Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Saturday, January 30, 2021

First Draft of My Next Story Finished


I am very happy to report that I finished writing my first draft of my next novel yesterday. For me, at least, the writing of the first draft is the heavy lifting part of writing stories. I’m always relieved when I have a complete story in hand, no matter how rough it might be.

I started writing on this story on 2 Nov 2020, so it’s taken me 89 days to write my 61,000 word first draft. It was rather a slow slog. Looking back to my files I can see that the first drafts of these books took:

The Prisoner of Cimlye,  49,000 words, 39 days (2020)

Keiree  30,700 words, 41 days (2020)

The Secret of the Tzarista Moon,  54,000 words, 34 days. (2020)

Sailing to Redoubt, 98,000 words, 64 days (2019)

Beneath the Lanterns, 117,400 words, 71 days (2018)

It seems that I’m slowing down… And writing shorter books. But then, I’m also getting older. In the case of my new novel, I had a story, pieces of the puzzle, and an ending (that I ended up not using) in mind before I started writing, but fitting the pieces of the puzzle together took longer than I would’ve liked. I ended up having to take a break in my writing several times because I had caught up to the point where the pieces were still up in the air. Eventually they fell into place – I hope.

So what is my new novel about? Well, it is an old fashioned who-done-it style mystery story. Why a who-done-it mystery? Because I like to write something a little different with every story I write and I haven't written this type of mystery story. Since it is an old fashioned mystery, I had to make sure that, not only did the pieces fit, but that they created an engaging mystery. I will also need to make the dialog and characters as entertaining as I can, since the story does not have desperate adventures to keep readers engaged.

The working, and most likely final title, is The Secrets of Valsummer House. It is another “Nine Star Nebula Mystery” with most of the cast of characters from The Secret of the Tzarista Moon returning for this direct sequel. We find Rafe d’Mere still in Pine Cove several months after the events of the first book and still a toaster and bot repair tech. Lieutenant JG Vaun Di Ai returns to the Agrilea Co-op, this time as a mere an intelligence analyst 3 “on a field trip” as she puts it. She’s been tasked with filling in some blanks, ticking off some boxes, and following up a few threads related to the events in the previous story. She has been strictly ordered to only tick off boxes and fill in blanks on the forms, or risk her Patrol career. Along with her return comes a rather mysterious robot in a crate for an owner identified only by a code, as well as a mysterious lady. Mix them together with the pirate prince of the Seven Syndicate, and you have the The Secrets of Valsummer House.

With the first draft done, I'll now go back and read through it several times, adding and playing with words to polish it up. I enjoy this process much more than writing the first draft. Given the nature of this story, I’ll need to make certain that my writing is as entertaining as I can make it, since it will be as important, if not more so then the mystery. This process will probably add between two to three thousand words to the final version. I expect the second and third drafts will take the better part of February,  if not longer, to complete. Then the manuscript goes out to my beta readers for proofreading. At some point I will also need to work up a cover for it. So all in all, I expect to release The Secrets of Valsummer House in late March or early April 2021. Stay tuned for more details.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Riding The Rails


Switzerland -- Lorirocks777 video

One of the great things about being old and retired is that you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want. If you can afford it. Many retired people like (or these days, dream) of traveling. Some take to the road in RVs to follow the sun. Others take grand trips abroad. The pandemic has kept most people stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t travel.

Full disclaimer: I hate to travel. The stress of preparing and traveling outweighs its pleasures, since I have terrible memory so that I can’t relive my adventures. Plus, travel and adventure, I think, if for the youth, or books.

Switzerland -- Lorirocks77 video

Given my attitude, I’ve found the perfect way for me to travel – in the cabs of trains alongside their drivers. Virtually, of course. All around the world, train drivers, and in some cases, passengers record their journeys in real time and post these video trips on Youtube. Over the last year and a half I’ve ridden in the cabs of trains for too many hours and thousands of miles throughout Great Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Japan. In addition, I’ve taken a few train rides in Poland, Norway, Belgium, Italy, and Greece. And I have trips through Romania and Bulgaria on my list for the coming weeks.

But it’s not the same thing as visiting these countries, you’re thinking. And you’re right. But it is a far more immersive experience than looking at static tourist pictures, or even Google’s street view – though that too is a good way to travel in your easy chair. There is something about the countryside streaming past for hours at a time that makes the experience almost real – not so much different than driving a car with the windows closed, as long as you don’t gawk around too much while driving. You see both sides of the rails and what lies ahead, until it streams past. Now, some of the older videos are pretty murky, but the drivers these days record in 4K, and while you lose some fine, fast moving details (at least with my internet connection) the experience is very realistic.

England -- Don Coffey video

Over the last year and a half I’ve gotten to know what Europe looks like without ever having to leave the house. I’ve kept records of all the rail lines I’ve traveled along, and have learned a bit of geography by looking up the cities involved in each video. Given my limitations in memory, I can’t provide you with much of a travel guide, but my advice is search out train rides that take you though hills and mountains – southeast France, southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, but there are scenic train trips through most of the countries. I would avoid flat countrysides like you find in northern Germany and Poland, the Atlantic coast of France, and the eastern and southern parts of England. Not only does flat farm fields get boring, but the rail right of ways are often lined with trees so that you’re traveling down a corridor of green with only rare glimpses of the farm fields that you are traveling through.

An added bonus of riding the rails is that you get to see how railroads work – how the signals control traffic, and how traffic is managed. Don Coffey explains how the signals work in his videos, and you can translate that knowledge to all railroads – though the signals vary from country to country. But you can google those, if you care to.

Paris -- Railtrotter video

There are many ways to kill utilize your time when retired, and while most some people may find watching the scenery go by as exciting as watching paint dry, I find exploring these railroads interesting. These winter days, I have my bike inside and set up on a rack in the house. I’ve rigged a shelf on the handlebars to hold my tablet and spend my hour pedaling each day listening to music while I riding though the countryside of my choice on the rails.

Below are links to some of the train drivers who post videos of their trips:







Czech Republic

Train trips from around the world

And there are plenty more.

Bon Voyage!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Life in the Fast Lane of Indie Publishing

Chris Fox

This will be my last posts featuring indie authors who share their success or lack thereof. I looked at Gideon Marcus who argued that professional editing was necessary, and the career of a part time writer, Ron Vitale. In both cases I suggested that financial success comes is most likely when the books are targeted at what avid readers are reading. In this post, I’m going to briefly talk about a  “six-figure” science/fantasy and non-fiction author, 44 year old Chris Fox. He wrote a book on writing to market. From his Youtube videos, we will see what indie-publishing, looks like in the fast lane of Amazon/indie publishing. 

You can view his Youtube videos where he talks about his business, how to do various aspects of writing and the business, plus inspirational pieces on his Youtube channel here:

Chris Fox gave up a six figure programming job in 2014 to write full time. Since 2014 he has written 26 fiction books, plus various boxed sets, and 8 non-fiction books, related to different aspects of indie publishing. He writes in series:
The Magitech Chronicles  7 books (science fantasy)
Magitech Legacy 5 books (science fantasy)
Void Wraith  6 books  (space fleet/military sf)
Deathless  5 books (urban fantasy)
Solaris  2 books  (YA superhero fantasy)
Dark Lord Bert  1 book (Role Playing Game fiction)

His Non-fiction include:
5000 Words Per Hour
Write to Market
Lifelong Writing Habit
Plot Gardening
Six Figure Author

He released 3 fiction and 2 non-fiction books in 2015, 5 fiction, 1 non-fiction book in 2016, 6 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2017, 3 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2018, 4 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2019, and 9 fiction books in 2020. In an effort to expand his income base, he has spent the last two year developing a role playing game based on his Magitech universe, and ran a kick-starter to get it off the ground. From watching his videos, I have to say that he appears to be something of a workaholic, putting in many hours a day writing, plotting, plus all the various aspects of running his business;  creating and managing his ads, etc. In short, he’s the type of writer/entrepreneur that has the tools to succeed in indie publishing.

Below is the chart Chris Fox provides in his video about his 2020 earnings. On the top is his income, and on the bottom is his expenses. Boxes in green are improvements from the previous year. Boxes in yellow are declines in revenue from the previous year or increases in expenses. The chart is pretty straightforward. He offered paid consulting services to authors, and put together paid on-line classes, as many may successful authors do to supplement, or supplant their writing income. This year he decided to get out of that business, because it became too much of a hassle. He hopes to replace it with income from his role playing game. His business in incorporated, so that he pays himself and his wife, as his editor, a salary “Payroll & Retirement” so his net pre-tax income is what the limited liability company reported.


As you can see, 2020 was not a very good year, though one most indie authors would envy. He earned almost $100K, which would be damn good in Iowa City, but he lives in California, so we probably have to take the “damn” out of good, given the cost of living on the coast.

Ebook income was down something like 30% from 2019. While he spent $46,500 for editing and covers, most of which went into producing his role playing game. In 2019 he was spending an average of almost $10,000 a month advertising. He reduced that somewhat this year, cutting back towards the end of the year after finding more cost effective venues. Still, $104,000 a year for advertising is rather eye opening. Especially since Chris Fox is probably not one of the 100 top earning Amazon science fiction authors. At least I never saw his name on the list, before Amazon dropped that feature. (Though I may have missed his appearances.) He took a cut in pay this year, anticipating a big tax bill, since it was based on this $350+K income in 2019 and had a big increase in health insurance for his family.

However, looking at the chart below, I would have to say that there might be trouble in Bubble Land. This chart shows his monthly income from Amazon for 2019 and 2020 (I had to graft the two charts together from screen shots. Sorry for the quality.  The blue is his his revenue from Kindle Unlimited page reads. The pink is his royalties from ebook sales, and the grey at the bottom is paper book royalties. The scale along the side are in increments of $5,000. I have added the books Chris Fox released in this time frame under the graph.

Source; &

In previous videos Chris Fox pointed out that sales go up when you release a book, and then slide back down over the next three months, suggesting that frequent releases will pay dividends. Beginning in April of 2019 you can see that he released a series of two new novels and a non-fiction book along with a big boxed set of his best selling books at a good price and saw his sales soar to almost $30K in one month and $25k in the next, only to taper down when he stopped releasing new books. However, in 2020 he wrote a million words, and, as you can see from the chart, released books at a rapid rate, indeed, at more than one a month in the last four months of the year, which produced only a minor bump, and given the number of new books, he was basically treading water. You can blame it on 2020, or the election, or whatever, but if I were him, I’d be concerned. 

I have long wondered what is the half-life of an indie publisher. How long can they sustain their popularity before readers, with virtually unlimited options, move on, either because they are tired of a writer’s style and/or formula, or simply lose track of them with so many alternatives. Some of these readers read multiple books a week (or a book a day in some genre) and so that even if an author releases a book every 3 months, the readers will have read several dozen books in between. It is easy to imagine that even with the best intentions, readers never get around to reading an author’s latest book, and then lose track of them altogether. It seemed like around 2016 or so, a lot of the early successful writers had faded away or burned out. Some may have taken on new pen names and carried on, but I have a feeling that a six or seven year career in indie publishing’s fast lane may be the norm. And Chris Fox is starting his seventh year…  He’s still making over $10K a month, so it’s not time to panic, but when releasing five books in four month barely moves the needle, well, one has to wonder. And he might, indeed, be wondering, since he’s planning on releasing an epic fantasy series in 2021. 

Changing genre might be one way to revive revenue, but it is not without its risks. Hardcore fans want the same thing, over and over again, and may not want to move on to epic fantasy. While on the other hand, epic fantasy is a very competitive genre, so it may be hard to break into, even for an established writer. We’ll see. 

In any event, I think it clear that the fast lane in indie-publishing is not Easy Street. It takes a lot of work, and continued success is not guaranteed. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Back on the Soap Box -- Target Avid Readers


Ron Vitale

This week I’m back on my soapbox and conversing with the clouds about the importance of writing a competitive product if one wants to have a chance of making money in self-publishing. Once again.

One of the writers I follow, Ron Vitale, posted his “2020 Year-end Wrap Up: Full Sales and Expenses as an Indie Author” post, which you can read in full, here: Blog post  And if you are thinking about self-publishing, you should. Along with his other six similar posts covering his experiences in publishing from 2013 on.

Like the vast majority of authors, self-published and otherwise, Ron Vitale has a full time day job that pays the bills. His night gig, or in this case, his early morning gig, is writing and publishing fantasy, SF and self-help books, which he started doing in 2011. He has published 17 books, 13 works of fiction, and 4 non-fiction books over the course of the last nine years. Over this time, I think that he has tried just every tactic and strategy that has been promoted as the key to success in self-publishing – save perhaps the most important one. “But,” as he writes, “when I tally up all the numbers over the last nine years of sales, I’ve still failed as a business.” He goes on to say that “I’ve lost money. I’ve made mistakes… but kept moving forward. Since I started publishing books back in 2011, I’ve built up a nice base for my intellectual property. Each book is a unique product that I can morph into other properties: audiobooks, eBooks, (single or box sets) print, licensing deals, etc. I may not have made a profit yet, but I’m in this for the long haul.”


Fair enough. But let’s look a little deeper. Above is a chart of expenses vs sales for each year. Looking at that chart, it appears that his publishing venture has lost somewhere north of $10,000 over the last nine years. I imagine that there are many people who spend well over $1,000 a year on their hobbies, so in that light, and his long term goals, he didn’t lose an extraordinary amount of money self-publishing his work. And he is growing revenue and shrinking expenses, so things are moving in the right direction, but clearly it is a long haul to making a business out of it.

If you’ve read my previous post, I’ve argued that to sell books these days, self-published authors need to identify both the type of readers, and the type of books they are reading to successfully sell books for folding money. He writes “stories about people who overcome their past trauma to grow and heal. Writing is therapeutic for me.” In other words, he writes what he wants and feels need be written. Which is great. So do I. But is there a market and a business to be built on books with that focus?

Below is the sales chart for fantasy books from Author Earnings’ presentation to the 2018 SFWA Nebula Conference (The complete presentation here: ) The chart breaks down the sales of fantasy books by sub-genre and who is selling them. The vertical lines represent 2 million copies sold. I’ve annotated it to show where Ron Vitale’s fantasy books fall on it.

I should point out that the best selling sub-genre are also the most competitive as well, so that writing in the best selling sub-genre is no guarantee of success, and you can find success in the slower selling genre, if you know and produce the tropes, story beats, blurbs, and covers that the most successful authors have perfected.

He classifies the Witch’s Coven Series as epic fantasy. I’m not a fantasy fan, nor have I read these books, but one of the signs that an author knows what they are doing, is that they know the expected word count for the genre they[re writing in. Both of the Witch’s Coven books come in under 200 pages, in a genre where door stopper books are the norm. The other epic fantasy book, Dorothea’s Song, alternates between a modern day school boy, and his fantasy creation, which I suspect falls outside of the expected norms of epic fantasy.

He classifies Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries as fairy tale retelling. Cinderella is a Disney Princess these days. While I have seen other modern takes on the Cinderella story, a story that destroys the “and they lived happily ever after" fairy tale story beat would seem to be a tough sell.

The Werewhale Saga is a dark fantasy that has the children of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab going off on adventures to dark and dangerous islands. Do they make students read Moby Dick anymore? And do the fans of Moby Dick read self-published fantasy? It seems to be a rather iffy proposition.

The Red Door Diaries is a gaslight fantasy set in a brothel. Well, he doesn’t have a lot of competition in this category. Nor readers.

Below is the science fiction sales chart from the same presentation. Note how much better fantasy sells than science fiction.

His two science fiction books, The Jovian Gate Chronicles, are tied into his Cinderella stories, featuring Cinderella’s time traveling daughter in a space opera were humans are ruled by the Catholic Church and the Confederacy who meet aliens who claim to be prophets of God. The second book is a collection of short stories. In short, they seem all over the map.

My take away from Ron Vitale’s report is that you can do all the right things, but will fail unless your product is spot on the formula of whatever sub-genre you’re targeting. You can write all the artisan books you want, but if you want a chance to build a business on writing, you need to write fast food books – familiar comfort reading delivered fast – every couple of months.

Ron Vitale started publishing in the gold rush boom years, when it was all new, and everyone had a chance to make it big. But those days are history. Tens of thousands of books are released every month. And even if you write to the formula of your sub-genre, you still need to catch their eyes. And these days that takes money – thousand of dollars.

In the next installment, we’ll look at a Cris Fox’s 2020 results. Cris Fox makes a good living self-publishing a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. He also posts and talks about his income and expenses every year. In his report we will see what it takes to make folding money in self-publishing.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The eBook Market Visualized


People sometimes ask me why I don’t sell my books, though, truth be told, few people know or care that I write books. Still, those that do have asked me that question. I tell them that these days self-publishing is a big business, and you need to invest lots of money, if you want to have a ghost of a chance of making money in it. And unless you approach it systematically as a business – identifying the markets that move the most product and can produce a competitive product rapidly and relentlessly, you probably are not going to make money no matter how much you spend. Essentially you must be a business person first and a writer second – if at all. You can always hire ghost writers to produce the books you want, as long as you know just what sells.

In my imagination I picture the ebook market of Amazon, and other ebook retailers, as a vast marsh covered with reeds as far as the eye can see. Each reed is a book. Millions of them. The money that flows through this marsh can be seen as water. Let’s cross this marsh.

At the fringe of this marsh, the ground is hard and dry, the reeds brown. These are the books that people write for themselves, with either very limited appeal for one reason or another. And as a result, no money in the shape of water has reached them. They’ve never sold a copy. We push on, and eventually the ground becomes moist. You don’t see any water, but the reeds are thick and green. These are the books that have sold a few to a dozen or two copies, mostly to relatives, friends, and a few explorers of this wilderness of books. They may not be much better than the dead reads, but their authors come from big families, or have a lot of friends. In both of these cases there are no doubt true gems of books, but they are lost in the millions of reeds.

We walk on, and on, through these millions of reeds. Slowly the ground grows softer and eventually, there’s a little pool of water in our footprints. We’ve reached that part of the marsh where the reeds are books that have sold a hundred copies. These are the books of writers who have persisted, gotten better at writing, and have become more savvy in the trade. They may be on to something. Or not.

A few steps further and now there’s a thin sheen of water over the surface. We’ve reached the part of the marsh where books have sold maybe 500 copies. I’ve seen it reported that the average book sells 250 copies, so these books can probably considered success, if modest ones. They’re not paying many bills, and may not have earned out their publisher’s investment in covers, editors, and advertising. But they’re in business, anyway.

Just a step or two further, the water’s up to our ankles, but we can push on no further, as we have come to the shore of a swiftly flowing river. This rushing river is very narrow, but deep, the reeds submerged beneath the rushing water. We’ve reached the best sellers, awash in money from purchases and page views on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. The reeds under this surface are selling five, ten or more copies a day, earning their authors thousands of dollars a year. These are the books that the avid ebooks readers favor, and consume one after another.

Now we take to the air, like a bird. And looking down, we see not one of these narrow rivers winding through the broad flat marsh, but several dozen, perhaps. These rivers are the genres, or sub-genres that the avid ebook readers crave, and we can divide the marsh into sectors – romance, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, etc. And through these sectors, several of these narrow rivers flow. If you can discover the formula of these best selling books, replicate it, and then bring it to the attention of the avid readers, you too could plant your reed of a book in the riverbed of these swiftly flowing streams, and make a lot of money. It’s almost that simple. But I have a feeling that it takes a little magic as well – either in the writing, and/or the blurb, and/or the cover, and/or the advertising to make it happen. And probably just pure luck as well. But you have to reach the banks of those rivers and plant your reed before all that can happen.

Unless you were born with a rare gift – the books you want to write match the books the avid readers in your genre want to read – and luck follows you like a dog you’ve raised from a puppy, writing books that sell well will be hard work. A job that demands a lot of hours, but doesn’t pay you a wage every two weeks. The rewards may be great, but so are the risks.

I cheat. I write the books I want. I don’t do any market research. I don’t spend any money on my covers, editing, or advertising. So, viewed as commercial products, you’ll find my books where the soil is merely moist. But because I give them away, my books perform as if they were a step or two or three away from those rushing streams. I was born with a rare gift. I’m not ambitious. Whereas most authors feel that selling books is essential to their self-image as an author. I’m able to embrace my amateur status and not discount my talent because I don’t sell my books for money. As a result there are some 40,000 of my stories on thousands of people’s devices these days.