Free time? Pfffft.
This is Vegas, baby, and summertime fun means long hours in front of computer screens knocking out top-notch literature…amirite? (Cue: surf music). No? OK…maybe that’s just me.
The kids are out of school, which gives me just enough extra time to dabble in more projects… after the day job is set aside, the dishes are done, the clothes are washed, and the dog is brushed, and kids are fed, and the scorpions have been tucked into bed.
I’ve already discussed my part acting in the indie feature Lights Camera Action. Filming on that starts next week. Should be a lot of fun, there is some great talent on that shoot.
Now that I’ve had about a year, year-and-a-half to explore the world of film, I’m pulling back a bit closer to my roots as a writer and am writing for a few projects.
One that I’ve mentioned here (I think) is a four episode project out to a director in LA…not sure where his plans lie, but I’m in no rush. Maybe we’ll shoot that one in the Fall. Or not.
I have another project up in the air with a friend who is an experienced cinematographer here in town…he wants to film some shorts, music videos, etc. Enough to build a solid portfolio and move toward getting funding for a feature we have in mind. Should be fun, and great experience…I still have a lot to learn about cinematography, lenses, etc, but I think you can spend half a lifetime learning…it’s half science, half art.
The big project for this year is clearly going to be…drum roll…Unlocking Vegas. UV is a serial project started several years ago by another friend who has many years of behind-the-lens experience. As happens with a lot of projects, I’m finding, UV was started, cast, abandoned, re-started and re-written, re-cast, the first episode was shot, and it was again abandoned. As my friend and I discussed the project, it became pretty clear that the problem was the story. It was more a collection of unrelated scenes and uninteresting characters just kind of running around …doing things, and not really a coherent story, per se. It sounded like an interesting project, so I signed on. First job was to deconstruct the project and outlined the characters—their backgrounds, their wants and needs, their struggles. Really a lot of the exact same work you do for a novel. We came up with a good script for the first episode, and I’m beating out the next two over the next few weeks. We’ve held two casting sessions so far and have found some amazing people.
Over the next month, Scott Anderson, the director and co-producer, and I will work out the shots, lighting, blocking, breakdowns, props, locations…all of the seemingly infinite details that go into a shoot. It’s been a great learning experience so far, and I’m really looking forward to digging in.
Jesus…it’s already 2012.
2011 was…well, it was a ride. It had ups and downs. I met a great gal who I enjoy spending time with, took an amazing trip to Brazil. Spent some good time with family.
But, those positive things notwithstanding, on average, 2011 can still go eat a bag of softboiled dicks.
But, it’s over, and I can look forward to a better year.
Starting with writing (and…cough cough…blogging…cough).
I’ve really bee struggling with writing…that’s why I haven’t been blogging. Nothing to blog about from a writing perspective. If I open my WIP novel and re-read the same paragraph one more time, I’m going to lose my mind. For serious. I’ve shelved all of my active WIPs, and am focusing more on screenplays for now. It’s fun…truth be told, I think I enjoy novel-writing more as an art, but screenplays are fun as hell. It’s a completely different animal.
And it’s a kickstart…I need something to blast me out of the writing doldrums, and I think something this different and challenging is it.
I’m working through a treatment with a director right now…if we end up with a filmable thing, the plan is that he’ll come up to Vegas later this year and film it, and I’ll help with production and post-production. My goal, ultimately, is to learn enough about the craft to run my own production sometime in 2012. Big challenge, but it sounds like fun, yeah?
Yeah, something like that.
In 2010, I had the honor of sharing a Table of Contents with over a hundred wildly talented writers in the Hint Fiction anthology…in support of that collection, I attended a reading/signing at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, and spent some time with a few of the folks in the book. Amongst those fine folks, I met a writer who goes by the handle of Sealey Andrews, AKA @spicefinch, AKA The Girl in the Soap Dish…we had a nice discussion about our current works, and I had the opportunity to pitch my then-newly-released book AMITY to her.
Time is something I no longer have in any kind of quantity. Well, OK…that’s dumb—let me qualify that: free, spare time. We all have the same number of hours in a day. Most of mine are accounted for. Divorce, to date, has wrecked me as a writer. It’s devastated other parts of my life, too, but this is my writing blog, so, I’m grousing about writing.
As I look forward to better days and wait for the pinpoint of light off in the distance to slowly grow into a dime, then a mousehole, then, eventually, a man-sized escape hatch, I find myself thinking about old writing for inspiration. To that end, here’s the first and only poem I’ve had published…a scratchy, disjointed piece called The Woodsman’s Son, originally published in 2009 by New Myths.
The Woodsman’s Son
A long-forgotten, cast-off nut embedded just an inch below
the frozen ruin of terra crusta; the wind, the ash, the blackened snow
My sleep has lasted half an age
This barren ground will be the stage
The time will soon be here, I know; I feel the ground beneath me glow
Lightning crashes, frantic winds blow warming snow through valleys vast
with thunderclap and hoofbeat rain, the pounding showers–here, at last
I’ve waited since the autumn’s dusk
For warming rains to pierce my husk
“Please, give me strength to push up past! Thrust through the earth in leafless mast!”
Arching to the sky, I reach; with em’rald canopy I sail
With knot and thorn like shield and sword and bark as strong as iron mail
As hard a core as can be found
As deep a root within the ground
Behemoth from an ancient tale; a wooden beast of breathless scale
Artesian waters crack the earth; they buck and bray and thrust and run
Warm western winds bring seed and mulch; wan, threadbare clouds release the sun
Green carpet, grass of shining gold
Frail amulets of hues untold
This world, I thought, can’t be outdone; it must be master-planned by One
The complex pieces of the forest rose alone, yet fit so well
So to my oaken mind there is no other purpose I can tell:
“We rose to heed our Master’s call,”
“He put me here to herd you all”
“I’ll guide the good toward Heaven’s knell; the rest left to the din of Hell”
I watch them all: the beasts on land and fishes in the babbling brook
A shepherd’s life begets him naught, until the day he drops his crook
My Lord, He will not let me rest
My life, you see—it’s just a test
I’ll toil ’til he shuts my book; an idle limb: the Devil’s rook
The choices that we think are ours—of leisure, labor, laughter, love,
Are multi-colored threads that guide us through our faith; or lack thereof
But if you listened, you were told
Without a doubt which thread to hold:
A tether you’re unworthy of: the golden line from up above
But sometimes Father, in His grace, will twist the threads and blur the path
And make me want to put my faith in things like science, logic, math
I close my eyes and bite my lip
And curse the books that made me slip
Remember that his love is wrath; baptism in a sulfur bath
To further steel my heart, one year My Lord sent me a carnal dare
A shapely nymph of silken wood and slender roots…sweet pollen air
To love her, I would give a limb
But, prior, gave my heart to Him
Regret? I think I’ve earned my share; a fool thinks that his pain is rare
But pain for piety is fair.
A century or more I reigned in this domain of mostly good
My Master called me home one day; before His mighty chair I stood
“I’m grateful for the chance, O Lord”
“To stand in service as Your sword”
“I swear it on my life: that if I could, I’d give my trunk and wood”
With thunderous laugh and lightning clap, He raised His axe and held His side
“A virtuous speech, indeed, My son; but in My eyes you daren’t hide”
“I’ve watched you grow up from a seed”
“I’ve scrutinized your every deed”
“It’s time, I think, to test the tide, and show your Father what’s inside”
I tore my bark and turned my right-side out–and, so, my outside in
And showed my Lord, for once and all, my splintery hide was clean of sin
And let my sap, like amber tears
Pooled at my roots for faithful years
“Please, tell me, Lord, how good I’ve been; and when the seven horns begin”
“I pray You: take me home again”
And with that solemn line He stood, and bid me lay before His throne
He laughed and swung, and chopped, and hacked, and split my body to the bone
“You brambled fool,” He said with glee
“You’re stupid–even for a tree”
“Ignorance led you, fear of the unknown; you were tasked with two things: to be planted, and sown.”
“You had seasons to squander ’til the day you were hewn; but the life that you wasted–that life was your own”
I did my first IM-based interview last week, which was an interesting experience. The wonderful and talented Evelyn “Keyboard Hussy” Lafont held me down for an hour and remotely tickled me with digital feathers until I spit up all kinds of secrets about AMITY and the real identity of Timothy Berbee.
Check it out! And grab a copy of Ev’s Vampire Relationship Guide Volume I while you’re there.
As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t been doing a lot of writing for the last 3-4 weeks. It’s been pretty damn-skippy important to keep busy and distracted despite that, and a big part of that has been a couple of writing and crit groups I hooked up with.
One of the groups I found is a crit group, although I’m the only novelist in the lot…the rest are screenwriters, except for one guy who does short stories. That’s been really fun. Those cats have a completely different language, and, although we’re all ultimately in the storytelling business, we don’t worship the same idols. For the most part, they are all just as serious about their craft as I am with mine, and almost all of them are working in TV or movies, albeit behind the scenes and not in writing capacities—art, technology, set design, lighting, etc. There are a couple of guys who are all set to start filming once we’re done collectively critiquing his screenplay, essentially as an indie producer cum director. Fun part: we meet on a working set dressed as a teenage girl’s bedroom. For real. Well, kind of surreal, but it’s fun.
Anyway, I told you that story to tell you this story: with their feedback, I have renewed confidence in my Big Book, an epic socio-political story that may take another year to finish at my current pace. Fuck it. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
The other group is fun, too…a local fantasy writer with a small press three book deal and a good following is hosting classes at a library across town, basically as a way to build an audience and establish speaker cred and increase his value as a marketable author. Smart, driven guy. His name is Maxwell Drake, and he has some great insights in the craft and business of writing. More on Max later.
So, that’s where my writing head is at. Pretty much trying hard to do no writing whatsoever. The cobwebs are slowly clearing, though, and I’ll start again soon. If memory serves, I was just about ready to reunite estranged lovers and start an oppressive, bloody war. And it ain’t gonna start itself.
I know it’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve last posted. I really, really meant to put something thoughtful and important up here on a regular basis. I really did.
Since my last post, my life has taken a spin that I could have never anticipated.
I’m not looking to air laundry in public, nor am I seeking sympathy. The only reason I am posting this after near a month of silence is that I feel some obligation to my very small group of readers/followers/online friends, and I am deathly afriad of being written off as permanently offline:
After 13 years, my wife and I are parting ways. I haven’t the heart or stomach to provide details at present. Perhaps later. If you need to know, you know where to find me.
Reading has been scant (pushing through Hunger Games, which I love), writing has not happened for close to three weeks.
I have, however, had a great time with a local group of screenwriters in a crit group that meets on a soundstage dressed to be a teenage girls bedroom. That has been a great experience, and I will share much, much more soon.
For now, I just wanted to say Hi. I’ll be back. There WILL be a sequel to Amity, and Presidius and the story of Sonny Bull will be told, in due time. I just need some time to put my life back on track and, most importantly, make sure my kids are OK (which they are…their mother and I both care a great deal about them, and they are doing just fine…no worries there).
Thanks to all of you..
The ebook pricing discussion continues all around the internets…
In my last post, I discussed how my ebook sales increased dramatically when I dropped the price from $2.99 to $.99. I pulled all of the data at month-end, and sprayed it all into a nice, pretty little graph (I’m an MBA…I can’t understand anything unless it’s in the form of a histogram or pie chart).
The final rollup: January, at $2.99 a book, I sold four books. February, at $.99, I sold twenty three.
Those are sales. Here’s how it shakes out for revenue:
$2.99 is the lowest rate for the 70% payout with Amazon ebooks, so when you lower the price below that, you drop down to the 35% option.
$2.99 x 4 x 70% = $8.37
$.99 x 23 x 35% = $7.97
Two obvious things: not a huge difference between the two net values, and I won’t be retiring early off of these numbers at either rate.
But, here’s the big difference: in the second option, almost six times more people have read my book. That’s not revenue…that’s marketing, baby. And if you can’t make money in the short term, make sure you’re getting the word out.
Three last notes:
What you don’t see in the graph are the 200 copies that were downloaded for free in my Freebeer project in December. Eyes on books.
Of almost fifty Smashwords book preview downloads, I sold zero (although I know that I sold at least one through B&N via Smashwords, but they aren’t reporting it for some reason). My SW prices are always the same as Amazon, and SW feeds into at least four stores in addition to their own, including iBookstore, B&N, Diesel, and Sony.
After my big spike of paperback sales (family and friends), they zeroed out. Even at under $12, paperbacks don’t appear to be my market. That price needs to go way down. Again, it’s a marketing expense at this point. Livable revenue comes with volume—not per-book revenue—and the only way to get volume is broad distribution. If you don’t have a publisher stumping and selling, you have to do it with word of mouth and price.
So, there you go…I’d be very happy to hear other people’s results.
It’s been, oh…almost six months since Amity hit the mean streets of Amazon (mean jungles of Amazon?). I still, every single day, do something related to this book, be it shilling on Twitter, talking to people about it on email, hiding Amity bookmarks in library books, or obsessing over statistics.
The point is that it’s an ongoing process.
It seems to, still, be fairly well received, despite the lack of professional editing or artwork, and the disturbing nature of the story. I know quite well that there are a few typos in Amity…that’s actually on my to-do list this weekend (one of the benefits of self-pubbed ebooks is that you can make changes like that and it’s a seamless process to the marketplace). I also know that a lot of people don’t love the cover, but I’m hesitent to change that at this point; the cost of new artwork is certainly never going to pan out in increased book sales (although it was an important lesson for future books). It’s a process.
I’ve also been playing with the book prices (paperback and ebook), to interesting results.
When I first released the paperback, I set it at $13.99, which Amazon discounted right away to about $10. Which was great, because when Amazon discounts, you get paid on the full price. $10 seemed to be a point where people would take a chance on a new author, and I sold a small number of books (the actual number sold is close to 60, but a lot of those went to relatives and friends which, although awesome, isn’t reflective of pricing, per se). I would say maybe twenty copies were sold outside of that group.
At the beginning of the year, Amazon bumped it up to the full price of $13.99, which I then lowered to the current price of $11.96. Sales for the paperback since the beginning of the year: 1 copy. So, as a part of my weekend cleanup, I’m going to jack the price down again, basically wiping out the per-book profit. But, it’s important to keep in mind that this is all marketing and (knock on wood) building a fan base. As long as I’m not bleeding green, it’s all part of the process.
The ebook had a similar story. The initial price was $2.99, which Amazon did not discount. I sold very few units. The first four months, my paperback-to-ebook ratio was maybe 4:1. Around the beginning of February, I decided to take the ebook price down to $.99 (which Amazon discounted right away to $.89), and my sales started moving. Within one day, I sold six ebooks—a stark contrast to the four ebooks I had sold in the entire prior month. Unfortunately, I didn’t continue to sell six a day, but the trend has definitely kept upward. Sometime next week, I’ll put up a graph with the complete month-end specifics, but at this point, with 4 more days left in the month, I’m sitting at nineteen sales.
Big deal, right? Joe Konrath sold nineteen books in the time it took him to floss this morning. But, remember, Mythbusters: this is data! It shows how important the book price is in this environment: an untested author, a self-published book, and a book without a clear-cut genre. $.99, it would seem, is low enough to mitigate some of that risk.
Also, a cool side-effect: due to the spike in sales, Amity was, as of 2/21/2011, the #76 top seller in techno-thrillers, and (probably due to the small number of reviews), the #46 top-rated ebook on Amazon. All of which, in theory, may help sales, due to the additional exposure. Woot.
It’s a process, and a learning experience. Robert Swartwood brought up this same topic earlier today, and has more details from other writers. Next week: the graph.
The holidays are over, and everything can return to normal. Any minute now. Please.
After a few out of state trips, I’m back in the saddle…
A month or so ago, I said that I was torn between two stories: either a potential commercial project with lots of formulaic hooks and repeatability and Patterson-esque tummy-warmth; or a long, difficult, intellectually challenging book that will make enemies and enrage critics and probably cost me a bunch of the hair on my head? And remember how I said that I had chosen the easy book?
Yeah, I fucking lied. Well, not lied, exactly…I got fed up with that story. It wasn’t fun to write. I was phoning it in. It was not interesting to me, so I quit and went back to the difficult story.
If you have read Amity, it’s much, much different. The narrative voice will be familiar but of a different timbre, and the setting is about as far from the gritty streets of Las Vegas as you can get. More as the story develops.
And it is difficult…and it is going to take a long time…but I really like it. I like where it comes from, because it’s a story designed to ruffle feathers and make the reader either hate the story for the message, hate me for telling it, love it for being honest, or hate themselves for not being honest. At least, I hope. If all anyone tells you about your book is that it was great, you haven’t tried hard enough to tell the truth. IMHO. YMMV.
I guess I feel I didn’t go deep enough with some of the material in Amity, and I hope to make up for it in this one. Argue it all you want, but books are art, and art should disrupt.
My final trip of 2010 was to San Diego, where I and my two daughters saw the Dresden Dolls in concert. Great show. The Gaslamp Quarter is full of nutjobs (real ones, not just zany, fun people…people with real mental illnesses roaming the streets ranting and screaming and chanting all hours of the day), which added to the mystique of the trip. (Also: I saw Neil Gaiman there…I just missed him at the merch booth, though)
I’ve seen YouTube clips, but it’s really hard to capture the energy of a Dresden Dolls show. Brian Viglione, drummer/guitarist, has an amazing presence and talent; and, of course, Amanda Palmer is a great, powerful musician. They didn’t leave a goddamn dime on the table that night. Nor did their opening act, Jason Webley. I’ve been known to be wrong about musicians before, and I was less than excited to drive 350 miles to watch an accordian player. But, I was dead wrong about that guy…he plays alone on stage, alternating between a guitar and a squeeze box, and he rocked that crowd. Hard. I’m a convert.
As hard as it is to capture their energy live, I took a shot at it, using my brand-spanking new iPhone. This was (according to Amanda) the first time they have performed this song: I Am the Condor…it came out pretty good. Enjoy, and Happy New Year…