingly then, I have no images of my characters in my head, just vague impressions of them. I'd probably recognize them if I met them, but I can't picture them. So rather than just listing a bunch of characteristics for each that mean nothing to me, I keep my descriptions very sketchy, and you can ignore them if you choose. So by drawing for the cover, I was in some way defining them, which I do't want to do. These stories are set 80,000 years in the future and all the old earth ethnic types have long since been mixed and merged. Who knows what types have evolved in the long settled planets? The characters can look like whatever you want to look like. By making the cover below I felt I was compromising your freedom to imagine the crew of the Lost Star as you see them in your mind. As you can see, I tried to keep everyone as undefined as possible, and well, it didn't work out in any case. This image doesn't look like how I envision things, so it forget it after you look at it. Please.

I haven't given up yet. 'm sure I'll make another effort or two. I might try the more graphical approach you see now days in covers. We'll see.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Cover for the Bright Black Sea

This is the new Amazon cover for The Bright Black Sea. Without price matching, I'm going to have to experiment to see what sells. I can't change the story, but I can change the cover. We'll start with this one. Unlike the last cover, this piece of art was something I did especially for the cover. I ended up choosing the other one because I felt that it fit better with The Bright Black Sea title I eventually chose. Both covers are too static, but the one I tried with the Lost Star on it sucked, as did the bridge scene one, so I'm still stuck with a static cover. 

I added the "Captain Wil Litang's Adventures #1" to the title, anticipating the second volume that will be released in the next four or five months.

In addition to the new cover, I've also re-written its blurb on Amazon. As a free book I didn't (and don't) feel I need to sell the book, if only because it doesn't matter how many copies are downloaded – I make the same amount of money. None. Instead, I wrote my blurbs with the idea of appealing to readers who would likely like the book while steering away people who likely wouldn't. But now I'm in the selling game, like it or not, I'll try selling the book to everyone. To that end I'm dropping the classic, golden age angle, and going with a straight space opera/space adventure pitch. We'll see how that works. Or not. It'll likely be hard to tell. Still, it's fun to experiment.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Contact Information Update

It has been brought to my attention that the email address I had set up for this page doesn't work. Sorry about that. It seemed to work at the time I set it up. I have now changed it to one that I know works. Please feel free to contact me with your comments or questions. I would like to hear from you.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Long March

It is going on seven years since I started writing The Kiss of the White Witch. More than a half of million words in print later, I've come to the end of this long march with the release, this past weekend, of versions no. 3 of A Summer in Amber and The Bright Black Sea, and version no. 2 of Some Day Days, the definitive versions of these books.

The improvements are extensive enough to warrant updating your current copies if you can.

I wrote my books on what is now, an eight year old Mac mini with a now out of day OS and an out of date version of LibreOffice. It's always pilot error – the old version of LibreOffice didn't type the typos – they're all mine. But somehow, I swear, it seemed to find fewer of them than newer versions did. {UPDATE - In going through my current story, I discovered that the program just stopped underlining the typos at some point – perhaps too many were underlined, (all the made up names) or it had been open too long. In any event, it has become clear to me why so many errs slipped by prior to using a second machine to edit on.} Anyway, between pilot err and a less capable program, typos got overlooked. I then made the mistake of making revisions after proofreading. Lessons have been learned the hard way.

Last fall I bought a $150 Windows laptop, loaded the newest version of LibreOffice on it and ran A Summer in Amber and The Bright Black Sea through the spell checker of the newer version which picked up many typos that the previous version seemed to have overlooked. At the same time, I also read through and slightly revised The Bright Black Sea. And yet, some typos evaded capture.

Fast forward to this past weekend. My little laptop came with a free 1 year subscription to Microsoft Office. Being familiar and happy with LibreOffice, I hadn't bothered to activate this feature until last weekend. I then spent the weekend running all three books through Word's spelling and grammar features, correcting things like extra spaces, double words, punctuations, adding hyphens to words, correcting correctly spelled words in the wrong places, and a few misspellings. (Or at least it disagrees with the current spelling. For example, Word doesn't like "strongroom", suggesting it should be "strong room" though both seem to be right.) With this review, I've reached the limits of what I can do to make my books as typo-free as possible. These, then, are their final versions, though, as always, I welcome and will correct any mistakes pointed out to me by my readers.

So we've reached the end of the long march. What's next?

At the moment I'm halfway through the second draft of The Lost Star's Sea. This is the draft where I reconcile what I wrote in the beginning with what I wrote later on. Often I don't know where the story's going until I write it, so this second draft is the first time I know how everything works out, and can make any changes necessary to insure everything hangs together in the complete work. In addition, I enhance the dialogue, characters, and descriptions, since I tend to only sketch some of that in the first draft where I'm more concerned about getting the story down than fine tuning it.

When this second draft is done I'll move it over to my laptop and do all the subsequent drafts on that machine with it enhanced spell checker features. Hopefully these drafts will only involve making sentences clearer and sounding right. There' a hundred ways to say anything, and on any given day, one way may sound better than another, so it's sort of a moving target. Eventually, however, you have to settle on one way. When I've settled, I'll run it through MS Office and make all the suggested corrections. Only then will I print it out for my proofreader. And then, after making all the corrections that comeback from proofreading, and only those corrections, the story should be ready for release. I'm currently planning to release it early in Sept. 2016, a year after the first Captain Wil Litang volume.

Looking ahead to 2017's novel, I'm thinking it'll be a stand alone adventure story set in a world much like our own, but differing in details, sort of an an alternate-world/fantasy story. The main characters look to be arcane-archaeologists – folks who dig up and attempt to decipher the fragments of a series of long dead civilizations lost in myth. It will be set in a time period something like the first half of our 20th century. Right now it's looking like a wartime espionage story – has one side discovered an arcane weapon powerful enough to rule them all? – but heaven knows, that may well change a dozen times between now and whenever the next story is written.

A third volume of Captain Wil Litangs adventures is also planned, but I'm in no hurry to write it. Not only do I not have a clue as to how things turn out, but I'd like to hold off and see how many potential readers it might have. It makes more sense to write books that may attract new readers than to write books that only focus on one sub-set of readers. Indeed, I wrote The Lost Star's Sea only because I had the idea for it halfway through writing The Bright Black Sea and steered that story towards it, so it needed to be written. 

Coming up next, early in May 2016 I will issue my first annual report on self-publishing. All the numbers, for each of my three books to give everyone an insight into the realities of self-publishing, and the potential and limitations of offering works for free.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Price Matching Or Not

Wouldn't you know, just as soon as I decide not to obsess about things like sales and reviews, and only check in once a month to record my downloads, Amazon does something unexpected, unexplained, and unannounced. On March 9th it stopped discounting one of my books, The Bright Black Sea so I discovered it listed at its full $3.99 price instead of free.

Unlike Smashwords and the ebook stores it distributes to, I'm unable to list a book on Amazon priced at "Free". It must be $.99 or more. Amazon can, at its discretion, discount the price of a book to match prices with other ebook stores, something they have very kindly done for all my books, once I call this to their attention. (At least in the US – world wide they sell them at list price. Except when they don't. A Summer in Amber is free on Amazon UK, though the other two books are not. I have no idea how this all works.)

I don't know why they decided to stop price matching The Bright Black Sea. My preferred price is free, for many reasons, including my desire, as a new writer to reach a larger readership. But it is their right. They are in the business of selling books.

The question now is what should I do? I could contact Amazon again and point out that they're being undersold? Should I reduce my price back to $.99, and see what they do next? Or I should let things ride for a while and see what happens? Well, letting sleeping dogs lie is one of my guiding principles, so I'm just going to leave things as they are for now. When I see authors selling 50 page novellas for $4 or $5, I don't feel bad selling a 800+ page novel for $3.99. 

It is unfortunate that some people may end up paying for a book (even at a bargain price) that they could download for free elsewhere. However, I promise that all my royalties from The Bright Black Sea will go into a mason jar. When it's full enough, I'll use that money to hire a professional proofreader. There's over $10 in it right now. However, since the proofreading bill for The Bright Black Sea would run between $6,500 and $9,800, it may take a while.