Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Origin Stories – The Bright Black Sea (Part Two)

An early book cover with one of my working titles, a play on "Ports of Call." I wasn't certain that it would be clear that planets weren't called "Call" though I liked the title.

In my previous post I discussed what inspired me to write The Bright Black Sea. In this post I’m going to discuss the nuts and bolts of how it came to be.

I began thinking about the stories that would become The Bright Black Sea soon after Amazon’s lending library, Kindle Unlimited was introduced. At that time authors were being paid whenever their book was borrowed. It was a flat rate payment per book, so that short books paid the same as long ones. Authors quickly took advantage of this, and started publishing short stories and novels as serial stories, to get paid many times more that a single novel length book would bring in. It was in this economic atmosphere that I conceived the idea of writing a series of connected space ship adventures. My model was Guy Gilpatric’s series of short stories featuring Mr. Glencannon. the chief engineer of the tramp steamer Inchchiffe Castle. Using a tramp freighter space ship sailing between the planets would not only allow me to set my stories on a variety of planets but to write a variety of stories, from comedy to spooky stories, intrigue, romance, and adventure. I intended each story to follow one after the other, so that I could weave some sort of over-arching plot into the series, if needed. And, indeed, this is the formula that I have followed, though I never released it as a serial story. For quite a few reasons.

A never published cover

First was that Amazon changed the way the Kindle Unlimited program paid their authors. It is now the number of pages “read” that determines payment amounts, rather than just if the book is borrowed. Serials, or installment novels no longer offered any economic advantage.

Secondly, I was very leery of having to produce a story on any sort of schedule, much less a monthly one. I feared running out of ideas. Which, as it turned out, is a real issue with me. I suppose that I could crank out some sort of a story on demand – but it would be work, not fun, and probably not very good. And as I have said already, I don’t like to work. So the idea of having a monthly episode seemed too daunting a prospect to pursue.

Thirdly, I don’t write short stories. And, for the most part, I don’t read them. Even in my heyday of reading science fiction, I read mostly novels. I never subscribed to any of the SF magazines. And the episodes that I ended up writing reflect this anti-short story bias. All were novella length pieces of between 20,000 to 40,000 words. It would have been pretty impossible for me to keep up a monthly pace at that length, unless I had a hundred stories to write already in my head. Which I didn’t.

Fourthly, as I have already mentioned when writing about A Summer in Amber, I became aware that I did not write tight, fast, thriller type of stories, or as Sargent Friday might say, ‘Just the story ma’am.” My pace is wordy and leisurely, which is not the type of writing that would lend itself to writing old fashioned Saturday matinee adventure serials. To write a story that would keep readers on pins and needles until the next episode, not only would I need to write differently than I do, but I would have to write in a way that I didn’t care to. Episodic serials usually involve ending with cliffhangers. Which is to say, one writes the first ¾ of the story in one episode, but only the finished the last ¼ in the next episode, along with the first ¾’s of that nest episode… to be concluded in the next, as so on. In short, I would have to forego telling the whole story in the hopes of hooking readers by making them wait for the conclusion in the next episode. As a story teller, I didn’t care to do that. It seemed to be to be unfair to the reader. And as I said before, I don’t write stories that lend themselves to that technique anyway. Nor do I want to.

The Nine Star Nebula in color

So in short, the incentive to write serials went away, and the episodes I could see myself writing would be too long and too complete to insure that people would keep coming back for the next one. And I wasn’t confident that I could keep to any reasonable publishing schedule for a serial story.

Yo get around these qualms, my first plan was to release the first three episodes, Captain of the Lost Star, The Mountain King, and Lontria, as one book. Story wise, the end of Lontria was a good story break point, as we were leaving the familiar Azminn solar system astern, and together the three episodes ran well over 100,000 words, making it a good sized novel. My thinking was that by making the first three episodes available to be read without any time gap between them, I could hook the readers into reading the first three episodes, and then they’d be so invested in the characters and story that they would read those that would follow, even without cliffhanger endings.

However, it was such a great theory, that it could be applied to every other episode I would write. Why not wait and release the following three episodes as a novel as well, since it too, had a good break point – which is not surprising since I was, by now, more or less plotting the episodes to make them novel sized installments. Indeed by that time I was writing these episodes, I had abandoned the release by episode idea and was all in on releasing novels, or just a novel.

Now, given how they were written, I could’ve easily released The Bright Black Sea as a trilogy, with three 100K+ word novels – basically how I wrote them. If my goal was to at least try to make money, this would’ve been the best route to take. It is the strategy that almost everyone recommends that a writer should do – especially if you have all three books written and ready to go. However, since I was always intending to release my books for free, maximizing profits wasn’t something that needed to be considered. It wouldn’t matter if I released one book or three books. Except to my ego.

The thing is, not everyone who opens a book is going to like it. That’s a given. And that means that the second book in any series is going to sell less than the first book, as all the people who didn’t like the first one aren’t going to buy the second. The second book may still attract readers on the fence, but by the third book, the readers are either engaged in the story, or they’re out. Quite candidly, I didn’t wish to see that inevitable decline. I don’t need that sort of heartbreak. So, by selling the complete set of episodes in one volume, I would see only the numbers of people who tried it, not the number of readers who liked it enough to read it all the way to its end. Of course, in the end, I did write a sequel to it, so I do see that number, but well, The Lost Star’s Sea came out two years after The Bright Black Sea and is a different sort of book, despite having continuing characters, so it’s a little bit different. And well, maybe I can take disappointment better now. Not that I am disappointed. Like my characters discover, one should be careful what one wishes for. Wishes sometimes come true. I’m happy with my writing, and I don’t think becoming a best seller author would suit me very well. With that comes responsibilities. I try to avoid those as well. So, I’m planning to be famous only after I’m dead.

To the left is the mock up of a cover for what would have been volume 2 of a 3 volume paper release that I considered doing given the size of the complete book. In the end, I abandoned the idea. The titles would have been The Captain of the Lost Star, The Ghosts of the Lost Star, and The Secrets of the Lost Star.

Hmm… It seems that this post has run on long enough, but since I still have more to say, there will be a third episode of Origin Stories – The Bright Black Sea, in which I’ll talk about actually writing the story. What I wanted to do, what I wanted to avoid, and how it evolved as it went along.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Origin Stories -- The Bright Black Sea (Part One)

First cover with its first title. This would end up being the first 1/3rd of The Bright Black Sea

I can pin part of the blame for instigating The Bright Black Sea on a website/magazine called Raygun Revival. It was on the web from about 2006 to 2012 and featured short stories and serials recalling old fashioned space operas. I can’t say I actually read many, if any of the stories – I really can’t read books on a computer (the scrolling gets to me) but the idea of writing the type of story that they might welcome was certainly one of the threads that lead to The Bright Black Sea. I did start to write a short story – on my ipad – with the idea of submitting it to them, but I didn’t finish it, and it got lost… But while nothing concrete came from my interest in Raygun Revival, it planted the seed to write an old fashioned space opera.
A cover prototype, never used.

Of course, I must go much further back in time than Raygun Revival to find the true origins of my space opera. I wrote it as a homage to all of the space operas of my youth, from E E Smith, Andre Norton, Heinlein, A Bertram Chandler, and many others who told stories centered around space ships. The space ship is, to me, the defining feature of space operas – it carries you to adventure.

However, the seeds of The Bright Black Sea were planted even earlier. I think I can go all the way back to the old Flash Gordon serials that I watched on the small screen of a b&w TV in the 1950’s. And from that on to the first SF books I read: the Tom Corbet, Space Cadet series, along with the Tom Swift Jr. books. My decision to set my story based on old fashioned rocket ships was both a challenge to myself and a nod Flash Gordon, Tom Corbet, Digg Allen, as well as Arthur C Clarke’s The Sands of Mars, the first “adult” SF paperback I read. No faster than light drive. No artificial gravity. It was “rockets away, lad!” And magnets in the soles of your shoes!

And it was a challenge. Those old rocket ship stories still had a solar system to explore when they were written, with the steaming jungles of Venus, the ancient ruins of Mars, the mines of the asteroid belt, and all the rest. Setting a rocket ship story in today’s solar system, while certainly possible, did not interest me. I wanted the romance of the jungles of Venus and the dead cities of Mars. So I had to invent a place where I could invent anything I cared to, without sacrificing the authenticity that using rocket ships brought to the tale. I would, of course, have to fudge science somewhat to get everything working – everything from inventing materials that would protect my spaceers from the deadly radiation of space, to making plasma/fusion propulsion easily do-able, to genetically engineering humans to be able to live in free fall, low gravity, or high gravity without health issues. I also wanted a wide canvas to paint my stories against, and, with travel between stars that were light years apart impossible with my rocket ships, I had to invent a place were I could cram as many planets and even stars into a relatively small space of space.

But they couldn’t be too close, either. If there is one thing that makes me close a book, it is when authors chose to set their stories in the “galaxy” and then make every planets a subway stop apart. The universe is really, really big. The galaxy is really big. And yet I often come across stories where stars are just several hours away from each other. And then, as often as not, they’re one feature planets – a desert planet, an ocean planet, a city planet…That being the case, why not set the story on a planet, or even a continent, and have cities or locales so that the heroes can drive, fly, or even take a train to? But before this turns into one of those observations directed at the clouds, I’ll just conclude by saying that I wanted my locales to be a realistic distance away from each other, but close enough that I could write a variety of stories about routine travel between them. So I gave each star a whole host of habitable planets, and packed the stars very, very close together by making them the debris of a failed supernova. In this way, I made travel between planets a matter of days or weeks with months between the solar systems. I created the Nine Star Nebula.
The Lost Star in orbit.

And that brings me around to yet another thread that lead to The Bright Black Sea, which is sea stories. I can remember at least looking at the Howard Pease’s “Tod Moran” series of juvenile sea stories on the library shelves while I was selecting Heinlein’s juvenile books. I don’t think I actually checked one out back then, though I did pick a few up when I came across them at book sales later in my life. Still, that seems to suggests that I was interested in sea stories from an early age as well. I certainly started reading them in late teens and 20’s. There were Basil Lubbock’s books about the China clippers, W Clark Russel’s Victorian era sea stories, C. S Forester, and later, Patrick O’Brian’s (and many other’s) stories of the Napoleonic era.There was Erskine Childer's The Riddle of the Sands as well as the tramp steamer stories of C J Cutcliffe Hyne, Guy Gilpatric, and others. I was never brave enough to go to sea myself, so I went to sea from my armchair. So, with my love of sea stories, I made my rocket ships, ships with crews, not airplanes with a pilot and perhaps passengers, or subway cars that whisk one from stop to stop.And I imagined that the distance between planets was an ocean to sail across in days or weeks, not something to fly over in a couple of a few hours.

The ancestor painting of the present cover 

But seeing that I've a lot more to talk about, I think I'll bring this post to a close. In the next installment in this series I will discuss the how The Bright Black Sea came to take its present shape, what  my original plan for it was, and how and why I abandoned that plan.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Origin Stories -- A Summer in Amber

Evening, Maig Glen

I suspect that I had begun working the first “episode” or two of that would become The Bright Black Sea prior to starting A Summer in Amber, but since A Summer in Amber ended up being published first, I’ll discuss it first.

Perhaps I should begin by saying that I blame it all on Edgar Rice Boroughs. Boroughs was experiencing a great revival back in the mid-1960’s when I started reading science fiction, and I was a big fan of his stories as a teen. Still, I never realized just how much of an influence he had on my tastes in stories until I started writing my own. All his stories had an element of romance in them. There was always a princess to fall in love with and rescue, usually many times. I realized, only after I started writing my stories, that I always wanted that element in them as well. They didn’t seem complete without one, nor would they be as fun to daydream about. I am, however, very careful to make certain that my princess are usually the ones doing the rescuing. They’re more fun that way.

The Maryfield Road
Now on to A Summer in Amber. The first files I find for the story, then titled The Rhymer’s Gate, date back to March 2013. This fits with my time line, since I know that watching the first two seasons of Downton Abbey on Netflix sparked my desire to write this story. I enjoyed the atmosphere it created, both visually and with the music, and the romance. I was, however, certain that I could write a better one using the same theme – a commoner’s intrusion into the world of the upper classes – while avoiding that show’s soap opera entanglements. i.e. no dead bodies need be hauled around the house.

My first thought was to write it as a period piece, like Downton Abbey. But I rather quickly rejected that idea. First, because it would require a great deal of research to get all the little details of everyday life in England in 1910 right, since I know that historical fiction readers are very picky about getting those things right. This would mean researching all sorts of things, from train schedules and times, to how telephones worked, as well as the manners and speech of the English of all classes of the time. And a thousand other things. It could, and no doubt has, been done. But it would involve a lot of work. I don’t really like work. And, well, in the end, I would mean that much of the backdrop of my story would reflect the research, work, and writings of other people, which made me uneasy.

Glen Road
I can offer two examples of this phenomena from my experience. Many years ago I started reading a fantasy book that featured a sailing ship. As I read the description of this ship, I experienced a sense of deja vu. It seemed that I was reading an almost word for word description of the tea clipper Cutty Sark. Tea and tea clippers where an interest of mine in my youth, and so I happened to be quite familiar with such ships – in words, anyway – and the passage struck me as something I’d read before. Maybe it wasn’t. I never bothered searching for the description in the Cutty Sark book that it reminded me of, but it just seemed so eerily familiar.

And then there is Connie Willis’s Blackout. I was also an avid reader of life in England in 1940, and the blitz. So that when I was reading her story, I got the distinct feeling that she had read, and incorporated into her story, incidents related in the sources I had also read. I know that she had spent a year researching the books, so this is not surprising. And while this is just a sense of deja vu rather than any suggestion of plagiarism, the fact that I could see, as it were, the bones of her story from my own reading in the history of the period, made me leery of doing something like that myself. I feared that if I wrote the story as a period piece, the work and writings of others would inevitably creep into my story. I didn’t want that. I wanted it all my own.

Bridge over the Maig River
The other reason I decided not to write it as a period piece is that history is an iron master. If I set it in the same time period, all the young men would be going off to war in a couple of years, and the world would change in ways that are well known. So, unless I wanted to make a historical fantasy out of it, the future of my characters would be dictated not by me, but by history. I didn’t care to cede control of my characters and story to history. And if I was going to write a fantasy, I might as well make it all my own.

However, since I wanted that old-time feel to my story, I decided to set the story in a post apocalyptic future. One that would allow me to bring in all the old-timey stuff I wanted. Not only I could then mix  old stuff together with some modern stuff as needed, but I could give the book a vaguely haunting, nostalgic air to it, like Downton Abbey had.This would also give me complete freedom to make up whatever I wanted, without a tremendous amount of research, which is to say, it saved me from having to work. It would be my world, and I’d call the shots. I figured that a story like this could fit – more or less – into the steampunk genre that was fairly popular at the time, and might still be. Sort of.

Road to the Highlands
The second major ingredient of A Summer in Amber was Scotland. The locale was inspired by the work of John Buchan and the stories he set in the Scotland of the first several decades of the twentieth century. Stories like The 39 Steps, John Macnab, and Huntingtower, plus the Scottish stories of Compton Mackenzie like Monarch of the Glen, Keep the Home Guard Turning, Whisky Galore and Hunting the Fairies. All these stories and their vivid description of the Scottish countryside brought that land to life in my imagination, and I wanted to revisit them in my story. I had traveled about Scotland on an extended holiday after I graduated from college, so I could bring a bit of personal experience to the stories as well. I should also credit the 1959 movie The 39 Steps with Kenneth More and Taina Elg. It is one of my favorite movies. It offers a rather romantic version of Scotland of the 1950’s. No low, grey skies to be found in its Scotland. The bicycle weekend in the story was inspired by a scene in the movie.

So I had a theme inspired by Downton Abbey, and a setting inspired by the books of Buchan and Mackenzie. What I needed was a story to get my narrator to Scotland and on to the estate, if not into the house of the wealthy upper class laird.

Evening in the Glen
I set out to write a mystery/thriller centered around a legendary invention. I explored many ways the story could play out. At one time the secret was a theory that would lead to a great scientific revolution which was devised by one Hugh Gallagher who stayed at the estate – owned by the department head of the college that he taught at – during the Storm Years. There, with the aid of his wife, Selina, he had perfected this theory, or so legend had it. It was lost, and would be found… Another version, closer to the final version, had a lot more industrial spying, intrigue, and action in it. Rival firms were actively attempting to steal the secret that Sandy Say was deciphering, including waylaying him, stealing the papers, along with chases through the countryside. But… after working on it for a year and more, I realized that I wasn’t that type of writer. I couldn’t get that type of story to work. And so, in the end, I just decided to write a simple “What I did during summer vacation” romance.

To compensate for the elimination of the industrial espionage elements, I made the “The Rhymer’s Gate” more central, mysterious, and dramatic to the story. And for this element of the story, I was inspired by a Popeye story by E.C. Segar. He drew and wrote a story entitled The Mystery of Brownstone Hill, which ran in the newspapers as a comic from early June 1930 to early November 1930. It featured a mysterious house on Brownstone Hill, where one Doctor Wattey rented. He took with him only a few boxes, and then, well he was never seen again, and for 20 years not only did nothing grow within half a mile of the house, but no one was able to get within a quarter mile of it before they fled for their lives. While E.C. Segar's story is quite different from mine, I used some of the elements from it, the mystery surrounding it, and the inability to get close to it, for my Rhymer's Gate. 

So A Summer in Amber owes its existence to such diverse inspirations as the TV show, Downton Abbey, the old thriller, The 39 Steps, the Scottish stories like The Monarch of the Glen, and a Popeye comic. Go figure.

The story is actually based in a real place, though I changed all the names, slightly. If you find it, you can see, on Google street view, what the countryside looks like now. Though, of course, after the Storm Years, it looks somewhat different in the story – more overgrown and abandoned.

My goal as a creator is to bring something new into the world. And yet, as you can see, the seeds for whatever is new to the world in A Summer in Amber, were in the world already – brought there by creators before me.

The aurora over the highland
NOTE: The illustrations for this post are samples of the chapter heading art I had created for an early version of the book. Art in ebooks is somewhat problematical (for me) and I decided that black and white versions for the print book wouldn't be worth the effort.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Origin Stories - Some Day Days

An early cover, with my preferred spelling of the title

This is the first of my origin stories, in which I explore what inspired me to write each of my stories.

I should begin by mentioning that I don’t do market research. I haven’t read the 100 best selling books in my genre(s) to get a feel for what those readers expect. I haven’t studied their blurbs, nor have I modeled my covers after the best selling books in my genre. I also haven’t sold tens of thousands of books or make much money either, so take my method for what it’s worth.

All of my stories were inspired by self-imposed challenges, memories, or books I’ve read and enjoyed. I’ll talk about each of them in the order that they were written.

Some Day Days  
Original working title: Yours, (someday, maybe)
My preferred title spelling would be "Someday Days", but "someday" is not universally considered a word, especially in Britain where the story takes place, hence some days.

Kiss of the White Witch, is the opening “piece” in my “fix-up” novel, Some Day Days, A Romance in an Undetermined Number of Pieces. It was the first story that I wrote that I eventually took all the way to publishing it. I have files dating back to 2009, with the working title of Tea and the White Witch. I wrote Kiss of the White Witch as a short story – or as short as I can write a story. It originally ran a bit under 10K works, so that it is really a novelette, though once it became part of the a much longer story, I fleshed it out even more. My attitude is that if a reader is in a hurry to get through my books, they probably should just move along.

It come to be written as a result of two challenges. The first was some sort of challenge to write a flash fiction story about a piece of technology and how it impacted the future. I don’t recall where I came across this challenge. In any event, the piece of technology I chose was something that was in its infancy (and still is) – a device that takes a video of what a person is seeing. Think of Google Glasses or those Snapchat sunglasses which have cameras that record a few minutes or seconds at a time. I took that ideas to the point were one’s entire day could be recorded on such a device. I called them “dynamic diaries”, or dyaries for short. And in the story, I briefly explored what implications such a device might have, if widely adopted, and used a romantic plot to do so.

My second challenge was self-imposed. I wanted to write the story using as much dialog as possible. I wanted the characters to tell their stories in their conversation. At the time I had read some stories written by a friend of my wife, which I felt could be told more engagingly and more interestingly by the people within the story. Most of us live our lives in first person singular, and to me that seems the natural way to tell a story. Life at ground level.

Another cover idea.

As it turned out, I fell in love with the lives of my characters, and so I continued to daydream about them and their friends, piece, by piece, scene by scene, over the course of many months. I began to set down more of their story, though my imagination raced far ahead of the written words.

However, by the time I got serious about publishing the story, several years later, many of those scenes had faded in my memory and had acquired that “been there, done that,” feel to them… And well, I didn’t have the energy to write the whole saga as I had imagined it, and doubted that there was a vast market for a Gone With The Wind sized romance novel. I had, however, written down the beginnings of Hugh and Selina’s romance and still had in mind enough of their story that I could write  Some Day Days as the first story arc in their saga. And having spent a great deal of time on those stories, and, as I said, grown very fond of those characters, I decided that they deserved the light of day and so I published what I had written, even if it wasn't the complete story I had to tell. 

I always considered Some Day Days as an experimental piece. In my early drafts I tried writing it as if it was a jazz piece played by Thelonious Monk, though, in the end, I did end up smoothing out my writing over the course of many revisions. I have always considered it a romance. However, I gather that these days, a true romance must have an “and they lived happily ever after” ending, which the story does have – only a couple of hundred thousand unwritten words later on. Oh, well. I did sneak that happily ever after ending into A Summer in Amber, which is set in the same time line, decades later.

And that is the origin story of Some Day Days. It began as an exploration of what recording our daily lives might mean, turned into an experimental romance, and ended up, just part one of a sprawling, unwritten, and now mostly forgotten story.

It is my least popular book, but I am actually rather proud of it. (Though, like all my work, I dread re-reading it, yet again, to be certain of that.) Popularity is not the yardstick I use to measure the success and failures in any of my creative endeavors. Thank goodness. I’d be a pretty sad fellow if it was.

First print version (with original title spelling)

The cover scene is inspired by a narrow street in Oxford, England, perhaps Rose Lane, or Brewer Street, or some similar little street.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Them Algoristhm Blues

It seems that algorithms of Amazon are up to their old tricks again -- they've dropped price matching for both Sailing to Redoubt and The Prisoner of Cimlye this time around. They are now listed at $.99 each. You can get Kindle compatible mobi versions of both books on for free. I was patient the last time they decided to try to sell Sailing to Redoubt for list price, but this time I won't be. I'll give them a week or so, and unless I sell more books than I anticipate, its new list price will be: $8.50.

My policy is to offer new releases with a list price of $.99 for a year, after which I list them at my "my books are as good as traditionally published books" price. It's a game of chicken.

UPDATE: Game on. New ebook list price: $8.50 as of May 12 2020
UPDATE 2 I blinked. As of 8 June 2020 it is back down to $.99

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


I’ve no intention of using this blog as a diary. However, every now and again I have, and will continue to use this space to talk about my process, or the non-process of my writing. This is one of those posts.

In the past year I have talked about my struggles to maintain a novel a year pace. I spent the better part of 2019 auditioning different story ideas in my head. Three or four of them made it all the way to the writing phase, with anywhere from 4,000 to 14,000 words written before I abandoned them. What I found hard was not the setting, nor the characters. Plots proved somewhat problematical, but at least at the beginning they seemed do-able, and I probably could have worked them out, if I had cared enough about the story. The core problem was simply maintaining any enthusiasm for the various stories. At some point in the process, I looked ahead at the story I had in mind, and realized that in some way I’d been there done that, or read something too similar, and because of that, it bored me.

I suppose, if I was making a living in this racket, and under a contract, I could’ve gotten down to work and written them all the way to the end. But since I’m doing this for fun – if it wasn’t fun, I wasn’t doing it. And I’m writing stories I like, and if I don’t like it, why would I spend months working on it?

In the end, I circled back around to one of my first ideas, a sequel to Sailing to Redoubt. That book’s sales don’t, at this point, justify a sequel, in my opinion, and that was a big knock against that idea. Plus, try as I might, I couldn’t think of enough original ideas to make a long novel out of it, since I didn’t want to do storms, pirates, and lost cities again, and didn’t have any better ideas. But then, in desperation, I decide to scale back the story to just tell the story I knew that I wanted to to tell, without trying to invent some elaborate adventure to fill the story out. Suddenly the project looked do-able. To hell with the word count. That plan worked out well. I knew what I needed to write, and I knew that I needed to write the story sooner or later, since it completed Sailing to Redoubt, even though it could not be made fit into that story, realistically.With the story in mind, it took only 61 day from start to publishing The Prisoner of Cimlye. Now, while 54,000 words is a short novel for me, it is a pretty bog standard novel in the fast lane of indie-publishing. And when I look further back, to the science fiction novels of my youth, they were often only 35,000 – 55,000 words long.

 So, in the end, I produced my 2020 novel, with eight months to spare. Theoretically I now have 20 months to produce another one to a keep on a novel a year schedule.

My original intention was, and may still be, to write another short, “episode” length novel sometime this year. I have a vague story in mind. Well, it's more of a setting than a story, but, as before, I currently lack the necessary enthusiasm turn it into an actual story.

So, faced once more, with my old roadblock, I’ve been thinking that perhaps my problem is that I’d trying to dream up stories: i.e. books with plots that my readers would enjoy. Instead, maybe I should be simply daydreaming. Daydreaming up a set of characters that I want to hang with. Daydreaming about a place I would like to explore. And daydreaming scenes that may evolve, eventually into a story. In short, stop trying to write a book in my head. And instead, live an imaginary life that I could, maybe, tell a story about, someday.

We’ll see.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Five Years in Self-Publishing

I published my first novel, A Summer in Amber, five years ago, on 23 April 2015. I had been writing it off and on, along with Some Day Days, and The Bright Black Sea, over the previous five or six years. I was writing them for the joy of creating daydreams and setting them to words. I never had any intention of trying to get them traditionally published. I haven’t the heart, or stamina, to play that game. And, at sixty-five years of age, I was too old to start a career in writing. Plus, I didn’t need the money. So it was either just write them for myself – or, if I felt that they were good enough, self publish them.

Five years ago, I decided that A Summer in Amber was good enough. So I self-published it on Smashwords and Amazon.

But, I didn’t care to play the indie-publishing game either. I’d do only what I enjoyed doing and not what I didn’t. I enjoyed dreaming up stories and setting them down in words. I liked to paint, and enjoyed making covers for the book. I don’t like to spend money. So I’d not spend money on them. Plus, I’m a shy person, and I am uncomfortable promoting my work. So between not liking to spend money, and hating the whole promotional process, I decided to make it easy for people to give my books a try by simply clicking the buy button, with no need to reach for their wallets. I opted to just share them for free. Better read than unread. I’d do it my own way. And have.

As a result, self-publishing has been a very enjoyable – and rewarding experience. I’m not tied to any deadlines. I don’t set a daily word count to make. Writing works best with a routine, and when I write, I do have a routine, putting in 2 to 5 hours a day in morning and optional evening sessions. But I only need to write 5 to 6 months (or less) in a year to produce one book a year, so I don’t get burned out. The rest of the time I just try to dream up stories. It’s getting harder these days to do that, but, remember, I have no deadlines that I must meet. So far I’ve made all the ones I set for myself. It’s stress-free writing. And thanks to my great volunteer beta readers, all my books have gotten better as time has gone on. Thanks, guys!

Of course, you don’t get rich doing what I’m doing in this business, but I not poorer for it either. I never intended to get rich in this business. I intended to have fun, and I am.

So what have I accomplished? My numbers for my fifth year in the business are below:

Book Title / Release Date

5th Year Sales* *Note: sales are mostly FREE books
Total Sales* To date

*Note: sales are mostly FREE books
A Summer in Amber
23 April 2015
Some Day Days
9 July 2015
The Bright Black Sea
17 Sept 2015
Castaways of the Lost Star
The Lost Star’s Sea
13 July 2017
Beneath the Lanterns
13 Sept 2018
Sailing to Redoubt
15 March 2019
The Prisoner of Cimlye
2 April 2020
Total 5th Year Sales

Yearly Sales History:
Year One, 2015/16: 6,537 (3 books released)
Year Two, 2016/17: 6,137 (1 book released)
Year Three, 2017/18: 6,385 (1 book released)
Year Four, 2018/19: 8,225* (2 books released) *1950 one day sales included. (6,275 w/o)
Year Five, 2019/20: 8,530 (1 book released)

Past Yearly reports can be found here:

Highlights of Year Five

Despite my pessimistic forecast in my Year Four Review, Year Five was my best sales year yet, though only by 305 books. However, during Year Four Amazon reported a one day sale of 1,950 copies that they said were legit… but remains a mystery. If you discount that strange day, this year was significantly better than last year.

The sales of A Summer in Amber and Some Day Days have begun to lag, now five years after their release, both being down significantly from last year. On the other hand, The Bright Black Sea had its best sales year save for the year of its release. Sales of The Lost Star’s Sea remains steady at about 2,000 copies a year. Sales for the newer books were also up from last year, though still modest. No breakout hits, so far.

Amazon. Sailing to Redoubt was priced at $.99 on Amazon for several months in 2020, and I sold just a handful of copies, which tells me that I still don’t have a large enough of a following to even dream of making money selling by books. (But then, I don’t dream of doing it.) The fact that it was not free, however, suppressed its sales on Amazon, so I might have done a little better if they had not decided to price match that title. That said, I had a great run of sales after Christmas and the holidays, and though it tapered off, I can’t complain at all.

Smashwords. I had a great year on Smashwords. With their new storefront, I saw a significant bump in sales – until, 9 October 2020, after which, I didn’t. It seemed that a trap door was opened, and sales dropped into the pit below (with crocodiles). I don’t know what changed, but I still do pretty well on Smashwords, so I’ll not complain here either.

Google. For a while there it looked like my sales on Google where shooting up to over a hundred copies a month. But that did not continue. They fell back and have leveled off at between 50 and 70 copies a month. Nice, but unfortunately the 122 sales in October on Google proved to be a fluke. But, hey, 50 -70 copies rounds sales out nicely each month. So I’m not going to complain here either.

The Prisoner of Cimlye, 2020’s Novel. Unlike in year four, when I released two books, I only released one book during this year, The Prisoner of Cimlye, and that, just this past month, on 2 April 2020. Since it is the epilogue to Sailing to Redoubt, with sales of that book just a bit over 1,600 copies, I’m not expecting it to be my breakout book. I struggled this past year to come up with a story that I wanted to write, and didn’t lose interest in it after I started writing it. It happened a couple of times this past year. I’ve been avoiding sequels since The Lost Star’s Sea. Sequels appeal only to the people who have read – and liked – the previous book. I don’t think I have books that have sold in the volume that I would consider worth writing a sequel to. My theory is that it is better to keep casting for that breakout story with a brand new story until you catch the big one. That, anyway, was my thinking...

However, any port in a storm. Finding myself facing the prospect of not writing anything for more than a year, I decided to write a story that I had in my head and knew that I needed to write, sooner or later, even if it was a sequel to a book that has, to date, sold only 1,600 copies. I aimed to write just a novella, (40,000 words) and ended up with a nice, pulp-standard novel of 54,000 words. Better yet, I wrote and published it, start to finish, in just 61 days, just like the big sellers do on Amazon. And, a new release always gooses sales, so it is better than nothing.

I think this style of story will be my new standard going forward. I write episodic novels anyway, so writing and publishing an episode at a time, especially with established characters, seems to be the way to go forward, given my creative struggles.

Looking Forward to Year Six

Last year in my Four Years in Self-publishing post, link above, I wrote that I thought that this past year would be a tough year, and did not expect to do all that well for a number of reasons. While my results this past year defied my pessimism, all of the reasons I felt would make it hard to move books last year, still apply for this coming year. However, it is impossible to predict what effect the pandemic and economic downturn will have on my sales. Free books may look ever more attractive in the coming months, though I’m not holding my breath. Still, you never know.

I would like to publish at least one more short novel this calendar year, and perhaps two before I post my Year Six Review. We’ll see, plans gang aft agley.

So here I am, five years latter. It’s been fun. It’s been rewarding. And I think, given the actual amount of work I’ve put into the project, its been very successful. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.