Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Author

I photocopied the cartoon below from a 1933 Nov issue of Punch Magazine from the University of Wisconsin Library many years ago. At the time I dreamed of being an author and I loved this cartoon of an author. I've had this poor black and white photo copy framed for years. The caption reads:


THE STRANGER
Author in search of local colour spends a convivial evening roystering with the peasants at the local inn.



I get a smile out of it every time I see it. Love the dog. Well, now 40 some years later the Stranger could be me. (Though truth be told, I've never had any desire to royster with the peasants.)


In this modern age you can get buy the color a print of it here: 



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Lost Star's Sea Progress Report


I hope to wrap up my revisions of The Lost Star's Sea within the next 10 days. All I have left to do is to polish up the last section of some 25K words or so. Everything else has been, or is now out for proofreading and feedback from my volunteer beta readers.

What remains to be done then, is;
1) Finish revising the last section of the book, well under way.
2) Get that section proofread and out to my beta readers.
3) I probably will make a map of the section of the Archipelago that the story takes place in to post on the this blog. I don't think a list of characters is necessary, though there are a lot of characters. We'll see.
4) Need to write the various blurbs for the various listings.
5) Make all the corrections my proofreaders and beta readers send back to me.
6) Make some minor revisions to The Bright Black Sea to correspond to changes I made for The Lost Star's Sea -- mostly changes in name spelling and terminology.
7) When all of the above are done, all that will remain to be done is to upload it to Smashwords and Amazon. If all goes well, it will be a Thursday in the last half of July 2017 or early August 2017 As usual it will be free on Smashwords, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and for a while, at least, $.99 on Amazon. Hopefully they will once more match the free price of their competitors, once the book makes its way from Smashwords to those other retailers -- usually about 7 to 10 after it's published on Smashwords.

Castaways of the Lost Star will be unpublished when The Lost Star's Sea is released, since Castaways becomes the first section of The Lost Star's Sea -- about 20-25% of it. The rest is all new. It's another long, episodic adventure novel, about 350K words long, some 30K words longer than The Bright Black Sea.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Amateur Writer

I happened to come across this blog post on Quartz, and it really sums up my attitude about not only writing but my painting as well.
https://qz.com/990130/in-defense-of-amateurs/

The key takeaway:
Chesterton says as much in his biography of Robert Browning:
The word amateur has come by the thousand oddities of language to convey an idea of tepidity; whereas the word itself has the meaning of passion. Nor is this peculiarity confined to the mere form of the word; the actual characteristic of these nameless dilettanti is a genuine fire and reality. A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well. Such a man must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it.

I think that within the next 10 years, self-published books will be almost entirely written by amateurs, people with stories write and to share with others. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two Years of Free Books



It's been two years since I self published my first science fiction novel, A Summer in Amber on 27 April, 2015. I followed that book with Some Day Days on 9 July 2015 and then A Bright Black Sea on 16 Sept 2015. Since I'd been working on those stories for more than five years, I was able to release all three within five months of each other. In 2016, faced with the fact that my next story, the companion volume to The Bright Black Sea would not be finished before the last half of 2017, I published the first, 70K word, “episode” of the book as a stand alone story, Castaways of the Lost Star on 25 July 2016. The complete book, a 340K word long planetary romance, The Lost Star's Sea is on track for release this summer.

My books are targeted at a very small market – me. I have old fashioned tastes in books –  mostly adventure novels from the first half of the last century, give or take a decade or two – so they're not written to be commercial products for today's mass markets. Having no commercial ambitions, or any need for the few dollars they'd likely bring in if I tried selling them, I offer them for free. Amazon requires at least a $.99 price, but they've been kind enough to price-match free in the US store and 2 books in the UK store. Because I hate self-promotion – and work – I'm content to let price, reviews and word of mouth promote my books. And since I value good reviews over downloads, I write my blurbs to attract only the subset of readers who will likely enjoy them. I can publish free books without losing a penny because I can do – almost – everything involved in self publishing in-house. The exception being, as I found out the hard way, proofreading. However, I now have a crew of very kind volunteer proofreaders willing to help me with that.

There are many ways to build a readership. I've chosen the way that suits me best – honest descriptions and the elimination of price as a barrier. So how does it work? Let's take a look.


A Summer in Amber
Release 27 April 2015
1st year downloads & sales - 2,222
2nd year downloads & sales -1,357
Total to date                       3,579

Rating & Reviews
         1st Year 2nd Year Total
5 star 13        12            25
4 star 16         -             16
3 star -           4              4
2 star 4           2             6
1 star -           -              -
Total 33         18            51

Some Day Days
Released 9 July 2015
1st year downloads & sales – 1,139
2nd year downloads & sales –   511
Total                                  1,650

Ratings & Reviews
         1st Year 2nd Year Total
5 star -           2           2
4 star 2          1            3
3 star 1          4            5
2 star 1           -           1
1 star -           -            -
Total 4           7           11

The Bright Black Sea
Released 16 Sept. 2015
1st year downloads & sales - 3,176
2nd year downloads & sales – 2,569
Total to date 5,745

Ratings & Reviews
          1st Year 2nd Year Total
5 star 59         33            92
4 star 12           7           19
3 star 4            4             8
2 star 1            -             -
1 star 2            1             3
Total 80          44          124

Notes: Amazon dropped price matching in March of 2016 until Sept. of 2016, so I have no data to determine if and how the release of its sequel affected sales. Downloads in Sept 2016 were twice the highest number recorded for any other month – I suspect that the spike was due to some sort of promotion by Amazon. (I saw a similar unexplained spike in A Summer in Amazon Sales in its first year as well.) I didn't happen to catch it at its peak, but several days later is was still at #20, so it may have well been the #1 free Space Opera for a day. Selling at $3.99, it sold 16 copies during the March – June time period. And in the July – August time period when it was priced at $.99 it sold 15 copies. Foreign sales currently run 1 to 2 copies a month at $.99.

Interesting enough, my downloads on iBooks dropped by more than half once Amazon started offering all my books for free again with the release of Castaways in Sept 2016. That seems to be the only reason for that to happen.

The Castaways of the Lost Star (a sequel to The Bright Black Sea)
Released 25 July 2016
2nd year downloads & sales - 1700
Total to date - 1700

Ratings & reviews
         2nd Year
5 star 6
4 star 4
3 star -
2 star -
1 star -
Total 10


Coming this Summer: The Lost Star's Sea. The concluding volume of the Lost Star and the adventures of Captain Wil Litang.



The Complete Totals

First year downloads/sales of all books – 6,537*
Total number of ratings/reviews - 117

Second year downloads/sales of all books – 6,137*
Total number of ratings/reviews - 79
Two year cumulative download/sales – 12,674*
Cumulative number of ratings/reviews – 196

*Kobo does not report free downloads to Smashwords so this number is no doubt vastly under reported. Maybe by 100. $ Sales constitute only a small fraction of these totals. And the straight 400 download difference between the two years is just weird.

I release my books through Smashwords and Amazon. Last year Smashwords distributed books including iBooks and B & N but not Kobo outsold Amazon by 2 to 1. The cumulative totals now are about 50-50.

Two calender year profits: (2015 & 2016): slightly under $50 from Amazon sales.

With no data to compare these results to other self publishing authors who entered the science fiction market in 2015, I have no idea how they stack up to the more conventional ways of establishing a self publishing venture. However, I'm very pleased with the results and have enjoyed the whole experience. I've learned a lot, made new friends, and accomplished something I've always wanted to do – write a book or two that are read and appreciated.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped make this publishing venture both very enjoyable and modestly successful. While my name is on the title page, other people have helped to making the books better than I could've done alone. First off, I'd like to thank my volunteer proofreaders and beta readers. I produce a vast number of typos and have an amazing ability to be blind to them, so a sincere thanks goes out to Sally L., Carlos S., Hannes B., Nicole B., Martin V., Walt, and Stephen B.. I truly appreciate the efforts they've made to make my books better for every reader. I'd also like to thank the readers who took time to write to me. And all the readers who have taken the time to review and/or rate my stories. I'm not writing for money. Reader satisfaction is my benchmark of success, and while I know that I can not please everyone, I am glad that the people who do like my stories seem to truly appreciate them. And finally, I'd like to thank you, dear reader, for selecting my books and spending time alongside the characters and in worlds I've discovered lurking in my imagination. A story without a reader is a pretty sad thing. I'm glad that my stories have found readers, and readers who have enjoyed them.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Two Years!



Two years ago today I published my first novel, A Summer in Amber. On one hand, it seems like a lot of stories ago, and on the other, that summer in the highlands is still fresh in my memory. Next week I will post on this blog my 2nd Annual Report reporting on my "sales" figures for my second year in self publishing. Stay tuned to see what the wages of "free" have earned during the second year!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Done. Sort of.



I'm very happy to report that I've finished the first draft of part 8, The Dragon Kings. This is the last section of The Lost Star's Sea, which means that both the book and the adventures of Captain Wil Litang have, at long last, wound to their way to their appointed end.

Of course we're far from the end of work on it. I still have a lot of hammering of the words, sentences, and paragraphs to get them into shape for publication – especially in the last two or three sections which are more or less first drafts, and my first drafts are often rather pedestrian, sketchy, and rough around the edges. The first three sections, however, should be pretty much ready to go – one last read through, and then proof reading.

So what's next? This week I'll start my last read through of part 2 (part 1 is The Castaways of the Lost Star) and once I'm satisfied with it, I'll print it out and hand it over to Sally, my wife and first proof reader. Once she's done with it, and I'll make the 100's of corrections she'll find. Corrections made, it will then be ready to be read by my volunteer proofreaders and advanced readers – hopefully by the end of April. Episodes 3, & 4 should follow at a similar pace, every three weeks or so. If all goes well, we're looking at a late summer, early fall release date.


I'll be contacting everyone who's signed up to be a volunteer proofreader/advanced reader when I have the first proofed version in hand. Any one interested in reading the not quite final version prior to book publication, can drop me a note at cmlitka@gmail.com and I'll put you on the list.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Island Trails


Another view of the Islands of the Pela. This time we have a vine bridge spanning a gap. The "broad feathered" natives of the island, with their more articulated and clawed feet can easily use these vines to cross the gap. The painting's so-so, but I think the islands in the distance are an improvement. That's the way it works for me -- learn a lesson with every painting -- and hope I don't forget it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Boat and Branches


Another very casual impressionist painting from the Pela, of a small trader on the wind. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Market Bound


Another Pela painting. As I mention in a previous post, I can't "see" images in my mind -- just fleeting impressions. I'm thinking by trying to paint scenes from the premise I can construct a vision of the islands of the Pela, painting by painting. We're still very far from what I see in the fleeting glimpses I can conjure up, but I'll keep trying to get it closer to the vision, within the limits of my talent. Still, it's fun trying.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Drift Bound


I've painted for many years. For a while I was even painting as a business -- not a lucrative one, but I did sell my work. I don't bother with selling anymore. I just paint for fun -- just like I write. I'm primarily a landscape painter, and after switching from watercolors to oil and then acrylic, I became an impressionist landscape painter. You can see my work here: http://litka.deviantart.com/gallery/

While I took a year or so off from painting, I'm back at it again, and at the present, I'm combining my art with my writing -- painting pictures that I might use for my book covers. The painting above is my latest effort. The inspiration comes from the end of The Bright Black Sea's first part -- where the Lost Star sets out for the drifts from the Sanre-tay System, and the moon of Lontria.

Now I'm not an illustrator, and this sort of work falls largely outside of my expertise -- but with my publishing budget, it falls to me to do my own covers. Ideally I'd be an expert in Photoshop and Illustrator, and could create a modern looking cover, but I'm not. Still, my books are old fashioned, so perhaps old fashioned covers suit them.

I painted this scene over several times over this past week. The first time I was looking to keep it simple with just silhouettes.


I decided that was a bit too crude and plain, so I revised it, like this. giving color to the Lontria and Sanre-tay.


I tried the using this for the cover, but it had too much light. I wanted the cover to reflect the title, and there was too much bright and not enough black. and I also didn't like the Lost Star just hanging there, so it was back to the drawing boards.



 For this version, I changed the shape and color of the nebula, made the Lontria and Sanre-tay larger, and added the lights of a thousand ships as well. However, I still didn't like the Lost Star where it was -- it was too remote from Lontria, so I made another revision, which I did not photograph, painting over this Lost Star and making it a bit smaller, changing its direction and moving more to the center of the painting, as well as revising the nebula as you now see it. In the end, I didn't think that worked, so I painted over that version to make the Lost Star coming out at the viewer, leaving  the Unity behind -- the painting at the top of this post. Below is the cover I got out of this painting
:


As it stands now, this would be the cover I use when I release its companion volume this summer/fall. I'll keep the current cover so I can see if it makes any difference in downloads. And well, I still have plenty of time to paint more and perhaps better covers before I actually need one.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March 2017 Progress Report


Above are two possible covers for The Lost Star's Sea. On the left I've used my favorite Gimp art filter, “cartoon”, on the right, the plain version. I like both, but I'm leaning towards the plain version because it better matches my A Summer in Amber cover, which I really like. I am trying to keep my covers similar, to give both my books and my “brand” a distinctive look and feel. Still, there's plenty of time to paint more scenes, so nothing is definite. I actually need to finish the book to need a cover, and that's proving to be a bit of a struggle.

I had to start the last episode of The Lost Star's Sea, “The Shadow of the Dragon Kings” over two times, and only have gotten down 18,000 first draft quality words. I don't expect the rest of the episode to go any faster, since the remaining half is just sketched in at this point.

This is rather unexpected. I thought I had this episode well in hand. I was wrong. This summer I'd come up with a way to tie a lot of the loose story threads and mysteries together without getting too outrageously improbable. That delighted me. However, all that takes a great deal of explanation, which – as originally planned – came at the expense of action and suspense. I've had to rewrite the opening half three times to streamline as much of the explanations as possible. I've also had to come up ideas to end the story with far more action than I'd originally planned. I believe I have ideas that work, but they need to be fleshed out and choreographed. For the time being, I'm going to do a second draft of what I have to smooth out all cutting and pasting I did between the three versions. (And to make sure I have it all straight in my mind.) Hopefully in a week or so, I'll have enough details of the last half of the episode to embark on finishing the book. I do need to make sure it all ends up the same place as the original version, since I don't want to change the ending.

All this is for the best – a better ending and a better story. However, I'm now thinking it will take me at least to the middle of April to finish this episode, which will likely push back proof reading of episodes 2 to May. Even so, things could get done for a late summer release, but if it takes until early fall, oh well. Better a better story little later.



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Island Trader


Another painting of the Pela, once again with an eventual cover in mind. I wasn't all that crazy about the last one, and there may well be several more after this one. This piece is more in my impressionist style than the last. I made no attempt at realism. What we're looking at is a small island trader with its sails spread to take advantage of the air currents. I think we're probably looking at the underside of the hull, but then again, maybe not. I guess it doesn't matter. There are several small islands in the middle distance and larger ones, blue in the distance.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Among the Islands


I painted this piece with the idea of using part of it as the cover for The Lost Star's Sea. I will probably paint more pictures of the Pela to see if I can improve on this one. I did take a picture of this last night inside and without a flash that came out very yellow. I just played around with it anyway in Gimp and came up with this very pulpy version of the cover:


It gives you an idea of how the bigger painting can be used for the cover. I applied my favorite filter in Gimp, "cartoon" to get the sharper, dark outlines and just faded the painting behind the title box rather than make a solid title box. Still, as I said, this is just playing around -- and the bird is still in the bush as far as the book goes. However, I'm 8,000 words into the last section, so progress is being made. (Knock on wood.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February 2017 Progress Report


I'm happy to report that work on The Lost Star's Sea is progressing nicely. I finished the first draft of penultimate episode, Windvera, on the 24 Jan. and it's second draft on the 31 Jan. I'm fairly happy with the section. At least I'm happy I have something. Hopefully when I return to it for the third draft in May or June I'll still find that I'll have little to do. I've now started writing the concluding episode, The Dragon Kings, which will wrap up not only The Lost Star's Sea, but the adventures and misadventures of Wil Litang. I'm budgeting six weeks for this section just to be on the safe side, since I want to make sure I've tied up all the loose threads that I can while making it as entertaining and as satisfying as possible, especially since it will be more like the conclusion of a “Who done it” mystery rather than the explosive climax of a thriller. I've got its broad outline well in hand, and have started going over the scenes in my head forming them and trying to put them into their proper place so that everything gets covered, flows smoothly, and is not tedious. I day dream up dozens of variations for every scene – and go over them dozens of times before I write them. And then when I do try to set them down in words, they usually come out differently again – so that I have to rewrite parts of scenes, over and over to get them as true as I can. It is not an efficient process, but a lot of the fun is in thinking about scenes and viewing them over and over from different angles. And then, when I have the words, going over and over them to make them sound good, and clever.


As things stand now, in the mid-March to early April time frame, I should be set to put the final polish on three sections, now probably a year old from first draft, and start the proof-reading process. I don't expect that to take too long on my part, though getting them through the first proof-read will take a week or so each, and then I'll send them out, one at a time every 2-3 weeks to my beta and early readers. Assuming all goes well, we're looking at a July – August release date. If all goes well.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Yes Another New Cover


It's that time again. Time for a new cover for The Bright Black Sea. I've been wanting a more "space opera-ish" cover for some time. I was thinking of having one ready for the release of its companion volume, but that won't be to late summer -- and only if all goes well -- and I really didn't want to wait that long. So this is it. For now. I pulled some 50 old paperback books off my book shelves -- back when they painted paint on paper book covers -- to see how they handled metal and such. However, this type of work isn't my strong suit, and it shows. This is probably not the last cover. I was using thick acrylics for this, and generally illustrators use opaque watercolors for painted illustrations. I might try using liquid acrylics on paper which should allow me to get more details in -- if I can actually draw extra details. Draftsmanship and patience are not my strong suit. We'll see. In the meanwhile, we have a picture of the Lost Star and an Omni-V jump fighter during the extended battle on the way to Boscone. Collect them all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Beta Readers

The long march to complete The Lost Star's Sea, the companion volume to The Bright Black Sea and conclusion of Wil Litang's adventures is nearing its completion. I'm hoping that by the end of February I will have reached the end, in first draft. Like The Bright Black Sea, and perhaps even more so, this story is episodic, which is to say, its a series of fairly self-contained stories in chronological order. The first episode is the Castaways story that I release last summer. There will be seven more which I am planning to send out one at a time to any beta readers interested in reading them. Castaways is done, and at the moment, the next three episodes are just about ready to be proofread, I need to go over them one last time for a final bit of polishing – hopefully minor. The next two episodes are a bit rougher, in 2nd or 3rd draft mode. With any luck, they'll need only one more draft and then a final polishing. I'm halfway through writing the penultimate episode now, and may even have a 2nd draft of it done by the end of this month. Which leaves only the last episode to write in February/March. I know what I want to do in the last episode so I am looking forward to writing it, so that I'm fairly confident that I'll have a good 2nd/ 3rd version of it done by the end of March. All of which is to say, that I'm hoping to start sending out, episode by episode, versions ready for my volunteer beta readers to go over in April (2017).

I'd like the nearly final version of this book read by volunteers who would give me feedback on the typos they encounter, and the questions or any criticism they wish to offer on the stories. Hopefully by doing this I will avoid the mistakes of my first novels, and will eliminate as many typos as possible. However, like all my books, I plan to release The Lost Star's Sea as a free book, so that I don't even have a free ebook copy to offer to any volunteer proofreader/beta reader. I have only my heartfelt thanks and “editorial mention” in the book itself naming and thanking any proofreaders/beta readers who help make the book better. In the unlikely event that I go to print with any of my books, I would send signed copies to all the beta readers who contribute to this book. But, as I said, this is unlikely, and should not be taken into account when volunteering.

The flip side of this is that because I have nothing to offer but thanks, and will be releasing the book for free, I would be glad to send out these sections to anyone interested in reading the not-yet-final, and slightly rough version with no strings attached. You can simply sign up to receive a copy with no obligation at all to contribute anything in return. They can simply be considered advanced copies.

I will have my in-house proof reader, my dear wife, read through each section before I send it out. I am very prolific with typos and very blind to them, so that I believe she corrected hundreds of typos before I sent Castaways out to my volunteer beta readers – who found perhaps 50 or so more typos and suggested so points to clear up. Which is to say that these sections should be close to publication quality, but may well still have a significant number of typos. They might also have formatting errors, since I will be doing a simple down and dirty epub conversion if you choose to receive the stories as an epub (for reading on you ipad or non-kindle ebook reader or app). (Smashwords and Amazon do their own conversions.) I will also offer it as a PDF for reading on a computer/ tablet as well.

If you think you would like to be a volunteer proofreader, beta reader, or just read an advanced copy of the story, episode by episode over the course of a few months, Send me an email at cmlitka@gmail.com and I will put your name on the list. (I will only use this list for this purpose. My marketing effort consists of pretty much doing nothing.) I will send out an email when the first section is ready for to be sent out, so that you will have a chance to confirm that you want to receive it – if all goes well, some time in April. You need not commit to anything, and can decide what, if anything you want to contribute after you receive the section.


If you have any questions, just drop me a line. I will provide more details closer to the time when I will be sending out the advanced copies.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January 2017 Progress Report


I met my December goal by finishing the first draft of the short episode entitled "The Floating Jungle" by the 12th of December. Which was a good thing since the flu knocked me off my feet for a week and the holidays prevented any further writing. After Christmas I went back and re-wrote large sections of it to try to bring it up to snuff.

The first draft is always the hardest, since you are pushing into the unknown. I generally try to get down what happens and as much dialog as possible, but it's rough and often just sketched in. In the second and third drafts I find that I often have to re-write whole sections to not only make them sound better, but make more sense as well. I hate plot holes, and try my best to see that everything flows naturally. The characters can make mistakes and miscalculations, but not to such a degree that it is out of character. You have to make the plot fit the characters, not the characters to the plot. Then, hopefully, after the third (or fourth) draft, I convert it to an epub and read the it on my iPad, which is much more like reading it as a book than on the computer screen. I highlight words and sentences that  need a little work. That done, it's off to my volunteer proof readers.

I'm hoping that The Floating Jungle will be an easy third draft and I can put it in the queue to be read on the iPad. I've started the next to last section, "Long Street, Windvera" with the hope of having a first or second draft done by the end of the month. This was the problem section for quite a while as I did not have a plot for it. I do now, though it is a more modest one than I originally envisioned.

In February I should start writing the rip-roaring conclusion to the Lost Star's Sea and the whole Litang saga. Actually, I don't think it will be all that rip-roaring. Some danger and mystery, to be sure, but I'm looking to wrap up as many loose ends as possible with as much humor as I can bring to the story. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up, and I think I can have a lot of fun tying them up. I already know the last line of the book.

Of course, these last two sections are birds in the bush, and the last two I've written are probably a ways from being good enough, so nothing is certain. I'm hoping to wrap things and release the book up by late summer 2017. Truthfully, I'll be very glad to wrap it up. Right now writing seems to be a lot like work. And I do this for a "hobby", so work is the last thing I want to do. Writing a 300K word sequel to a 300K+ novel is not something I'd want to do again. Indeed, as of right now, I have no plans to write another book. That may change, but then again, it may not.

So that's were things stand at the moment. I'm getting my 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours of writing in every day, so we're making progress. And if you keep doing that, eventually you reach the end. That, anyway, is what I tell myself every morning. (Though once I start writing time flies. It's just getting up and going over to the computer to start the process that takes and effort.)