Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Blogger Today at Star-Crossed Romance

I'm traveling again today, offering a guest blog at Star-Crossed Romance—a blog for lovers of science fiction romance. While I'm not considered a romance writer by anyone, romance is nonetheless an important part of my writing. Why? (Do I really have to say why? Maybe I do.) If you'd like to know what I have to say about it, go take a look at

By the way, one of the editors of the blog has just reviewed my novel Neptune Crossing. You can read the review on the same blog, at

Go pay them a visit. They're nice people.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

So How's It Going with the Ebooks, Anyway?

When I started my program of self-repubbed ebooks a few months ago, I promised I'd tell it like it is on the results of the experiment. It is an experiment, after all (one I'm doing along with some of my fellow scribblers at Backlist Ebooks and elsewhere). I was a little leery of going the self-republishing route, I guess because there was always a stigma attached to that—but it is, after all, working for some writers, including some famous and now wealthy writers. I wasn't making much money directly from the free ebook distributions—though I was enlarging my readership, and some readers made voluntary donations. I finally decided it was time for a new approach, and in September I took the plunge.

First up were the first three Chaos books: Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea at $2.99 each. Sales at first were, to put it mildly, sluggish. I followed in December with Eternity's End at a price that wobbled around and eventually settled at $3.99, and The Chaos Chronicles 3-book omnibus at $6.99. For these last two, I got professional help with the covers, and they both look great.

In late December, sales started to pick up—meaning they went from 2-3 sales per day total to 7-10 per day. Christmas was coming, and a lot of people were getting shiny new Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and Sony Readers and iPads. Sales growth! Yes! The new level of sales continued through the first week of January. Then, whump. Holiday sales bump over. Back to a handful a day. A week went by. You could hear my fingers drumming on the table, day and night. And then...for no obvious reason, things started picking up again, even better than before. For the last ten days, sales have been in the range of 10-18 books per day. Is this a sustainable rate—or better yet, a rate upon which I can build? Time will tell. Some of my colleagues are reporting better results; some are reporting worse.

Also puzzling: Some writers find that the majority of their sales are at Kindle, with the Nook store and Smashwords hardly worth noting. Others, and I'm among them, are finding sales at Amazon sluggish, and the Barnes & Noble Nook store where the action is. Nobody can figure out why. For some of us, the sales are coming where we're doing less promotion, rather than more. I making any money? Well, with most sales at 60-70% royalty, yes I am. Not a lot of money, but still. Why don't I just cut the crap and show you some of the numbers? I generally don't wave private numbers around publicly. But maybe it would be useful for people to get a glimpse of how much (or not so much) money a respectable but not-bestselling SF writer makes from one significant component of his career, ebooks. Here are some numbers for Kindle U.S. sales:

Sept-Oct (combined) — $84
November — $76
December — $244
January (through the 22nd, the last date for which I have dollar amounts) — $410

My January numbers for Nook are similar (slower start, but now pulling ahead).

Add in earnings (some reported, some estimated) from Kindle UK, Smashwords, Apple, Sony, and Kobo—and I've netted a little over a grand to date from my self-repubbed books, since late September. I should see the money in about 60 days. That time-frame of payment, while it feels slow, is practically tachyonic compared to the rate of payment from regular publishers.

Let's compare these findings to my likely earnings through other publishers. Nine of my backlist books are with E-reads (a respected print-on-demand and ebook publisher specializing in backlist books). Past royalties there have been in the range of $300 – $900, per quarter, for all nine books. Those nine books are selling in many of the same stores, but at a typical retail price of $6-10. Indications are, they're not selling as well. Is it the price? Unfortunately, I can't directly compare recent sales of those books to my new ones, because I have to wait for the retailers to close out a reporting period and remit money to E-reads, and then I have to wait for E-reads to close out a reporting period and remit money to me. This means a lag between sales and reporting to me of as much as 6 – 9 months. But still, that's better than the case with traditional publishing.

As for my three ebooks from the traditional print guys, who knows? They're selling at $7-10, and are not all well distributed. Reporting is so slow and cryptic that by the time I see the numbers, I've forgotten what we were talking about. The royalty rates are lower. And in any case, ebook sales from those books are first applied to earning out the advance—fair enough—but because many books never do earn out, this can mean that ebook earnings serve only to reduce the unearned balance. The money to the author's pocket may be zero...or little, and late. That might seem like a slam at the traditional publishing model, but it's not. Remember, the publishers advanced the money that helped make it possible to write the books, provided the invaluable work of my editor, and through their marketing helped build an audience and recognition by way of paper books. You really can't make a direct comparison of the two models.

In short, I'm not agreeing with the gurus who say, "Traditional publishing is dead! Long live self-publishing!" I don't see it that way. Traditional publishing is still important. But for backlist sales, which publishers have largely abandoned as uneconomical, self-repubbing is clearly an exciting option.

Have I found the key to mega-sales, like J. A. Konrath and others? Clearly not. But while my self-repubbed books haven't exactly caught fire, they are selling and at the moment they seem to be making more money for me, and paying faster, than all my other ebooks combined. It's not exactly a living wage. But now the game is to see if I can build traction and grow my own audience along with the general burgeoning audience for ebooks. (And with luck, these sales will help to generate additional sales of the publisher-issued titles.)

Is it a sales bump, or a snowball? I guess I'll find out.

Maybe in a future post I'll talk about the challenges of self-promotion. In the meantime, here's my quick guide to ebook samples, downloads, and purchases.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hemmed in by Snow

I know people in Rochester or Buffalo or Minnesota will roll their eyes at this, but by Boston standards we've gotten a lot of snow this year, and not much time for melting off between storms. So the piles are getting higher, the streets are getting narrower, and it's getting harder and harder to find a place to put the stuff. I am so glad for the snowblower we got a couple of years ago (a rescue adoption—it's about 35 years old, and wasn't running when I took it off someone's hands). I spent about four hours outside with it yesterday, doing the usual stuff on the driveway and sidewalk, digging out a couple of fire hydrants that had been plowed in, and then carving a ravine alongside the house, where snow had been piled up from next door...

This bank had been solid against the foundation. It didn't seem a problem at first. And then it got higher, and higher. And I started to think about our basement flooding last spring, and how much water would be released when all that snow melted. So I fired up the snow blaster and started digging the New England Chunnel. I didn't actually expect to finish it yesterday, but I just kept going, thinking about it all turning to ice. Here are a few more shots around the house:

More snow predicted for next week. 


Monday, January 24, 2011

Short Stories

What with one thing and another, I seem to have forgotten to mention that I've started putting some of my short fiction up for sale, along with the ebooks. I've always had a few of them up on my website, and people do seem to read them. But this is the first time I've put them in format for the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.—and I'm adding a bunch of other stories that haven't appeared anywhere since their first publication. I don't really write a lot of short stories, but you could say that these represent a brief history of my career. My first few publications were short stories, and I've written a new one every once in a blue moon since switching largely to novels.

For starters, I've put three stories up: "Shapeshifter Finals," "Reality School: In the Entropy Zone," and "What Gods Are These?" No, they're not in chronological order according to when I wrote them, though that might have been clever, too. Here's a bit of background on them.

Shapeshifter Finals — One day some years ago I got a call from Roger Zelazny, who was practically a god to me. He said he was editing an anthology of SF stories involving martial arts. He'd heard somewhere that I'd been a wrestler in school, and would I like to submit an SF story about wrestling? I stuttered something about how if I could come up with an idea, I'd send it to him. But I didn't really expect to. But then...I got an idea about a high school wrestler facing a shapeshifter. Not by accident, but because Earth was hosting the 57,463rd Games of IIMAWL, the IntraGalactic Interworld Multicultural Amateur Wrestling League, and one Hog Donovan was competing at 138 pounds. He knew he’d be facing tough, alien competition. But wrestling a shapeshifter? With Earth’s honor at stake and his mother screaming from the stands, what’s the young wrestler to do? “Shapeshifter Finals” originally appeared in the anthology Warriors of Blood and Dream, edited by Roger Zelazny.  Kindle | Nook | All-format

Reality School: In the Entropy Zone — This story had its own weird origin. I wasn't really thinking about writing a short piece, but one day I was thumbing through the newspaper and I saw a small ad I first read it, Reality School. I blinked and read it again. The ad was for realty school.  But the thought stuck with me. As it happened, I had an earlier, unfinished story involving the world being swallowed up by a creeping zone of entropy. I put the two together, and decided that the reality school must be a place where kids—with their elastic minds and incredible imaginations—would have their talents harnessed to defend the integrity of reality and the world itself against encroaching, and potentially devastating, entropy. "Reality School" first appeared in the magazine Science Fiction Age.   Kindle | Nook | All-format

What Gods Are These? — To be honest, I don't remember where this story came from. I know it emerged from a time when my view of life was rather dark. At least, it's definitely a darker story than I usually write, and all I can say for sure is that there was something dark inside me that wanted to be let out. Earth has been conquered by invading aliens—not because they want our water, or our mineral resources, or to eat us, or to use us as batteries—but because they see it as their mission to save us from our self-destructive character. All of Humanity but for a lone holdout has been killed or transported to a place of enforced peace and good behavior. And that holdout, holed up in a ruined space station, knows they're coming for him. Can his human spirit survive in the face of the Saviors' overwhelming force? Writing "What Gods Are These?" was a good catharsis. It first appeared in Galileo SF magazine. Kindle | Nook | All-format

More are coming. About half of them exist only on paper, so they need to be scanned or typed in. Fortunately, my daughters offered to pitch in—so stay tuned!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our Dog Hermione 1999-2011

In a real shocker to the family, we lost our beloved boxer Hermione this morning—pretty much without any warning. Not quite twelve years old, she had seemed like a healthy, if slowing-with-age, dog. Just yesterday, I looked at her and thought, You're looking fit for your age. I hope we have you for a couple more years.

 Hermione, pretty much the way she always looked

This morning she staggered up out of her bed, stumbled, fell, and couldn't get up. She was dazed, and her lips and gums were pale. We got her to the vet as fast as we could, but the news was grim. An ultrasound showed a tumor on her spleen, with internal bleeding. Dr. Grosser, a lovely woman who has seen Hermione through several difficult situations, couldn't offer much hope. It would be possible to spend thousands (which we don't have) on surgery to try to buy her a few months. But she couldn't recommend it, even medically. Hermione's condition was likely to grow worse, not better. The doctor's recommendation was to put her to sleep before she went from dazed and helpless to being in a lot of pain. And that's what we did. All four of us were there—I'd gone to get Julia out of high school—and Hermione was aware of us being with her. She went peacefully.

About two minutes after she slipped away, Alexandra, our older daughter, changed abruptly from sobbing tears to a big smile and cried, "She's running!  I can see her.  She's happy!" I looked up at Alexandra and saw joy and recognition of something ethereal in her eyes. That vision for those few seconds transformed Alexandra on the spot and greatly comforted the rest of us.

Hermione was one of the sweetest-tempered dogs I've ever known. She didn't always like other dogs, but she never met a human who wasn't her friend. And she was supremely tolerant of her buddy Moonlight the cat, who would from time to time swat her for no apparent reason except to say hi. As a puppy, Hermione was almost ludicrously eager to please, but as she matured, she came to decide that life was not entirely about following instructions. We were always kind of glad about that.

Hermione and Moonlight, in younger days
The house feels strangely empty now. Moonlight seemed for a moment to sense that something was wrong, when we came home--but who knows what cats can understand? And I guess I'll have to get used to going on walks by myself now.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Today on

My omnibus ebook, The Chaos Chronicles: Books 1-3, is a featured title today on one of the leading guides to Kindle bargains, Or if it's scrolled out of sight there, here on its own page. DailyCheapReads is a great place to visit. They feature new ebooks every day, both from indie authors and traditionally published authors doing the kind of thing I'm doing. Drop in once in a while to see what bargains are lurking! (Some of them are time-limited specials.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tale of the New Computer (with Snow)

Yesterday was snow day in Boston. We got 20 inches or so in Arlington, and I spent a good part of the day driving the snowblower around. God, I love that machine! How did we ever dig out those plowed-in driveway aprons before? I forgot to take pictures, but you know what snow looks like, right? It was fun.

Here's something less fun, though by the end I could only laugh. I spent much of the last week getting a working computer for my office. My old computer, Orion, died right before the holidays, and I replaced it with a cheap model on sale at Microcenter. It didn't take long to realize the replacement was seriously underpowered, so after the holidays I boxed it up and went back to the store. Thus began my saga. Here's how it went:

  • Before trip — new computer (1) comes home. It works, but is slow and wimpy.
  • January 6 — I upgrade to new computer (2)—a nice, powerful HP tower—a refurb, but so what? I take it home, add in the extra peripheral cards (did you know computers don't come with parallel printer ports anymore, or firewire ports—both of which I need?), and fire it up. Gaaah! No video output! Dead as a freaking doornail.
  • January 6 (later) — Back to the store. The salesman, Yonas, looks worried when he sees me. But he's a trooper. He fixes me up with another: new computer (3) — same model. I mean, it had to be a fluke. It was a refurb, but so what? I take it home, set it up. It works! I spend the weekend installing software, getting things the way I like. Then... doom! suddenly starts shutting down with the ominous red message: CPU fan failure. Nooo!
  • January 9 — Yonas sees me and winces. We huddle. Agree on a plan. In order that all my work doesn't go to waste, they'll replace the fan with a better fan, and upgrade the warranty for my trouble. The tech, Mark, gets right on it. All seems well with new computer (3.5). At home, I flick it on. It flashes a cheerful greeting: CPU fan failure.

    THIS IS RIDICULOUS. It can't be the fan; it must be something else in the machine.
  • January 10 — They're starting to cross themselves when they see me come into the store. I'm glancing over my shoulder, myself, wondering about boggarts or poltergeists. We huddle. Forget my work setting up a new machine, forget refurb. They'll swap me up to a better unit, new. The tech will move my peripheral cards over—and since they've gone to the trouble of giving me an upgraded fan, he'll put that in, too. We test it; all is well. I go home with new computer (4) — I set it up, turn it on. Yay! It boots up. I decide to boot it up a few times to test. The machine helpfully speeds up the process by telling me: CPU fan failure. Noooooooo!
  • January 11 — Mark the tech sees me first and turns pale. We take it back to the workbench, and the machine helpfully reproduces the problem. It has to be the fan, sez Mark. Forget the odds of two fans being bad, it has to be the fan. We'll put in a better fan. We walk into the store and Mark picks out a fan that looks like it came from a Saturn 5 rocket, a tower full of pipes and fins. Oops—this one requires taking the motherboard out. Oh well, the sooner we start... I go read while Mark works. For quite a while. I saunter back to see how it's going. Mark's lowering the motherboard back into the case, with towering fan attached. I mention that the fan seems to be sticking out of the case by half an inch. Mark stares in disbelief, then sags.

    Now what? It has to be the fan, so Mark goes and gets another fan like the first upgrade they gave me. He installs that. He fires up the machine, and... the fan doesn't go. CPU fan failure. He gives the blades a little flick; they spin up nicely. And that's when the cold truth sinks in: there's not enough current to start the "better" fans. "Oh right,” says another tech offhandedly, "those HPs won't accept aftermarket fans." Mark gazes at the machine in despair. The original fan from this computer, which was probably fine, is no longer available.

    I go back to find Yonas. He's ready to give me title to the store, if I'll just go away and be happy. We huddle. Yonas sets me up with another new machine, out of the box, and Mark moves all my stuff into it from the last machine. It works! I go home with new computer (5) — which, knock on wood, is working beautifully. I have almost all my software installed, and it purrs nicely. Back at the shop, they have four machines in pieces, and are wondering where they went wrong.
I like my new computer. I've named it Polaris, in honor of the guide star, but even more in honor of the rocket ship piloted by Tom Corbett and his fellow space cadets of the Solar Guard.

Up in the sky, rocketing past,
Higher than high, faster than fast,
Out into space, into the sun
Look at her go when we give her the gun

— from the Space Cadet March (Space Academy)

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Ideas for the New Year, at Terry's Place

My first blog post of the new year turns out to be a guest spot! I'm guest-blogging today at Terry Odell's blog Terry's Place. My topic is New Ideas for the New Year--by which I mean ideas for stories, and some thoughts on how you take an idea (we all have ideas) and turn it into a living story. Stop by and join the conversation!

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