Foreswearing Myself About Kindle Select

Ever since it started up, I’ve sworn that I will never put a book in Select and lose the opportunity to get sales from other sites. Now’s the time to take that back. As an experiment. With just one book — Camp Expendable.

I’m a great believer in not putting all my eggs in one basket. But I do practically nothing to promote my books on an ongoing basis, so my Smashwords sales, which started out great have dwindled to near-zero. At the rate they’re going now, it may be a year before I qualify for Smashword’s minimum $25.00 payment. To make sure that miserable record continues, I recently removed all my Smashwords books from the sites they distribute to since I’m planning to switch to Draft2Digital for distribution of new work, and what little old work remains when I’ve withdrawn the Boundaries novels and some others from publication. Sales at Amazon are also pretty sporadic, so placing a new book more publicly than I normally would might up the action there also.

Even paying heed to warnings that Amazon has been pulling books out of Kindle Unlimited for supposedly fake reads, I’m going to give it a try. The book has to be in Select in order to be available in KU, so I’ll hold my nose and see what happens. The possibility of getting paid for reads by people who may not want to buy the book is very appealing. And from what I’ve seen on Kboards and elsewhere, those reads do sometimes lead to sales.

Marketing is always a pain in the neck, and it’s always changing, which makes it even worse for people who hate to market. But there’s a difference between a pain in the neck and a stiff neck that refuses to bend in any circumstances.

Slow Learner or Slow Processor?

When you’re editing, edit. When you’re proofreading, proofread. Never the twain should meet. (With apologies to Mr. Kipling.) It was Chapter 6 that made me stop and think about what I was doing. In the first paragraph, I moved one sentence around for smoother reading and added some new text. Then I rewrote the first sentence of the second paragraph. For the first time, it really registered that I do this every single time. I get to the supposedly final stage: proofreading, and make it another round of editing.

I don’t know if keeping editing and proofreading is meant to be a hard and fast rule, but it’s one that has an excellent reason for existing. With every edit, you take the chance of adding new, unnoticed errors. The way I changed one sentence meant that I had to be sure to close a newly split-up quote. Oops. Almost didn’t notice that. Editing while proofreading means that I have to be even more attentive, more alert, doing work that is  already exhausting if I don’t take enough breaks to rest my eyes and brain.

More seriously, from my point of view at least, is that it makes me question why I’m still editing when the book is supposedly finished. When I look at the changes I’ve made, I have to wonder why I didn’t see the need for them much, much earlier. Am I just obsessive about details that readers won’t even notice? Or am I such a slow learner that even after writing a half-dozen novels, and having read innumerable articles, blog posts, and books about the craft of writing, I haven’t learned nearly as much as I should have by now?

There’s another possibility that’s discouraging because I can’t do a thing about it. Which means that I will always be editing while I’m proofreading. I know that my mental processing speed is slower than normal. I’m not fast on the uptake, a problem that can be compounded by auditory processing disorder. In a conversation, I may recognize that someone’s statement has something wrong about it, but I won’t be able to pin down what the problem is. And I’m having enough trouble keeping track of everything that’s being said, so there’s no chance to think about it. Hours, or even days later, it will come back to me and I’ll know exactly what was wrong.

I have the same problem with text. It may take days to understand what bothered me about something I’ve read. Once my brain makes it through its snail-pace processing it has no problem. I know what’s wrong. I just can’t access it immediately. Obviously, or I would have given up writing a long time ago in sheer frustration, I do gradually learn well enough to access important knowledge with less delay. But it’s a very slow process, and the amount of craft knowledge you need to have under your belt is seemingly endless. Also, much of it is abstract and thus harder to grasp than proper punctuation or spelling.

For now, I have to decide whether I can simultaneously edit and proofread, or whether I’l have to torture myself with an eye-blinding, brain-burning final proofread. Because there will always be something that I can improve.

The Writer’s Life for Me

Maybe a writer’s life isn’t as exciting as a sailor’s or a pirates, but it more than makes up for that with crazy-making. Every morning is a time for momentous decisions about what writing project to work on. When I was considering it this morning, I came to the conclusion that juggling three major projects might somewhat contribute to my periods of severe headaches. What in the world am I doing to myself, and why would I not want to find a way out of the mess? Because I don’t want to find a way out of the mess; I just want to handle it better. Alas, I doubt there is any “better.”

New writers are advised not to wait for inspiration to strike. That way can lead to paralysis and a lifetime of “wanting to write, but doing it. At the same time, inspiration is sometimes what gets me going when I’m stuck with eenie, meenie, minie, mo. Which of the three projects should a start the day with. This morning, that had already been settled in the middle of a sleepless night. The middle of the night usually turns out to be a reliable source of inspiration, but only if I resist the temptation to go back to sleep without turning on the light and making notes. No matter how many times I’ve convinced myself that I can and will remember in the morning, I’ve been forced to accept that it’s take notes or lose it.

So this morning started out with some new entries for Set Me Free, and a somewhat clearer idea of how to organize the material. And–a pat on the back for me–the only delay was checking the weather and my email very quickly. Set Me Free is beginning to look a tiny bit less like an impossible mess and an equally tiny bit more like a book.

On to proofreading Camp Expendable, which I expect to consume most of the day. Finally, if time and energy allow, some more wrestling with A Well-Educated Boy.

Currently reading: Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. It’s been many a year since I originally read it, so it’s like a first-time read.

Another Big Step Toward Publication

Camp Expendable is finally finished at 77,572 words. That’s 25,000 words added since last November. I had no idea there was that much more to be written. Thanks to my wonderful beta reader, it’s going to be a lot better than it would have been without her — even if I didn’t take all her suggestions. Is it what I hoped for? Not quite. Something still evades me, the quality that could take it from a good read to something really memorable. Maybe I’m just not capable of that. But given the time, I’ll keep trying.

Spell check is done. ProWritingAid grammar check is done. Several bouts of search and replace are done. Next step is a final proofread. Change font and settle down for a few days of a grueling haul. Then — maybe — I’ll give Scrivener’s Compile another try. At least I won’t be doing anything unusual with the text that might screw with Scrivener’s mind.

August is quickly slipping away, but maybe I can still have the book published at or soon after the end of the month. The cover needs a bit of a tweak, but that’s not a big deal.

Still up in the air: whether to work up A Well-Educated Boy for NaNo or give in to the crazy idea of pantsing something highly experimental that I’ve been edging around for a couple of months.

 

 

Eyebrow Raised in Puzzlement

122 blogs? How in the world can anyone maintain 122 blogs? Someone was apologizing (I think it was an apology, but I didn’t read far enough to be sure) for having spammed his readers with 122 blogs. Big “Oh!” Another one of those people who can’t seem to get that a blog is the container, which contains posts. Maybe it’s because we can say we’re blogging, which would lead to the idea that we’re writing blogs. Say it three times. Okay, once will do. A blog is the container. Posts are the content.

And then there’s Ello (ello.com), where fashionable grey text is carried to the extreme. All the text on the site is grey, but when you get down to nitty gritty stuff like writing, either your own stuff, or comments, the grey fades even further into near-invisibility. I don’t know whether commenting was down or the button to let me actually publish it had disappeared into the woodwork. As usual, I tried it on another browser. No go. So even though there was one writer whose posts I liked very much, enough to want to follow him, and was optimistic enough to think there might be more, the eyestrain wasn’t worth it. My presence on Ello lasted about two days. Another social networking site down. Very few left to go, I’m afraid.

And then there’s Wattpad. I reopened my account to give it another try. Let’s serialize Gift of the Ancien and see what happens. Maybe I’ll get enough of a response to encourage to finish revising the monster. And it is a monster, as something over 100,000 words. Anyway, the user interface is something out of the 90s, but I did manage to get 1100 words up. I didn’t see any way to format the material, but maybe Firefox just doesn’t show the formatting bar. That’s an ongoing problem when you’re on a Mac, but most sites have accepted that Mac users do exist and have upgraded their sites to be usable for us.

Posting a cover for the story involves either using their cover creator, which I wasn’t about to tackle, especially after having already put an hour into designing a cover, or inputting a URL for your image. Never mind that every other site lets you drag and drop your images. It’s been years since I had to host an image somewhere in order to get a URL. Lucky that I can drag and drop to WordPress, and use that URL.

So the first part is up, but nowhere to be found. Wattpad has section for HOT, Featured, and Undiscovered in each genre. Nowhere is there a section for NEW. Undiscovered goes on forever, and every one of those poor, lagging works of genius has at least 100 or so reads. If my bit is at the very end, there is no one on earth who has the patience to keep scrolling down to find it. And why would they?

So, how does one find brand new contributions on Wattpad? I have no idea.

Going Back to Google+ — Sort of

There’s such a thing as burning too many bridges. If I wanted to remain the total recluse that I’d prefer to be, cutting almost every tie with the internet wouldn’t cost me a moment’s hesitation. But being a writer makes that a loser’s life. I don’t write to create a career or make lots and lots of dollars. But I don’t see the point of pouring hundreds of hours into writing a novel and then tucking it away on my hard drive, never to be seen again. I want to be read. I want to make a few dollars now and then, if only to prove to myself that my writing has value beyond my own opinion of it.

Writers can’t afford to be invisible. But there’s no law that says you have to be an entrepreneur, or any kind of business person. You don’t have to devote significant time and energy to marketing, no matter how many “experts” tell you otherwise. Because you can do all that and still not be a “success.” You can write one book a year, or one book a decade.

I still don’t know where my balance lies, between letting the world know that I have books that they might enjoy, and keeping myself to myself. Going back to G+ and figuring out how to use it so it serves my needs is just one more stab at serving the books while protecting myself.

As long as I’m moving in that direction again, I might register for Ello, a social site for creatives that started up a couple of years back and settled into comparative obscurity after briefly lighting up the internet. It was touted (not by its founders) as a Facebook killer, which it was never intended to be, and never made any attempt to become. As usual, I’ll circle around that campfire for a while, to get a good sense of what it’s like and whether it might be worth my time. Maybe even enjoyable? Though I’ve really given up on getting any enjoyment from social interaction on websites.

Ello

Thinking About Book Covers

A lot of book cover designers tout their wares on Kboards and check out quite a few of them, mostly out of curiosity. The main thing I can’t help noticing about almost every one is that they do professional work, but there’s no way to tell one designer’s work from any of the others. From a book marketing point of view, maybe that’s a good thing. Most of the people on the boards are writing in popular categories that carry a good many reader expectations with them. There are probably only so many ways that you can show two people in a romantic pose, for instance. But when you see a romance cover, there’s no mistaking the genre.

When I’m skimming Amazon’s lists, though, what stops me and makes me want to take a look is a cover that stands out, and a title that grabs my attention. What usually happens is that I waste time clicking on books that I’ve already taken a look at once, because the cover is so unmemorable, that the title alone doesn’t serve as a reminder.

Every so often, a new designer comes up on Kboards, and the covers are — to put it politely, not up to anyone’s standards. The most common fault is not having the most basic sense about using fonts. Inappropriate fonts are the least of it. Too many fonts is pretty common, but it’s contrast that shows the would-be designers up as complete amateurs. You’d think it would be a matter of common sense, even in the absence of design knowledge, that white text is going to be lost against a light background, and red text against a dark one.

Writers are eager to find good designers at reasonable prices, so most of them get an enthusiastic welcome. Twice lately, I’ve seen posts slide down the first page and into oblivion without a single response. Which is an interesting response, in itself. You have to feel kind of sorry for someone who obviously doesn’t have what it takes to attract customers and doesn’t even get a reaction. Because no one is willing to come out and say what they need to hear. I always hope someone takes pity on them and responds privately.

All of which resonates with my ongoing struggle to improve my own design chops and, since I’m not writing mainstream stuff, to develop a recognizable style that provokes interest in my work. It ain’t easy, so I do feel for the newbies just trying out their design wings.

 

In the Home Stretch

I’m down to the last chapter of Camp Expendable, writing new material and editing at the same time. It was a last-minute decision to break this chapter off from the previous one, which would have been an absolute monster in size. The chapter also picks up from the open end of the previous chapter and finishes everything off neatly. But it’s only about 1,400 words, while the rest are anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 words. And there’s still stuff to be said.

I was just reading a blog post by another writer, about the left side/right side concept of where the brain comes up with the creative stuff. He knows as well as I do that the brain isn’t actually divided as neatly as that, but it’s a handy way of thinking about it. I don’t see myself as terribly creative, and since my approach to writing has a strong logical slant, maybe I’m either predominantly left-brained but still manage to squeeze out stuff that’s moderately creative, or I’m straddling a tightrope in the middle. That could be why it’s easy for me to create and edit more or less simultaneously.

That’s what I do during National Novel Writing Month, while all the other experienced writers are screaming about how you have to kill your editor, or at least shove it in the closet so it doesn’t get in the way of churning out those 50,000 words. Not only is it easy and natural for me to write that way, I’d probably go nuts if someone told me that I absolutely wouldn’t be permitted to edit until the whole thing was written. The result is, that while everyone else is bemoaning the pile of crap they have to show for 30 days of sweat and agony, I have something I wouldn’t be ashamed to show around — if I were the kind of person who likes to show my work around.

Different strokes, folks. And the blog post is: The two brains of the writer (or really any person/artist)

It Isn’t Procrastination. Really

So much for the plan to edit at least two chapters a day. That intention triggered a several-days long period of no editing at all. Or maybe it wasn’t a trigger, just as matter of coincidence. At least I have a believable excuse, thanks to Ruth Harris. It isn’t often that attempts to classify people work out very well, for instance: pantsers vs. planners. It just isn’t that simple. But her little list of three types of writers defined by their working speed and habits hit my ‘yes’ bump.

The post: Speed Kills, or Does it? is subtitled How to Write Fast(er) without Going Bonkers. It’s a far cry, thank goodness, from those assurances that if writer Speedy can churn through 5,000 words a day and produce a complete, edited novel in six weeks, then you can do it. And should. Because Harris says that you need to know your own working style, whether it’s steady, spurt, or sprint. You’ll have to read the post for her explanations of steady and sprint, but spurt hits me right where I live. “Spurt workers tend to write in extremely productive bursts. They also need a few days off to regroup and catch up with themselves between intense writing sessions.”

Yes, yes, yes. It’s nice to have a name for it rather than berate myself for quitting just when I seem to be getting ahead. It’s another of those areas where I blame myself for personal characteristics that are built in. The idea isn’t to use that as an excuse, but to understand it and allow myself room to write in the way that suits me best. And of course, that includes editing, formatting, and even designing book covers. Editing can be very satisfying when it’s going well, but it takes such intense concentration that it burns out the brain synapses in a way that the actual writing usually doesn’t.

I can wish my style was ‘steady’ but every time I’ve tried to set up a reasonable schedule, whether for writing or editing, I’ve totally failed. My brain just doesn’t work that way. In fact, it isn’t steady at anything. I suspect that it stems from my need for constant variety in most areas of my life, and a brain that seizes on one thing at a time and exhausts it in a big blaze. Steady is boring, says my brain, and I’ve learned that there’s no point in trying to argue with it.

Today, I’m back at work editing Expendable. Two are finished. I should be able to get one or two more done by the end of the day. I’d like to continue that pattern for the next four days, and get to ProWritingAid  Tuesday or Wednesday. But it probably won’t happen. Or maybe it will. But I’m not procrastinating. Really.

Major Change in November Plans

My regular readers know how often I change my mind, so this will probably be no surprise. NaNoWriMo 2016 is back on the calendar. How did that happen? Well, it was one of those things I’m sure everyone is familiar with in your own lives — suddenly seeing something so obvious that you could kick yourself for being — again– terminally stupid. It’s true that this isn’t a good time to be starting anything brand new, but what about the book I’ll be working on once Camp Expendable is out of the way? (Not to forget Set Me Free, which runs alongside of whatever is highest priority at the moment.)

The development of A Well-Educated Boy is well along in my head and has plenty of supporting notes that only need to be organized. There’s also about 8,500 words of text, which will have to be abandoned for NaNo, but they’ve set the tone that I want the book to convey, so that is one thing I won’t have to agonize over.

Having only a little over two and a half months to pull it all together is a bit of a rush, but considering how long this story has been churning away, that might not be a big problem. What I want to do is move much more to the “planner” side than my usual mix of planner/pantser. And that means figuring out how to make use of Scrivener’s outline feature, which I’ve never bothered with. As always, during NaNo, the more completely the story is laid out, the less stressful it is to get it written in 30 days or less.

In fact, as I’ve done before, I plan to keep working on another book during NaNo. This year, it will be Set Me Free. I may do less than I normally would in a month, but at least the work won’t stop altogether.

Of course, everything depends on my being able to stick to plans for Expendable, which means editing at least two chapters a day, getting the details of the last chapter written, running the whole thing through ProWritingAid, and then learning how to format it with Sigil.

It probably won’t be too long before I’m beginning to feel that time is running out and the wolves of failure are gaining on me. But what’s life without challenges?

 

Slavery, Fantasy, Empathy

The backing and forthing I’ve been doing lately about the direction of my writing has been unexpectedly influenced by the recent trashing of my Amazon books. I had planned to publish A Perfect Slave as one last nod to my earliest work, the two novels set in a world where slavery is both acceptable and necessary to the country’s economy. I had already deleted other “slave fantasy” WIPs from my computer and backups, but was reluctant to let go of the Hand Slaves stories, if for no other reason than the tiny extra bit of income they brought in. But thanks to the loss of their good ratings, and the nasty rants and one-stars they now have, they look like books that no one in their right mind would bother to read. A Perfect Slave would suffer by association, so that project is over and done with. Eventually, all my slave fiction, including Within the Silence, will be withdrawn, but not until I have new work to put in their place.

Slavery may be an element in my future work, but done realistically in a science fiction context. There are many forms of slavery in our world today, sometimes under different names, and well-hidden from the eyes of ordinary citizens. Sex trafficking is the one that captures the headlines, but it’s possible that labor slavery is actually more extensive. And slavery is only one form of oppression. That’s really the thread that runs through my writing, the abuses of power and the oppression of groups and individuals.

It’s doubtful that novels really have much effect on how people view the world, and my original hope that putting slavery into a sort of fantasy framework would allow me to highlight oppression in a way that would both entertain and inform. It was not to be. Readers loved and pitied the suffering of the protagonists. The work engaged their emotions, but went no further than that.

There has been some discussion recently of whether reading fiction encourages empathy. I haven’t bothered to read those articles, frankly, because I don’t believe it does, in most individuals. Empathy seems to have been designed by Nature to relate only to the people we know, particularly family and close friends. A universal sort of empathy is very rare. If you weep over the hardships of a character in a book, there’s little chance that you will extend those feelings to people you don’t know, who are in the very same situation. The further from reality that story is set, the less likely it is that it will register as anything more than a fleeting emotional bath.

The task, for the writer, and one I’m not sure I’m capable of accomplishing yet, is to make the setting and the characters as realistic as possible without descending into a sort of propaganda or preaching. It’s a challenge that I hope to meet.

Trashed!

I haven’t looked at any of my books on Amazon for quite some time, so it was a shocker to find that many of my very few reviews were gone, all of them four and five stars. So the average for Crossing Boundaries is now two stars, with only two reviews. For Hidden Boundaries, the average is now three stars with four reviews. The others aren’t quite as bad, but what really got me was that I had received one star reviews for four of them, all by the same person, three of them on the same day.

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before, and so have other writers. Someone takes a dislike to you for some unfathomable reason and proceeds to downrate your work. It happened to me on Goodreads, but I knew the reason, and the person had just set up a brand-new account with their only reviews and ratings being of my books. They had also persuaded some friends to set up accounts in order to do more damage. Luckily, the effort to destroy my ratings was so blatant that Goodreads removed the new “reviews” and ratings and deleted all the accounts.

Does anyone seriously believe that this Amazon “reviewer” bought and read three of my books in one day, as the reviews seem to indicate? And the fourth one was only four days later. This is very recent, and I actually had no sales during the month those reviews were posted (July), so that makes it even more plausible that this is some kind of grudge trashing. Judging by his other reviews, my books aren’t even in genres that he generally reads. So why?

Not a single review had anything concrete to say, and one even pulled up the very tired accusation that all my good reviews were obviously written by my friends. I wish.

Of course, there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. I don’t know why some reviews were removed, unless this asshole went even further and let Amazon know he thought my four and five-star weren’t legitimate. I’ve read enough complaints about this kind of thing on Kboards that I know better than to waste my time trying to get Amazon to do anything about it. Amazon usually responds to such complaints without bothering to find out if there’s any basis for them.

This kind of thing is only one of the problems that Amazon refuses to address, and it makes new writers very uneasy about publishing at all. For someone like me who appeals to a small niche and is happy to find a new reader now and then, it’s extremely discouraging. We increasingly live in a world where driveby trashing of people’s lives and work is an almost everyday occurrence. And any one can be a potential victim.