Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Since I'm not writing...

...What am I doing to pass the time? Well, I’m touring the world – virtually – from the cab of trains. There are many, many ways of wasting time, and I suppose watching videos taken from the driver’s cab of trains on YouTube is one rather strange way. But I think it is better than playing solitaire on the computer. That, at any rate, is my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I’ve only discovered the joys of train driving, oh, about three months ago or so. And yet, I can’t remember how I came to discover the addictive joy of watching the countryside – or the embankments, trees, or tunnels, flow by. I think I watched a video on British steam trains, and that led to another, and eventually to train rides across Great Britain. You might be amazed at how many such rides have been recorded, and in these days, in 4K by GoPro cameras.

As I said, it is strangely addictive – the rails always stretching on ahead, and you never know what the next bend will reveal. I’ve also be come quite the expert at reading the signals that control the trains that run so frequently.

As I said, I started in Britain, and below is the map of the British Rail System, with the routes in yellow being the ones that I have traveled in the driver’s cab. I have to say that some parts of England are rather murky… But perhaps that is due to the age of the video and the cameras used…

I think that I may have traveled every route currently available to be viewed. But you never know what might turn up on my YouTube home page..

If you are interested in seeing Britain by train, the YouTube channel to start with is Don Coffey’s:

There are others that cover more than the English midlands, but his are high quality and include a lot of interesting information on the Victorian Engineering that went into making the British rail system, and how it works.

After covering all of Britain that I could, I moved on to Switzerland. As you can see from the map below, I’ve seen a lot of Switzerland. Even without taking into account the Alps, Switzerland and its rail system is very different than Britain’s. It is a much smaller system, and without all the Victorian era overhead that British rail has to deal with, it seems a much more modern system. And some of the videos of trains in the Alps are breathtaking, even if you’re not addicted to cab ride videos.

There are two very good, high quality sources for cab ride videos through Switzerland:
I highly recommend both of them.

I did ride on several French and German high speed trains and one Swedish train. There do not seem to be many German train rides*, but I will have to return to France some day.

*Update: I have found a really nice channel of lots of cab rides through Germany, here:

There are a lot of cab ride videos on Norwegian trains, which you can find here:
I have only briefly sampled one. The reason I have not explored Norway more is that because of all the mountains, there are many, many, tunnels needed to run trains through that breathtaking countryside. At least that was my impression based on my one trip that there. It seemed that there were more tunnels than breathtaking views. (Tunnels are pretty boring.) I’ll have to return some day to see it that is true on all the trips.

Anyway, now I’ve move on to a very different country: Japan. Japan has plenty of mountains and breathtaking views, but it is also very different as well. At least in the south of Japan, you are rarely out of a city/town/village unless you are in some narrow mountain pass. It is interesting to see all the cultural differences between these countries that you can note even from the front window of a train.

I’m currently exploring the videos from these channels:

I have a lot of places yet to visit, as you can see from my map below. Many of them are on slow commuter trains, but you get to enjoy the cherry blossoms that abound in the spring. I don't think there are any videos from the cabs of Japan's highspeed trains, but I have a feeling they's be pretty boring, as they generally run straight -- through hills and over valleys and have walls on each side. Luckily I can cut and paste the Japanese descriptions into Google Translate to get an idea of where I’m going.

(Map credit: )

Sunday, December 15, 2019

It Seems that...

...Sailing to Redoubt is now $.99 in's store. Apparently they have decided to stop price matching Sailing to Redoubt's $.00 price in all the other ebook stores. I need to put a list price on my books in Amazon, and they then have the option to match their competitor's prices, or not. I guess they're trying to see if they can make a little money off of my work. Good luck with that! We'll see how long this lasts.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Another Writing Update

This hasn’t gone well…

You know that post, the one two posts down, about playing chicken, well, I lost that game. That story petered out… And so did my next promising idea as well. In all these situations, I’d have no problem coming up with the first 30K words. And in each case, I had a series of incidents lined up that promised to carry the story forward. But. But the more I thought about them, the more they did not seem to have the necessary weight, if you will, to drive the story forward. I write episodic novels and you need an overarching story to hold them together. However, the more I thought about these middle episodes, the more they seemed to be just that, episodes that existed only to fill out the middle and carry the story on to a not very consequential end. There are some writers who just write what comes to their head and trust that everything will turn out alright in the end. Perhaps it does. But I hate plot holes, especially my own, so I’m not going to have some character do something just because I need it done. I have to arrange the story so as to allow the character to do what I want done, and this requires planning from the beginning to end. I don’t do extensive outlines, but I do have to have motivations in mind, and I need to place them into the stream of the story from the get-go. All of which means that even though I have solid beginnings, I’m not going put a lot of effort into writing without being fairly certain of a worthwhile payoff. So far, that payoff had eluded me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not under contract, so that I don’t have to mechanically crank out a good-enough story to fulfill a contractual obligation. And since I can’t generate any enthusiasm for these stories, I can hardly expect my readers will either. I do this for fun, and typing away just to get enough words to call it a book isn’t fun.

I don’t think this is classic writers’ block. I can write, I can come up with something like a story, but I just can’t come up with a story that I think is worth writing. I don’t want to rinse and repeat stories. I have my pirates, my bandits, my storms, my romances, and my familiar characters (under different names), and I don’t want to just drag them out, dust them off, and reuse them again without bringing out something new.

There is this term in Taoism, wu wei, which has several subtle meanings, but can use to mean that by doing nothing something gets done, or that by acting only when something can be done, that thing can be done without (much) effort. I’ve decided to apply that principle to my efforts to write. Clearly I'm not at a point where I can write a good story, so I’ll give up trying for now and wait upon some sort of inspiration to seep in when I’m not looking for them.

In the meanwhile, maybe I’ll read some books. I don’t like reading books when there is one in my head that I’m trying to work out, so that by giving up trying to write one, perhaps I can get some reading done. Or maybe I can start painting again. I haven’t been motivated to paint for some time, so perhaps now is the time to try something new, or something old, just to see if my creative juices are still flowing. Humm, might have to wait upon wu wei for that to happen as well...

The long and short of it, however, is that unless lightning strikes, I’m not going to try to come up with a story until after the first of the year. It takes me 5 or 6 months to get a story ready for my proof readers, so that this hiatus does not rule out a book in 2020. But I can’t promise one either. Indeed, I can’t promise another one ever. With more than a million words in print in the last decade, I can’t complain if the well has run dry.

In the mean time, I may use this space to yell at the clouds. That’s what us old men do. For all the good it does.

Friday, November 1, 2019

4 1/2 Years in Self Publishing Sales Report

Time flies, and once again it is time for my biannual sales report, covering the period, May 2019 through October 2019. As usual, almost all of the sales are free ebooks sold through Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, B & N, and Google. My books are also available on Kobo which does not report free sales to Smashwords, plus on many other sites that offer free books.

Let’s start by looking at the numbers:

Book Title / Release Date 1H 2019 Sales Total Sale To date
A Summer in Amber
23 April 2015
458 6,856
Some Day Days
9 July 2015
511 3,638
The Bright Black Sea
17 Sept 2015
1,214 11,053
The Lost Star’s Sea
13 July 2017
1,101 5,122
Beneath the Lanterns
13 Sept 2018
669 1,822
Sailing to Redoubt
15 March 2019
638 1,199
Total Six Month Sales 4,590 31,866 w/
2,176 sales

Now, back in May I had written that I did not expect a banner year, for several reasons. While this will probably still be true for the entire year, this first half of the year has been much better than expected. I sold almost as many books in this period as I did last year, which included a strange one day sales on Amazon of 1950 copy in August 2018. If one excludes that inexplicable spike, my sales were actually up 1,819 for the last six months compared to the same period last year. I won’t complain about that.

I have several observations about these last six months. 

First is that despite the fact that Amazon is the market leader, by far in ebooks, I sold more ebooks on Smashwords than I did on Amazon. Here is the breakdown of my sales by stores:


  Smashwords 52%  (Smashwords 83%, Apple 15%, B&N 2%)  Amazon 39%    Google 9% 

I think that there are several reasons for this result. On the Amazon side, I think that they have fine tuned their sales algorithms to maximize the sales of their best selling titles and authors who appeal to the avid reading Kindle Unlimited subscribers. These are the authors who can move the most copies and who will return the most money to Amazon via their spending on advertising on Amazon's platform. I have no complaints about this, it is just capitalism at work.  I'm happy with whatever sales I can get from Amazon. And since I see an occasional unexplained jump in my sales on Amazon, (though not 1950 in a day) I assume they are doing a little promotional work for me for free. I can't complain.

A second factor may be a result of  Smashwords redesigning their store front at the beginning of 2019. While my sales were up as a result of the release of Beneath the Lanterns in September, the slow decline reversed itself in January, and continued to rise, especially after the release of Sailing to Redoubt in March. After March I was routinely selling in the mid-400 copy range – until this past month, Oct 2019 when, for no apparent reason, sales crashed to 195 copies. Seeing that I don’t do promotions, it is hard to explain such a sudden fall. Perhaps my books had reached most of their audience. Or perhaps they had somehow become less visible in the Smashwords store. (Though I don't see how.)  We’ll see what happens going forward, but without a new book in the next six months, I don’t expect sales to improve.

And that brings us to the Google Play Store sales. While it constituted only 9% of my sales for the first half of my year, as you can see from the chart below, sales have begun to take off.  In October, with the decline of Smashwords, my Google sales constituted about 22% of my month's sales.

Now, I don't know how high sales will go, or for how long they will continue at the October level, but there seems to be a general trend here, at least for now. And with more sales and more ratings, I believe Google is coming into its own, far outpacing B&N and from the days when I distributed my books to Kobo on my own and saw the sales results, I can say that Google is likely far outpacing Kobo as well.

Looking Ahead

I expect sales to fall over the course of the next six months, as these sales still benefited from the March release of Sailing to Redoubt. I don't expect to release a new book until next summer or early fall. While I am at work on that book, the going is slow, with many false starts, so I am far from certain if and when my 2020 novel will appear. My hope has been to sell 300 books a month. Now, with six books available, I expect to be able to meet that between the three stores. Even with Smashwords' crash, I sold over 500 books in October, so I think it is do-able. But three of those books are now more than four years old, so it will depend on how those hold up. So far, so good. But.

However, when all is said and done, I'm still having fun doing this. And that is what matters. That, and that you, dear readers, are having fun as well.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Game of Chicken

Okay, let's see how many times I can start a project and publicly bail on it. The new August Avenue story starts: (At least it does tonight.)

 I lifted my summer weight felt hat off the rack and looked about my hot, twilit flat, just to make sure everything was in order, should I die before I returned. Not that I was planning on dying. I was merely going home for my annual summer holiday. And though I rather dreaded it – I’d been far too eager to put the farm behind me to attend university for my father to ever forget or completely forgive, which made my annual visits a bit tense at times – I had no reason to fear death. This time, however, I had, on several occasions, found a fleeting moment of peace in having taken that precaution. But then, I couldn’t have known that when I settled my hat on my head, slung my kitbag over my shoulder and closed the door behind me – checking to be certain that it was locked – before starting down the stairs. Had I, I would’ve stayed in bed with the covers over my head. And never opened that wire-note from my chief at the Bureau of Innovation.  

I spent a month or so this summer daydreaming this version of August Avenue before abandoning it, quietly. But I have to write something, and I think I might be able to make it work. But then, I thought that the last time as well... We'll all see how far I get.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

"Failed to lift"

Unfortunately, I was unable to get my August Avenue story to lift off the launching pad. It just did not quite come together -- too many disparate ideas that refused to gel. And some of the ideas I did have I couldn't find a way to use without falling back on old, out of fashion, tropes; like having the hero save the heroine, which I make a point not to use, at least not without the reverse as well.  All in all, perhaps it simply failed to lift because it did not quite spark enough enthusiasm in me -- though goodness knows I tried -- running scenes through my head for several months. So the search is on for another story idea -- one that I can get enthusiastic about, and have fun writing. Winter is coming, and I need something to write to get through it.

That said, it is probably a good thing I didn't go through with my original plan, as I have a feeling that it would not have been all that well received, being a mishmash of story ideas plus being rather short on adventure. Not that that alone would've stopped me -- I write to amuse myself -- but hopefully I can come up with a novel that will be both fun to daydream up and write, as well as entertaining you as well. We'll see.

At some point I might post the 13,000 word unedited opening chapters of August Avenue on this blog just for the heck of it, as I have done in the past -- the "noses" of stories that never made it to the wagging tail of the tale.

Friday, September 27, 2019

August Avenue

August Avenue is the working title of my 2020 novel, simply because I want to write a novel using that phrase as a title. Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck coming up with a story to really fit that title. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from using it as my tentative title for my current book project. The title comes from the final lyrics of a song titled Duxton, Melbourne on the Kitel Bjornstad and Anneli Drecker’s A Suite of Poems album. It is an album that puts to music the poems of Lars Saabye Christensen about hotels. “August Avenue” evokes something in me, but I can’t say what. In any event, what the final title of this story will be is an open question, mainly because the story that I envision isn’t about any one thing in particular. Maybe I’ll have the boardinghouse on August Avenue. Or the repair shop. We’ll see.

I’ve spent the last six months trying to come up with a new story. Story ideas don't come easy for me. Getting a story started is pretty easy. Getting it to go someplace, and go someplace different from what I’ve written before, is hard for me. So it seems to take me half a year to settle on some characters and a story. Along the way I considered various sequels to Sailing to Redoubt because I had a lot of fun writing about those characters. And, as I mentioned, I explored ideas on how I could make “August Avenue” a key element of a story. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I have started writing a story by cobbling together elements from a number of abandoned story projects, so it will be a rather different type of a story for me. 

I like writing small stories. Stories were the stakes may be life or death, but only for the characters, not worlds, or galaxies. And this new story is no exception, except that it may be even smaller. And more leisurely. I realize that I tell my adventure/travelogue stories at a rather leisurely pace, so that setting out to deliberately tell a small story leisurely may alarm some readers. As well it should. However, life is too short to write the same story over and over again, so I try to do something a little different each time – within my limited range of talent and imagination. And a small, slice of life story, is what I want to write this time around. 

The good news for some readers it that this story marks a return to an old setting; the Nine Star Nebula of The Bright Black Sea. The opening chapters, which I now have in first draft, concern a small tramp space ship in the Alantzia star system. The Alantzia system is sort of the “Wild West” of the Nine Star Nebula’s Unity. Not quite the “drifts” but close. The rest of the story will be set on a terraformed moon and in a non-Unity-conforming “throwback” society. This will allow me to combine old and new tech together to make an, hopefully, entertaining story. With my opening chapters written (10K words), my ending settled upon, and enough ideas to fill out the middle, I think the story is a go. But nothing is guaranteed, even with all that.

While I started Sailing to Redoubt about this time and had it ready to publish by March, I don’t expect this story will go as fast. I still have a lot of day dreaming to do in order to flesh out the characters and story. And if I write too fast and overrun my daydreams, I risk dreaming up better scenes, or discovering plot holes and so end up having to go back and rewrite it. That's what I do in the second draft. I’m under no deadline, except 2020. If that. Still, it would be nice if I find myself having as much fun day dreaming it up and writing it down as I did the last time around, so who knows?

And with that, I’ll close this post with the first two lines of August Avenue’s first draft:
I took my first steps in becoming a toaster repairman aboard the Aphar Hawk, nine days out of Gan Dou orbit. And I don’t believe that I've ever stepped faster in my life.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

An Update

I see that it has been three months since I last posted, but I have an excuse. We have been in the process of finding a new place to live, one that will better serve us as we enter our seventh decade. Living in a small rural town of 2,000 people has its advantages, but as one grows older, things like family and health care closer at hand, as well as yard work, snow shoveling, etc, began to weigh on one's mind. That being the case, we set out to find a condo in the nice sized city of Eau Claire Wisconsin this spring.

I hate to travel, so luckily I only had to make one 400 mile round trip to view a possible condo, which, as it turned out was just about perfect. We had an offer drawn up right after leaving the viewing, which was accepted the next day. In the current house market, you don't have the luxury of "sleeping on it."

Of course, that was only the beginning. I had been working all spring to get our house spruced up and de-cluttered and yard trimmed, so has to be ready to put our property on the market. However, since we did not dare to put our house on the market until we had actually closed on the Eau Claire condo -- so as not to find ourselves homeless if the wheels should come off the deal -- we only put it on in the middle of June. Luckily it was a good time to sell a house, and it sold within 10 days. Next up was moving...

All spring we had been "downsizing", taking car loads of junk to the charity stores and the dump. However, once I started packing, it became clear that we had not been ruthless enough. Plus, I have too many books and paintings, both of which get too heavy fast. Still, in the end, we had everything boxed and ready for the movers when the came in July. They loaded up one day, and unloaded the next. And then the process went in reverse -- figuring out where to put everything in the new place. After which there is the process of opening new bank accounts, setting up phone and the internet, and just finding our way around our new hometown while we waited for the sale of our house to be finalized. After one last 400 mile round trip a week or so ago, we closed on the house and had finished the big move.

All of which is to say, that I've been far too busy to write anything. While I have been thinking about the next story since I finished up Sailing to Redoubt, I've not been able to come up with anything more than a couple of opening scenes or two. The actual story has so far eluded me. Part of the problem is that I'm fussy about the stories I write. Not only do I want a story that I will enjoy daydreaming up for months on end, but I also need a story that falls within the rather narrow limits of my talent. This has never been easy for me. However, once I get a story in hand, I can write it fairly fast. I started Sailing to Redoubt in October and published it in March, so that there's still plenty of time for me to come up with my 2020 novel. And well, I do have two characters and how they fit together in mind, which is a start. Hopefully, I can find a story for them. I'll update you when I know more.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Character Flaws That Make Writing Fun

With my 2019 novel published and my 2020 novel not even a glimmer on the horizon, I thought I might take this fallow time to write a post or two about my experiences as a writer.

Over the past four years I’ve come across a good number of articles written by writers concerning their struggles as a writer. In these articles, they often discuss their experiences dealing with things like writer’s block, criticism, and self-doubts about their talent and stories, plus the usual struggles of getting agents, making sales, or the business of self-publishing. This is not going to be one of those articles, since it seems that I have avoided much of that drama in my writing life. I owe that, I believe, to my set of character flaws.

So let’s have a look at them to see how they make writing easy and fun for me.

Perhaps the over arching character flaw of mine is that I don’t take writing all that seriously. I’ve written stories, or parts of stories, off and on my entire life, but rarely with any serious intent. I simply enjoy the process. I enjoy playing with words. So when I’m writing, I’m having fun. I hope my stories reflect that. Moreover, I will cheerfully admit that I’ve nothing profound, or otherwise, to say about the human condition. I’m not on a mission. I write light, hopefully entertaining stories, and that’s it.

I don’t have a great deal of fortitude. Many years ago, when I was young and foolish, I wrote some stories that I submitted to magazines and a book publisher, collecting a small collection of rejections slips that I still have for my efforts. I gave that up rather quickly. And so, decades later, when I started writing my first three self published novels, I never even considered trying to sell them to publishers. I wrote them simply as a personal challenge and, as I’ve said, for the fun of playing with words. I had collected all the rejections slips I cared to collect. Self publishing was the easy route, making it my preferred route because...

I am lazy. I write imaginary world stories so I can just make things up and thus avoid the tedious research necessary to place stories in history and the known world. It also means that when it comes to publishing, I don’t bother with anything that resembles work, which for me, is everything other than writing, making the cover, and uploading my books after my volunteer proof and beta readers have found most of my many mistakes. And with that, I’m content because...

I must have been standing behind the door when ambition was being handed out since I lack ambition. I have no desire for fame or fortune, or to do the work they require. And I also don’t need, or even want, great success. Fame and wealth seem to be very toxic. And since I’ve successfully avoided both my whole life, I not about to blow it now as a writer. So I’m quite content with my modest success. And yet...

...I have a big ego. Or maybe it’s little one. I’m not sure. All I know is that satisfaction for me is largely internal. I’m a shy person. I don’t need acclaim. I’m a writer, and I don’t need a price on my books to consider myself a professional grade writer. “Professional” writers are free to consider me a “hobbyist” but I don’t see a difference. I mean, it’s not like most professional writers actually make a “professional” level income from their freelance writing. And most of the professional indie authors are making pocket change from the sales of their books, if they’re making any money at all. Writing is simply writing. Money is neither here nor there. This attitude saves me a whole boatload of grief. So is it a lack of ego that allows me the joy of writing without a monetary reward, or is a vast ego that allows me to serenely look down on those scrambling for coins, shake my head and smile? Who knows?

Another character flaw is that I’m not a perfectionist. Good enough is, indeed, good enough, for me. While I try to make every book the best book I can write, I don’t get (too) discouraged by the fact that I can’t go back and read more than a couple pages of any of my books without coming across something that I’d like to change. Something that makes me wonder what in the hell I was thinking when I though that it was good enough. However, achieving perfection is a true life illustration of the fact that, in theory, you can never actually arrive anywhere, since every journey can be divided into halves. Get halfway there, and there’s another halfway point that must be reached before arriving, and so on and on; the remaining halves just keep getting ever smaller and smaller, and smaller but never disappear. Getting close to perfection is like that. You never actually arrive, but the closer you get to it, the more time and effort it takes to achieve any tiny incremental improvement. Being able to sigh, shrug, and say, “good enough” when those efforts no longer make any sense, makes life, and writing easier. That, and the knowledge that no matter how close you come to “perfection,” perfection is always subjective. Some people will like it and others won’t, and that can’t be helped. And that being the case, I can be...

Selfish. I write only to please me. You, my dear reader are merely along for the ride, though your company is very welcome. I only write the stories that I enjoy, trusting that other people, but far from everyone, will enjoy them as well. As the creator of the story, I have to live with the story and its many variations, in my head for months on end. So what my readers might want (And who knows what that is?) doesn’t figure into my calculations. It’s all about me and what I enjoy. I know that whatever I write is never going to please everyone, so I don’t even try to please everyone. I’d like to think, however, that by making the best possible story for me, I make a far better story for the readers who share my taste in stories.

Which brings me around to my last flaw. I may be a bit of a snob. I consider writing art. I paint as well as write and both involve bringing something into the world that did not exist in it before. I’m a creator. And I think the highest ideal of creation is to make something as original, and as personal, as one can make it. I don’t claim any great originality, but they are all very personal creations. They are mine, and all mine. And I think there is great value in that. It is art in its purest form.

Commercial art is something different. It is art in a harness. It is not lesser art, but it is a creation process that is compromised in order to appeal to the broadest audience possible. People know what they like, and like what they know, so if one wants to appeal to the most people possible, one gives them what they know and like – a minor variation of a familiar product. In order to sell a lot of books, the books are engineered to fit a very specific and well researched market niches. They have covers that look like every other cover in the specific genre, they have blurbs that have been fined tuned and filled with key words known to appeal to the target readers, and are written to include all the tropes that the readers expect find it them. They are designed to be just original enough that the reader knows they’ve read new book. (Though I gather that just changing a book’s title, cover, and author can sometimes accomplishes the same thing.) These books are so similar that their authors need to publish a book every two or three months just to be remembered by their readers. And then, when that particular sub-genre falls out of fashion, as it will, every book in that sub-genre will seem old and as out of date as a month old newspaper. It is disposable art.

I won’t compromise my vision for increased sales. I don’t chase fashion. I don’t chase readers. My books will likely never in fashion, but then, they will never be out of fashion either. (Always just unfashionable.) I choose this approach because I think it will produces books that can and will be read decades from now. As I said earlier, my books are just light entertainment. I make no claim for any greatness. But they are as original as I can make them within the long stream of adventure stories, and I think that counts.

This has gotten to be a very long post. But then, I’m not known for brevity in my writing. So to draw it to its conclusion, certain characteristics of mine, ones that can be seen as flaws, combine to make writing for me fun, while allowing me to avoid a great deal of angst that other writers without these flaws may have to endure.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Four Years in Self-publishing

On 23 April 2015 I published A Summer in Amber, the first of three novels I released in 2015. Some Day Days and The Bright Black Sea followed in July and September. This blog post marks the end of my fourth year in self-publishing, which means that it is time for my annual report. My previous reports can be found here:

Most of my sales are free downloads, though they do include sales on Amazon’s non-US sites, sales on when Amazon is not price-matching, plus the odd paperback sale. The numbers include sales reported by Amazon, Apple, B & N, and Smashwords for the entire year. Kobo does not report free downloads to Smashwords. In October 2018 I listed my books with Google and those sales are now included in my report. My books can also be found on and many other sites that offer PDF books, for which I have no way of knowing sales numbers.

Let’s start with the numbers I do have:

A Summer in Amber (23 April 2015)
Download/sales: as of:
May 1 2018: 4,915
May 1 2019: 6,399
Sales for the year: 1,484

Some Day Days (9 July 2015)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2018: 2,050
May 1 2019: 3,127
Sales for the year: 1,077

The Bright Black Sea (17 September 2015)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2018: 7,836
May 1 2019: 9,840
Sales for the year: 2,004

Castaways of the Lost Star (4 Aug 2016 – withdrawn: 13 July 2017)
Download/sales total: 2,176

The Lost Star’s Sea (13 July 2017)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2018: 2,078
May 1 2019: 4,021
Sales for the year: 1,943

Beneath the Lanterns (13 Sept 2018)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2019: 1,154
Sales for the year: 1,154

Sailing to Redoubt (15 March 2019)
Download/sales as of:
May 1 2019: 563
Sales for the year: 563

Total download/sales as of 1 May 2018: 19,055
Total download/sales as of 1 May 2019: 27,280
Total download/sales Year 4: 8,225

Yearly sales:
Year One: 6,537 (3 books released)
Year Two: 6,137 (1 book released)
Year Three: 6,385 (1 book released)
Year Four: 8,225 (2 books released)

Performance over time for each title:
Downloads/sales per year:
Year:                               1         2          3         4*
A Summer in Amber         2,222   1,357   1,336   1,484
Some Day Days               1,139      511      400   1,077
The Bright Black Sea        3,176   2,569   2,092   2,004
Castaways of the Lost Star           2,176 (total)
The Lost Star’s Sea                                2,078    1,943
Beneath the Lanterns                                         1,154 (half year)
Sailing to Redoubt                                                 563 (six weeks)

*Includes a single day sale of 1,950 books, approx 500 per book, Summer in Amber through The Lost Star’s Sea. See below.

The Bright Black Sea, a space opera is my most mainstream and most popular book. Its sequel, The Lost Star’s Sea, is currently selling about equal to it. A Summer in Amber ticks along, Some Day Days, with my earliest writing, is my least popular book, for several reasons, but actually sells pretty well on Smashwords. Beneath the Lanterns and Sailing to Redoubt are off to reasonable starts. All, in all, my book sales are holding up reasonably well, especially because fashionable book sales "fall off a cliff" after three months or less. Having never been in fashion, they are never out of fashion.

Performance of retailers:
For the entire year, my sales split between Smashwords distributed books and Amazon was: Smashwords, (approx.) 36% vs 64% for Amazon, including that 1,950 sales day. If you discount that strange one day’s sales, the ratio is Smashwords 47% vs Amazon’s 53%. And then, considering only my 2019 sales, the ratio actually flips: 62% of my sales were from Smashwords vs 38% for Amazon. In February and March my sales on Amazon really dried up until the release of Sailing to Redoubt. However, Smashwords more than took up the slack – perhaps a result of their new storefront design. Presently Google accounts for less than 10% of my total sales. We’ll have to see if that grows or not. And to complete the comparison between retailers for the year, my numbers within Smashwords distribution are Smashwords: 76%, Apple: 21%, and B & N: 3%. Kobo does not report free sales.

Profit and loss:
I actually don’t keep track of this, since the numbers are too small to matter. Income comes from the rare ebook sale on Amazon’s non-US sites where it does not price match my free price, and, every so often, the sale of a paperback book. My only out of the pocket expenses are the purchase of a number of copies of my paperback books as proof copies and as gifts to my beta readers plus the postage for those gift books. I believe my sales for a year more than covers these expenses.

Year four performance:
This was my best year yet, by the numbers. However, the numbers should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. Amazon reported a one day sale of 1,950 books spread almost equally among my four titles at the time. I contacted Amazon and was assured it was actual sales. However, I could find no reason for this big jump, and since it did affect the sales rank of my books I suspect that it was perhaps Amazon’s bookkeeping catching up with sales, since other sellers of free books have experienced similar inexplicable jumps in sales. Still, to put it in context, this one day sale more than covers my 1,840 sales increase over the previous year. The second and more substantial reason for the increase is that I released both my 2018 and 2019 novels during this period. New releases generate sales for not only the new book but for all the other books as well. These two factors, taken together, suggest that my fourth year might not be as rosy as the numbers suggest. Still, all in all, things are going well, and I am quite happy with the results.

As I mentioned, I released two books this operational year; my 2018 novel, Beneath the Lanterns, in September 2018 and my 2019 novel, Sailing to Redoubt, in March 2019. I had a lot of fun writing Sailing to Redoubt and it rolled right along. I finished the first draft in three months, and the second and third drafts in a month and a half, which allowed me to get it out to my beta readers in mid February and release it in the middle of March. I’d like to think it is my best written novel yet. At the time of writing this post, I don’t know what, if anything, I will write next. This is not unusual. Though I had started writing Sailing to Redoubt right after the release of Beneath the Lanterns, I had actually finished writing Beneath the Lanterns by the end of June, so I had time to run through a number of story ideas before latching on to the Sailing to Redoubt story. Since I have something like 18 months in which to release my 2020 novel, I am not in any panic – though I wish I had something to write. Not writing leave a big hole in my day.

This past year I further define type of stories I write: imaginary world adventure stories. My books are basically old fashioned adventure stories – “romances” in the older meaning of the term – set in the future or on imaginary worlds. Setting the stories in imaginary worlds gets them slotted into the science fiction genre, but they land far from the popular mainstreams of science fiction, so I don’t anticipate vast sales. In addition, both are stand alone books. Conventional wisdom in commercially orientated indie publishing is that series book sell much better than stand alone books, though those books have to be released every two to three months to keep the attention of their readerships. Clearly I am not writing for commercial success. But there is a market for my books, however large or small, and the easiest way to find it, is to let people try them for free. Having more than 27,000 books in circulation while essentially putting no effort into promoting them, suggests my system has a pretty darn efficient effort to result ratio. I ain’t getting rich, but I’m still in the black. And still having fun.

Looking ahead, I’m not anticipating a banner fifth year. Selling, and even giving away books, gets harder and more expensive every year, at least on Amazon. Amazon has geared its business so as to require advertising on the product page of competing books to be visible – and you have to be visible to sell, or even give away, books. It also weighs books borrowed in its Kindle Unlimited lending library as sales, moving those books up the best seller charts, so that to sell on Amazon you have to be all in, and give a significant portion of one’s royalties back to them, one way or another. I’m not writing the sort of books that the avid readers who sign on to Kindle Unlimited want, nor do I write at the sort of pace needed to keep them satisfied, so I suspect that my visibility, and hence sales, will continue to decline on Amazon. Hopefully sales on Smashwords will continue to at its current rate, which to date more than makes up for the slowing sales on Amazon. Stay tuned.

Thank you!
I would like to thank my wife, Sally, who finds the first six hundred or more typos in my manuscripts, and to my beta readers, Hannes, Dale, and Walt who find another hundred or more. They make reading my stories so much better. I would also like to thank the people who comment on this site, and all the readers who leave reviews and ratings – everyone is appreciated. Thanks to all of you, writing and self-publishing my stories has been great fun. I’m looking forward to another story and another year in self-publishing.

If you have any questions, I would be glad to answer them. Thanks for looking in.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Why Free?

I choose to share my ebooks rather than sell them for a variety of reasons. Let’s see how many I can list.

First off, right from the beginning, writing has always been a pastime for me. I’ve written stories off and on my whole life. However, when I started writing the stories in Some Day Days, I did so as a personal challenge. It was easy to be a critic. It was easy to think that I could write better than what I was reading when I didn’t like it. But could I? I challenged myself to actually write a story myself, and do it better. So I started writing, this time around, first as a personal challenge.

It wasn’t a hard challenge, since I’ve always enjoyed writing. Writing is fun. It’s like painting with words. I enjoy the creative process. I don’t need to be paid to do it – I did it simply for fun.

As I got deeper into writing with A Summer in Amber and The Bright Black Sea, I felt that if I could convince myself that I’d not make a complete fool of myself by letting other people read my work, I would dare to self-publish them as ebooks. I never had any intention of trying to get them published via the traditional publishing route. At age 60, it was far too late in the game to go that route, even if I wanted to. And, well, I had tried that route in my youth and I knew that I didn’t have the gumption to do that. And besides, just like with my painting, I wanted to tell stories that appealed to me. One of the reasons why I was imagining and writing the stories, was because I couldn’t find the stories I liked. This suggested that the stories I liked were either no longer being written, or no longer selling, so that trying to sell them to traditional publishers wasn’t likely to end well.

Which brings us to another reason for just sharing them. I don’t think there is a vast market for the stories I like and write. But since I don't want to write books I don't enjoy, I just write those stories that I want to read and don't worry about the size of their market. However, I did believe, and now know, that there is some sort of a readership beyond just me, so the question was, back then, how to best reach my potential readers. Given the flood of self-published books in 2015, I decided to make it easy for my potential readers to decide to give my stories a try by just offering them for free. They were, and still are, just a simple click away. And seeing that all my books continue to "sell" I don't think I've reached all of my potential readership yet. And that being the case, I have no reason to change my approach, since it seems to be working.

Another reason that I share my books is that I don’t need the money. Not, at least, the money I’d likely make selling by them. Since my books fall outside Amazon’s lucrative mainstream of avid readers who know what the like, like what the know, and want their books to be minor variations of familiar stories, and read lots of them, they were never going to sell in vast numbers. And unless you’re in the mainstream, self-publishing pays pizza money. At best.

And that brings us to another point. I don’t have anything to prove. I’m proud to be an amateur; someone who does something – in this case, writing – for the love of it. I will sometimes come across comments by people who say that authors must not think much of their book if they don’t put a price on it. Ironically, some of them are indie publishers who price their ebooks at a small faction of traditionally published books. Do they think their books are crap? The reality is that price is not a self-awarded badge of excellence. It is a marketing tool, and I use a free price instead of advertising to promote my books. It’s a whole lot easier and cheaper. And, at least for me, likely more efficient as well.

And then too, some writers, perhaps most writers, buy the idea that if one does everything the self-publishing gurus say one should – buy a professional cover that looks like every other cover in one’s genre, and buy all the other editorial services one can afford, and then put a price on it, that makes one a professional writer. It doesn’t matter if one sells just several dozen copies of the book, or how much money one loses, one’s a professional writer. Chin up, they tell themselves. Gurus say that it takes 10 years or more to establish a writing career, so one in on one’s way. Well, it may have taken 10 years back in the day in traditional publishing, but it clearly it doesn’t in indie publishing. So besides calling oneself a professional writer, what is one accomplishing with a price and little sales? Selling several dozen books a year ain’t establishing anything. What’s in a name?

By giving away my ebooks and leaving pizza money on the table, my books reach at least a hundred times more readers than I would if I put a price on them. Even at a $.99 price. I will be posting my full four years in publishing report in a month or so, but to date I have given away something like 26,000 ebooks in the last four years without me doing much more than just releasing them for free on all the major ebook stores. If one dreams of writing a best seller, one needs to get it into the hands of readers. The more readers, the better one's chances of being discovered. So unless one is spending big money on advertising, going free is a way to reach more people and build a name for one’s self. I’m not dreaming of being a best seller. I just want to have fun. And the response from my readers has made it even more fun. Thank you. Money is not necessary to make writing worthwhile for me.

And I should add that because I can write and produce both my ebooks and paperbacks for no more than what it costs me to buy and mail paper copies to my kindly volunteer beta readers, I don’t lose money by selling them for free. The odd foreign ebook, and paperback sale here and there where Amazon does not price match, pretty much covers those minor expenses. Basically, I’m a low cost competitor, who can undersell my competitors with a free price and not lose money doing it.

These days, on Amazon, at least, it appears that one must spend money to advertise in order have a chance of your books being discovered, which is necessary for selling them. I hate spending money, and I hate self-promoting, so all that would be unpleasant work, even if it actually produced results, which I doubt that it would. And, as I’ve mentioned, I’m too old to work. So they’re free.

Another reason for staying the amateur, besides my old age, is that I don’t believe the prospects of a long lasting professional career in indie publishing is very great. There is a great deal of fashion in reading – what is hot one year is passe a few years later. Traditional publishers paced the release of their books to make each book special. But these days, in the fast money lane of indie publishing, authors need to crank out a book every month or two or risk being forgotten in the great swarm of look-alike competitors. That being the case, it seems almost inevitable that that sort of a pace will end in a few years with a flame-out, with either the author getting burned out, or their audience getting burned out on their writing and moving on to fresh writers with a fresh, but familiar twist to their favorite stories. Even if I was decades younger, I’d not be doing anything different than I am now – just having fun.

So, all in all, I think that just sharing my books with you is a win for all of us. I’m doing something I enjoy, and avoiding a whole lot of stuff that I don’t. And you are, hopefully, enjoying one of those “best things in life are free” experience – a good, free book, without having to go to the library.

NOTE: Other than my newest book, I set my ebook “list prices” on Amazon to reflect the price of traditionally published books rather than indie published books, since as long as Amazon price matches the free price on its competitors sites in the US, list price doesn’t matter. I price them in that range because I think they are as good as traditionally published books. Amazon, however, generally does not price match the free price in its other stores, so that Kindle readers outside of the US should download the free mobi format version of my stories from Smashwords, and sideload them into your Kindle.