Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The 4th Daughter -- My 2018 Fantasy Novel

I’ve finished the first draft of my 2018 fantasy novel tentatively titled The 4th Daughter. The first draft came in at about 117K words, and when the dust settles after my revisions it will likely be around my target length of 120K words – about the length of A Summer in Amber.

My plan is to spend as much time this summer as I need making my revisions. Putting words on a blank screen is the hard part of writing for me. Going over those words and tweaking them is the part of writing that I really enjoy. I’ve a feeling that if I spend my usual two hours a day writing, I will likely be done with my revisions well before the end of summer. I need to draw a map or two, and paint several possible paintings for the cover art, but those projects shouldn’t hold up the show. Once I’m satisfied with the story, I will send it off to my proof and beta readers for their input. (If you would like to volunteer to read an almost final version of this story prior to publication, just drop me an email and I will put you on my beta reader list.) After any revisions inspired by my beta readers, I plan to publish it as both an ebook and as paperback book. The ebooks will once again be free, where possible. My original target release date was in the October- November, 2018. However, with the first draft done, I might be able to push the release date up a month or so, if all goes well. 

This time around, the story is my take on a fantasy. I’ve read my share of fantasy books over the last 50 years, but I can’t claim to be a great fan of fantasy. I love Glen Cook’s Garrett PI series. For more traditional fantasies I prefer the ones set in an alternate-China setting. These days, however, I must admit that most fantasy stories no longer appeal to me. So why did I write a fantasy? First, I wanted to write something a little different. I also wanted to write something that might attract the attention of a new group of readers to expand my readership. And finally, I took it up as a personal challenge to see if could I write a fantasy story without using all the common fantasy tropes that I dislike – their vast scales of time and action, the endless conflict between the personified forces good and evil, light and darkness, the use of magic, all the various gods and other mythological creatures, and all their darkness, blood, violence, and death. And I must admit I had fun trying to turn as many of those tropes on their head as possible. For example, I have no evil forces in the story – a few ruthless and bloody-minded people, but none that are essentially evil. For the setting I have created an imaginary world, many centuries after the fall of a technologically advanced civilization. The story takes place across a sprawling steppe empire with technology at a horse, sword, and oil lamp level. However, more advanced technology – trains, electric lights and oil, steam, and electric motors reinvented with the help of relics left from the “Elder Civilization” – are beginning to be introduced from a neighboring nation. The story centers around the title character, Ren Loh, the fourth (and unnecessary) daughter of the Empress of Jasmyne and Kel Cam, a historian from that advanced nation. Since I hate blurbs that are a synopsis of the story, I’ll just say that it follows my usual pattern: a small scale, cozy story of adventure, travel, and romance.

Well, that’s how things stand as of today with The 4th Daughter. Stay tuned for more updates.

Friday, May 4, 2018

3 Years in Self-Publishing

Since April 23rd marked my third year as a self-published writer of adventure/travel/romance novels set in imaginary places, it’s time to publish my annual report on my past year in the self-publishing business.

Let’s start with the numbers. Please note; the vast majority of “sales” are free downloads.

Sales and ratings of 1 May 2018:

A Summer in Amber (23 April 2015)
Year 1: 2,359
Year 2: 1,220
Year 3: 1,336 w/ 2 print sales
Total to Date: 4,915
Ratings: (# of ratings) star average
Amazon (20) 4.4
Amazon UK (4) 4
Smashwords (6) 4.17
iBooks (13) 4.5
B & N (2) 5
Goodreads (26) 3.73

Some Day Days (9 July 2015)
Year 1: 1,141
Year 2: 509
Year 3: 400
Total to Date: 2050
Ratings: (# of ratings) star average
Amazon (2) 3
Smashwords (1) 4
iBooks (6) 4
B & N (0)
Goodreads (4) 3

The Bright Black Sea (17 September 2015)
Year 1: 3,178
Year 2: 2,567
Year 3: 2,091 w/1 print sale
Total to date: 7,836
Ratings: (# of ratings) star average
Amazon (36) 4.4
Smashwords (12) 4.75
iBooks (60) 4.5
B & N (6) 4.8
Goodreads (42) 4.02

Castaways of the Lost Star (4 Aug 2016 – 13 July 2017)
Year 2: 1,700
Year 3: 476
Ratings: (# of ratings) star average
Smashwords (5) 5
Goodreads (14) 4.57
Rest unavailable since being withdrawn
Final Total: 2,176

The Lost Star’s Sea (13 July 2017)
Year 3: 2,078 w/1 print sales
Total to date: 2,078
Ratings: (# of ratings) star average
Amazon (9) 3.8
Smashwords (2) 5
iBooks (8) 5
B & N (1) 5
Goodreads (10) 4.2

Combined Download/sales:
Year 1: 6,537
Year 2: 6,137
Year 3: 6,381 w/ 4 print sales
Total to Date: 19,055

Steady As She Goes.

My business plan is simple. Like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos I’m forgoing immediate (and tiny) profits in favor of building my readership for the long run. I am also following his aggressive pricing policy. Since I can produce my ebooks and paperback at no monetary cost, I’m selling them for free and not losing money by doing so. Indeed, with my Amazon foreign, non-price matched sales, I’m showing a slight profit.

I am not actively promoting my books beyond pricing them as friction-less impulse buys. My books do not fit the contemporary high volume mainstream markets in their genre, so I doubt that actively promoting them would prove worthwhile. The truth, however, is that I don’t want to bother with self-promoting. I’m writing for fun, not profit, and I’ll only willing to do what I enjoy. And for that luxury, I’ll gladly accept my modest, but steady growth.

Highlights of this year in publishing

On 13 July 2017 I released the complete companion volume in the Lost Star Stories series, The Lost Star’s Sea. It replaced my 2016 stop-gap book, Castaways of the Lost Star. This short novel was intended to be the opening episode of The Lost Star’s Sea and it took its proper place in the complete release. This volume concludes the adventures of Wil Litang. Though only two volumes long, it contains more than 650K words. The series could have been stretched into six volumes, but with no monetary incentive to do so, I wanted to make reading the complete story as friction-less as possible, so I condensed it down to two free “Buy” clicks.

As with Castaways, I had the help of a number of volunteer beta readers who pointed out errors and provided me with valuable feedback. I would like to thank them, once again, for their time and effort in making this a better book than what I could do on my own. 

I do believe, however, that writing this companion volume at this time was a business mistake. While it is gospel in the indie publishing world to write series books – and write the first three books before releasing the first one, this is, I think, “A Trap!” for the beginning writer. If the first book succeeds, then the sequels pay off. But if it doesn’t, then one has three non-sellers instead of just one. Why gamble early? Besides, there is always a natural attrition between volumes as readers who did not like the first book will not go on to the second book, and some of the readers on the fence after each book will fall away as well. And while the releases of sequels may spark interest in the first book of the series, a new, unrelated book will likely do this just as well, plus offering a chance of selling more books than the previously published book. I suppose if one has sold a large number of the first book in the series, one can afford the inevitable attrition as the series continues, but unless you have a large pool of readers, I don’t think a sequel makes business sense.

That being the case, the current sales of The Bright Black Sea does not, I think, justify a sequel from a business prospective, especially since I spent the better part of two years writing it. Those two years could’ve been better spent writing two different books, each of which would have offered the prospect of attracting a wider readership beyond that of The Bright Black Sea’s. This is not to say that I don’t like or I’m not proud of The Lost Star’s Sea, nor indeed, regret writing it. Rather that I recognize that from a purely business standpoint, I shouldn’t have done it. I won’t make that mistake again. Until I write my break-out novel, all my future books will different types of stand alone books.

Work on the 2018 Book

Which brings me to my 2018 book. At this point of time I’m 95K words into its first draft. I expect to finish this draft by the end of the month (May 2018). Knock on wood. I then plan to spend the summer polishing it, before having it proofread for a release in the October-November 2018 time frame. The working title is The Fourth Daughter. However, since there is already a book by that title, I’ll have to come up with a different final title. As for the story itself, it is my standard adventure/travel/romance novel, set in an imaginary land. This time around, I’m taking aim at the fantasy market so the technology is mostly at the horse and sword level. It doesn’t, however, have many (any?) fantasy tropes, and so, like my other books, it rather falls into the cracks between genres and sub-genres. Still, I think it presents the chance of attracting new readers to all my books.

Paperback Editions

Since I wasn’t writing in October 2017, I had time on my hands. I decided to spend some of it producing print on demand trade paperback versions of my books. I planned to use them as thank you gifts for the people who have helped and encouraged me in my writing efforts. I have no commercial illusions, especially since the ebook versions are free. As a matter of fact, I’ve sold four paper books to date, which is four more than I ever expected to sell.

I started creating the paper books using Amazon’s program to produce paper books, but switched to (Amazon owned) Create Space to finish the job. Unlike Amazon at that time, Create Space would provide proof copies for me to inspect before actually publishing them. Amazon not only did not provide this service, but I’d have to publish and then buy my own books – at retail price to boot.

The process was a learning experience. Though not especially difficult, it was time consuming and frustrating at times. The books could be produced in LibreOffice and Gimp, so the process was within my expertise. Most of the problems I experienced arose, I think, from the fact that my older books were originally written in old versions of OpenOffice on a Mac, and those files refused to cooperate with my current version of LibreOffice on Windows. The main issue was setting up non-numbered “title pages.” The old OpenOffice version allowed only one title page before it began to count pages, while in LibreOffice, you can set any number of pages before it starts numbering them. Amazon requires Chapter One to start on page 1, so all the pages before Chapter One cannot be part of the numbering. I spent many an hour trying workarounds to get this to happen in my oldest works.

Once I had the printed proof copies in hand, it seemed that (hopefully – but unlikely – all) the remaining mistakes and awkward sentences that I had overlooked on my many previous readings popped out at me. So, with paper books in hand, I spent several weeks reading each book again in print to correct and slightly revise the books, hopefully making both the ebooks and paper books better for it.

My First and Last Promotional Effort

In December 2018 I decided to try a simple free promotion. I ran a Goodreads drawing for one paper copy of The Bright Black Sea. My drawing ran the whole month of December and I had a rather disappointing 572 entrants. I had also promoted my free ebooks in the contest blurb hoping the contest would spur my ebooks sales. As far as I can see, it did no such thing. All in all, my first, and likely last, promotional effort was largely a bust, though an inexpensive one; merely the wholesale price of the book, and the cost of shipping to the winner.

Selling Directly on Kobo

In January 2018 I decided that since Kobo does not report free sales to Smashwords, but does to the authors who list their books directly with them, I would switch to directly listing my books with Kobo. I wanted to see what sort of sales I was missing. In the process I lost the 4 ratings my books had on Kobo – no great loss – and I have discovered how many books I was moving on Kobo – 33 in 4 months. Now I know.

New List Prices on Amazon

Also in January 2018 Amazon stopped price matching The Bright Black Sea so it reverted to its list $.99 price. Perhaps taking my Smashwords distributed books out of Kobo for a few days before listing them my own triggered this action. In any event, since this was my best selling book, and the first book of my two book series, I was not happy. The last time Amazon did this, I had it priced at $3.99. It stayed at that price for 6 months until the release of Castaways of the Lost Star. I think I sold around a dozen copies. This time around, I did nothing in January, to gauge how well the book would sell at $.99. I sold some, but not enough to make me think it was worth keeping it at $.99. So, when February rolled around, I changed the list prices of all my books. From past experience, I thought that this might trigger an automated reevaluation on the part of Amazon and probably would reset all the prices back to free. It did.

Given that my Amazon list prices matter only in the foreign Amazon stores, and that in 2017 I earned enough royalties from foreign sales to order out a pizza, I decided to forgo that pizza and instead use my prices to reflect the size and quality of my products. So in February I changed my list prices to:

A Summer in Amber $8.50 ebook $12.50 paperback
Some Day Days $5.50 ebook $9.00 paperback
The Bright Black Sea $12.50 ebook $25.00 paperback
The Lost Star’s Sea $12.50 ebook $25.00 paperback

I decided to align my books with traditionally published books rather than with indie published books. Now pricing is a business decision, not a self-awarded seal of excellence. However, people do equate price with quality. I decided that it was worth giving up the trickle of income from foreign sales to suggest to people who look on ebook prices as an indicator of reading quality, that my books are the equals of traditionally published books, since I believe they are. Much to my surprise, I have sold several ebooks at these new prices, and, together with my paperback sales, it’s looking to be a banner year for record profits! Profits are already into double digits, and it is only May! I’m rich, rich, rich!


And that, in a nut shell, was my third year of self-publishing. After finishing The Lost Star’s Sea I tried out several new story ideas, but nothing quite clicked. I’ve posted those starts on this blog if you are curious. In the end, I took a couple of months off from writing to develop a new story that I thought was original and interesting enough to devote a year’s worth of daydreaming and work to it. I want to make each book not only better than the last one, but as different from the rest as I can, if only for my sake. I don’t want to do the same old thing day in and day out – without getting a paycheck every two weeks. And with that, we’ll see what my fourth year brings. Stay tuned.

Comments and questions are always welcomed.