Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, May 27, 2022

Two Audrey Driscoll Reviews

 

She Who Comes Forth, by Audrey Dricoll B


Audrey Driscoll’s She Who Comes Forth if a finely crafted supernatural mystery adventure set in the Egypt of 1962. The story’s narrator is France Leighton, a young woman of 21, with a brand new BA in history. She accepts a position with an archaeological project more or less on a whim. Or was it her ordained destiny? Accompanied by her cello, Eudora, an inanimate friend, or perhaps a familiar, which she plays to focus her thoughts, she sets out for Egypt.

There she finds a mix of gritty reality – her position turns out to be much less important than she was led to believe – and the strange allure of Egypt’s apparently dead past. A past that, at least in her experience, isn’t as dead as one might believe. In the old tombs she experiences strange visions of the lost glory and pageantry of Egypt. Driven by naivety, curiosity, determination, and the allure of a mysterious man, France slowly becomes dangerously entwined in a hidden supernatural conflict between the old gods of Egypt, who may themselves be the plaything of even older gods.

She Who Comes Forth is suspenseful novel in the Lovecraft tradition. While it is a standalone novel, France Leighton, has ties to characters in Audrey Driscoll’s novels and stories of Herbert West that are set decades earlier and can be further explored in those books. Lovecraftian stories of mystery and horror by many authors are enjoying a renaissance these days and while I would not call this a horror story, it is a fine example of the weird and mysterious world of Lovecraft’s imagination.



She Who Returns – Audrey Driscoll B


She Who Returns is a Lovecraftian tinged adventure story, a direct sequel to Driscoll’s She Who Comes Forth. It also serves as a capstone for her Herbert West Series, that was set a generation or two prior to this story, Reading the first book, She Who Comes Forth first is strongly advised. Having read the Herbert West series would add to the depth of the story, I don’t think those books are necessary for the enjoyment of this two book series.


I have not read any Lovecraft stories, and though I have read several that draw on his lore, I can not speak to the authenticity of its Lovecraftian atmosphere. However, I don’t think you need be a Lovecraft fan to enjoy this story. The Lovecraftian elements may, however, add depths to the story. For example, the first part of the book is set in the Lovecraft New England town of Arkham and its university, Miskatonic University. Herberrt West was a Lovecraft character in a minor story or two of his, and the main character in this story is his granddaughter, if I got my genealogy right. It’s a complicated family.


This story continues the adventures of France Leighton, student of Egyptology. It is set two years after the events of the previous novel that relates her adventures during an an archaeological dig in Luxor. France is now back in the US studying at the university. Weird and supernatural things happen to France, even in Arkham, thanks to her grandfather, and an emerald ring she inherited from him. Though, to be fair, weird thing are always happening to Arkham. At any rate, there she meets her hitherto undreamed of half-brothers, and with them, gets into all sorts of trouble. Trouble that eventually leads them back to Egypt and a lot more trouble with people and the supernatural world of ancient Egypt.


She Who Returns is a face paced, very well crafted supernatural adventure story. Miss Leighton is a fearless young woman who is in and more or less out of trouble at every turn. Audrey Driscoll has steeped her story in ancient Egypt and infused it with a gritty sense of place. While I think this two book series – it is a complete series now – will appeal to all the Lovecraft and supernatural fans out there, it will also appeal to readers who enjoy books of travel, mystery and adventure.


Friday, May 20, 2022

C. Litka Audiobooks!

 

I never expected to ever be making this announcement. But here it goes. I am delighted to announce that all of my books, except A Night on Isvalar, are now available as FREE audiobooks. You are probably thinking that there must be some sort of catch to it. Audiobooks generally run $20-$30, so how can I offer mine for free? Well, there is a catch. And the catch is that they are narrated by our AI overlords, rather a human voice actor. Now I am not a “reader” of audiobooks, so I am not very qualified to judge how well “Archie,” my AI English narrator, stacks up to a human reader, but, truth be told, I am quite happy with how he reads my stories. Now, I am certain that a good human reader, who uses different voices for different characters and who can put a lot of emotion into the words when it 's called, for would be a superior narrator. However, I think that my writing style is rather laid back, and it doesn’t involve a lot of over the top emotion, so this shortcoming isn’t all that serious in my stories. You may have to pay a bit more attention to follow who is saying what, but the dialog tags in the text are still there, so it should not be a major problem. The way I look at Archie's narrative style is that it's like your dad (since I use a male voice) reading a bedtime story to you. Indeed, I’ve never been good a reading out loud. so that Archie would have done a better job at reading bedtime stories to my kids than I ever did.


So how did this all come about? Well, this is a Google beta program  that is available to ebooks published in the Google Play Store. As a beta program, the conversion from ebook to audiobook was free, though this may change in the future. Since the price was right, I decided to give it a try, even though Google suggests that it would work best for nonfiction books, without dialog and lots of emotions. I gave one book a try, and it sounded good enough to convince me not to miss this opportunity, so I converted all of my books on Google into an audio version as well. Mind you, I should have converted one book at a time and then gone over each of them to make sure everything worked out, but of course I didn’t. When I did go back over them, I discovered a number of minor glitches in the conversion that needed to be corrected. Luckily it is easy to listen to, view your audio text, and edit your audio book.


Let's look a a couple of examples. First, Google's AI automatically eliminated some of the front matter in the ebook – copyright info, dedications, and such, which is fine. But for some reason, the AI also eliminated the last chapter in two of my books! Fixing this was a simple matter of sliding a little switch on the screen, turning those sections on, so it was no big deal – just something  unexpected.

A more persistent issue is that since I am a writer of adventure stories in a science fiction universe, I use a lot of invented words for character names, place names, and other things. For the most part the AI did a very good job of reading these invented words. Being and English English reader, "Archie," my chosen AI narrator voice, may pronounce the words differently than an American would, but I'm quite cool with that. I had my choice of a dozen different narrative voices, English, American, Irish, and Indian.

That said, there were some that, for some reason, gave Archie trouble. Archie would just spell out “K-A-F” for the word “kaf”, a word I used for coffee in Sailing to Redoubt, and all I would get was static for “Batto” a name of a palm like tree in that book. However, as I said, it is edit your audio book. To fix a word's pronunciation,  you just click on a word and then select “Edit.” Now here's a "pro tip." When you do this, make certain that your browser window is opened wide enough, because the editing menu is to the right of the text box. Mine wasn't, so as a result, when I clicked on "edit" nothing seemed to happen. Once I discovered my problem, several days later, it was easy to fix these glitches. You have two choices, you can either speak the word how you want it pronounced, or you can change the spelling of the word to generate the sound you want. In the case of kaf,” all I had to do was change the spelling to "caf,” an apply that pronunciation to all instances of the word in the text.  (Which, it turned out, was  how I spelled the word in the sequel, The Prisoner of Cimlye.  Pay attention to details, Charlie!)  Batto I fixed by changing its spelling to “Bato.” 

Still, you never know. In my Nine Star Nebula stories, I have a character named “Cin,” which Archie had no problem pronouncing it as I intended; “sin.” In those books I also use the word “spaceer” for my sailors – the extra “e” is just a visual flourish and to make the term mean something special. The Archie however, pronounce it “space-e-er” Getting the correct pronunciation simply involved spelling it as “spacer” and applying it to all occurrences. One of the other changes I made, was that the narrator of The Bright Black Sea and The Lost Star’s Sea is named Wil Litang. In my head, I always pronounced “Litang” as “Lee-tang” rather than “Lih-tang” as it is spelled. I used the "li" like the modern romanization of the Chinese “Lee,” just to go along with the “Tang,” an English spelling of a Chinese dynasty. While readers can pronounce the name as they care too, I decided that my pronunciation was important enough to me to change its spelling to get my preferred pronunciation.



But enough of the minutia of producing a Google audio book. Suffice to say that I am happy with the results. And the thing is this technology will only get better and better. It is a far cry better, than the old robotic voices. And as it evolves, Google will automatically update the audiobooks to the current best technology, so that jumping on the bandwagon now seemed a no-brainer for me.

So, if you are curious to hear Archie narrate my stories, please give my audiobooks a try. I would love to hear what you think of them, and of course, I would be grateful to learn of any glitches that I have missed. You can download your copies here:

https://play.google.com/store/search?q=c%20litka&c=books&hl=en

And email me at; cmlitka@gmail.com with your thoughts or error reports. Or simply comment on this page. Thanks!






Friday, May 13, 2022

How Long?

I often speculated on the working lifespan of a full time indie author. I’ve come across comments going way back noting how the early stars of self publishing just disappeared, either giving up, or adopting new guises. The question is especially interesting because making a living as in indie publisher is often the stated dream of aspiring indie writers. But is it a sustainable career?

One size doesn’t fit all indie writers, so that there would be no hard and fast limit to a full time career in indie publishing, but we might be able to get some insight into the dynamics that play into a full time career by examining the career of Chris Fox, a full time, “six figure,” science fantasy author who has posted his earning on his Youtube channel since 2016. So let’s take a look a Fox’s career to date.

Back in January 2021 I posted a blog essay entitled “Life in the Fast Lane of Indie Publishing” which profiled the full time indie author Chris Fox and his approach to self publishing. You can read it here:

https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2021/01/life-in-fast-lane-of-indie-publishing.html

In that post I included the graph below that showed his Amazon ebook and paper back book income form 2019-2020. The red is income from his ebook sales, the blue from Kindle Unlimited page reads, and the sliver of grey being paperback sales. It does not include his income from audiobook sales.


Fox has often pointed out that one needs to publish consistently and constantly to maintain sales. With every new book release, one will see a spike in sales which tappers off after about three months. In the chart above I added the books Fox released in this time period so that you can seen the spikes that new releases generate – until they don’t. In 2020 he released 9 books, 5 of them in the last 4 months of the year. As you can see, these last releases did little more than sustain a flat sales level. I wrote in that post, “...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.” It was looking to me like he was only preaching to the choir – writing books for his hardcore fans, while his more casual readers had moved on. So, should he have been concerned?

Well, he didn’t get around to posting his 2021 results until April, and when he did so, he did it in a different format so that I can’t compare his 2021 performance directly. But let’s have a look at what he did tell us.

First of all, let’s look at his output for 2021. He release 3 novel, each of which completed a series. Two of the science fantasy series ended with the sixth book series, and the other was a role play game lit book, the second in the series. He also released two box sets consisting of the first three books in those just completed series. Having wrapped up these series, he turned his attention to launching a new, 10 book series, in the epic/progressive/military/YA – teen coming of age fantasy genre(s). I would imagine these categories are so diverse so as to place the books in some sort of bestseller list in one or more of them. He also release one stand alone short story in this new fantasy series. The first book, Shattered Gods, was released on the 1st of August, with the second on the 31st December 2021.

Fox was very excited about his new fantasy series. He said that he has always wanted to write epic fantasy, after meeting and talking with Brandon Sanderson years ago, However, only now did he feel that he reached the point professionally where he could do so, and do it well. His Shattered Gods series are of the typically long, 1,000 page books epic fantasy trope, which are considerably longer than his previous books, and thus take longer to write and polish. In going this route, he will be releasing no more than three or four new books a year.

Changing genre is a somewhat risky venture. In doing so you risk alienating your hardcore fans, fans who simply want more of the same and may jive at something new, without the guarantee of attracting new readers. Fox, for a number of reasons decided to take only a half step away from his previous work. While these new fantasy books have the settings of traditional epic fantasy stories, he uses the same myth and magic system that he had invented for his science fantasy books – and for a role playing game that he has developed and is selling. In some ways, they are novelizations of his role playing game. Plus, he used the same style of cover art as his previous books making the break with his previous work not all that drastic. The question is, would they still appeal to his hardcore fans, while at the same time attracting both new readers and past readers back into the fold. That’s the context. What do the numbers tell us?

Below are his gross incomes from 2016 to 2021 along with a link to the Youtube video where he talks about them.

2016 – $170,000 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evfuyy4XU78

2017 – $180,050 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ugpbxEXkWk&t=740s

2018 – $194,900 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoXOTj7Y54w&t=457s

2019 – $354,620 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoXOTj7Y54w&t=457s

2020 – $272,288 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67UCXxgFFSo&t=337s

2021 – $189,978 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsgSVvIqti8&t=324s

So the short answer is that, yes, his book business continued to slide in 2021. He had reason to be concerned. Because he chose not show the usual Amazon sales graph, we can’t see how each of the book releases fared in comparison to his previous years. We can, however, say that even with a total of 8 releases in 2021, and with the major launch of a new epic/progressive fantasy series, he was unable to turn the sales downturn around. In response, Fox did what every businessperson does in this scenario – he laid off workers and cut expenses. The worker being his wife. He was paying her to do his editing. He decided he could do that himself, though she still proofreads his books, for love. (Just like my wife.) He also took back certain other tasks that he had been farming out, like managing mailing lists and advertising. In addition, he raised the price of his books. He says that while he sells fewer books now, he is making more money than ever because of all these actions.

Drilling deeper, how did his launch of genre changing fantasy series fare? Fox posted income figures for that book. Shattered Gods launched on 1 August 2021 and by mid-February 2022 it had grossed $15,955 in royalties. Its price jumped around a bit over that time period, but if we take a ballpark average of, let’s say $2.50 royalties per copy sold or read, we can get a rough estimate of somewhat over 6,000 copies sold or read. However to launch that book, he spend $15,284 on advertising, which, along with cover art and other expenses, brought the final cost of that book to $19,506, so the book had not earned out six months later. However, Fox spend next to nothing on advertising for the two sequels he has since released, so that the series as a whole is in the black by $9,593 as of mid February. If anything, this should show you the scale, and the risks, one has to operate under as a full time indie author/publisher.

Looking at the data, are we seeing the fate of indie publishers?  Authors who have to crank out books every couple of months to stay on the radar of readers, even as they risk boring all but their most hardcore readers with  more and ever more of the same old thing? Does the winning strategy in the short run, doom them in the long run? So what’s Chris Fox’s take on this?

First of all, you have to know that he’s a motivational type of guy, so that that there will be no doom and gloom in his outlook. However, in his video, he talks about the need to develop more revenue streams. This suggest to me, that he is reading in his sales numbers, the handwriting on the wall. A best selling indie author is not a lifelong career.

More to the point, he talks about getting older and having less energy. He says that he’s not going to release a dozen books in a year anymore. He plans to launch three of his fantasy books in 2022, three more in 2023, with two in 2024, completing the planned 10 book Shattered God series. After that he talks about maybe doing only two books, or just one a book a year, as he spends more time on other projects and revenue streams. Unless the indie market changes radically in the next couple of years, he risks dropping out of sight by publishing only one or two books a year, even with his back catalog of books. One book a year is the traditional publishing pace, which doesn’t cut it in indie publishing. We’ll have to see how he fares.

It seems to me that fate of Chris Fox illustrates the two head threat to full time indie publishers – burnout. All but the most dedicated readers eventually burn out on formula stories written by the same author in the same style. And if you change formula and style, you risk loosing your hardcore fans without any guarantee of finding new ones to replace them. The second head is author burn out – running out of energy, ideas, and time. Chris Fox is the author of a book entitled “5,000 Words Per Hour,” so you know that he once had plenty of energy and ideas. So to hear him talk about cutting back to a couple books a year, is a sea change.

I have to believe that it would be very hard to sustain a full time career in indie publishing for much longer than 10 years – and for most people, likely years less. Fox started his indie career in 2014, so he's 8 years into it. Of course, if you hire out the writing, the editing, the cover design, and formatting, and turn yourself into a businessperson, maybe you could do it longer. Or maybe not.

Friday, May 6, 2022

7 Years in Self Publishing -- A Report

 

I have been a self-published author for seven years now. In the past dozen years, and without a day job, I have written and published ten novels and two novellas. I write for the fun, so I do only what I enjoy doing, which is to say writing and producing e and paperbacks. I do hardly anything to promote my work and nor do I spend any more money than I make from the occasional sales of a book on Amazon. For the last seven years I have let my free price for ebooks do my promotion for me. Since I can produce my books with the help of kindly volunteer beta readers for free, I can give away my books, when possible, without losing money in doing so.

This approach worked well for the first four years or so. However, over the last couple of years, I sense that the focus of most dedicated ebook readers has narrowed to very specific genres and sub-genres. These genres are now served by prolific writers producing three, four, or more books a year who spend thousands of dollars on advertising just to keep on these readers’ radar, so vast is the pool of books and authors these readers can pick from.

As a result of this gradual shift in the focus of ebook reading, my sales have declined in my traditional venues, which is to say, Smashwords including Apple, Kobo & B & N, and Amazon. Luckily for me, my sales on Google not only grew enough to replace these declines, but made this year, my best yet for both sales numbers, and for my very modest income form books sold on Amazon stores around the world. So let’s take a look at those numbers.

My Sales Numbers

As usual, almost all of the sales are free ebooks sold through Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, and Google. Amazon does sell my books at list price in its non-US stores as well as some of my most recent books in its US store. I don’t bother to separate them out in this report. My books are also available on Kobo, but they do not report free sales to Smashwords. Barnes & Noble does report sales, but they don’t show up on my daily sales charts, so I don’t record those sales by the books – they’re just a rounding error anyway, i.e. you can add 36 books to the total below for 2022) In addition some books are also listed on other sites that offer free books. I don’t know how many, if any, are downloaded from those sites.

Below is the chart comparing sales May 2021 to April 2022 to my year 6 sales.

Book Title / Release Date

Year 6 Sales

Year 7 Sales

Total Sale To date

A Summer in Amber

23 April 2015

598

407

8,223

Some Day Days

9 July 2015

358

371

4,611

The Bright Black Sea

17 Sept 2015

1,320

979

14,795

Castaways of the Lost Star

4 Aug 2016

Withdrawn

Withdrawn

2,176

The Lost Star’s Sea

13 July 2017

986

947

7,916

Beneath the Lanterns

13 Sept 2018

551

754

3,546

Sailing to Redoubt

15 March 2019

728

858

3,190

Prisoner of Cimlye

2 April 2020

632

728

1,605

Lines in the Lawn

8 June 2020

83

30

113

Keiree

18 Sept 2020

853

611

1.194

The Secret of the Tzaritsa Moon

11 Nov 2020

1,110

1,056

2,156

The Secrets of Valsummer House 

18 March 2021

265

858

1,123

Shadows of an Iron Kingdom

16 July 2021

n/a

1,231

1,231

A Night on Isvalar

16 July 2021

(Amazon only – all $ sales only)

n/a

23 sold

23 plus a

modest # of page views

Total Year Sales

7,484

8,853

50,671


Past Results

Year One, 2015/16: 6,537 (3 novels released)

Year Two, 2016/17: 6,137 (1 novel released)

Year Three, 2017/18: 6,385 (1 novel released)

Year Four, 2018/19: 8,225* (2 novels released) * includes a strange 1950 books sold in one day on Amazon that they say is correct. (6,275 w/o)

Year Five, 2019/20: 8,530 (1 novel released)

Year Six, 2020/21: 7,484 (2 novels released, 1 novella, 1 children's short story)

Year Seven, 2021/22: 8,853 (1 novel, 1 novella)

Past Yearly reports can be found here:

Year 1: https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2016/05/a-window-to-self-publishing.html

Year 2: https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2017/05/two-years-of-free-books.html

Year 3: https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2018/05/3-years-in-self-publishing.html

Year 4: https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2019/05/four-years-in-self-publishing.html

Year 5: https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2020/05/five-years-in-self-publishing.html

Year 6:https://clitkabooks.blogspot.com/2021/05/six-years-in-self-publishing.html

Sales by Venue

Comparing the sales split between Amazon, Google, and Smashwords (including sales on Apple and B & N) for the last thee years:

Year 5 – 2019/20

Amazon 40%

Smashwords 40%

Google 20%


Year 6 – 2020/29

Amazon 35%

Smashwords 39%

Google 26%


Year 7 – 2021/22

Amazon 21.5%

Smashwords 18%

Google 60.5%

The Takeaway

As you can see from the figures above, Google Play Store accounted for well over half of my sales this past year. Sales on Smashword’s site have declined drastically, so that my more or less stable Apple sales probably account for more than half of my sales reported on Smashwords. Amazon sales have also declined, in part because several of my newer books are not free on Amazon.com, which negatively affect my sales numbers.

The the monthly sales numbers on Google have declined by more than half from their peak. We will have to see if they continue to decline and where they level off. The wild card for Google is that I have just released audiobook versions of all of my books on Google. I have no idea how that will affect sales, if at all.

Looking Forward

In my 6 ½ year report in Nov 2021 I said that I expected to release a new Nine Star Nebula Mystery/Adventure story in February or March, 2022. After that, I hoped to work on a more ambitious project. As it turned out, I shelved the Nine Star story in December and started writing the more ambitious novel in January. I hope to have the first draft of that project, currently entitled EuraEast, completed by early summer, 2022. However, I am planning to shop this story around to agents and traditional publishers for at least six months, and that, only after I complete the final draft have it proofread and reviewed by beta readers. Should I fail to find a publisher for it – the likely outcome – I would probably be releasing it as a self published novel around this time next year. So it could be a full year without a new novel. However, it is possible that once I’ve finished my work on EuraEast, I will return and finish the Nine Star novel releasing it late in 2022 or early in 2023, but that is pure speculation now..

There are, however, several wild cards in all this.

First is. as I have mentioned, that I have released all of my books as audiobooks in the Google Play Store. These are AI narrated books, so that they are not up to the quality of a good, human read book, but I think they might just be good enough – since, unlike commercial works at $20-$30, I’ve released them for free. It may be a little too early to release fiction read by an algorithm, but Google says that it will automatically make improvements to the books as the technology evolves, so that I think it’s worth getting in on the ground floor – especially since this beta program to convert ebooks to audiobooks is currently free. We’ll have to see how they fare. Any feedback is welcome, so if you give them a try, let me know what you think of them.

The next wild card is contests. Last year I entered A Summer in Amber in the Self Published Science Fiction Contest. It did not get out of the initial round, nor was it reviewed at all, so that contest did not generate any appreciable sales. This year I plan to enter Beneath the Lanterns in the Fantasy version of that contest, and Sailing to Redoubt in the science fiction version. We’ll see if either fairs better in those contests and if any sales results can be attributed to them.

And the last wild card is I am considering redoing my paperback books in a slightly smaller form factor using a print on demand service offered by Draft2Digital, a company that has now purchased Smashwords. In addition, I am thinking about of actually spending money promoting these paperback books. I am toying with the idea of offering selected SF bookshops around the country a chance to order, let’s say a $100 worth of my paperback books to sell in their shops at no cost to them, with the option of ordering more at my cost. This is more about creating a modest legacy than making money. I would like some of my novels in paper floating around on the shelves somewhere, long after I’m gone. Still, if I could sell paper books, it would be nice, even if I did it at cost.

So to sum things up, it was a good year, with an interesting year ahead. Stay tuned.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Two Mini Reviews - Children of Earth and Sky & Embers of War

 


Two mini-reviews this week of two books I hopefully downloaded from the library and, alas, did not finish, both for the same reason.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay DNF (9%)

To begin with, this is a fantasy story, which is not my usual forte, I have read good things about Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing, so I decided to give it a try. Kay is indeed a good wordsmith. The story is set in a world similar to the 14th century Mediterranean Sea area, with a focus on an alternative Venice. The story begins with the musings of a new Venetian ambassador to the court of, well, let’s say alternate Constantinople as he waits to be presented to the ruler of this alternate Constantinople. These musings serve to start the world building for the story. From this point of view we slide to a young ship owner of Venice, a want-to-be girl pirate some months later who has her dead grandfather’s spirit some how living in her head. She sets out in a boat ambush a Venetian raiding party that is blockading her city, but before she begins, we cut to a meeting of the ruling body of Venice discussing her success sometime later… This is the first 9% of the story. I don’t like multiple points of view stories to begin with, though no doubt Kay will draw all these threads together at some point. However, I found none of the characters engaging enough to care or continue reading about.



Embers of War by Gareth L Powell DNF (11%)

Powell is a British science fiction writer of, I gather space operas. At least this story is a space opera. It opens with a prologue of a war where the commander decides to nuke an entire world. We then jump three years forward to the first person narrative of the captain of a crew of 4 who man a sentient ship, one of the warships from the side that nuked the planet that has been decommissioned, and which is now used for search and rescue missions. Their current mission is saving what they can of a space ship’s crew that mysteriously crashed into an ocean. While doing so, one of the team is snatched away by a sea creature. We then skip to the first person point of view of a veteran of that war who is now a famous poet on a space liner that is going to inspect some strange alien artifacts. The space liner comes under attack by forces unknown. And then we are back to the captain on the water planet. As they leave, one crew member short, they are requested to go to the aid of any survivors of that attack on a space liner. With this we switch to the first person view of the sentient ship which, as a warship used to have a crew of 300 people, and who now has a crew of 3. (What with one redshirt getting dragged down to the depths by a tentacled monster.) The ship then tells us a little abut itself, and then how it moves through space… which covers the first 11% of the story. At this point I gave up.

In this case it wasn’t just the multiple points of view, but the, in my opinion, over the top effort of Powell to make this an exciting story. I tend to like understated things, and this story was so pulpish in its frantic effort to create what? Mystery, danger, interest? I don't know, save that it completely turned me off. That and the whole improbability of the premise – a sentient ship with a crew of 4 humans, all of which were off ship standing on a sinking wreck cutting through the hull to get at any survivors in the waterlogged wreck. Really? Not to mention a dedicated rescue space ship that takes days to get to the scene of the wreck. And this is a traditionally published book? Still, I guess this is the stuff readers like. Oh, well.









Saturday, April 23, 2022

Balance of Trade by Lee & Miller Review

 

Balance of Trade by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller – C

This is one of 28 novels and many short stories set in their “Liaden Universe.” a collection of novels and short stories that share a common setting. This is the first novel I have read in the collection, and is the fist of three novels featuring the trader Jethri Gobelyn. 

Its premise is that family owned and manned interstellar ships buy and sell goods on their own account and have specialists traders to do so profitably. Jethri is a 17 year old aboard one such ship, learning the trade. After his father’s death, his mother, the ship’s captain has no use for him, and through something of a misadventure he is given the opportunity to become the trader apprentice of a Liaden trader. The Liadens are humans, but who look on the Terrans as more or less barbarians. Jethri must learn the ornate customs of the Liadens to succeed. This was the story I was invested in, and if it was the only focus of the novel, it probably would have ranked as a B grade story.

However, the authors wanted to tell a wider story involving ancient technology, and so even after Jethri leaves the ship, we still have a storyline that follows events on the ship and this ancient super-technology which jumps in and out of the Jethri story – sometimes without any indication of the jump at all! ( Though perhaps that is the fault of the ebook formatting. Who knows?) In any event, I found not only that I didn’t care about that storyline at all, but it became annoying. I soon began to skim and eventually simply ignore it, figuring, correctly, that it would circle back around for the book’s climax. Which it did. The book lost points because of its dual focus, for me.

The second thing that took points away from this story, was the inclusion of human characters with telepathic powers. I found that jarring, out of character with the story’s universe – though it may well  play a role on other stories in this universe. Nevertheless, I felt that it was it out of place, and just too 1950’s 60’s SF-y for my tastes today. It also had little to do with the story in this book, though perhaps it is just setting things up for the next book in the series. 

And lastly, to be honest, the quality of the Jethri story tapered off as his storyline went on. It seemed as if the authors lost interest in his story of adjusting to this new life, as they steered the story back to converge with the second story arc, in what turned out to be a rather lame ending, I thought. Just to take one example, since Jethri lived all his life inside a space ship, he was frightened by the openness of living on a planet, when he had to do so. This is illustrated at the beginning of his stay on a planet, but is never mentioned again. I guess we're to assume that he got used to it quickly. But it was things like this -- big issues that are quickly dropped -- that disappointed me.

The problem with this book for me is, that this would not be how I would’ve written the story. Both as a reader and as a writer I hate multi-points of view, and the two dissimilar storylines did not work for me. Essentially they were two stories folded in together, which I found distracting, and as I said annoying. Lee and Miller can write their story however they want to write it, but I think that they watered down and hurried through the more interesting story to write one that, all in all, seemed rather lame.  Perhaps it was all part of a larger plan and to set up the next two stories in the series. I have my doubts that I will ever find out.







Saturday, April 16, 2022

Cover Tease

 

Talk about putting the horse before the cart. Well, I have, after spending several hours this past week working on the cover for my next novel, even though I am just over halfway through writing the first draft of it. I still have months of work ahead before I would ever need any sort of cover. At best. And since I am planning to shop this story around to agents and traditional publishers, the published version of the story will no doubt have a professionally designed cover, assuming I'm successful. (“That’s a joke, son.”) Still, I was thinking about  how I wanted to approach this cover, and came up with some ideas that I simply could not wait to try and see what it would look like.

I do all my own covers, not because I’m good at it, but because I’m cheap. And when you don’t usually charge for your books, cheap is good. Besides, a professionally made cover in the mainstream style isn’t going to change the contents of the book, and so, would probably be misleading, since I don’t write mainstream types of stories.

As I see it, there are several approaches you can take for your covers. You can illustrate an important scene from the story. Or you can back off a bit, and illustrate a non-specific scene to create either a sense of the story, or suggest its mood. Or you can simply toss the story aside and do a cover that you think will sell the book, either with a fictional scene of the fictional story, or using some eye catching graphic design. Being a mostly impressionist painter, I generally  have striven to create a cover that suggests the mood of the story with a scene as close to an actual scene in the book as I can, that being the limit of my talent.

This time around, I decided to avoid painting a cover altogether – as that has gotten to be quite a chore for me these days – and instead make a cover that gives a sense of the book by using a sort of collage effect on the cover. More  of a graphic approach to the cover this time around. This effort involved using a 1913 copy of A Satchel Guide For the Vacation Tourist in Europe, (with its red cover changed to blue) from my bookshelves, along with its included rail map of Central Europe, a photo of a ship's anti-aircraft gun that I took when, at the age of 9, I got to go aboard a cruiser off the coast of Milwaukee as part of some sort of naval showcase event, a photo of my late father-in-law at the age of 31, along with a detail from a photo I found of a family photo of a Russian aristocratic family in the 19th century that I came across in researching my story. I then used these in creating several items for the collage in Gimp – ID cards and a newspaper clipping. The result is below.

Of course everything about this cover is tentative, including the name of the novel. Basically it is a proof of concept. All the items in the composition are on separate layers so that they can be shifted around as I please at a later date. But in any event, now you know what the story is all about, right?





Saturday, April 9, 2022

Looking Back & Forward

 

The 27th of April 2022 will mark the end of my seventh year in self-publishing. I will, as usual, be reporting how my publishing efforts fared during the past year and post the sales numbers for the year and lifetime figures early in May. I usually speculate on what the next year will bring in that post as well. While I may do that as well, I’ve already been already thinking about my future adventures in self publishing, and I thought I might share some of my thoughts early.

The truth is that I’m feeling a bit restless when it comes to self publishing. I set out to see if I could find a readership for my work -- without putting either my money or much effort into doing so. I opted to rely on the frictionless nature of “free” to tempt potential readers into giving my work a try. I’m thinking that seven years is a sufficient amount of time to judge how well my plan worked, or didn’t.

I have reached a fair number of readers, though I can’t put any solid number to it. My best selling work has been downloaded over 14,000 times. But most other titles sales numbers run in the 4,000 to 1,000 range, Clearly a only few thousand people at most read all of my books. But that is fair enough, since I try to make each book different so as to perhaps appeal to different people. Given my very modest efforts at promoting my work, I am quite happy with the number of people I have entertained. It is a good number, but not so many that I’m feeling any pressure to produce more work. Though I am. The big upside, as far as I am concerned, is that I did it my way. And though I could’ve afforded to spend money promoting my work, I am convinced that it would not have made much of a difference, since I am not writing mainstream Amazon ebooks. So in that respect I am not only happy, and richer as well.

While I think my approach worked initially, but as time has gone by, it no longer works all that well, due to the way the ebook market has evolved over these last seven years. The free price that brought me several thousand readers does not work as well as it once did on Amazon because no one is likely find non-promoted books on that site. Not spending a dime to promote my work will not work today for the same reason. And if I really want lots of readers, not only would I have to spend folding money to promote them, but I would have to write the type of books that most Amazon ebook readers want to read in their genre. So, what can I do?

The first thing I am going to do differently, is to shop around my next novel around to agents and publishers instead of self publishing it out of the gate. I expect to allocate six months after I finish it for this project. If, by ill chance, it should not happen to sell, then… Well, then I don’t know. I might look into launching it on kickstarter. I hear you can make millions doing that. Or I could self publish it, though this time, with little to lose, I am leaning towards putting a price on it right from the start. However if I went this route, I would still offer a limited number of free ARC (advanced readers’ copies) to my loyal fans via this blog site. But that is likely a year in the future, so nothing is set in stone.

I’m also thinking of trying to get my paper books into select SF bookshops, perhaps with a free $100 worth of books to prime the pump, and selling additional copies at my printing cost afterwards. There are a lot of SF stores that I could approach with this offer. However, I will wait until the Draft2Digital merger is complete and use their print on demand service, rather than Amazon's, for this project, should I decide to go down this road.

As I said, I’m restless. I’m willing to explore new options. That said, being an old dog, learning new tricks might prove to be either too hard, or too much trouble. So who knows? I don’t expect anything to change anytime too soon. But things might change someday.







Saturday, April 2, 2022

Old Habits

 

Old habits die hard. For the past six months or more I’ve been enjoying watching several different science fiction booktube channels on You Tube. My three favorite are:

Media Death Cult

Book Odyssey

Outlaw Bookseller 

However, the fact is that not only have I not read almost all of the books that they discuss and review, I don’t I have any desire to do so, even after watching their glowing reviews. Oh, I’ve sampled some of the authors and books, but haven’t liked any of them. This should be clear if you’ve read any of my mini-reviews of the books I’ve attempted to read over the last six months. In short, I’m not telling you anything here that you don’t already know.

This fascination with science fiction, without actually liking it all that much, is not a new phenomena. Way back in 2018 I wrote that I no longer considered myself a card carrying science fiction fan. You can read the post here. Back then I was just reading some websites rather than watching booktubers on YouTube.

So what keeps me watching these booktubers and reading SF sites? As I said at the start, old habits – the habits of a lifetime – die hard. As much as I have fond memories of the SF of my youth, these days it mostly disappoints me. And yet, I still enjoy learning about the SF books that I personally have no actual interest in reading. The way I look at it, watching or reading reviews of SF books saves me the trouble of reading them, while at the same time, I painlessly, and often entertainingly, learn something about them and their authors.

I had intended to say a lot more about why I don’t like most science fiction – both the modern stuff and all the classics that I missed from the 1970’s onward. But, on reflection, why bother? It is just a matter of personal taste, which applies only to me. So I’ll save your from another old man yelling at the clouds. There are many ways and many reasons to write a story, and just as many ways and reasons to enjoy reading a story. All have value. This flexibility is what makes reading so appealing – to those of us who still read. These YouTube booktubers, and the authortubers whose videos I watch as well, are all celebrating reading. More power to them.




Saturday, March 26, 2022

Remembering Frank


My father-in-law, Frank Kanaskie, died a week ago, of a heart attack, on 19 March 2022 at the age of 94. He was one of the good ones – one of those “luckiest people in the world people;” a person who needed people. He made and kept many friends all throughout his long life. For example, he was the grocery manager of a butcher shop, and had teen age stock boys working part time under him. Many of those stock boys remained lifelong friends of his. Though he loved life – he often mentioned his sadness that all his lifelong buddies had proceeded him in death. His stage 5 kidney failure meant that he could not eat his favorite foods, and a very painful bad back meant that he could not walk without pain, and not much further than a couple hundred feet, even with a walker. His short term memory was going as well, so conversations with him could be pretty circular. None of these aliments prevented him from taking his scooter down to play sheepshead with the other card playing residence of the senior housing facility where he and his wife of 50 years, Trudy, lived. In short, if I in his position, I would be wondering were death’s sweet sting was, he was still in love with life.

His first wife, and mother of his four children, Jean, died of cancer when my wife was only 10 years old, and she was the oldest. Left with four young children to raise, he was lucky that his mother, “Granny” was also a people person who welcomed him and his children back home. His stepfather at least tolerated them – they served as this remote control for the TV in the evening. Still, if I was in that position… well, I give him credit as well. Frank and Granny raised them until he was introduced to Trudy ten years later – proposing to her on their first date and marrying her three months later. He was an impatient man, a man who wanted things done, ideally, right now.

I am sure that he would be diagnosed today with ADHD. He was always on the go, especially in his early years. My wife as some notes she took on their annual vacation with him when she was 12 years old. On the second day he woke the kids, telling them that it was 7:00 am. They later found out it was actually 5:00 am, but he was up as was the sun, so why waste the day in bed? And on vacation, it was one activity after another – no rest for the wicked. He never liked silence or just sitting around doing nothing, though as he aged into his 50’s, he came to enjoy reading. And though he never finished college, he loved to learn new things all his life.

He could play a variety of musical instruments by ear, but with ADHD he never had the patience to spend the hours of practice needed to become a musician. He envied handymen and artists and tried his hand those arts as well, but again, lacked the patience -- he judged his efforts against the work of decades and found his work too disappointing to continue. However, his great talent was as a people person, and he was great at that.

Another of his talents was the laying "guilt trips" on his daughters, though he called it “salesmanship.” He was a master salesman and for all his life, his wish was their command.

His greatest passion was golf. He was good at it, and played the game well into his 80’s, though I think his back was bothering him long before that. When he retired and could play golf whenever he wanted to, he still only played twice a week, which, in retrospect, I think is telling. His next greatest passion was sheepshead, and he could play that, and win money at it, until the very end of his life.

He was also one of those great fun-loving Grandpas, a favorite of all his grand and great grand children, and will be deeply missed by them. He was a dear friend of mine. He was always enthusiastic and supportive of my various ventures, be it selling tea mail order, painting, or writing books. In recent years he always asked about how my writing was coming, and read and enjoyed my books. We enjoyed talking religion even though we never agreed. Age, distance and covid reduced our contact to a few brief visits and telephone conversations over the last few years, Given the pain and reduced state he lived it, I can’t help but see his passing as a blessing. Though I know he would disagree with me on that too, even though he said he was ready. Still, death is the price we all must pay for life, and at 94, no one can kick about the price of a lifetime like his. While I know that I won’t ever see him again, he remains in my inner world right where he has always been – a great guy, a great friend and a great sheepshead player. Death doesn't change that.