Archive for December, 2013

I’m in the process of editing my fourth novel, and it’s come to my attention that, whether they know it or not, most of my main characters have developed a dependence on drink. Thankfully for them and for their respective livers, their beverages of choice are rather benign—coffee and bottled water for the most part. To be honest, it isn’t the characters’ fault. They all have, if not perfect, at least relatively normal backstories. The blame for their addiction lies solely at the feet of their author. Namely, me.

One of the ways writers more talented and successful than I am break up long sections of dialogue is by inserting little bits of action called “beats.” I’ve found that writing novels about disparate groups of people who come together to deal with the end of the world results in (not surprisingly) many group discussions, the topic of which is usually how to deal with the end of the world. Since the electricity is often out by the time my characters get together, their beats tend to take the form of technology-independent movements like fidgeting, nodding, shrugging (no-nos, I know), and yes, drinking. The extent of their drinking problem didn’t sink in until the fifth or sixth go-through of the new novel (tentatively titled Beacons), but now I find myself doing global searches for words like “coffee” and “water” and eliminating the offending beats. So far, I think I’ve killed half of them.

It’s amazing what slips under your radar during the long, torturous, seemingly never-ending editing process. The day I uploaded A World Gone Gray, while I was putting the final touches on the table of contents, I discovered my debut novel had two Chapter 37s, and no Chapter 38s. Keep in mind that AWGG‘s first draft was completed over five years ago, and that I’d probably read that thing line for line 20 times since 2008. To this day, I’m still finding typos in work I’ve spent literally years poring over. But that’s just one of the many pitfalls of self-publishing on a budget, it seems. I’m sure the extra pair (or two, or three) of eyes provided by professional editing would go a long way toward solving these problems, both drinking and otherwise.

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A WORLD GONE GRAY COMPLETED DESIGN200x300pxLIKE LIFE ITSELF COMPLETED DESIGN200x300px

Well, today marks the one-month point of my foray into self-publishing. I came into this thing with what I thought were reasonable goals—I hoped to average one sale a day for my novel, A World Gone Gray, and to sell a handful of copies of my short story collection, Like Life Itself. Thanks to five awesome people who bought AWGG over the past two days, I managed to meet both of those goals. Woo hoo!

I’m glad I made the decision to self-publish. For one thing, I quintupled the revenue from my seven-year writing career in the space of thirty days. Okay, that stat isn’t quite as impressive when you crunch the actual numbers, but hey, it’s something. More importantly, this experience has given me just a little bit of personal validation. Not counting purchases made by friends and family, approximately 25 people in Internetland stumbled across my books on Amazon, read the free samples, then decided to exchange their hard-earned cash for my work. That’s just awesome. Especially considering I have no reviews for either book yet, and nobody knows who I am. It’s nice to see folks taking a chance on me. Sincere thanks to all of you!

Like most aspiring writers, I’m dirt poor. I spent a total of around $85 on two pre-made covers that I love (The Cover Collection, ask for Debbie). Then I spent around five days alternating between formatting my books and banging my head against my computer monitor. Thankfully, the advent of the flat-screen saved me from a nasty concussion; my old CRT monitor would’ve rendered me incapable of typing this post. Anyhoo, the $85 is the only monetary investment I’ve made so far. The only advertising I’ve done is a one-time Shameless Facebook Plug that yielded five or so sales. All editing was done (obsessively) by me over the time-frame of from three weeks ago to seven-plus years ago.

Enough with the chit-chat, Broome. How much money did you make?

Yeah, it’s all about the bottom line, isn’t it? All told, my first month in self-publishing yielded enough cash to cover my covers and provide me with a celebratory six-pack. Assuming Amazon’s check doesn’t bounce.

I was recently dragged flailing and muttering into my forties. Since I’ve officially been around awhile and done a bit of reading and writing, it surprises me when I come across a seemingly common word or phrase that I’m not familiar with. Just the other day, I read an article about the passing of Peter O’Toole that included the word “louche” in the headline. I initially assumed the author had some sort of beef with Mr. O’Toole, and had merely committed a typo that his editor missed. Turns out louche is a real word, and a good one. I like to think I’ve heard it at some point in my life, then forgot it. I’m 40 now, remember? I barely do.

Somehow, I managed to trudge through almost 40 years on this relatively smooth, watery rock without seeing the phrase “bury the lede” in print. I’d heard it in context a million times, and I assumed it was “bury the lead.” A few months ago (and several times since—funny how it works that way), I saw the phrase in print with the final word spelled “lede.” I figured it was a an “olde” English spelling of the word, and I dusted off the tattered Oxford dictionary perched on my bookshelf. Nowhere to be found. Naturally, this blew my little mind.

Enter the Internet.

I looked the phrase up, and found that “lede” and “lead” are essentially interchangeable in this case. In an odd way, I was a little disappointed. Lede, in all its four-letter glory, just looks cool on the page. When I’m in editing mode with my own work, I’ve been known to swap a word for one of its buddies in the thesaurus based solely on looks. I suppose that makes me shallow, but I guess it’s better than being obsessive. Wait. Maybe it is obsessive. Damn it, just blew my little mind again.

In any event, I wish the Internet had been around when I was thumbing through “TV Guide” as a kid and found the listing for “To Be Announced.” Growing up, I thought it was some kind of omnipresent religious program popular enough to air on many different channels dozens of times a week. Turns out I missed out on a ton of playoff football and assorted “extravaganzas.” Oh, well. Live and learn.

Well, I can’t say for sure whether it’s the British, the Irish, the Scottish, or the Welsh, but a couple of fine folks (or one super-fine individual) in the U.K. with impeccable taste in fiction have (has) purchased one copy each of my novel and my short story collection. Woo hoo! I recently dropped the price of Like Life Itself: Ten Short Stories to $0.99 in the hopes it would sell a few more copies and draw attention to A World Gone Gray. I’m not sure if that strategy worked, but the sale of the novel came right on the heels of the sale of the short collection, shortly after I dropped the price. Could be coincidence, could be I’m a marketing genius. Personally, my money’s on the former.

Strangely enough, the first three sales of AWGG back in November went one each to the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. Coincidentally, America and the U.K. seem to be the only two countries in which the “Look Inside” feature is available to customers browsing ebooks on Amazon. I’d like to think a peek at the first seven chapters of my novel or the entire first short story in my collection might convince a potential buyer to take a chance on an unknown, self-published author. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be an option in countries like Australia, India, Japan, and others that have a large English-speaking population and/or are home to American military personnel. It seems as though both authors and Amazon are losing money due to what should be a laughably easy addition to the existing foreign web sites.

I’m now going to step down from my soapbox and make an impassioned plea to the Land Down Under. Here, Australia, are five valid reasons why you should buy my books:

1) I know you can’t see them, but trust me, they’re pretty good.

2) I share a surname with a town on your beautiful nation’s northwestern coast.

3) I myself have helped support Australia’s economy with regular purchases of imported Sheaf Stout at my local liquor store.

4) I paid to see the films of both Paul Hogan and Yahoo Serious while growing up in the 1980s.

5) I absolutely adore noted Australian actress Nicole Kidman. Always have. In 2005, she starred in a film called The Interpreter. I enjoyed it for the obvious reasons, but it received mixed reviews. The name of the character that lovely Australian actress played? Silvia Broome.

I’m not saying it’s fate, Australia. But yeah, it’s fate.

Most everyone is familiar with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s an insidious form of depression that strikes a sizable percentage of folks when the calender turns to December. Experts say it’s caused by the overcast skies, freezing temperatures, and harsh wind associated with the endless winter that lies ahead for those foolish enough to live in the northern hemisphere. I’ve recently discovered an ailment remarkably similar to SAD, and I thought I’d share it with you.

When I published my novel on Amazon almost a month ago, I had what I thought were realistic expectations regarding sales. I hoped to average one or two a day per month, and for the first two weeks of A World Gone Gray‘s existence, those numbers were met. And to make sure I had first-hand knowledge of each precious sale, I spent most of my post-work time with KDP’s “Reports” tab wide open in my browser and my pointer hovering over the refresh button. I never caught a sale in media res, but I did finally come to the conclusion that my behavior was obsessive at best, and reason for involuntary commitment at worst. I also learned that just like a watched pot never boils, a refreshed ebook never sells. Someday I’ll learn how to sew, and I’ll immortalize that nugget of wisdom on a sampler. Promise.

Fortunately, I recognized my budding addiction and took steps to nip it in the, well, bud. I approached my Reports addiction the same way I approached my nicotine addiction a few years ago. Rather than quit cold turkey, I set limits on the intake of my drug of choice. I refused to let myself refresh the Reports screen more than once an hour. Then, more than once in any two-hour period. Then once every four hours. I can now proudly say that I only check my sales numbers four times a day. Okay, maybe five.

I’ve done exhaustive research on self-publishing for years, but I never realized how easy it is to get addicted to your stats and how that addiction can affect your daily life. If I check the numbers when I wake up and don’t see a new sale, I shrug and begin my day. If I see no sales after lunch and before work (I work a late shift), I begin to stress a little. If I’m still shut-out mid-shift, I find myself dragging through the rest of the day. And if I’m sans sale by the time I go to bed, I no longer care because odds are I have a six-pack in me. But still, kinda hurts.

And I won’t get into the fresh (to me, anyway) Hell that is the “Yellow Bar of Stress” that appears on the Author Central page when Amazon is “experiencing a delay updating your sales,” though it does serve as a nice compliment to the “Brown Bar of Death” that indicates your lack of sales for the month in a given market. In my case, however, the yellow bar was merely a week-long buffer against the painful fact that I only sold two books. Thanks for letting me down gently, Mr. Bezos.

I’m almost longing for the days when a poorly-photocopied rejection letter was the only evidence of my suckitude as a writer. Almost.

When last we met, I’d finished the first draft of A World Gone Gray and was ready to select the lucky literary agent who would be granted the honor of representing both it and its humble creator. This is also known as “the querying process.” Unfortunately, the first agent to request chapters (after 25 or so had ignored me or sent form rejections) wasn’t impressed enough to ever have contact with me again. I had better luck with the next two: One sent me a signed form rejection 14 months later, and the other was kind enough to add a handwritten note to his form rejection, apologizing for taking 18 months to get back to me.

Thanks to my diligent research, I was prepared for the unlikely event that the literary and film worlds might not shower my book with praise and millions of dollars. So while I was awaiting those pending AWGG queries, I did what aspiring writers do. I writted. By the time that record-breaking 18-monther arrived via three-legged turtle, I had polished off three more novels and a heapin’ helpin’ of short stories. One of those stories even got picked up by An Actual Paying Market.

More research (yeah, I’m inquisitive) yielded two more facts: 1) It was now 2012, and 2) This self-publish-your-ebook thing seems like it might be an option. One thing about me, I’m impatient. In fact, I’ve been known to heckle my own microwave when I think it’s taking too long to cook my Hot Pocket. So clearly, this waiting a year and a half to hear from a literary agent thing would make my heart pop like a zit by the time I turned 43. Another thing is that I’m a total Luddite. I got my first DVD player (which I still have) in 2000, and got my first email address (which I still have) in 2003. Not surprisingly, I was a little conflicted about publishing my book on Amazon, 70% royalty or no 70% royalty.

SPOILER ALERT: I ended up publishing A World Gone Gray on Amazon. So far, formatting issues aside, it’s been a fun experience. I’ve already gone the same route with my short story collection, and will likely do so with my other post-apocalyptic book. I have a couple of (hopefully) humorous mainstream contemporary novels that need a little tweaking, but they’ll probably both end up on Amazon, too. So if you happen to bump into them during your travels, give ’em a look. And preferably, a buy.

Aside from a handful of short stories (most of which have gone on to the Great Hard-Drive in the Sky), A World Gone Gray was the first lengthy work of fiction that I saw through to the bittersweet end. The mere fact that it’s my baby should be reason enough for me to hold it particularly close to my heart, but the story behind its conception and development would make any Papa proud.

The year was 2006, the state, Idaho. Although I was raised in southern California, I’d been priced out of any neighborhood not requiring a bullet-proof vest and a squadron of bodyguards. So I did what any right-minded lad would do; I moved to the Pacific Northwest and went to work for a tiny cable company. Surprisingly, climbing a rickety 28-foot ladder to disconnect some deadbeat’s ESPN while being airbrushed by sleet  soon lost its appeal. In an attempt to postpone the inevitable plunge to my death, I started writing for the first time since high school.

I started reading at an early age, which, I suppose, made me a little more proficient in the English language than the average bear. The average bear being a California elementary school student circa 1985. I wrote a story about a massive earthquake that caused Los Angeles and San Fransisco to slide up against each other, forming a gigantic city with the über-creative name “San Francisco de los Angeles.” Apparently, this story was the third-best tale in the district, and I was awarded with five bucks and polite applause at an assembly held in the contest winners’ honor.

Flash-forward 19 years later to a couch in the Idaho panhandle. I’m a thirty-something stuck in a dead-end (potentially life-ending) job, watching a documentary listing the ways the Earth might meet its own demise—black hole, comet, gamma ray burst, asteroid. At first, I’m thinking, “Meh. The planet had a good run. RIP.” Then, a kernel of an idea for a story buried itself deep in my brain. One minute, nothing. The next, 75% of a novel. Early the following morning, I began typing.

I suck at typing. I’ve tried learning to type the “right” way many a time, with un-mixed results. This won’t come as a surprise to the people who know me best. I can’t even tie my shoes the “right” way. But hey, it gets the job done. In any event, I slowly built my daily word count up from a couple hundred to five hundred to a thousand to fifteen hundred. I broke the 2,000-word barrier on a few occasions, but I spent most of my time somewhere in the vicinity of 1,500-Land. About six months later, I had myself the first 100,000 words or so of a novel. Then feces occurred, as it is wont to do, and I had to leave Idaho on short notice and return to SoCal.

To make a long story about a long story short, I ended up writing the last six chapters of AWGG by hand in a spiral notebook on the balcony of a friend’s apartment, about five feet from the couch I was temporarily sleeping on.  Three weeks later, with a semi-permanent roof over my head, I set up my computer, slapped the CD into its drive, and prepared to transcribe the handwritten final chapters. Naturally, my computer refused to read the disc. As did the other half-dozen or so computers I tried the disc in.

[Insert loud, sustained string of vile expletives here.]

Thankfully, among my few possessions was a ream of paper containing the first 49 chapters of A World Gone Gray neatly rendered in ten-point Courier font. Slow-forward about four weeks later, and chapters 50 through 55 have finally been introduced to their brethren, this time in Times New Roman. The first draft of AWGG was complete. So half the job was done.

After the writing bug struck for good on that couch in Idaho, I spent a lot of my “down” time researching the publishing industry, literary agents, and anything and everything to do with the business side of writing. Thankfully, one of the first web sites I ran into was Absolute Write, which, for the uninitiated, is a veritable goldmine of information for the newbie writer. I learned about the alarming number of scammers who prey on budding scribes, and I learned how to avoid them. I also invested some of my limited funds in the most recent editions of Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s guide, envelopes in various sizes, and, of course, stamps. I wrote what I felt was a compelling query letter, then prepared to send my baby out into the world…

This post is getting waaaayyyy too long. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion.