Monthly Archives: August 2011

Three Mile Marker

Or, Milestones reached at the three month mark

It’s been about three months now since I put my first ebook up for sale on Amazon.  Since I’m trying to spend my writing time on a story this week, it seemed as good a time as any to look back at where I’m standing and see how far I’ve come rather than writing a meatier “issue” post.

Blog stats have a big one:  I’ve had over 1000 views now!  Granted, many of these are the same people returning, but I think that’s pretty fabulous (and hi, y’all!).  My daily hits goes up and down day-to-day but the trend in general is a climb.  This is winning.

I have sold over 50 copies of my two ebooks!  I know this number is not, you know, hugely impressive or anything, but it’s better than they would have been doing gathering metaphorical dust on my hardrive.  At least this way I can take myself out and show myself a good time off the proceeds (somewhere around $20 at this point) and that is also more than the novellas were doing for me locked away from the world.

If you’re interested in trends, Kindle store is by far my biggest sales market, although Smashwords took a big leap to catch up right after I put my two books up on their site, only to let Amazon retake the lead and then some after that first couple weeks.  I’m selling about 1/2 to 2/3 as many copies at Amazon UK as I am at the US store, which seems high based on population difference, so either my topics appeal disproportionately highly to Brits or my work is easier to find in their ebook store.  My total sales have actually been pretty steady across the three months; comparing What You Will to Twelfth Night, copies are about even at this point but it does seem that a spike in WYW sales is followed a couple weeks later by a spike in TN sales.  Hopefully those are repeat purchasers who liked the first enough to grab the second, but, as I’ve pointed out before, my numbers are at this point low enough that a handful of sales can disrupt the accuracy of my trend-spotting. 

Overall the sales are about where I could hope for at this point, given I went strictly indie with these two ebooks and have only managed to grab two formal reviews (hopefully more are coming soon…I have nibbles from several quarters), and I’m quite pleased with my progress thus far.  Maybe I can’t quit my day job yet, but I’m not hearing from all sides that I ought to quit writing, either, and that approaches validation.  

Want to give my work a try?  Be prepared for mistaken identities, obsessions with social status, and just a hint of lustful intentions! 

What You Will ebook is available via:

Twelfth Night ebook is available via:

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I Hate Jokes Like This

Sometimes in my Twitter feed people will get on a roll with posting jokes. Drives me nuts when my pages and pages of my history are lame jokes.  If they were funny I might not mind as much.

Sometimes the jokes are worse than lame…they are jokes of a type I actively despise. Such as:

“How are men and parking spots alike? The good ones are always taken and the ones that are left are handicapped.”

I hate jokes likes this. I really, really do.  Why?  Not just because it is such a  defeatist attitude (although that is also annoying) nor because it is so negative toward men (a perception I do not share and which makes me think less of women who do).  I hate this joke because of the ridiculous logic fail involved.  At some point, even the good guys were single, if they are taken now.  They are not born into relationships. It’s just a stupid statement.  And it’s not even funny to make up for it.

That is all.

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Graverobbing from My Own Book Cemetery

I spent some time this weekend revisiting my story graveyard–all those stories that I wrote that were terrible, or that I started but never finished.  I avoided the recent burials (which are more numerous than I would like to admit) and went to the old section…the projects from about six years ago that were put away as too schizophrenic in terms of genre to be worth finishing. 

My post about self-publishing dissolving genre constraints made me curious to see if there is anything salvageable about those old stories, the ones that were too romance to appeal to science fiction or fantasy fans but too SFF to be romance.

Happily, there is. I don’t know really how much of the writing itself is worth retaining, but the ideas, the stories themselves?  Oh, yes.  It is especially pleasing to think of working with these characters again, because they were some of the first people I invented and as such have both the power of primacy and history behind them. That is to say, the first time you do something is often one of the most memorable times, so their inventions, as my first characters, is important to me; they have also been with me longer than any of my other characters.

The other interesting part of my visit is that I found stories I had made notes about as a teenager that were intended to be strict romance novels, which I abandoned when I decided to write SFF.  At least one of them is highly viable as a story (although it also relies on an oddity of plot that I’ve seen, via review, that another author has used recently, which is annoying to feel like everyone will think I’m an imposter when in fact I had this idea…12 years ago…but that’s another post).

I don’t know when I will finish these stories.  They are not on my priority list at the moment, and despite having them in my head for all these years I still don’t know what happens, exactly.  For now, at least they are on my radar as plots to be worrying at in the back of my mind and options for when I cannot concentrate on something else.

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…That’s Why I Always Travel with My Diary

Or, The Freedom of Self E-publishing (Part 2:  Genre)

Yesterday I blogged about the freedom digital publishing (especially self-publishing) offers in terms of form.  Today I want to talk about content.  N.B.:  I am conflating digital publishing with self-publishing here, or at least considering the possibility of self-publishing in every mention of digital publishing. 

Fiction is broadly swathed into genres in a bookstore, but within a “genre” there can be so much variation as to make one example unrecognizable as the same “genre” from another example.  The designations are also highly arbitrary.  Take romance as a genre.  If you pick up 10 random romance novels, you will find all but maybe two feature stories that, by plot, are really mysteries, Westerns, historical political dramas, or fantasy/science fiction adventures.  Very few romances are truly only romance.  Or look at science fiction and fantasy; a high number of them will actually be mysteries or romances by plot.  The groupings are imprecise and arbitrary, yet cross-pollination is often discouraged from publishers until one outlier succeeds against the accepted wisdom.  (To clarify:  I mean true double-genre work, not genres that use elements of another in small doses.  For example, just because an epic fantasy contains a love story doesn’t mean it’s a romance…I mean when you have in a fantasy setting a story that is built around the romance and is explicitly erotic and reads literally like a romance novel in a fantasy world.) 

Digital publishing, especially self-publishing, demolishes genre boundaries.  Maybe there is not a strong enough market for science-fiction romance novels for a publisher to bother with—no fans of science fiction who do not also read romance would touch it, and no romance readers who do not also read science fiction would touch it.  That small subset of the two reading populations is not worth pursuing.

But in digital publishing, there is no production cost other than the services used to render the book to its final published form—editing and cover art—and so the point where the publisher breaks even on the product is much lower.  A print book that sells 500 copies over its life but requires 450 copies to pay back its production costs (editing, cover art, printing, shipping to store, advance to author, and eating the cost of unsold copies in the print run) makes less money than a digital book that sells 500 copies but only needs to sell 50 to make back its production costs (editing, cover art).  Suddenly going after that niche is viable, because the return will be so much higher than the expenditure:  it goes from a lousy investment with a 10% return to one with a 450% return. 

 Examining the philosophy of an actual publisher shows that digital opens up niche markets that did not exist before. 

Bypassing publishers opens it up even further. 

You can literally write about any weird topic or conglomeration of genres and styles that appeals to you.  And via the internet you can reach the audience for it.

Remember that old compliment, “You’re one in a million”?  Let’s suppose that’s true, that each of us in our special snowflake way is one in a million.  Guess what?  There are 6 billion people in the world; that means there are 6000 others exactly like you.  Imagine finding them.  6000 purchases on that strange niche you thought only you wanted to read about is a lot of money in your pocket at 70% of the purchase price.  Maybe you only find the ones in the U.S.  Even assuming a homogeneous spacing throughout the world population, that’s still 300 people who now have the opportunity to enjoy your work, whereas before the internet and digital publishing you would have had an audience of exactly one:  yourself. 

Another aspect of digital publishing in terms of content is the revival of genres publishing had decided were “dead,” such as Westerns—maybe the audience isn’t big enough for publishers to pursue, but they are a comfortable niche for an author self-publishing. 

Referring again to my post from yesterday, the lack of form constraints might also lead to a purification of genres.  Instead of having only those romances where half of the story is solving a mystery or adventuring across the world, readers will now also be able to read those whose only story is the love story.  Maybe the book didn’t have enough Story for a publisher to have picked up.  Maybe the author thought it was perfect at 30,000 words (a novella) and didn’t want to shoehorn in another round of conflict to expand the work to a “publishable” length.  Maybe it’s about two ordinary people who fall in love without any extraordinary circumstances surrounding them.  Yawn, right?  From the books on the shelves it would seem publishers think so.  But if there is a hidden market for that kind of story, digital publishing allows that story to find them. 

Ultimately, that kind of splintering into niche markets is where our cultural economy is heading, and I think it’s wonderful.  As a writer, I love the freedom to simply write the stories that I want to write without having to obey arbitrary “rules” of length and topic.  I might still refer to them as guidelines or a common denominator sort of judgment, but there is no imposed necessity.   

And as a reader, I am thrilled to be able to find that one book that combines custom millinery with fighting vampires that I’ve been hoping someone would write since I was 15.  Oh, someone did?  Click….

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One Must Always Have Something Sensational to Read on the Train

Or, The Freedom of Self E-publishing (Part 1: Length)

I’ve had two conversations this week about the freedom of digital publishing–especially self-publishing–to remove from writing the artificial constraints placed on it long ago by the limitations of print and for the most part retained and even strenthened by the publishing establishment.

What I mean, specifically, are the “form” definitions, and the often abritrary requirements for a specific genre to have a specific word range in novel form. 

Short stories were designed to be included in magazines or newspapers.  They had tight space constraints.

Novels could not be too long to bind in one book, but neither could they be too short.  That left everything in between and beyond that range out in the cold.

Ebooks have taken away those constraints.  A novel can now be as long as the writer wants–whether it will be good is beside the point that they will not have to artificially constrict it from 150K to 100K, or artificially inflate it into two books of 100K each.  A standalone novella is as viable a purchase as a “full-length” novel.  If your story is naturally 40,000 words, when you’re your own publisher you are not confined to industry standards that, at least once upon a time, related to binding space constraints, so you can publish the story in its natural form.  Moreover, the people who read it won’t care about the length if the story is both well told and well paced, and they feel like you covered everything that needed to be covered without rushing or fluffing up the story. 

Basically what digital publishing allows you to do as a writer is not write the parts people tend to skip, instead of writing them because your story is only 55K and you need an extra 15K to sell it to a publisher.   Alternatively, the rescinded form definitions means you don’t have to add stupid subplots just make your story long enough, if that was the strategy you used to increase word count. Actually, I think digital formats might end up making publishing stronger, if all the stories people are telling can be their natural length (and do note that I am not talking about the length of the rough draft, but the length of a fully edited and revised manuscript, which might be longer or shorter than the first cut–or two–of the story).

What about the flip side to this argument, the commercial aspect, that readers “expect” a certain length from a certain genre, and to give them less is to violate the reader-author trust?  Is there really such an expectation among readers that, say, a paranormal romance will be a 4-hour read (80K words) while an historical romance will be a 6-hour read (100K)?  Or would savvy readers start to purchase based on length, seeking either the most bang for their buck or the precise length for their block of reading time that night?  Does a shorter length actually become a selling point for unknown authors? 

For example, a digital reader digging through the $.99 bin might be more inclined to try a book from a new author when their time investment to read it will be minimal.  That’s a part of the purchasing equation too often overlooked, I think, but it is exactly why readers have an author loyalty–we know what to expect from them.  Even if they aren’t our favorite, they’re good enough, which may not be true of someone we have never read.  I know my reading time is fairly limited, and I would much rather give an hour of my time to someone new than four or six hours.  The main way I discover new romance authors as a reader is to pick up a novella–in terms of print this is via a collection of novellas, built around either a theme I like or at least one author on my automatic purchase list, while digitally novellas are frequently offered on a standalone basis–and I can’t imagine I am alone in that. 

Personally, I am loving the freedom of digital self-publishing to simply tell my stories and just “write until it’s finished” without trying to pare it down or force it up to a word count that is, at best, an artificial goal.

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The Boggart in My Writing Desk – #amwriting cross-post

I was oddly relieved when I received a harsh review of my first book.

I think every writer has a deep insecurity about being “good enough,” or any good at all. Certainly I get nervous every time I send a new piece to my mom, and she has loved everything I’ve ever written (because that is her job as my mom). Yet no matter how good I think my newest manuscript is, no matter how much I have enjoyed my story after typing “the end” and reading it back, once I send it to someone else I begin to fret.

I question my own taste level. Maybe I really don’t know what good writing is! I question my central conflict. Maybe I missed the most obvious logical flaw in the world, and the whole story will become too implausible to finish! I question whether my friends and family have ever been right when they’ve told me something I wrote was good. Was it really? Or do they just love me so much they’re blinded by personal bias? (I trust them to tell me if they hated something, but apparently not enough to think they can’t find my work awesome solely because I wrote it.)

Receiving a couple positive reviews of my first book was nice, even if I wasn’t quite sure I trusted small-time bloggers not to grade inflate or write only on the positives so as not to hurt any feelings.

But receiving a bad, if professional, review from a site known for tough breakdowns was, while not pleasant, at least reassuring.

Reassuring?

Yes. What a negative review does is this: it confirms the fears you harbor deep inside about what you’re doing and whether you can do it well, whether you should keep trying to improve or just quit while you’re behind.

Then, when you come back and read it again after the shock has worn off, it tells you exactly what is wrong…and, if you’re lucky, what’s wrong turns out to be not as bad as you secretly feared.

Part of this phenomenon might be simple psychology, that our greatest fear is the unknown, or fear itself, and once we are faced with an actualized fear then we can qualify it, quantify it, and cut it down to size. To me the boggart was one of Rowling’s most profound statements on humanity in the course of the Harry Potter series. A nebulous, amorphous Fear is terrifying; a tangible, definable fear—even our greatest—can be conquered because it can actually be fought against. By its very engagability it becomes less frightening.

This truth of the human psyche is why I found my D+ reassuring. I’m not going to lie; receiving it stung. Being told that my writing didn’t live up to my heroine felt like a kick in the teeth to everything I believe about myself.

But the worst review I will likely ever receive was also not as bad as it could have been. Not by a long shot. I mean, damn, if a few clunky descriptions and too many semi-colons were my biggest prose problems in the whole novella, I think I’m doing okay. That means all the rest of it—my dialogue, the other 90% of my descriptions, my basic narrative voice—was fine. Adequate to good. And if only one of my characters was likeable, well, hell, in a romance that’s 50% of the characters. What are the odds that you will truly like any given stranger? Probably less than that, so, again, not that bad.

The listing of my first book’s flaws told me that much of it was good…and it gave me a clear path toward improvement.

Knowing what problems, specifically, need to be conquered in order to take my writing up another level is better than knowing in a general sense that it’s not perfect (because how can it be, ever?) but not having a clear idea of why not. How can I address something that I can’t define? How can I correct what is wrong if I do not know what is wrong?

That is why the boggart in Harry Potter can only be conquered once it stands in front of you. When it does, it manifests as your fear—and when you can see it, define it, and comprehend it, then you can destroy it.

Writers are probably more prone to boggarts than anyone else in the world. Every time we start (or finish, for those writers like me) a new story, a new boggart moves into our office to terrorize us with taunts of inadequacy and nightmares of being laughed at by a scorning public. And that’s healthy. I, for one, hope never to be so arrogant that I truly believe I can’t get better, or that just because I wrote something it therefore must be good.

So boggarts are welcome to take up residence in my escritoire. I have the secret of banishing them, now that I’ve stared my first boggart in the face and Ridiculoed it into oblivion. I can hold my head high and take pride in the fact that one bad critique does not make me less of a writer or less proud of what I have created.

Until the next story comes out, and another boggart invades my desk.

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Filed under Lily Elsewhere, Writing

“How Can You Read This? There’s No Pictures!”

Or, Can you call it romance when there is no sex? 

Or, Sex and novellas.

As I’ve said before, I love writing novellas, and I also enjoy them as a reader.  The form does carry with it some problems for romance writing, though—specifically the question of sex or no sex? 

I have blogged before about sex in romance in general, and my take on it is that it needs to serve the plot; it can’t be gratuitous but must be a significant part of the characters’ emotional journey.  In most romance novels (though by no means all), sex fits quite naturally into the process of falling in love, just as it does in real life. 

Novellas are a bit of a different beast, because they are often telling a different kind of story than novels do.  See, when you’re only writing something a fourth to half as long as a novel, you generally have about that same percentage of plot.  Sure, plenty of romance novels deal with the extra space by including subplots, either of different characters or a different story than the basic falling in love plot, so in some cases the novella is simply a purer form of the novel:  the most basic version of the story, with all the distractions torn away.  But some novellas deal with the space constraint by telling a different kind of story–for example, covering only the culmination of a story that has been building for months or years for the characters. 

Suppose you have a novella where sex legitimately serves to further the characters’ relationship and is not simply there as dessert once they have resolved their conflicts.  Is it to be presented in the same form as sex in a novel?  What I mean by this is, do you write the same sex scene for the 30,000-word novella that you do for the 80,000-word novel, or do you shorten it a bit?  After all, a good 10 pages of sex (about 3000 words) in a 300-page book is not a huge chunk of the page space, whereas it is a much bigger percentage of a 100-page novella.  Basically, do you keep the percentage the same, in which case the sex gets about 1100 words, or do you keep the sex the same, in which case it goes from being 4% of the story to 10%?

This is a question that I have not been able to defnitively answer.  For one thing, my first two novellas were both stories that could not contain sex because they covered the declaration of love followed by the betrothal–sex had no place in the emotional development–so I haven’t had to face this question as a writer just yet.  For another thing, I have read novellas that do both, and either way can work (or something in between).  It really just depends on the story, and the space constraint of the author.

One really lovely thing about digital publishing (and self-publishing) is that I don’t have to worry about space constraints so much.  If I were writing a novella for a publisher’s collection, for example, I might have been told I have 25,000 words, no more, and maybe I need 24,000 of them for the story.  By necessity, then, if sex is added in after the story is written then I only have 1000 words for it.  Since I am only writing for myself, I can take the old English teacher approach to an essay topic and “write until it’s finished.”

If sex is such an integral part of the characters’ emotional bonding that it gets into the novella to begin with, then maybe it is a full tenth of What Happens, anyway.  And there is a great freedom in that ability to simply tell the story.

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Filed under Reflections on Romance, Writing