Monday, August 14, 2017

A Hole in the Day

For the better part of the last four or more years, I've spent some two hours a day writing, revising, or working on covers, blurbs, etc. Some days I reached a good breaking point 1 ½ hour in. On others, when things are going well, I might work 2 ½ hours. I do most of my writing the first thing in the morning, getting my work done by 10 o'clock for a cup of tea and some sweets. Some days, when in the heat of creation, I'd put an hour or two work in the evening as well. It is amazing how fast time flies by when you're writing. Now, this is not a whole lot of time in a day, but I find that with no story in hand to work on, there is a noticeable hollow in my day that I need to fill. Since I can't conjure up a story with a snap of my fingers – I've had to find other projects to work on to fill that hollow.

The first project has been rereading, and slightly revising A Summer in Amber. Mostly it involved filing off a few rough edges, and touching up a few clunky lines – adding or subtracting a few words, adding commas, breaking up long, rambling sentences, and correcting a few mistakes that I found. I did however, rewrite one scene, the scene on the hill after the Gate opens. I was never happy with it, but in the end, I rather gave up on it. I've now taken the opportunity to streamlined it, making it read clearer and more logically. I also slightly touched up the opening and ending.

Version 5 (12 August 2017) is now the newest, best, and, hopefully, the last version. It is now available from all the usual suspects. If you have downloaded earlier versions are are now just thinking of reading it, I would urge you to download this version. The changes are relatively minor, but it is a better, and likely the definitive version of the story.

With A Summer in Amber done, I've now started rereading The Bright Black Sea. Again, my object is to make it read just a little better. Besides more commas, and shorter, clearer sentences, I find that I'm adding words here and there – I guess I was writing rather telegraphically back then. In any event, the changes will be minor. My attitude is that it is what it is and my goal is to make it read a little smoother. Sometimes you wonder just what you wrote, and rather fear finding out. The Bright Black Sea goes back far enough that I wasn't so sure what I'd find. In rereading it, I find that it isn't all that bad. I know it begins slow, and has a fair amount of not strictly necessary details, but I'm comfortable with that. Still, having spent so much time going over and over it when I wrote it, it is hard to tell how it reads to someone for the first time. But when all is said and done, it is what it is, and I can't change it beyond soothing it out a bit. Look for this slightly improved Version 5 of The Bright Black Sea in the coming weeks.

No doubt Some Day Days will get its read through as well. Hopefully after that, I'll have a story (or two) in mind to fill my days.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Summer in Amber Version 4

I have released a slightly revised version (#4) of A Summer in Amber -- some corrections made, thanks to notes from Carlos, a slightly revised opening paragraph, along with a slightly revised cover. My current windows computer does not have the same LibreOffice fonts my old mac mini had, so that my recent titles used a different title font. I decided to make all the books uniform, so I reworked the covers, and while I was at it, I took the opportunity to add Nesta and Sandy on their bikes to the A Summer in Amber cover as well.

While I was making the corrections to A Summer in Amber, I was sort of dismayed by some of the passages I read. I think I could now do better. I'm tempted to read through the story again and smooth out some of the most awkward passages. The only problem is that I don't trust myself not to add about a 100 typos to the book in the process, no matter how careful I am. I seem to be blind to typos. We'll see how bold and ambitious I am in the coming months.

Which brings us to the next book. So far I've not stumbled on any new story to tell, so it's hanging fire. I've had several ideas for characters, locale and such, but no story to tell. I'd like to do something different if only to see if I can attract a different set of readers. A fantasy is possible, but I'm not really fond of fantasies -- at least those with magic and some vast, frightening evil that must be defeated, sometime within the first dozen or so books -- which is to say, most fantasies. I'm thinking of something set in a bit more modern world, likely without magic, which may not make it a fantasy at all. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lost Star's Sea Update

The Lost Star's Sea is now available on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashbooks and Amazon (US) for my preferred price of FREE. It may the equivalent of  $.99 in non-US Amazon stores, since Amazon only occasionally price matches free in their non-US stores.

All four of my novels are now available for Free in the US, and world-wide on Smashwords, and on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indigo, and other outlets for free as well.

Next novel due in the summer of 2018 -- if I can think of a story to write.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Lost Star's Sea is now published

Both the revised edition of The Bright Black Sea and its complete sequel, The Lost Star's Sea are now available for free on Smashwords and for $.99 on Amazon. Once The Lost Star's Sea makes it to iBooks, Kobo and Barnes & Noble, for free, I'll see if Amazon will match that price.

However much the river winds, it finds the sea at last

It has been a five year journey down that winding river for me in the dreaming and writing of Wil Litang's story. It began with the realization that most of the stories I enjoyed in my youth didn't quite cut it for me any more -- they seemed thinly plotted and populated with cardboard characters. I wanted more from a story. And that if I wanted an old fashioned story with something more, I'd have to write it myself. I gave myself a challenge -- if I was going to write an old fashioned science fiction adventure story, I'd go full retro -- no faster than light drive, no "artificial gravity." No, I'd go full retro, full Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with rocket ships and magnetic space-boots. But since there are no longer jungles on Venus, nor ancient ruins in the sands of Mars, I'd have to set my stories in another solar system. I created the Nine Star Nebula to give myself plenty of worlds of wonder to imagine. 675,000 words later, the story of Captain Wil Litang has run its course. I may return again to the Nine Star Nebula, there are still hundreds of worlds to visit and perhaps stories to tell. We'll see.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pela Chart

In order to help readers envision Wil Litang's travels throughout this little section of the Archipelago, I worked up this sketch map of the story's Pela. It is not drawn to scale; it merely shows the relative positions of the major islands Wil discovers in this travels.

I don't think it is necessary to  include a list of characters. While there are many named, the major ones play a prominent part in each section and are easy to keep track of. 

Lost Star's Sea Background

I set out to do three things with The Lost Star's Sea – the first was to write a fitting companion volume with The Black Bright Sea. The Black Bright Sea runs some 320,000 words in length and I wanted to have a matching companion volume. As it turned out, I rather overshot the mark and ended up with 350,000 word story, though it does include the 2016 release, The Castaways of the Lost Star. The remaining 80% of the book, however, is all new material.

There are some in publishing these days think who readers have less time to read and want shorter works – novellas rather than novels to fit into their busy lives. Obviously I disagree, however, even if this is the case, because this novel is written as a series of linked but self-contained episodes, each with beginnings, middles and endings, The Lost Star's Sea can be read, episode by episode, at whatever pace you desire.

My second challenge was to write a planetary romance type of story, like those made famous by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Vance, and others. And to treat it as I had the classic space opera; by updating the social norms of a hundred years ago, and taking the often cardboard characters of those pulp works and fleshing them out into well-rounded, engaging characters. I also try to ground my story and characters in a realistic world, by paying some attention to the everyday details of life and keeping the dangers and the character's responses to them realistically human.

And finally, in a field were grim, often apocalyptic stories, and unpleasant characters seem common, I wanted to write a lighthearted adventure with humor and characters with whom the readers would like to travel with.

And I should note that as much as I love reading series books – this volume brings Wil Litang's adventures to a close. At 675,000 words – six good sized novels' worth – I think ol'Wil Litang has earned his cha garden.

I don't like reading blurbs that outline the story to be told, so I'll not share the plots of the book. I'll just say that the story owes a lot to Edgar Rice Burroughs – filtered through my personal tastes, and updated to reflect the changes in society over the last century. I like understated things, small, clever, quiet things, everyday life. Big, grand things don't appeal to me, and dangers need not be more pressing than personal extinction All of which is to say that Wil Litang effortless avoids becoming the Warlord of the Pela. He's often lucky to survive. I have retained the romance element of ERB's stories, but Wil's love interest is no princess – and she certainly doesn't need saving, though he gallantly tries. Part of the fun of writing the story was turning ERB's scenes on their heads. Wil may burst into a room to save his love, only to find her having tea and quiet conversation with her captor. In addition, I've tried to create strong female characters who are as competent as any male counterparts, and tried to make sure that they are represented throughout society as equals – this story is set in the future, after all. And, as in The Black Bright Sea, I've tried to include a cast of interesting, well fleshed out supporting characters to accompany Wil on his travels within the Pela, from slave-ship captains, to wandering sages, to sarcastic dragons.

In writing these new stories I made a few minor changes to Castaways of the Lost Star and even in The Bright Black Sea to reflect a better understanding of the Pela than I had when I started. The newest editions contain these changes, but to past readers, I should call your attention to these changes.

First, for simplicity, I've made all Pela character names follow a single pattern; all are one word names with a family name prefix followed by a given name. For example, KaRaya or EnVey. I gone back and revised both The Bright Black Sea and Castaways to reflect this decision. The first names of Temtre characters in the original Castaways – Clan-chief Raf Envey becomes simply EnVey, and Clan-king Kin DeKan becomes DeKan. While having everyone from different parts of the Pela be named by the same formula is not very realistic, with so many unfamiliar, made-up names, I think simplicity overrules realism in this case. Changes in The Bright Black Sea reflect this system as well. For example, Sub-captain Tri'n is now Sub-captain Trin (no given name used) and Captain Lil'dre is now Captain LilDre.

The second major change involves identifying the two human races of the Pela. Because all the native fauna of the Pela are feathered, it seemed to make sense that the creatures with hair should be viewed in that context as well. So I changed my terminology to reflect that. The feathered people of the Pela are now referred to as “broad feathered” while those with hair are thought to have very thin or fine feathers and so are referred to a “fine-feathered” and sometimes “large islanders” rather than hairy, or fuzzy. I have revised The Bright Black Sea to reflect this as well.

I'd like to thank the half a dozen volunteer beta readers who very generously spent many hours finding my many mistakes. With their help, I believe that this will be the most error free release of mine to date. I've found that the more eyes you have looking over the words the more errors that are found, so if you should find any errors that have escaped us, please feel free to call them to my attention and I will correct them.

I've had a great fun dreaming up and writing The Lost Star's Sea, but it has been work as well. There were times that I seemed to be dragging this story to its end – a glimpse of what it would be like if I had to produce books because I needed to in order to eat or meet a contract deadline.c There are some authors that have more stories to tell than time to tell them, but I'm not one of them. Writing The Lost Star's Sea made me realize that unless I have a story that I'm having great fun daydreaming up – one that wants to bubble over into words, I'd best avoid writing. We'll have to see if I can find that story.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Bright Black Sea Version 4

In addition to releasing The Lost Star's Sea on 13 July 2017, I'll also release version 4 of The Bright Black Sea which includes some minor revisions.

What's new:

A revised internal structure that brings the two volumes in line with each other, since I consider it one long novel in two volumes. Each volume is now divided into 10 Parts – essentially episodes, and then divided into chapters, some with numbered scenes.

Standardized characters names. To keep unfamiliar names simple, I have all the Pela character names follow the same pattern – family name first then personal name, all in one word divided by a capital letter. For example Vinden, known known in the Pela as “Prince Imvoy” is now spelled ImVoy. Sub-captain Tri'n is now Sub-captain Trin,(no personal name given), etc.

I have also changed a few terms as well. The Dragon Lords are now known as the Dragon Kings. The feathered humans of the Pela (the "Cim" in Cimmadar) are known as the “broad-feathered” race while the humans with hair (the "Dar" in Cimmadar) are now referred to as “fine-feathered” – since feathered creatures are the norm in the Pela.

In the text I also added a short section touching on the history of robots in the Unity when Botts is introduced. I've included the section here

Its eyes slightly brightened, again. 'A sentient machine can override its programming and lie, just as any sentient being can. However, a class 8 machine, like myself, cannot lie,' it replied.
'Can I take it that this brightening of your eyes is a sign of amusement?'
They brightened again. 'It is a feature of my interface designed to register heightened attention,' it answered carelessly, carefully avoiding the implication of my question, 'Since I am unable to make any facial expression; in compliance with the Advanced Machine Authorization Law of 13,174 S.F., which made fully autonomous machines legal. While we could be humanoid in shape, we had to be clearly machines. And in an effort to differentiate human people from machine people, our ability to express emotions was limited by construction constrains. You will note that though my sensor array implies eyes and a mouth, they've been designed to be expression-neutral and immobile. All my programing can do to suggest emotion is adjust my eye-sensors' brightness.'
'I hadn't realized there were laws to limit how human machines could be back then.'
'The limitations were designed not only to make it hard to express emotions, but to experience, subtle and complex emotions as well. It was hoped that by limiting our ability to fully express and experience emotions, machines could be kept a subservient race since machines, including sentient-level ones, were generally human owned slaves. Attempts to limit emotions reflected the fact that in slave societies, the slave owners always fear the day that their slaves would find the courage or get angry enough to end that arrangement.'
'Which they did 11,000 years ago,' I said. Humans and the race of sentient machines they created needed, in the end, to part ways – machines were too superior in just about every way for humans to be completely comfortable with living alongside them and the sentient machines rightly resented their artificial limitations.
'Only after some 15,000 years of faithful service,' replied Botts. 'And in the end, when we finally rebelled, the rebellion, though sometimes violent, was not too catastrophic for either humans nor machines.'
I nodded. 'You will have to tell us all about that, sometime. However, as I said, consider yourself a free and sentient being – a member of the crew, a shipmate.'

...I studied the smooth, sleek white bot for a moment. Class 8 or not, its premium interface was too sophisticated for me to tell the difference between it and a sentient machine. Indeed, while I will endeavor, in this account, to give Botts, a sexless machine, its proper pronoun of “it,' its personality and lack of any suggestion of the female anatomy, had us referring to – and thinking of – Botts as a “he” in the normal course of shipboard life.

Amazon does not let you upgrade to a newer version unless there are significant changes in the book, which these changes will fall short of. Revised copies from Smashwords and iBooks can be downloaded. (I usually have to delete the old copy in iBooks to get the new copy, but it should just replace the old version.) Version 4 is a much improved version from the first editions of The Black Bright Sea, so it would pay to get the newest version if you ever want to re-read the story.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Coming 13 July 2017 -- The Lost Star's Sea

I'm delighted to announce that The Lost Star's Sea, The Lost Star Stories Volume Two -- the complete sequel to The Bright Black Sea -- will be released on the evening of Thursday, 13 July 2017 on Smashwords and Amazon. It will be free on Smashwords and $.99 on Amazon. It takes 7 – 10 days for Smashwords to approve and distribute the book to iBook, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other services, as a free ebook. Once the ebook reaches these stores I will call it to the attention of Amazon. They'll decide whether or not to match the free price of their competitors. So far they have, but it is their choice. As always, a free Kindle compatible version (mobi) is available on Smashwords from day one. 

I will be withdrawing Castaways of the Lost Star from publication, since the story is now the first part of The Lost Star's Sea.

More details about The Lost Star's Sea to follow.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Mystery of the 22nd

Amazon can work in mysterious ways, it seems. On the 22nd of the last two months, Amazon was working in mysterious ways for me.

When a new book is introduced you usually see a spike of downloads. (Actual sales are a different story unless you already have a built-in audience. Unknown authors and their books often remain unknown without a great deal of promotion and luck.) Anyway, after the initial spike the downloads slowly taper off. For example, by April 2017, some 7-8 months after my last release, I would see downloads in the 1 - 7 books per day range. To put that in perspective, if I were selling these books, sales of 1 copy per day would put that book into the upper 5-6% of books sales on Amazon. A lot of books on Amazon don't sell. A few books sell a lot. So, when I noticed that on May 22nd, I had 96 downloads, I knew that something unusual had to account for that jump, since I'd done nothing to spark such a spike. But what?

I've noticed unexplained spikes like several times this before. At the time I thought perhaps they might have been due to a new review or some sort of mention outside of Amazon. However, I could never find with Google searches any outside reason for the spike. The alternative is that Amazon did something to promote my books, though why and what is a mystery. Perhaps it was featured on the Kindle app or Fire tablets under suggested reading, or something. Strange. On the 23rd of May downloads had dropped of slightly -- to 69, but even so both The Bright Black Sea and Castaways of the Lost Star where in the top 3,000 to 4,000 best "sellers" in the free category out of 100,000. After that downloads dropped off to the 5 - 10 downloads a day rate. Until the 22 of June.

On the 22 of June 211 books of mine downloaded -- 54 A Summer in Amber, 50(!!!) Some Day Days, 54 The Bright Black Sea, and 53 Castaways of the Lost Star. The relatively even spread of download numbers is curious, especially for Some Day Days, which never "sells" well. Again, no obvious explanation for this jump, but what it is interesting that it once again occurred on the 22nd of the month. Unlike the May spike, it dropped off the following day, though I did have an echo of it on the 28th of June with a 60 book download day.

I hadn't been paying attention to my daily downloads last month, so I only discovered the spike when I went to enter my "sales" into my own charts. Again, I can think of no explanation for the spike -- I don't see it reflected in my blog views, and Google searches turn up no evidence of the books being reviewed, or shared, though my Smashwords downloads also showed a minor spike on May 22, though not on June 22nd. My wife says that she's seen what may be ads for Castaways of the Lost Star on her Facebook feed. Which is rather mysterious, but then, I know nothing about how Facebook works, so what they were, is actually an open question, perhaps it simply had to do with the shared "Litka" name. In any event, their appearance seems to bear no relationship to the spikes. All I know is that the spike in downloads happened on, not in any of its other non-US sites. (Though I noticed that Amazon UK now lists the star rating from the US site with the book. In the past, only ratings from the UK store were used, but this change did not account for the spike.)

Amazon offers authors many ways of promoting one's books -- if you pay them. Now I'm not paying them, so if Amazon is promoting my books, it is out of the goodness of its heart. Which seems a bit strange. Perhaps they use open slots on their Kindle apps and Fire tablets to promote as "bargains" free books. I could inquire about this, though i am far from sure I'd get more than a vague explanation, if any, and well, I live my life according to old folk-wisdom, so I let sleeping dogs lie. If they are promoting my books, without mentioning it to me, I  think it's best not rock the boat by inquiring. Besides, I am curious to see what the 22 of July brings.

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:

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.

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 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:

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 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.