My #NaNoWriMo Plan

Ok, NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow.  This will be my first attempt at it.  I’m a mix of confident and uncertain about it.  My confidence comes from knowing that back in July, during my 30,000 word challenge, I cranked out over 29,000 words in ten days.  So I know for a fact that I can get 50,000 words in a month if I focus and am not distracted.

The problem is distraction.

I’m pretty psyched about my story concept.  I call it Glimmer Vale.  Think of it as Seven Samurai in a fantasy setting.  Two soldiers are on their way back from the front and they take the short way through a seldom-used pass in the mountains instead of going a couple hundred extra leagues out of their way through the more heavily travelled southern pass.  As they emerge from Garret’s Gorge into the Glimmer Vale, a valley in the middle of the mountain range, they are accosted by bandits but are able to fight their way through.  Soon they reach Lydelton, a town perched on the shores of Lake Glimmermere and the Vale’s chief settlement.  Lydelton was once a major trading hub, but as the kingdom expanded south and began to make use of the easier southern pass, trade dwindled.  Now only the occasional merchant caravan comes through.  All the same, after the guys get settled into the Inn for the night and relate their experience with the bandits, the local constable tells them that an entire company of thugs has taken up residence in the pass and has been harassing the town and whatever few caravans happen to come through.  He brings them to speak with the mayor, who entreats them to help drive the bandits away.  Though reluctant to get involved, they realize they are caught in the trap along with the townsfolk, and they may not make it out of the Vale alive unless they do what the mayor asks.  So they decide to help the town, and calamity ensues.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  That’s the point.  Masters is fairly dark.  So is The Pericles Conspiracy.  And don’t even get me started on The Penitent (not that I’ve told anyone but my better half what it’s about yet.  But trust me. Dark.).  I’m not really a dark guy.  I’m actually more than a little cheerful and optimistic.  Some of my short stories, like Damsel and Measuring Up, are more lighthearted and fun.  And set in a fantasy setting.  I decided I wanted to write a longer work that was just fun, quick, adventurous, upbeat, and in the fantasy genre.  Hence: Glimmer Vale.  It’s going to be fun.

So what’s my plan to make it work? At the risk of being too simplistic: write every chance I get.  Get up early and write before the kids wake up (and my little man is ALWAYS up between 5:30 and 6 every morning.  Which is fine, I do that a lot for my job.  But seriously dude?  Getting up that early on the weekends?  Ugh).  Write at lunchtime and during free moments at work.  Write every night.  Go to NaNo write-ins in my local area whenever I can.

Dunno if it will work, but it’ll be fun to try.  🙂

Ok, I’m off to put some last words down on Volume One of The Pericles Conspiracy now, before I start Glimmer Vale at midnight.  I didn’t get as much done on Pericles as I hoped, so it’s still a few thousand words from being complete.  But that’s ok.  I’ll work in some time in November to finish it up too.  Or in December.  Of course, I told my editor I’d get it done by the middle of November, so the earlier the better, right?  🙂

Anyway, I’ll be posting updates on my NaNoWriMo progress here daily, if I can manage it.  Let’s rock!

Facepalm

Yeah, I’m an idiot.

I’m a bit over 27,000 words into the Scifi thriller (and I STILL don’t have a title for it….sonofabitch), and like I said the other day, I’ve been totally bogged down lately.  Part of the reason for that is I’ve been undisciplined and have let potential writing time slip away in favor of other things, like reading blogs, playing video games, or generally screwing off.  But another part is that I’ve just been…dejected isn’t the word.  Maybe reluctant.  I hit a place where I knew what I wanted to have happen, but couldn’t make myself start.

A similar thing happened when I was writing Masters of the Sun, and I couldn’t get past it until I realized the problem was the image I had for the final end point of the story was so far out that I psyched myself out completely.  So I gave myself permission to stop writing at a good end point and continue the story at a later date, when I’d recharged my batteries a bit.  That end point ended up being at just over 75,000 words, farther than I thought it would be when I decided to do it (I thought it would be at about 50,000 words).  But trimming my desired end point suddenly made the project seem more achievable, and my motivation came back in a heartbeat.

I realized tonight that I have the same problem with the Scifi thriller.  Hence the reason for the facepalm.

The full story isn’t all that ambitious.  I’ve already written the beginning and part of the end.  The problem is there’s a big sequence, the final two-thirds of the book, that I have no clue how to pull off.  Tonight I realized that I don’t have to figure out how to pull it off right this second.  I can pick a convenient end point, one that makes sense and won’t kill the overall story (and may even add a bit of drama to the whole thing), and stop.  I’m not sending this one to a publisher, so I don’t have to deal with their word count requirements.  So why not stop at a comfortable place?

Well, I can think of a couple reasons why not, but most of them revolve around my own doubts or my ego.

Bugger ego.  I’m going to stop and move on to something else for a bit.  I know a perfect place, one that will make this sequence that I’ve written so far complete, with a bit of a cliffhanger preparation for the next part.  It’ll be at around the 40,000 words mark (I think), making this a novella.  But that’s completely cool.  Two or three novellas to complete the story that began with a novelette seems fitting, actually.

So that’s the new course.  There’s a good chance I can reach the end point by the end of the month.  Then I can get going on my NaNoWriMo story at the beginning of the month, as planned.  More on the plans for that story in another post.

It’s amazing.  With a clearly achievable end point in sight, I feel like a weight has been lifted and I’m psyched to get going again.

Ok.  Time to get writing.

🙂

Sucking…

Man, I have completed SUCKED at writing this month.

Even when I have some free time, I find myself getting sucked into blogs, or forums, or whatever.  And then I catch myself and shut them off, or even shut the internet off completely.  But then I stare at the words I’ve already written for the scifi thriller, which is what I’m working on because I really want to finish it, and though I know where I want to go with it I either can’t bring myself or can’t figure out how to start.

So I’ve gotten essentially nothing done.

Which means that I should have shifted over to a different project.  But I’ve been stubbornly trying to get this book done and accomplished nothing.  It sure would have been cool to have a second novel out by Christmas for the anticipated mad rush.  Oh well….

Screw it.

It’s time to start getting ready for NaNoWriMo.

The Benefits of Competition

It’s amazing what a little competition can do.

I’ve never had a traditional publishing deal, but in the last ten months since I’ve started educating myself on how publishing works I’ve learned a thing or two about them.

For decades, publishers have done things the way they do things.  Even as information technology has evolved, they’ve kept the same processes in place that they have forever.  Heck, I’m told some of them still won’t accept submissions via email.  They could get away with not evolving very rapidly because they more or less acting as a cartel.  They sort of competed against each other, but there came to be industry-standard ways of doing things that none of them deviated from.

The semi-annual royalty statement is one of those standard things.  From the way I’ve come to understand it (and Lord knows I’m still new, so I could be way off base), the book gets released and the publisher collects sales data.  Every six months they collate the data and generate a report which gets sent out to the writer, or the writer’s agent.  The report tells how many sales were made, how many of those sales the publisher counts as real (because they hold a reserve against book returns), and how much $ in royalties the writer earned.  Not that the writer would see a check, of course.  That wouldn’t happen until they’d earned out the advance.

So the writer had to wait months and months to know how his book is really doing.  Oh I’m sure there are ways to get a feel for it, but there’s nothing like actual numbers to tell the tale.  This is all well and good, but wow talk about an arcane, antiquated system.  With modern tools, it can (and should) happen a lot faster than that.

But it didn’t have to.  Since the publishers all did things the same way, no one had incentive to change it.

And then along came Amazon.  Their new imprints are, from what I hear, a lot better to work with, and they have awesome information systems at their disposal.  I don’t know how their imprints do it, but I know KDP lets the writer/publisher see sales data that’s updated every hour.  I would be shocked if their imprints didn’t do similar.

Well lookie what’s happened now.  Courtesy of the New York Times: Authors to Get Sales Data Online From 3 Big Publishers.

Amazing.  Something that could have been going on for the last decade and a half or so is finally starting to happen.

All it took was a push from a little actual competition.

I could point out how this could be a case study for why it’s ludicrously stupid to eliminate competition from a marketplace; hence the utter folly of things like, oh I dunno, Single Payer Government-run Healthcare.  But I won’t do that.  You guys are smart enough to already know what a bad idea that is.

Here endeth the lesson.

The Brave New World of…Tradition? Really?

Even though I have no desire to get an agent, and frankly at this point see no benefit in getting one, I still will on occasion visit agents’ blogs to see what’s going on in their world.  And why not?  They’re in the publishing business and have a different perspective than I do on it.  It’s hard to grow if one doesn’t expose one’s self to different perspectives.

I often check out Rachelle Gardener’s blog, but I realized this morning that I hadn’t gone by to see what she’s been up to in a while.  So I came across this post, which she describes as a rant.

She came off as very defensive, with a lot of “Hey don’t blame the publishers and don’t blame me” sort of declarations.  Which I can understand, though I was a bit put off by them.  Still, I found myself agreeing with her on a number of points. 

Yes, writers, this is the 21st century.  We do, in fact, communicate on the internet.  And people do, in fact, when they learn about someone or something new, Google it to see what it’s all about.  So if you’re a writer looking to sell stories and someone hears your name, if there’s nothing on the web that says who you are, what you write about, and why you might be interesting, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  So yes, dear writer, it is not unreasonable for a publisher to expect you to do at least a little bit to set up an online platform.  That just makes sense.

But after that, I part ways with her.  She goes on to say that publishers are still valid in the Brave New World, because, among other things, they are the keepers of tradition.  Of the legacy of publishing.  If I may quote:

Part of the value publishers bring is a sense of history, a sense of tradition and permanence. Many authors still want to be a part of that. It’s about great stories and important thoughts. It’s about legacy. It’s about a dream. People in publishing still see this dream as worth it. They’re willing to swim against the tide because publishing isn’t just a business, it’s a life, it’s a calling, it’s a passion.

Erm…no.  Publishing is a business.  Just because it happens to deal with things we refer to as “the arts” doesn’t make publishing different, or special.  It’s a business.  It’s just that simple.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love and respect tradition.  In my day job, I’m a Naval Officer.  There are lots of traditions in the Navy.  They make living the Navy life more full, more fun, and in some ways more meaningful.  But they don’t define the Navy’s mission or what the Navy brings to the table on the Nation’s behalf.  And frankly, there are some Navy traditions that we have intentionally done away with because they didn’t work in todays culture and/or they actually hampered the Navy’s ability to do its job.

I don’t see why publishing should be any different.  Fine, there are great legacies from the past and traditions that have been handed down.  Frankly, I’m not sure what those traditions are in the business of publishing.  Maybe it’s because I’m new, so someone please enlighten me.  But if a business claims its chief value is that it maintains a tradition, in all honesty maybe that business isn’t doing what it should be doing.

I know, I know, she didn’t say the publishers’ chief value is tradition.  I get that.

But there is no need to put on airs here.  Publishing is a business.  Publishers are businesses that are run by businessmen and businesswomen.  That’s it.  They add tangible value to the process or they cease to be businesses.  Just like any other business, because there is no difference. 

So please, stop trying to add extra meaning to things.  I don’t know why artsy types feel the need to do this.  To everything.  All the time.  Seriously folks, sometimes a pear is just a pear, and a business is just a business.  It’s called reality.  Deal with it.

Oh, and would all you writers out there PLEASE stop talking like her 7th commenter:

I write because I have to; it’s how I speak. I don’t have a choice.

Rubbish.  What are you, a freaking automaton?  Of course you have a choice.  You choose to write in the same way that you choose what to wear, or where you went to school, or what you have for dinner, or what job you applied for, or who you date, or…  Shall I go on? 

You could just as easily choose a different line of work.  Maybe you wouldn’t like it as much.  Maybe you’d get less satisfaction from your job.  And that’s valid.  But to say you have no choice???

Seriously, people, get over yourselves.  We’re not curing cancer here.

America in Decline?

There was an interesting article in the Financial Times yesterday about how America is going to decline, in fact we’ve already begun, and the best thing we can do is talk honestly about it so we can manage is correctly.  It’s an interesting read.  Some will react viscerally to it (just read the comments to see that).

Without a doubt, we need to have a rational national discussion about how we want to proceed as a nation as we move forward.  Also, there can be no doubt that we seem hellbent on refusing to have it. 

But my big question when it comes to the predicted decline of the USA is: so what?

Really, all sorts of people are making hay over the fact that, for instance, China’s economy is expanding and will probably become larger than the US’s in a few years, and that’s a sign that the US is on the downswing.  Well: duh!  1.5 billion people vs 300 million.  That math’s not hard to do.  Unless the Chinese are willing to remain socialist and keep their people in abject poverty (which by all appearances they aren’t, at least not totally), then of course their economy will eclipse ours someday.  Same with India.

Does that then mean that we’ll somehow be worse off?  Far from it!  Having more people getting more wealthy, anywhere in the world, benefits everyone everywhere.  A wealthy China and India will be a great thing.  Not only will hundreds of millions of people be lifted out of poverty and ignorance, but it will make us richer as well.  That is, as long as we ignore economic protectionists who would seek to prevent us for participating in their growth.

Other countries doing well does not mean that somehow the good o’ USA will stop being special, or stop doing well.  That we’ll do to ourselves if we continue to choke out individual liberties in favor of collectivism and stifle free enterprise in favor of the delusion of being “progressive”, which is a misnomer if ever there was one.  “Progressive” ideology is merely a re-packaging of the same old Marxist-Leninist-Maoist philosophies that, throughout history, have always failed to achieve anything except poverty, virtual enslavement, and misery for everyone except for a select few in the Party elite.  There’s nothing forward-looking, positive, or progressive about “Progressive” ideology at all.  There’s certainly nothing new about it.  It’s a philosophy that exploits the masses while playing to their most base instincts, namely envy, tribalism, laziness, and greed.  It ought to have been thrown into the trashbin of history and its proponents removed from the public discourse long ago, for everyone’s benefit.

But of course, we refuse to learn from history.

Just look at the Occupy Wallstreet idiots.  They are proof positive that there are many in this country who are eager to kill the golden goose.  And there are plenty of people with political power who will gleefully wield the axe so they can, in the short-term, increase their own personal power and wealth while grinding the rest of us underfoot.  And while they do so, they will laugh at the useful idiots who protested in favor of their own demise.

If any real decline occurs in the USA, and not merely decline on a relative scale as other nations begin doing better for themselves, it won’t be because of external pressures.  It will be something we did to ourselves.  And it’s completely predictable and avoidable, if only weren’t hellbent on being stupid.  And if only we bothered to include basic economics in our educational system.

#SampleSunday – Delphinus

My latest novelette, Delphinus, is now live on Amazon and Smashwords.  It will be distributed to all the Smashwords distribution channels (B&N, Apple, et al) over the next couple weeks.  Like Passing in the Night, it’s a Science Fiction story.  But Delphinus is also a tale of survival.

Piter’s honeymoon was off to a splendid start. He and his bride had a fancy bridal suite on a luxury spaceliner, and had their own private view of the most beautiful aurora in the known galaxy. Then it all went to hell. Narrowly escaping the spaceliner’s destruction in a cargo shuttle, he, his bride, and five others crash onto an un-colonized moon, where they have to figure out how to survive until the rescue comes. Assuming it ever does.

Delphinus is a 9,700 word (about 39 printed pages) novelette.  Here are the first 900 words:

Wind rushed past, ruffling his hair and roaring in his ears, as Piter banked right.  The instruments on the control console showed what he already knew: altitude was decreasing rapidly, and there were no landing strip beacons within reception range.  Not that he expected there to be any.  As far as he knew, this particular world had never been colonized.  He, and the huddled passengers behind him in the cargo compartment, was damned lucky the place even had a breathable atmosphere, so he wasn’t about to complain.  Except about the fact that the cussed cloud cover refused to break.  Two thousand meters to the ground, and still there was nothing to see but pea soup in front of him, or to either side.

A fine mess they were in.  Just a couple hours ago, the cruise was everything he could have wanted for his honeymoon: a veritable paradise of spectacular stellar phenomena as the SS Hilderand assumed orbit at the Lagrange point between Gamma Delphinus 6 and its third moon.  The aurora there were legendary, among the most beautiful ever encountered, and the Hilderand’s bridal suites had specially designed observation bubbles just for such an event.  Making love with his new bride beneath the awesome display was everything they’d both dreamed it would be.

And then it all went to hell.

What happened to cripple the Hilderand, Piter couldn’t say.  But once the alarms started sounding, there had been a mad rush for the escape pods.  The gravity field became erratic, making the stampede all the more chaotic, and he found himself, along with his bride and five others, watching helplessly as the last pod launched away from the ship.  The pod was nowhere near full, but the panicked people onboard had been unwilling to wait even the minute longer it would have taken Piter and the others to get there.

Alone except for those others on a deserted vessel that was moving faster and faster into a death spiral around that third moon, Piter forced himself to bite back tears of frustration and despair, if only as a comfort to Shaunee.  Then one of the other men suggested they try the cargo bays, and the group hurried further aft.  In the third bay, they found a small loading shuttle and crammed in.  The only one with any flight experience, Piter was the logical choice to fly the thing.

But twenty-five hours of flight training in a sub-orbital wingjet does not translate well into space flight.  Once Piter got the shuttle out of the cargo bay and away from the Hilderand, it was almost as though he had no control whatsoever.  He knew roll, pitch, and yaw, not orbital mechanics.  After several moments fighting with the controls, he finally discovered a computer autopilot feature and activated it.  Things became much easier then.

He found the controls to the sensor suite and keyed in a scan, then was unable to bite back a curse as the results came back.  The third and fourth moons had atmospheres, but while the fourth’s atmosphere was breathable, the third was little more than methane.  The shuttle had just enough fuel to make it to the fourth moon, but that wasn’t what evoked his curse.  The escape pods from the HIlderand, programmed only to head for the nearest landing area, were all descending onto the third moon and its deadly fumes.

“My God, can’t they override the programming?” asked one of the other refugees, a plump older lady with a kind smile, when Piter announced his discovery.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, a lump in his throat as he watched helplessly.

One by one the escape pods vanished into the moon’s cloudy atmosphere, and Piter found himself thanking his lucky stars that they’d been delayed by the gravity distortions.  He at once felt a twinge of guilt at the thought, but suppressed it.  What else should he be thinking?  What else could he think?  Shaunee was sitting in the copilot’s seat next to him.  Tears in her eyes, she took his hand and squeezed it tight.

Then a large explosion aboard the Hilderand split the great ship into thirds, reminding Piter that there was still work to do.  Refusing to think of the thousands of people who had just plunged to their doom onboard devices that were supposed to save their lives, he turned his attention to the controls and keyed in what he hoped would be a course to the fourth moon.  Taking a deep breath, he hit the execute button, then settled back to wait.  To his amazed relief, over the next several minutes the fourth moon got larger in the windshield.

The computer beeped.  Piter tapped the controls and a dialogue window opened.  “Three minutes to re-entry,” he announced after reading the data on the display screen.

Immediately, the tension within the shuttle rose.  They’d all been through re-entry before, but always on larger spacejets piloted by professionals.  This was an altogether totally different experience.  As the timer ticked down, Piter could feel the fear emanating from the others.  As the one who was more or less in command at the moment, he tried his best to look calm.  Glancing to his right, he could tell from the concern on her face that Shaunee wasn’t fooled.  He gave her hand another squeeze and she managed a thin, tense grin.

“Here we go,” Piter murmured under his breath as the countdown timer reached zero.

Enjoy!

Value, Price, and Cost

The comments on my guest post over at Derek J Canyon’s blog have gotten interesting in the last day or so.  Not that they weren’t interesting before, mind you.  But in the last day or two, the discussion has shifted away from me (damnit!) and toward ebook pricing.  One guy in particular, who goes by the handle Stitch, espouses the thesis that because ebooks are not created on paper, they have no value.  Because it’s the paper, binding, and the rest that give a book monetary value.  The words have value, but not in a monetary sense.  I won’t recreate the entire discussion here, but I would like to share some thoughts on this topic.  Go to Derek’s place and read the comments first, though.

I disagree with Stitch’s thesis on several levels, and I talked about it on Derek’s blog.  Here, I’d like to talk for a little bit about Value, Price, and Cost, because I think at the root of some of Stitch’s assertions is a misunderstanding of those concepts.  The other thing is he misunderstands what the product really is that publishers are selling.

Cost

The cost of a thing isn’t that hard to figure out or understand.  It comes from many things, but can generally be broken down into three categories: Labor cost, Materials cost, and Overhead.  Computing the first to is easy.  For labor cost, you just keep records of how long everyone worked to produce the product then multiply the hourly wage rate.  In the case of salaried personnel, you can still figure an hourly rate.  Materials cost is even easier.  How much did you pay for the materials you used to produce the product?  Overhead is everything else.  Rent, utilities, web hosting, servers, insurance, etc, etc, etc.  It’s not that hard to get overhead for the business as a whole.  But how do you apply it to individual products?  There are a lot of different ways to do that, some more complicated than others.  One way that’s not so difficult is to compute the total overhead cost in a month, then figure out the total number of hours worked by people in the company each month.  Then you can compute an hourly overhead rate.  Since you know the labor hours to produce the product in question, you can then apply overhead based on those labor hours.

So that’s Cost.  Pretty easy.

Price

Price isn’t so hard either.  You take the cost of the thing and tack on whatever profit margin you need and add it onto the cost.  But how much profit margin is ok?  Businesses will compute a thing called the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC).  The WACC takes into account the cost of getting the cash to do business: interest payments on long and short-term debt, dividend payments to stockholders, things like that.  If the business makes enough so that the return on a project to equal the WACC, then it will break even because the cost of doing business will be balanced with income.  So a lot of the time the business will analyze potential products using WACC or a similar computation.

That works great for products like hammers, where you can assign a distinct unit cost to each one.  But for something like ebooks, where the cost to make additional copies is very low (but not zero), it can become less clear how to do this.  I’ve thought on it, and it seems to me you just need to assume a number of copies sold, then allocate the costs in a per unit basis.  Then when you’ve figured out how much margin you need, adjust the per unit price accordingly.  Of course that’s pretty imprecise.

Which is, I guess, partially why the ebook pricing topic is so contentious.  Because there really isn’t a definitive price that THOU SHALT GO TO.

Value

Value is more tricky.  A lot of people, Stitch included apparently, conflate price and value, but the two are not the same thing.  Value is a relation between how much benefit the customer gets from a product and the price the customer paid for it.  If the benefit is less than the cost, then value would be overall negative and you’d expect the customer wouldn’t buy it.  That said, we all can think of instances where people got ripped off or screwed themselves by paying way too much for something that wasn’t worth the price, can’t we?  Funny thing is, though, many people have a different opinion on whether they got screwed or not.  If they prize a thing above all others, they’ll pay for it.  If a person then happens along who values that thing less, person#2 will think person #1 got screwed when in fact person #1 might still be extremely happy with the purchase, since his assessment of the value (benefits minus costs) of the new thing is different from person #2.  In other words. value can be a relative thing.

But it is a real thing, too.  People assess value all the time, sometimes without realizing it.  Cost-benefit analysis is what value is all about.

Hope that helps.  There’s more to say, but it’s about midnight and I’m fading fast.  More to follow tomorrow, I guess.  🙂

Delphinus – Up!

I was up fairly late last night.

On Sunday evening, I reread Delphinus.  And I can totally see why I didn’t place in Writers of the Future.  It was very clear that, in places, I’d rushed through it.  So last night I went through and added some dialogue and description to “show” instead of “tell”.  A big improvement.  I didn’t change much, but ended up adding about 400 words, bringing the total to 9,700.

After that, I went through and made a new “Other Books By The Author” page to stick in the back, hyperlinked to my other titles (for the Amazon edition at least.  The Smashwords edition isn’t because it gets distributed all over the place and I don’t think the various distribution channels would appreciate hyperlinks to stores other than their own).  Then I finished a cover that I started on Sunday, got the the rest of the document ready, and pushed “Publish”.

Delphinus is live now on Smashwords, and will go live on Amazon probably tomorrow.  With rounding, it came out to 10,000 words (or close enough), so I’ve priced it at $1.99.

Here’s the blurb:

Piter’s honeymoon was off to a splendid start. He and his bride had a fancy bridal suite on a luxury spaceliner and their own private view of the most beautiful aurora in the known galaxy. Then it all went to hell. Narrowly escaping the spaceliner’s destruction in a cargo shuttle, he, his bride, and five others crash onto an un-colonized moon, where they have to figure out how to survive until the rescue comes. Assuming it ever does.

Enjoy!