Apr 252018
 

There’s been some recent grumbling about Amazon’s new review policies. It seems that you can no longer leave book reviews on the mighty ‘Zon, unless you have purchased at least $50 worth of goods on the site.  Not books mind you, just $50 worth of goods.

It’s apparently their attempt to address the mass scamming of reviews that some writers have been putting up for the last few years.  Yeah, you know when you find that new release that has tons of five-star reviews and you think, “this must be a good one. I’ll just drop my hard-earned cash here and see what all the fuss is about.”  Then you find that the book is little more than a nasty pile of something that came out of the south end of a north-bound bull.

That’s because unscrupulous authors have been scamming Amazon’s system by hiring click farms that (for the right price) create tons of fake Amazon accounts to write reviews on items they’ve never laid eyes on.  The bad thing is that, in their attempt to rectify the situation, Amazon keeps coming up with new ways to “fix” the problem.  And it’s like they almost always either get it wrong (like when they tried to say that your social media “friends” couldn’t write reviews, and ended up deleting reviews written by reviewers who happened to follow authors they liked on Facebook), or the scammers just change their game to get ahead of the new rules.

For instance, when the Kindle Unlimited program began, Amazon authors got paid a percentage of a multi-million dollar “pot” based on how many people read their books past the 20% mark.  There were authors who immediately began publishing short stories and serialized fiction.  Each title read gained the author the same percentage of the pot, so a ten page short story earned the same amount as a five hundred page epic fantasy. 

Needless to say, there were suddenly TONS of short stories being published.

After a couple of years, Amazon figured it out, and changed the KU payment system to a percentage based on pages read.  Each page read gained a percentage of the pot.  Scammers later learned to put links in their books that jumped the reader to the back of the book.  For instance, you might open a book that has a raffle for a $100 gift card.  The link to the offer is in the very beginning of the book.  The reader clicks to enter the drawing, and the link automatically takes them to the last page of the book, where they fill out the form, never realizing that they just gave the author full credit for reading a book that might never be completed.

To make matters worse, some scammers began simply filling manuscripts with all sorts of garbage they copied willy-nilly from the internet, pumping the page count up to tens of thousands of pages, then front loading the “book” with links that took the reader to the back.  So the reader downloads the book, opens it up, sees the click bait at the front, and clicks to the back.  They might then try to read the book and find that it’s nothing more than thousands of pages of absolute drek, so they either return the download, or simply delete it, not realizing that they have just given the author credit for having read however many thousands of pages.

So Amazon put out new terms to authors, making such actions illegal, and threatening to remove author profiles when someone was caught violating the new terms.  Unfortunately, until then, it was common practice for many authors to put their tables of contents in the back of the book.  Think about it.  An e-book is basically a web site, full of links that tie one part of the book to another.  A table of contents is a list of links that go from one part of the “book” to another.  And many authors considered it good business to load that table of contents in the back.

Why?  Because it allowed them to get more of the manuscript in front of the reader when they viewed the sample on Amazon’s web site.  You know the “Look Inside” link that lets you see the first 10% of the book?  Well how do you feel when you click the link, and then have to scroll through the cover, and the copyright page, then author notes, table of contents, and other forward matter, before you actually get to read any of the sample?

I know some legitimate authors who lost money because books that had been out for years were suddenly found to be in violation of the new terms.

And now we have this problem of fake reviews.  It’s been a recognized issue for a few years now, and Amazon has been floundering about, trying to figure out how to fix the problem.  For a while, they tried a tattletale system where people could report books that were suspected of scamming reviews.  That quickly became a fustercluck when legitimate authors found their accounts suspended.  Amazon never would state what the author had done, only giving out a generic, “you have been found in violation of terms and conditions…” but never stating what specific violations.

It was often suspected that the scammers were reporting legitimate authors in order to muddy the waters, but there is apparently no way to know for sure.  So this is Amazon’s latest attempt to stop scammers.  The idea is that, if only legitimate customers can leave reviews, then that should stop the click farms from being able to “sell” reviews.

But there are already people complaining about it.  There are concerns that reviewers who buy in the US will no longer be able to load their reviews on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au, or any other country where they don’t normally shop.  So even though a book is available in countries all over the world, reviewers will only be able to post their reviews in the country in which they bought the requisite “$50” worth of goods, or its equivalent in whatever nation.  There are also concerns that reviewers won’t be able to write reviews early in the years.  For instance, a reviewer who begins buying books in January, before they have purchased their $50 of good for the year, might not be able to leave reviews until they’ve done so.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  I don’t think there are any easy answers.  I almost feel sorry for Amazon at times.  After all, it’s not them who are trying to scam the system.  They’re just stuck trying to get ahead of the latest scam du’ jour.  Unfortunately, their fixes often create as many problems as the scams, and it seems that there are too many honest people caught in the “fix”.  I sincerely hope that isn’t the case this time.

 

My writing –

Payne and Suffering has been moving in spits and spurts.  On days when I have a distinct scene in my head, I can fly through the writing.  The problem comes when I finish those scenes and have to move into the transitions. And I think the problem stems from the way I write… the fact that I’m “pantsing” my way through a story that I haven’t been able to fully see.

This usually doesn’t bother me, and it took me a while to figure out what’s different with this book.  In just about every other story I’ve written, whether it be novel, novella, or short story, I’ve had one of two things firmly in mind.  I’ve either got a pretty good idea of what the ending is going to be, or I have a good feel for my antagonist and/or their motives.  With P&S, I’ve been floundering with little more than a few key scenes in my mind, and a general idea of what the antagonist is trying to do, but little of the motivation behind it.  So I’ve woven this vast and intricate mystery in my mind (at times so complex that I lose track of who’s doing what), and I’ve not taken the time to really understand the why of most of it.

Today I was writing a scene in which Amber and Richard are starting the third day of their case.  The two of them are sitting at their desks, and Richard asks Amber “…what’s on the agenda…?”

And I realized I didn’t know.  I’m the one writing the freaking story, and I didn’t know what needed to be done next!

It wasn’t really that I didn’t know what leads they needed to follow, but rather that I didn’t know which one needed to be followed at that moment.  Because there are several leads in my mind, but some of them are dependent on others, so some things have to happen before others can be discovered, and I was trying to jump too far ahead in my mind.

Yeah, they need to go here to find this… but wait, they can’t do that until they know about such and such, and they can’t know that until they decrypt the files from that computer.  And they don’t have the computer yet because they don’t know it exists! 

When I realized just how complex things were getting, I knew I was going to have to do something I almost NEVER do.  I was going to have to create a cheat sheet for myself just to track events, leads, and solutions.  I’ve only had to do this once before, and that was on Chucklers, where I had six different point of view characters, in four different locations around the country, and had to synchronize their stories so that they would all come together at the right point in the book.

But I did it.  I made my cheat sheet.  I spent time writing about three pages of notes, and I actually feel better about where the story is going now.  Let’s hope this clears some of the fog out of my brain.

For now though, P&S has passed the 40k word count, and is still moving, and I hope to have the first draft done late May or early June.  Wish me luck.

And that’s it for now.  Stay safe, everyone.  :bye:

 

Apr 112018
 

Remember back in January when I mentioned that Severed Press had contacted me to say that Pangaea: Exiles was going to be released as an audiobook on Audible in a few months?  Well, I emailed them to check status on it a few days ago.  After emailing them, I figured I might as well go check on Audible to see if maybe it had already come out and they just hadn’t let me know.

Guess what?  It was released two weeks ago (March 28).  I haven’t heard it yet myself, but if you’d like to check it out, you can find it here.

What else?  Hmmm….

Oh!  remember the picture I posted of the Stenonychosaurus in WW106?  It was the critter I was writing about in the anthology story for Severed.  Well, come to find out, the Stenonychosaurus ceased to exist as of 1987.  Turns out that some paleontologists figured out that the bones they were using to identify good old Steggy were actually the bones of juvenile Troodons.

So yeah, more rewrites.  But it’s finished.  Both story and contract are off to Severed.  Watch for the upcoming anthology “Prehistoric“.  It will still be a few months, I’m sure.  The deadline isn’t until the end of April, and I’m sure there will be some back and forth with the editor.   But for my part, most of the work is done.

You know what’s so strange on this one?  I think the thing that gave me the most anguish was trying to find a title that fit the story.  I never really found one that gave me that “aha!” moment.  There was no clever, cutesy, tie-in to some word or phrase or theme in the story.  But I was spending WAY too much time trying to find something that, in my mind at least, pulled the whole thing together.  In the end, I simply picked “Apex“, the best of several unsatisfying titles I had come up with, and decided that it was time to cut it loose.

There is a saying among artists of any sort.  “Art is never completed, only abandoned.”  If you aren’t familiar with it, it simply means that artists (whether it be painters, singers, writers, or any other type of artist) will often spend WAY too much time polishing their latest work, trying to make it “perfect”.

For a writer, it may be changing a scene here or there… or simply switching a few words in order to alter the mood or connotation.  And it’s something that is probably needed on the first draft or two.  We tend to obsess over tiny details, polishing and polishing, until we’re really doing little more than wasting time.

But eventually we have to let it go.  We have to abandon the work… release it into the wild, so to speak.  And that’s what I’ve done.  If I don’t, I’ll never get the next project done.

So I’m back on Payne and Suffering, and the numbers there should start climbing again significantly.

And that’s it for now.  Stay safe.  :bye:

Mar 282018
 

How about this guy?  Good looking fella, right?  He’s a Troodontid named Stenonychosaurus, and is roughly the size of a large wolf.  He was a pack hunter, and based on the size of the brainpan, scientists think he was the smartest of all the dinosaurs.  And that made him ideal for the story I did.

Yes, the story for the Severed Press anthology is done.  Well, the rough draft is done, anyway.  The problem is they wanted something between 2000 and 7000 words, and unfortunately, my first draft is over 9000. 

So yeah, I’m tearing through it, trying to cut out 2000 words or more.  I’ve managed to get it down to about 8300 words so far, and am still ripping it up.  I know I can do it, but it’s hard, leaving things “on the cutting room floor” so to speak.  Still, if past experience is any guide, the story should be better for it when I’m done.  Short stories are great lessons in learning to write tight, concise, and clear prose, even though the lessons can be a bit painful.

Honestly, I’m having as much trouble figuring out what to call as I did in writing it.  See, there’s a contract I’m supposed to fill out for Severed, and one of the fields is “story entitled”.  The problem is, I have absolutely no idea what to call it.  Usually, I either have a title from the beginning of a project, or it comes to me as I write it.  On this one, I’m already finished, and I still have no idea.  I’ve toyed with several ideas, but none of them really fit.  And until I slap a name on it, I can’t finish filling out the contract!  How crazy is that?  

Anyway, I hope to have the word count down by the end of the day, and I’m considering sending it out to some beta readers tomorrow.  I should be able to get a quick turnaround on a 7000 word story, and betas will probably help me catch things my own eyes will miss (it’s the old “writer’s eye sees what it expects to see” problem).  Better yet, maybe some of them will have some title ideas!

Let’s see, what else do I have to report?  Baby Bird got straight A’s for her first semester in her Master’s program.  We’re very proud of her, of course.  

I can’t really think of anything else I need to report on.  And if I can’t think of anything more, then I guess it’s time to close this out and get back to writing.  Looks like it’s going to be a short post this week.

So stay safe, and I’ll talk to you all next time.  :bye:

 

 

Mar 212018
 

Wow.  My last post was three weeks ago?  Well, yes, I’ve been busy, but three weeks? (sigh)

Sorry ladies and gents.

Even now, it’s after 9PM, almost past Wednesday completely.  But I really don’t want to miss another one, so here’s a quick rundown of what’s been going on…

I was given the green light to talk about the anthology story I’m working on.  It’s for Severed Press, and is an anthology for their dinosaur market.  Initially, I thought I would write the story of the first group of scientists that came through the Pangaea portal in the Pangaea: Exiles story.  It was briefly mentioned in the book, but never really fleshed out.  Since they said they don’t really want that story, (opting instead for something totally different), it’s a story that may never be written.

So that’s one more thing that I’m working on.

And someone else has contacted me about a sekrit projekt… someone whose writing I really admire, and who I know and respect on a more personal basis.  They wanted to know if I would be interested in co-writing a novel in their universe.  Now let me tell you something here folks – there really aren’t that many series that I get into enough to read (or listen to the audiobooks) of as soon as they come out.  This person writes one of the very few.  As a matter of fact, I had just finished the most recent available audiobook in their series the day before they contacted me.  It’s not firmed up yet, but I have hope that this one will actually take place.

Fingers crossed. 

On the personal front, we’ve had bad news, and then we’ve had BAD news.  First, yours truly ended up blowing up the engine in my Rav 4.  I was going to meet with some friends on Saturday a few weeks back.  It was a nasty, rainy day, and I was traveling down the toll road when I heard a bit of a thump like I had run over a branch or something.  At the same time, I had several warning lights on the dashboard light up, including the battery light.  This made me think I might have thrown a belt.

So I got off the toll road at the next exit, and turned around to take the back road to head back toward home.  I knew I ran the risk of overheating the engine so I kept a close eye on the temperature gauge as I drove back toward town.  I got lucky (or so I thought) in that nearly every traffic light I hit was green, so I didn’t have to stop until I got back into my home town.  That was when I first smelled the steam of an overheated engine.  Still, the temperature gauge showed the engine was cool.

It lied.  There was no way for the engine to be cool, and still produce that smell of steam and hot coolant.  By the time the engine died, it was too far gone.  It had died two blocks from our mechanic.  And since it was a Saturday, I couldn’t have it looked at until Monday.  Even then, I hoped it was just minor damage.

No such luck.  I’d killed the thing.  It would have cost more to fix it than the Rav was worth.    So we’re down by one vehicle in the Brackett household, at least for the immediate future.

But that’s not the BAD news.  You know that old saying about feeling sorry for yourself because you have no shoes, until you see the man who has no feet?  Well, that’s the way MBH and I have felt lately.  We’ve seen some people close to us going through so much worse than what we’re dealing with.  I won’t go into details, because those stories aren’t mine to tell.  Suffice to say that some of what our loved ones are dealing with is truly heartbreaking.  So much so that we feel blessed to only have minor things like burned out ceiling fans, broken fence posts, (a few other minor issues) and car engines to worry about.

And we are SO lucky in so many other ways.  We have friends and family who love us, and are loved by us.  And no matter what happens, I don’t see that changing.  In the end, that’s really all that matters.

So hug your loved ones, stay safe, and I’ll talk to you again soon.  :bye:

Feb 282018
 

Yep.  Another project.  A few weeks ago I was invited to write a story for an upcoming anthology.  I don’t know whether or not I’m at liberty to talk about it publicly, so I guess I’ll have to speak in general terms here. When they made me the offer and told me the subject matter, I was at first reluctant.  Short stories and anthologies historically haven’t done me a lot of good.  At least, not financially.  If you’re an indie, you still have to pay for editing, formatting, and cover design.  Then, since it’s a shorter work, you can’t charge as much for it.  And if you don’t charge at least $2.99, Amazon cuts your royalty from 70% to 35%, even further cutting into what you can make from it.  So yeah, I usually view shorter works as time and effort spent on creating something that takes forever to make your return – time that could be better spent on writing something of longer length that has a better chance of helping to pay some bills.

On the other hand, it’s also excellent practice for learning to write in a shorter, more concise, format… a skill that ultimately pays off in producing better novels down the road.

Still, there’s that money thing…

Wait. What’s that?  This anthology is a paying market?  And the publisher will be handling the cost for editing, formatting, and cover, so no out-of-pocket expenses.  And it’s tied into something I’ve already done?

Well that certainly changes things.  Where do I sign?  

So with an idea for a story already in mind, I replied back that I would love to write for their anthology.  I went to work on the story the next day, getting about a thousand words into it.  I sent them an email, letting them know in general terms what I had in mind, in order to make sure it fit the antho well enough for them to be comfortable.  I was fairly comfortable that it would, but better to be sure, right?

Unfortunately, it didn’t.  Since my story tied into the novel that had garnered me the invitation, I had figured it would be a shoe-in.  I figured wrong.  They wanted something that was more of a stand-alone nature.

Well crap. Back to the drawing board. 

And since I had jumped in feet first with the first story, I was now at a complete loss about what to write.  So I tossed a few ideas around.  I wrote a few hundred words on a second idea, then abandoned it… another thousand or so on a third idea (one that I really liked, actually), but found a problem with the world building for it… as in, there’s no freaking way the world I’m writing in could ever exist.  Then I wrote a couple of paragraphs on a fourth story line that also didn’t work.  I was beginning to think I was going to have to pass on the offer.

Then I finally had my eureka moment a few days ago.  I realized that, while the world I had envisioned in the third story might not ever happen the way I originally envisioned it, it could happen in a more localized environment.  And wouldn’t it be interesting to tell the story of how that disaster began?

So you’ll notice a new progress meter entitled Terrorists in the sidebar to the right.  It’s just getting started, but I think I finally found its feet and it should really start moving now. 

 

Other news –

MBH is doing much better now.  She’s still not 100%, but the illness has gone from killer plague back to uncomfortable flu.  Vestiges of it are still hanging on for both of us, but we’re no longer contagious, and we’re no longer up all night hacking up our internal organs,  So yay for us, right?

Writing news – 

Chucklers – Evidently, CV1 was on sale for a day back on February 17.  I would have made an announcement, but unfortunately, I didn’t know about the sale until February 25.  Not being in control of things like this is one of the trade-offs for being published through a press.  You don’t have to worry about the up-front expenses of publishing, but you also relinquish control of the work.  It’s a fair arrangement, but it makes it harder to track things until after the fact.

Pangaea: Exiles – This one continues to surprise me with how well it’s doing.  Reviews are still coming in, and they’re overwhelmingly positive.  PE currently has a 4.5 rating, and the only negative review is from some poor soul who was upset because the book had humans living in a time when they “didn’t belong”, and killing “the animals that lived there” (dinosaurs).  I supposed that’s a viable view.  I just have to wonder what he thought the book was going to be about, based on the cover and book description.  

And there’s really no other writing news to report this week.  Payne and Suffering is pretty much on hold while I concentrate on this antho story, and I’ve got nothing new to report on the Y12 audiobook, or Crazy Larry.  So, in sticking with my “keep it short” blogging policy, I think I’m just going to end it here.

You guys stay safe, and I’ll talk to you next time.  :bye: