Oct 052013

Bella and Cricket

You know how when you buy a pack of eggs, no matter how carefully you check, it seems there’s always one of them that gets cracked on the way home? Well, we typically use them as special treats for Bella and Cricket.  Yep, any eggs that we find broken, we scramble up and cook for our furry, four-legged children. This morning, my better half wanted to try something different. She handed me the egg, pointed to a saucepan full of water she had set to boil, and challenged me to poach the egg for the kids.

Quick confession time – my wife and I are foodie fans. We like to watch cooking competitions like Top Chef, and Master Chef on television and pretend we have a clue as to what the competitors are doing.  Well, I pretend.  My wife is actually an excellent cook, as my girth will attest.

Anyway, she already had the water boiling, and was determined that I should poach the egg.  “We should learn how to poach eggs,” she told me. Now, I had watched it done on television before, and it didn’t look like it would be too difficult, but I was curious as to why I should poach an egg, especially for the dogs?  To be perfectly honest, the very idea of poaching an egg has always seemed a bit strange to me.  I mean, it’s basically just boiling an egg without it being in the shell, right?  Wouldn’t it be easier to simply drop the egg, shell and all, into the water?  Okay, not in this case, since this egg had a cracked shell, but the way she said it made me curious.  “We should learn how to poach eggs.

PoachedEggCooking“Um, just why exactly do we need to know how to poach eggs?”

My beautiful wife of nearly twenty-eight years seemed to stammer for a moment. “Well, they’re supposed to be good for you.”

“Better than a regularly cooked egg?”

“Yes, there’s no butter, or oil, or anything like that in them.”

“Better than a boiled egg?”

She stopped for a second, then grinned and shrugged her shoulders. “Old people seem to like poached eggs.  We’re old.  Poach the egg.”

I love my wife, but she didn’t fool me for a moment.  She just wanted to see if I could manage to poach it without making a mess of things.

Well, I managed — barely.  And clumsily.  And not without help. But I did manage to poach the egg.

For the dogs. (sigh)  ?:-)

I guess that sometimes it’s all about the challenges in life.  LOL.


On the writing front: 

IMPs – The plot of the story is moving ahead.  However, I seem to be having trouble with the character’s voice.  Neil started out with a much more formal narrative style, but has suddenly morphed into a much more relaxed and informal person.  I’m not really sure what this means, but I’m afraid it can only lead to re-writes.  (sigh)  I just have to let go of wanting it to be perfect at first.  To paraphrase some of the valuable lessons I learned on The Dead Robots’ Society podcastIt’s okay to suck.  The story really gets written during the edits.

Chucklers – Ed Lorn is buried in his many other projects, and since he is considerably more prolific than I am, has asked that I move forward on this project without him, with the understanding that he will catch up (and I’m confident that it will be pretty effortless on his part) at a later date.  That means no more excuses on my part.  :(

Y12 – The sequel to Half Past Midnight is really banging around in my head lately, so it looks like I’ll be opening a new folder.  I’m excited that I’m going to finally get started on that project, but concerned that I’m spreading my writing time so thin on each project.  I don’t want to spend so little time on each project that I don’t make nay real progress on any of them.  I guess I’m going to have to find some way to get more disciplined with my writing.

All right, that’s enough for now.  Time for me to start some of that discipline and get back to writing on these stories.

Stay safe everyone.  :bye:



Mar 112012

Well, it was time for another post, and Mike made the below comment, and once again, I was well into another long winded reply before I realized this was more appropriate as a post than as a comment.  So once again, here is Mike’s question, followed by my reply:

Mike Oakes

Hi, Jeff

Looks like things are still going well for you. There’s a couple of things I’ve been thinking about as far as ads go, and I was curious what you thought.

My first thought (and I apologize for being negative) is what percentage of the people who bought your book because of the ad would have eventually bought the book anyway–even if it was over the course of the next year. My guess is it’s not that high, but let’s say, for example, of your 268 sales, 200 of them were a result of the ad, but only 50% of them were sales to people who would have otherwise never bought your book. That’s a net of 100 sales from the ad–not enough to recoup your investment.

On the flip side, every sale that’s generated by the ad has the potential to spawn more sales. So if 100% of the sales that wouldn’t have otherwise happened generate each generate another sale that wouldn’t have happened, you’re back in the black.

It’s probably impossible to ever determine any real numbers on this, and all the ones I used are probably grossly inflated (I do figure the smaller your niche is, the larger these percentages might be), but I’m just trying to cover all possible scenarios.

What do you think?


Hi Mike,

You make some good points.  However, I’m approaching this from a different perspective.  While it’s possible that many of the people who bought Half Past Midnight would have eventually found it and bought it on their own, I don’t think it too likely.  You see, I’m just one new, no-name author with a new book – among tens of thousands of others.

I view it like this – I’m an entrepreneur with a new product that I want to use to make a living.  Therefore, I have three jobs with regards to this product; create the best product I can (within reason – there must be ROI), package it as attractively as I can (also within reason), and place it in front of people who might be interested in buying it so that it has the best chance of success.

I have covered the first two steps by writing a (hopefully) entertaining story, hiring and working with a first-rate editor, and hiring a cover artist and formatting company to wrap the product up in an attractive package. I’m now working on the third step, and my job is to get my product in front of as many of my target audience as I can, to see if it’s something they would be interested in buying.  I think we can all agree that if they never see it, the odds of purchasing go down considerably.  :)

But here’s the thing – if I simply place the product out there and hope people find it on their own, the odds of them ever seeing it remain very slim.  Books that are way down on the sales chart tend to stay way down on the sales chart – unless something happens to raise them up.  Look at it like this, if my book is rated #1000 in the Action/Adventure category, and #100,000 of all Paid books, what are the chances that Joe Q. Public will ever see it?  It’s up to me to do something to make it more visible.  And that’s where I have to learn to work the system.

When you’re ranked that low, you are among the tens of thousands of other new authors, many of whom are not really serious about making it as a writer.  Most of them are going to be the folks who have always wanted to write a book, but never wanted to put in the effort that it takes to make it successful.  (Remember the video that Justin put out on DRS?)  :)

I like to think of this as the free-market version of the traditional slush pile.  If these were the days of “traditional” publishing, there would be junior editors at the publishing house sifting through the slush pile, looking for the gem that is worth putting some time into.  That is part of what they deemed as their job as “the gatekeepers”.  But anyone in the industry knows that the traditional model has been turned up on its ear.  The role of traditional houses as gatekeepers has been negated by the new technologies that make it so easy for us to self-publish.  But the other side of that coin is that it is now up to the individual author to raise themselves out of that slush pile on their own.

As I said, most of the books that are that far down in the listings are stagnant.  But believe it or not, that can actually work to your advantage.  When a book is that far down, the sale of a single unit can temporarily move it up in rank.  The sale of four or five books in a short timeframe can move it up quite a lot.  I know of a fellow author whose novel went from around #196,000 to around #45,000 with only four sales in one day.

Now think about what can happen if you can sell a few hundred in a few hours!  And beyond the abrupt climb in sales ranking, there is another, less obvious advantage that can be triggered here.  You also stand a good chance of hitting Amazon’s list of “Movers and Shakers“.  These are books that have jumped dramatically on the rankings charts, and there are a lot of people who watch that list to find the next “breakout” book – which in turn leads to even more sales – which brings you further up in the rankings – which gets you more exposure – which gets you more sales…

Remember my comments on the Ouroboros effect in my earlier post?

Now, I’ve heard lots of people more knowledgeable than myself talk about Amazon’s algorithms.  I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I do know that getting your product out to as many people as possible is only part of the equation.  To maximize your sales potential, you have to get your product out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible!  Otherwise, you will never get the visibility necessary to continue to make the sales.

Basically, there are several things you want to use on Amazon.  I already mentioned the Movers and Shakers list.  There are also the Top 100 category lists and the “Also Bought” lists.  These lists help keep you visible in the groups of people who are already interested in the kind of stories you write.  Conventional wisdom also says that choosing your genre category or sub-category is also very important.  I have read blog posts by other authors who will intentionally bypass an obvious category to publish under, so that they can hit another, lesser used sub-category with a higher ranking.  I currently have my book listed as “Action & Adventure”, but I could just as easily have listed it as a “Thriller”.  I don’t know how that would have worked out, but there is obviously some overlap, since during my POI experiment, HPM ended up moving into the Top 100 list for Thriller as well as A&A.

And I will go back again and mention that getting high enough in your sub-category gets you more exposure.  And once again, more exposure means more sales, which can bring you higher up on the coveted Top 100 of all Kindle books sold.  That’s not top 100 in your category, that’s all books.  I keep coming back to it, but it all boils down to getting that exposure.  You know the old ko-an about the tree falling in the woods, with no one around to hear?  I don’t want to be that tree.  I want to be the tree that people have to block off the road for, that stops traffic and has everyone’s attention.  That’s the tree people notice.

I keep banging this same drum.  Sorry.  There are likely hundred of other ways to make it as a writer, and I’m doing my best to learn about them.  But one thing I’ve learned that seems to work well is to get the best exposure you can that will give you a rapid climb in ranking.  That has to be the result of some sort of advertising or marketing campaign.  Whether it’s a day of free giveaways, or a paid ad, the best ROI seems to be exposure to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, to prime that old Ouroboros express.

On the other hand, you have to remember to keep working on the next project.  Keep writing.

And on that note, I think I’ve rambled on enough here.  It’s time to take my own advice and get back to writing.

Be safe.  :bye:

Nov 032011

Just finished sending the edited story back to the editors for The Anthology.  Ironically enough, I am more concerned with this one than I was with the edits on Half Past Midnight.  At least with HPM, I knew going into it that the process was going to be a lengthy one.  With The Anthology, I know the editors are under the gun, and are feeling the pressure to get all the various submissions edited, completed, and then turned in for formatting so the final book can be done.

The thing I’m really worried about though, is the fear that I may be alienating one of the editors.  It’s not intentional, but there were a few key points that this editor missed in the story, and one in particular that we simply disagree on.  I’m really not trying to be difficult, but when the editor tells you that you need to clarify something that was pointed out twice before in the story, you have to say so.  Then of course, you have the doubts circling about in your head – am I being some kind of a diva; was my explanation not clear enough?  But no matter how many times I re-read it, I come up with “there were four widgets, two got broke, two still function”.  It’s in there twice – once when the two break, and once during a conversation afterwards.  I guess I’m just too new to the writer schtuff and am concerned that the editor is going to have a thin skin, and that’s unfair of me.  We’re all trying to be professionals here.  I shouldn’t worry about them being less professional than I would be, so what am I worrying about?

The other thing is (I think) simply a stylistic difference.  I’ve had three beta readers go over the story, and gotten compliments on a particular passage.  Two of the three editors for The Anthology had no problem with it, either – or at least, they made no comment on it one way or the other.  However, this third editor indicated that it was too confusing and wanted to remove the section from the story entirely.  I’m going to have to push back on that one… diplomatically, of course, but IMHO the story looses some of its flavor with the removal of that section.  I added comments to that effect into my edited manuscript when I sent it back, and I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what they say. 

The thing is, I have all the respect in the world for these guys.  I just think there may be a difference in styles here, and I hope it doesn’t get in the way of my story getting published.  If it does though, I have to remember that it’s their anthology, and if they ultimately decide that my writing isn’t right for it, then it’s their prerogative.

Hopefully, I’m just worrying too much about nothing.  So it’s time to stop worrying, and start back to writing.  I’ve done all I can at the moment on Half Past Midnight, and it’s undergoing its transformation from manuscript to final product at Telemachus Press.  And for today at least, The Burning Land is in the hands of the editors, so it’s also out of my hands.  Looks to me like it’s time to either concentrate on The Road to Rejas, or get back to recording the podcast version of HPM.  Guess I’ll get with R2R at lunch today, and then see what the recording environment is like at home when I get off work.  If things are quiet enough, I can (hopefully) get some recording done.  If not, I can possibly do some more writing on R2R

Ah, well.  Back to work.  Keep reading, keep writing, and keep safe.

Sep 112011

Yep, it’s true.  Just look at the progress meter to the right over there.  The writing and editing phase of Half Past Midnight is 100% complete, and I have to admit, I don’t really know how to feel about this.  After what seems like an eternity, I’m finally finished. It’s a really odd feeling.  I mean, I’ve been working on this thing so long that it’s hard to accept that this phase of things is over.  This is a major step, and like I said, I’m not quite sure how to feel about it.

Of course, HPM as a project isn’t entirely completed.  There is still more to do.  I’ve submitted a rough book description to Lynn for her comments, but once we’re done with that, my business with the Red Adept is done for now.  (Of course, I’ve already put my name on her schedule for my next book – even though her next opening isn’t until May of 2012 :shock: .)

And now I have to concentrate on getting the book formatted.  I haven’t contacted them yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be going with Telemachus Press for their eBook formatting services.  There is a tiny kink in that their price includes creation of a cover for the book, but they want the client (that would be me) to provide the artwork.  Of course, they can provide the artwork for an additional fee, but that will most likely cause a delay in the process, and I want my novel ready in time for Christmas.  There is also the matter of writing the dedication and acknowledgements, and finding out how I integrate them into the final manuscript for formatting.  I suppose I’ll get details on all this when I contact them.

I also am about to get serious with the podcasting of HPM, and I have The Road to Rejas in the works.  Additionally, I dusted off the first Streets of Payne manuscript today.  It was the first time I’ve even looked at it in several  months, and after what I’ve learned working with Lynn, I can see a lot of room for improvement.  Streets is a planned trilogy currently consisting of two partial manuscripts: The Payne of Her Convictions, and A Glass Half Full. There are also notes on the third novel in the series, but I don’t have any real work invested in it yet.  As for work invested in the first two, I have about 12k words on the first one, and about 20K on the second.  I plan on running about 80K on each of them, but it’s hard to say where they’ll end up.

There is also marketing to worry about, and of course, there’s still that blasted bio to work on. :-/ But all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the way things are going.

In other news, I signed the contract last week for the story I have that will be coming out in an anthology next year.  They still haven’t made the public announcement, so I still can’t give any further details, but it’s another publishing credit under my belt.  As an aside, if anyone is interested, I actually have one previous credit.  I wrote a story for the now defunct Magazine of Unbelievable Stories, and was printed in the Summer 2007 edition, the last issue they ever published.  (Talk about your bad timing. :-( )

So for now, it’s back to work.  I can now say I have a novel that is nearly ready to be published, a short story that’s been accepted for an anthology, and another novel in the works.  Even more important, I have a deadline on that next novel, since it’s got to be ready for Lynn by next May.

Wow, it’s almost as if I’m learning to be a professional writer. 8-)

Well, that’s it for tonight.  Time for sleep.  So for now keep reading, keep writing, and stay safe.

Sep 052011

Sorry folks.  This post is a little later than I wanted, but I was out of town for the Labor Day weekend.  I began writing it last Thursday, but between getting ready to go out of town, and then being in an area where there was no access to cell phones or internet, the news here is a little old by now.  But still, here it is…

I got an email from Lynn late last week indicating that we’re finally done with the heavy editing passes on Half Past Midnight.  At this point, it goes to the proofreader(s).  So now to wait for that.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not complaining about the wait by any means.  Lynn has been great with the turnaround times.  As a matter of fact, I’m the one that has held up production on the editing process here, as you already know, if you’ve read my previous posts (1 & 2) on the subject.  And if I were going the traditional publishing route with a larger house, it takes several months to years for the process to work its way through to completion.  Besides, I still have plenty of other tasks to keep me busy.

For instance, I’m working on a companion piece for the novel.  It’s a short piece, currently entitled “The Road to Rejas“.  It’s the tale of one of the minor characters in HPM, what happened to him on D-day, and how it led him to arrive at Rejas.  I’m guess-timating it will run around eight to ten thousand words.  What’s that, a novella… novelette?  Hmmmm…. let me look that up.

Okay, according to the Hugo and Nebula awards:

  • … a “short story” is 7,500 words or less
  • … a “novelette” is 7,501 to 17,500 words
  • … a “novella” is 17,501 t0 40,000 words  AND
  • … a “novel” is 40,001 words or more

Interesting – I had wondered for a while where those numbers fell.  If anyone of the rest of you were also curious, be curious no longer!  :-)  So, if I hit my eight to ten thousand word estimate, then “The Road to Rejas” will be a novelette.  Of course, we’ll just have to see where it actually ends up.  My stories often take on personalities of their own, and sometimes don’t want to cooperate with whatever plans I have initially made for them.  Any of you who also write probably know exactly what I mean. 8-)

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with “Road” when it’s done.  I’m planning to release it, but how I release it is still up in the air.  Will I pay for professional editing on it?  Will I release it before or after HPM?  Will I charge for it, or release it for free as a promotion for HPM?  Will I podcast it?  If so, will that be before or after HPM?

Lots of things to consider still.

And there is still the matter of

  • writing a book blurb for HPM (shouldn’t be too difficult)
  • tweaking dedication and acknowledgements for same (almost done)
  • write my bio (which is a royal pain in the – um… back)
  • formatting HPM for e-pub
  • getting cover art and design done for HPM
  • get serious with the recording and podcasting for podiobooks.com

On the personal front, as I said above, we visited my folks this weekend for Labor Day.  It’s been a while since we’ve been able to get away for a weekend with them, so this was a real treat – and of course, the dogs loved being able to run around out there again – lots of room! My wife calls it “Dog Heaven”, and the dogs seem to agree.

The trip itself was pretty interesting.  We have two dogs, Cricket and Bella.  Cricket is a dachshund/corgi mix, and unfortunately for us, she doesn’t travel well.  She’s one of those dogs that suffers from car sickness.  We love her dearly, but travelling for any length of time in a car with her gets pretty messy at times.

This time we thought we’d be smart and got her some Dramamine.  It probably would have worked better if we’d read the directions first.  Especially, the part about giving it to them an hour before travelling. :-?  Yeah, it was messy – again.  Also, an aside for any of you thinking about trying this for the first time, there is another interesting side effect that we found.  It seems that Dramamine causes little Dorgis to lose control of their facial muscles, especially the muscles that keep the drool at bay.  Poor Cricket was a veritable fountain of staggering slobber.  Still messy, but not anywhere near as bad.

In other news –

Elder Daughter is on her own vacation right now, visiting Utah, where she lived for several years before her husband passed away last year.  They (she and our grand-daughter) are visiting friends and family she left behind when she moved to Texas.  It’s one of those happy and sad situations.  She gets to see people she hasn’t seen in about a year, including her husband’s family.  On the other hand, it will be tough being around all those reminders.

Middle child is our son.  He’s house sitting for Elder Daughter while she’s away, has a new job, is broke, and waiting on the Marine recruiters to wind through his paperwork.  He’s ultimately trying to get on a Seal team, but the Navy wants him in their nuclear program.  So he’s going the circuitous route of enlisting in the Marines and going to BUDS via the USMC.

And Baby Bird seems to be settling into college life just fine so far.  She sent us a pic of her first still life study in class.  It was a two-hour project, and at the end, she snapped a pic on her phone and sent it to us.  When I first saw it on the phone, I thought she was taking a photography class.  When she told us it was a charcoal drawing, I had to zoom in on it to tell it wasn’t a photo.  Damn, she’s good!

On another note, it seems Baby Bird drove from San Antonio to Houston over the weekend to take a friend up to visit.  They had a fun weekend, but trying to get back into Houston today they got caught in a massive traffic jam between Houston and San Antonio.  It seem there was a wildfire blocking passage from here to there, and they had to turn back.  Better that, than they become a casualty of the wildfires.

Speaking of which, if you read this near the time that it’s posted, please send your prayers or positive thoughts out for those who have lost loved ones and/or property to the fires.

That’s it for now.  Keep reading, keep writing, and stay safe.