Wednesday, December 17, 2014 2 comments

Writing Wibbles: New Serial on the Way!

With Lost in Nightwalk done, I’ve turned to cleaning up Blink’s newest adventure. For a lark, I collected his earlier stories, and most of the other Skyscraper City stories, into an eBook for my mailing list members. (Not a member? Sign up quick!) Here’s a little blurb…

At age 13, Stevie Winkler is the youngest known super. Being able to teleport is cool, but keeping it a secret sucks. Professor Zero and some of Skyscraper City’s most famous superheroes are training him, but Blink finds the line between hero and villain isn’t always clear.

Blink has three goals as a teenage superhero: survive, keep Mom from finding out… and maybe get a girlfriend.

I’ve finished writing this adventure, and it’s going to run 20 episodes. This is a departure for me—before, I’d write the first few episodes and turn it loose. I was having so much trouble with the middle, though, that I thought I’d better finish the whole thing first.

Each episode will drop on Monday morning at 7am Eastern time (noon GMT). Having the entire thing done means I can focus on the next part. Update: if you want to catch up on Blink’s earlier adventures before this one starts:

Blink
Blink’s First Adventure

Comments on each episode are encouraged! Remember to check in each Monday to get the latest.

I want to thank Icy Sedgwick and Tony Noland, whose superhero stories inspired me to write my own. And special thanks to Catherine Russell, who beta-read this adventure and caught some issues. And +Angela Kulig, of course, for the cover art.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 3 comments

Writing Wibbles: the Bloom Comes Off the Unlimited Rose

Back in July, I wrote about the new (at the time) Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. I said in part:

The per-borrow payout has been a [little] over $2 for months, now, slightly more than the royalty on a $3 eBook purchase. Amazon has offered a 30-day free trial, so I expect that August is going to push down that payout quite a bit (my guess: it will be around 50¢) despite Amazon increasing the fund by 66%. For some authors, the increased borrows will more than offset the depressed per-borrow payout. Others will hate it—perhaps enough to yank their books out of Select.

Amazon is walking a tightrope. At current payout levels, an average of four borrows per member per month (about one per week) will nearly wipe out the monthly subscription fee. But if the payout drops too far, authors will pull their most popular books, making the service much less attractive.

It’s interesting to see what I got wrong, and what little I got right. First off, the per-borrow payout never dropped to 50¢. It has gone down significantly, averaging $1.60 over the first few months, a bit lower more recently, and that has caused a lot of grief in some quarters. It didn’t affect me all that much personally—I only have one book in Select, Oddities, and it would get a borrow or two every other month. That changed little; November was the first month I got any borrows since KU started, but I got two. Woohoo. I also said things would be a little more clear by the end of September… it took a couple more months than that.

Okay, now to the last part, the part I got right: Amazon is walking a tightrope, and it’s wobbling. For some writers, including some top indie sellers, KU has been a disaster. The Bookseller blog, engaging in a little hyperbole, wonders if the honeymoon is over. H. M. Ward, a highly-popular romance writer, yanked her books out of KU saying, “I… lost approx 75% of my income [counting bonuses] … The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t complement each other, as expected.” Top borrowees like Ward got “All-Star” bonuses on top of the monthly pot, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the plunge in sales. (The Bookseller claims that Howey “expected to pull most of his work out of [KU]” but did not furnish a link. You toss a potential bomb like that, you ought to cite it.) Anyway, there’s a lot of good info in this very long article. If you feel the urge to TL;DR out of it, skip to the bottom for some meaty stuff.

Meanwhile, I’ve been seeing reports on the KDP forums about “writers” who throw together what amount to sales pamphlets, upload them by the dozens, then borrow them through sock-puppet accounts. At $1.40 per borrow, they need only borrow eight of these junk “books” to recoup their KU subscription fee, and they often have fifty or more books on offer. And who knows how many sock puppet accounts they have going? Some forum members estimate that the scammers are pulling down the per-borrow payout by 30¢ or more.

I don’t see a viable way forward for KU, defined as something Amazon, top authors, and subscribers can agree upon. If Amazon adjusts the pot enough to bring the payout back up to $2 per borrow, they stand to lose money as avid readers grab one book after another. But if they don’t, and the most popular authors continue to jump ship, KU subscribers will drop out as well. Some of the “name” authors suggest changing KU so members subscribe to authors, which translates to auto-purchasing books as they come out. I can see where mischief could be made there, though.

On the other hand, authors with $1 or $2 books, or first-of-series titles that they might otherwise try to make free, could still benefit from KU. A $2 book (like Oddities) under the current system earns about 70¢ per purchase—and around twice that per borrow. Instead of making the first book of a series free, put it in KU and encourage people to check it out. The author still gets a payday, and a potential new fan who buys the other books.

The question is still the same: come spring, will there be enough books in KU—and the right kinds of books—to keep enough people interested in subscribing? Floor’s open, tell me what you think!

Friday, December 05, 2014 4 comments

War Games (“Lost in Nightwalk” excerpt) (#FridayFlash)

If you’ve been avoiding my post-launch giddiness… I can’t blame you. But Lost in Nightwalk is out, and I didn’t have a #FridayFlash put together, so why not excerpt something?



It’s out!
“Strike, forward march,” Firgar ordered. “We are now in hostile territory. Our torchlight gives us away, but all we can do for that is to be at the ready, aye?”

They reached the next intersection. “Here begins the test,” the Grand Commander whispered. “We’ll put two soldiers on each side, shields out, and dash across one by one.”

“Grand Commander,” said Sura, “with your permission. Mik and I had an idea last night, and it might be worth trying.”

“It was mostly Sura’s idea,” Mik added, “but we worked out the details together.” He explained what they had in mind.

Firgar chuckled. “Let’s try our try,” he said. “It hurts nothing if it doesn’t work.”

Soldiers lined up before the corner, and Bailar held the torches, as Mik and Sura shed their white cloaks. Away from the entrance, Nightwalk was equally cool in summer and winter. The cloaks were meant to protect them from bruising by the practice weapons, but they did keep their wearers warm. The apprentices waved their staffs, as Bailar had taught them to do in front of folk, and the cloaks drifted from them. Two torches joined the cloaks, and they floated into the intersection together. The apprentices made the torches move back and forth, as people would if they were deciding which way to go.

From their left came: thwock, thwock, the sound of two crossbows, and a practice bolt struck one of the cloaks. Bailar brought the False Dawn, lighting up the corridor, as two soldiers dived into the intersection and loosed their own crossbows. They rolled across, and two more soldiers did the same.

“Five!” one of them shouted. “Now three!” the other added. “No, two!”

“Charge!” Firgar and Narvin whooped a battle-cry and rushed the remaining defenders. Each threw a spear as they charged, then drew their practice swords. One of the spears found its mark, and the victim sat down. Three of the four mock casualties scrambled out of the way, as the last defender standing drew his own practice sword and tried to back away. It was over quickly.

Four of the defenders lined up against the wall. “What’s with him?” one of them asked, gesturing at the last man lying on the floor.

Bailar made his way down the hall, using the wall to keep his balance. He knelt next to the man, who gasped and sat up. “You died in your sleep,” Bailar explained. “I cut your throat.”

“Five to one,” one of the defenders said, shaking his head. “From what I’ve been hearing, that’s the best showing from your side yet.”

“Five to none, actually,” Narvin grinned. “Our mages floated empty cloaks into the intersection for you to shoot at.”

“Clever.”

“Hundred Thora is an excellent tactician,” said Firgar, “but Lady Sura descends from the finest tactician in Termag’s history.” He nodded to Sura, approaching with Mik and the rest of the strike.

The defenders looked at each other. “A girl planned that? Is that the Matriarchy girl, then?”

“Aye. She’ll make a fine warrior-mage, the first in centuries.”

“Good work,” the defenders’ leader said. “Perhaps we’ll have another round of this. Both sides can learn from its mistakes and successes.” They lifted torches and shuffled away.



Things get messy from here—get “Lost in Nightwalk” with Sura, Mik, and Bailar and find out just how messy!

Friday, November 28, 2014 6 comments

Writing Wibbles: Search Engine 101 for Authors

Monday night, I saw this tweet:


Being the diplomatic soul that I am, I responded “I call BS” before even reading the article. Then, I thought I should expand on that statement. Which meant I had to read the article.

In summary: Stephan Eirik Clark (the author) wrote a literary novel he called Sweetness #9. In the article (written in March), he complained about the search engine first not finding his novel at all in the early pre-order phase, then burying it under Sweet Valley High and artificial sweetener products. (Or maybe writing the article was a clever way to boost his book—Salon will always run a “bash Amazon” article, and click-throughs and sales are always good ways to push a page up Amazon's search rankings.)

Clark goes on to quote a New Yorker article by George Packer, in which he claims that publishers can pay Amazon to push books up the search rankings. Oh, the horror!

Um, wait a minute. Actually, I’ll wait an hour or so. Go to your nearest bookstore. Check out those tables at the front. Why are those books there, and not the ones you might want to see? If you answered “the publishers paid the bookstore for favorable placement,” you get a gold star!

But hey, I’ve not paid Amazon a dime for search engine placement. And yet, if you type “Accidental Sorcerers” into Amazon’s search, guess what comes up #1? (and #2 through #5?) Someone else’s book, The Accidental Sorcerer, appears a little farther down.

One of the things that +Angela Kulig taught me, early on when I joined the co-op, is that titles matter. If you pick a generic title, your book will flounder in a sea of other books (and in the case of Amazon, other products) with similar names. Just like in poor Mr. Clark’s case. A little closer to home, I once titled a book in progress Chasing a Rainbow. Angela suggested I search that title on Goodreads. Ouch. We came up with the replacement title, The Crossover, only after much banging of heads on tables (at least on my part) late at night. There are other titles that show up in a search for that, and mine still doesn't make the first page.

So, in a nutshell, this is Search 101 for authors: pick a title that’s as unique as possible. If you have a generic-sounding title like “Sweetness,” you need a lot of sales to get your ranking pushed to the top. Or your publisher can pay the online bookstore for placement, just like they do for brick-and-mortar stores. One is a little more work, but cheaper and more effective. Or, just bash Amazon and let Salon do the rest. Doesn’t matter if you prove yourself clueless in the process, eh?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 No comments

Launch: Dust of the Dead Sea, by Angela Kulig

It’s a busy time at the end of November. Baking bread, turkeys, beans… and books?

Yup. Angela Kulig has at long last released Book 2 of the Hollows series, Dust of the Dead Sea!

There are many things between Heaven and Hell, and Marlow the Skeleton is just one of them. Taking the fight to the Hollows who tried to take her, Marlow travels with Raiden, the other half of her soul, to the worst place she can think of. The Dead Sea. Part crazy religious cult, part vengeful god, The Dead Sea isn't what she thought it would be—it’s worse.

The thing is, you don’t know you’re addicted until you’re in the monster’s teeth. Marlow doesn't think she needs The Dead Sea, but it’s poisoning her with every drop, and every raging wave, and all the dust collecting in her lungs. How do you fight a villain when the villain isn’t a man, but a place?

Old characters with new agendas break the surface again, bringing fresh pain. Beneath a starless desert sky, Marlow and Raiden will confront a destiny that will end everything. They should have never gone to The Dead Sea to look for answers—they should have gone looking for questions.

Get it here:



Connect with Angela here, here, or here:



If you haven’t read the other books in the Hollows series, grab them while they’re on sale:

Friday, November 21, 2014 6 comments

The Voice of the Forest (#FridayFlash)

This one runs a little long, not quite 1300 words, so I hope you’ll forgive me. This is Bailar the Blue’s “origin story,” which takes place when he was 13…

Thanks to Catherine Russell for providing a quick beta read.



Image source:
openclipart.org
“Drunk again?”

Bailar sim Prensin caught his footing, not falling this time, and kept walking. Farl’s gibe was hardly original, after all, not worth responding to.

“Crazy lout,” the older boy muttered as Bailar stumbled by. “Someday, the Forest will eat you.”

At this, Bailar smirked. In this little farming community along the edge of the Deep Forest, children tested their nerve by venturing into the trees, daring each other to go a little farther in. But the Forest never held any terror for Bailar—indeed, to him it was a welcoming place. Even as a child, he had oft embarrassed Farl and other older children in their game, wandering farther into the trees than any.

“Don’t know why the mothers let you watch their babies,” Farl sneered, turning away. Bailar often wondered the same, but it was one of the few useful things he could do to earn some coins. He was too clumsy for most physical labor, and there was little call for intellectual pursuits here in the hinterlands of the Stolevan Matriarchy. Still, babies enjoyed his company, and he prided himself on never dropping any of them. As for the mothers, they seemed to like him—or perhaps they pitied him.

He left the road and walked the edge of a rye field, using the fence to help with his balance. A few younger children capered ahead, probably nerving themselves up to dash into the trees beyond. They slowed as they drew closer to the edge of the Deep Forest, though, and he caught up to them. Bailar could hear the trees whispering, even from here, although there was no wind. He knew why: ages ago, the Unfallen had once dwelt in the Forest. The trees awakened under their care, and Unfallen and trees protected each other. The last of the Unfallen had passed on, transcended, centuries ago—but the trees still remembered.

“Crazy Bailar,” one of the bigger girls said. She looked about two years younger than Bailar’s thirteen. “He wins.”

“I’m not playing the game this time,” Bailar retorted. “And yes, I’m just a boy, but I’m older and you should have at least a little respect.” The girl stuck her tongue out at him.

“What are you doing, then?” one of the boys asked.

“I’ll show you.” Bailar stepped past the first trees. “Hoy!” he called. “My eldest sister is sick. Will you allow me to gather everbalm and flameweed to help make her better?”

The trees whispered a reply. Bailar could not make out words, as always, but the whispers sounded agreeable. The younger children gaped as he found his balance and hiked away.

“If a boy can do it, I can do it,” he heard behind him. A girl jogged toward him, the one who had insulted him. “Hoy! Bailar! Wait!”

Bailar stopped to oblige her. It will be interesting to see how long she lasts, he thought. It would be a new experience, hiking the Forest with someone at his side—even a sharp-tongued girl.

“How do you know what to look for?” she asked, matching his stride but stealing glances over her shoulder.

“Healer Rosha told me,” he replied, looking around. “Flameweed to help with her fever, everbalm for the coughing.” He stifled a laugh, thinking about the conversation with Rosha and his mother:

“If I had the herbs,” said Rosha, “I could cure her. But the barge won’t be here for a week, and who knows if it’ll carry any?”

“I can get them,” said Bailar.

“Where?” Mother cocked an eyebrow, perhaps knowing the answer.

“I’ll ask the Forest.”

“The Forest?” Rosha looked horrified. “You’ll go… ah. I forget.”

He had laughed, but thought at last, this might be my calling. Rosha had an older apprentice, but perhaps if he could bring her what she needed, she might take a second…

“How do you know where to go?” The girl’s question brought him back to the present. “Do the trees talk to you?”

“No,” Bailar replied. “You have to have magic in you to hear what the trees say. That’s what the old grands say, anyway. But you know how you can tell someone something without words?”

“Indeed.” She stopped, a step behind Bailar, and looked back. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for the trees to point the way.” He crouched and pointed. “See how the leaves are mounded a little, going off that way?”

“No. Ah, ah, I’d better go back. I shouldn’t be alone with a boy anyway, and someone has to look out for the others.”

“It’s all right,” Bailar assured her.

She turned away, but looked up and screamed. “A dragon! Oh gods, a dragon!” She dashed to Bailar and hid behind him, making him laugh.

“It’s just an Oakendrake,” he said. “They won’t hurt you unless you try to grab it, or get too close to its nest.” Bailar had read everything he could find about dragons, which was not much. But he had seen Oakendrakes before. He looked up at the green dragon, only as long as his arm, crouched on a tree limb. “Hello, dragon. Would you fly away long enough for my friend to run back to her other friends?”

The Oakendrake squawked, making the girl cringe, and disappeared above the trees.

“That way.” Bailar pointed, and the girl wasted no time sprinting away. He shrugged and followed the path the trees laid out for him. The Oakendrake returned, flitting from branch to branch. They were curious creatures, after all.

The line of leaves led to a clearing. The north edge held a riot of different herbs, all vying for a place in the sun. Bailar found what he needed, and gathered a small bag of each as the dragon watched from a short distance.

“Thank you for your aid, O Forest,” he said, bowing with palm to forehead. “And to you, Oakendrake, for watching over me.” The little dragon squawked and flew away again. “I should have asked for a stick to use for a staff,” he muttered, as he left the clearing. “I could—”

His foot caught an exposed root, and he went sprawling. Somehow, he kept a grip on his bags. His free hand caught something hard.

Take up, he heard. A whisper like the trees, but as clear as any voice.

“What?” He pushed himself to his knees. “Who said that?”

Your staff, came the reply. Take up.

In his hand was a dry root, as long as he was tall. He stood, stick in hand. One end was a gnarled knot, the other a ragged break. There were no cracks in between. It would make a perfect staff, with minimal work. “I—I—thank you again, O Forest.”


Later, braced against the work table, the stick clamped down, Bailar sawed off the broken end. He kept his free hand well away, and took his time. He could often avoid hurting himself if he took enough time and care. His sister, already feeling better, had offered to sew a leather boot for his staff, and Mother had donated a handful of fat to help cure the wood. But his mind was elsewhere. I heard the trees speak, he thought. ‘Prenticing himself to the Healer was no longer the best he could do.

He had a little money from caring for infants. But now, minding children was in his past. With two older sisters, he had no inheritance to speak of. So, when the barge came, he would leave his old life behind. Surely a sorcerer downriver would take him as apprentice. He had heard the voice of the Forest, and all things were possible.

Thursday, November 13, 2014 6 comments

Lost in Nightwalk COVER REVEAL!

The story is with the editor now, and I don’t have an exact publication date set just yet, but I’m still hoping to launch by month’s end. Here’s the blurb:
Lord Darin is pursuing Sura. The Web is pursuing Bailar and Mik. Still, they continue teaching combat magic to sorcerers in Koyr and the Northern Reach.

Training for conflict in the Goblin fastness, soldiers and mages start using Nightwalk, the vast maze under Ak’Koyr, for war games. Fleeing an assassination attempt, they find themselves lost. Now the problem isn’t Lord Darin or The Web—it’s getting out.
Okay, how about a look at the gorgeous cover?


Meanwhile, Beyond the Sea of Storms (Book 6) has been drafted, so at least one of them survives Nightwalk. Or maybe it’s a reluctant Charn or Isa who pick up the mantle…

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