Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

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.