Inspired as I Write

This past week and weekend, July 21-27, I made some good progress on my current work-in-progress, Documenting America: Civil War Edition. I completed four chapters (out of a probable 30-32), and did the source document editing for Chapters 5 and 6.

That source document is Lincoln’s address to Congress, which he called into a special session to begin on July 4, 1861, to deal with the Southern rebellion. Lincoln faced a tough situation, the toughest, I believe, of any president. At the time of his inauguration, six states had seceded. One more would join them in the next month, and four more after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Lincoln faced what no other president before or after faced: the dissolution of the Union.

I’m not sure we can fully appreciate the predicament, in our 21st Century comfort, safety, and security. Possibly we are less safe and secure than we were thirty years ago, but we are certainly more comfortable. For three or four decades before the Civil War, threats of secession had been made, not always over the slavery question. The prevailing opinion of many was that any state could leave the Union at any time and become independent.

Lincoln rightly realized the danger in this. What’s to keep one state from extorting the others, saying “Do this for us, or we will secede?” Or for the other states to do an involuntary secession of one? “We don’t like how you run your state. You are no longer part of the Union.” He said that the South “sugar-coated” the rebellion, and that for thirty years the leaders had been drugging their people with thoughts of secession. So when the time came to do it, everyone in the South thought, “Well, of course we can pull out of the Union when we want to. We’ve been talking about it for thirty years, haven’t we?”

Lincoln said, in his inaugural address, that his policy was one of discussion, waiting, and ballots. He wanted to resolve the conflict without resulting to war. But he also wanted to hold the four Federal forts on the coast that had not yet been seized by rebellious forces. Three of these were in Florida, and one—Fort Sumter—was in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the South wanted this last vestige of the USA out of the CSA, so they bombarded Fort Sumter rather than allow it to be resupplied.

The immediate result of this bombardment was for four more states to secede, for Lincoln to call for an expanded military and to allow generals to suspend habeas corpus, and to prepare for war to put down the rebellion.

I found much to inspire me in Lincoln’s speech to Congress on that 85th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the next couple of articles I’ll focus on a couple of phrases and the issue contained in them, and how they inspire me today.

Smashwords Downloads

I’m trying to figure out what’s going on at Smashwords. This is the site where I publish my books to for distribution on to Barne & Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc. I have 15 of my 16 books there. Smashwords doesn’t allow publishing of public domain books, so I can’t put my Thomas Carlyle book there. If I want it for Nook, etc. I’ll have to go to the individual site.

One of the things Smashwords does that Amazon doesn’t do is track the number of times your book is sampled at the Smashwords sale site. Samples aren’t sales, of course, but samples are evidence of interest. I would hope that more sample downloads would eventually result in more sales.

I began tracking my sample downloads in April. Monday morning, around 7:30 a.m. my time, I record, in a spreadsheet, how many times each book has been sampled. I have the spreadsheet calculate the change from the week before, and track this change as well as the total downloads. On April 2 (a Wednesday; then I standardized on Mondays), my books had been sampled 722 times. Since then, here are the samples week by week.

  • April 2 – 722
  • April 7 – 726, so 4 downloads
  • April 14 – 738, so 12 downloads
  • April 21 – 741, so 3 downloads
  • April 28 – 745, so 4 downloads
  • May 5 – 761, so 16 downloads
  • May 12 – 783, so 22 downloads
  • May 19 – 786, so 3 downloads
  • May 26 – 787, so 1 download
  • June 2 – 792, so 5 downloads
  • June 9 – 804, so 12 downloads (new short story added)
  • June 16 – 819, so 15 downloads
  • June 23 – 842, so 23 downloads
  • June 30 – 878, so 36 downloads (new short story added)
  • July 6 – 896, so 18 downloads
  • July 13 – 906, so 10 downloads
  • July 20 – 927, so 21 downloads

As you can see, the trend is generally upwards, helped out quite a lot when I published those two new short stories in June. Now, if I add this week, as of today, which is almost three days short of a full week, I have:

  • July 25 – 977, so 50 downloads

Wow! That’s a big increase from my previous high week, long before the week is over, and with no new book to stimulate downloads. If downloads continue proportionately for the rest of the seven days, I should have 60 or more by Monday morning.

What can I attribute this increase to? Could it possibly be a summer thing? People are looking for a summer read, and so are downloading more samples, trying to figure out what to buy? Is it a volume thing? I’m up to 15 items available on Smashwords. People who see my page think “Oh, this is a serious author; let me sample some of his stuff.” Is it just the law of averages? Some weeks you’re over average, some below, some right on average, and occasionally way over average?

Obviously I don’t know. I may never know. So far this hasn’t translated to higher sales on Smashwords or any of the places it distributes to. I think, however, that more downloads has to be good news. That means more interest, more exposure. Someday the sales will come.

I Hate G.I.M.P.

I think I’ve written this before. I hate G.I.M.P. (which I’ll type as GIMP to speed things up). This is a graphical design program, a poor man’s Photoshop.  I’m using it to make book covers. I do that because the copy of Photoshop Elements (i.e. Photoshop lite) on our laptop looks very hard to use.

TCEEA print cover 01But GIMP is probably just as hard. The first cover I made with it was for Thomas Carlyle’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia Articles. See that yellow background? I have no idea how I did that. I couldn’t figure out how to add color to the canvas. At least I did figure out what the canvas was and how to create it at the size I needed. That was kind of easy. But when it came time to select the simple color that the canvas should be, I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen.

I tried a bunch of things, and eventually that color appeared on the canvas. I have no clue what set of keystrokes I used to achieve that. When I wanted to do the same thing with the cover for In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, the same thing happened, more or less. Though maybe this time it wasn’t quite so random. I thought I figured out the right place to do the color add thing. I must have been in the right place, because the color added, but, again, don’t ask me what keystrokes I used.

Of course, since I couldn’t figure out how to resize the cover photo and change the aspect ratio, without cropping, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do anyhow.

I suppose I need to take a couple of weeks and just learn the program. Trial and error, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Problem is, I don’t have a couple of weeks of spare time to devote to that.

Progress on “The Gutter Chronicles, Volume 2″

I began writing The Gutter Chronicles as a lark, to add a little humor to a stressful workplace. They were a series of “episodes” in the life of Norman D. Gutter, a newly graduated engineer who goes to work for a company named I.C.E. Engineering. Many odd and funny things happen to him.

At first I shared these episodes, one by one, with a few people at the office who I knew would distribute them around. This was in 1998 to 2002. But other things soon crowded out my Gutter time, and I let this lag. Sometime, maybe around 2008, I decided pick up the series again and finish a volume from this. I did so, and in October 2012 published it as an e-book: The Gutter Chronicles, the Continuing Saga of Norman D. Gutter, Engineer, Volume 1. Finally just last month I put it out as a print book as well.

Now, I’m engaged in writing the second volume. The first comprised 15 chapters and covered Norman’s first year with I.C.E. The second volume picks up where the first one leaves off. Several events in Volume 1 will come back in Volume 2 as things left hanging that Norman will have to deal with. Volume 1 included some trite characters, really caricatures of engineers and bosses and draftsmen and public officials. Volume 2 we’ll see more of that, again in 15 chapters with those same characters returning and new characters introduced. Ira Cheatum and Monte Grubber are two of the new, along with a landscape architect I haven’t named yet.

The flirtatious Malinda Mayes will be back, sending out her GUS Alerts, trying to get Norman off alone somewhere. Ned Justice will be wearing his jogging suits, the top unzipped, revealing a sweat soaked t-shirt. Uriah Serpe will charge off after his whims like a wild bull. And Norman will have a couple of love interests to consider.

At present I’ve completed three chapters, and the fourth is well along. The book is mostly planned out. Chapter subjects and names have been identified. I’m not working very quickly on it. One or two days a week I add a few hundred words. I have just over 9,000 words at present. The last volume came in at 33,000 words, clearly novella length. I’m running ahead on word count as of the end of chapter 3.

My main problem is trying to make this humorous again. I tend to drift off into serious presentation of engineering issues. The only feedback I’ve received from anyone in the office who bought the first book is from a woman who has been here almost as long as I have. She laughed uproariously at the first half, but thought the second half not as good. I suppose the second half isn’t as funny.

So I’ll have to watch myself, and make sure I keep things funny. Not sure how much humorous material I have, but I’ll keep looking and keep trying.

Status of “Documenting America – Civil War Edition

When I worked my blog writing to-do list a week or so ago, I pegged this post for today, thinking I would give a status report of where I am on Documenting America: Lessons from the United States’ Historical Documents – Civil War Edition. I’ll still do that, but will digress first to explain why my progress of late has been less than hoped for.

About two weeks ago I began to lament 1) the general messiness of my writing workspace; 2) the amount of yard work I have to do after the tree topping; and 3) the fact that I hadn’t done anything with personally budgeting since March. Mix this with the fact that the once every four years World Cup was on, and it was hard to see clear for making much progress on writing.

The weekend before last I began to tackle the mess in The Dungeon. That wasn’t too hard to do, mainly putting back on shelves the many books I had removed to use for references. Then of course were the papers, everywhere. What were all these papers for? Were they necessary to my writing? Quite a few of them were stray notes which, when I looked at them, I couldn’t tell what they were for or about. A lot of them wound up in the recycling bin.

The yard work continues, though I finally see light at the end of the tunnel. I won’t say more about that now.

Last Monday evening (the 7th), I began to work on my budgeting spreadsheet. I did a couple of pages in the checkbook, then shifted to other things. I did this every day last week. Thursday night I had a long phone call with a cousin, and during that call I multi-tasked by making a bunch of entries in the spreadsheet. That put me to the point where Saturday afternoon I had only a few hours and I would be finished. So, rather than write Saturday, I did my finances, and brought them fully up to date. I still have many receipts to file, but it’s a good feeling to have the rest of that done.

So, on to the Civil War Edition, which I’ll abbreviate DA-CWE. I’m working on the second chapter at present. The first chapter is taken from a newspaper account of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the first military action in the Civil War. I decided some time ago that would be my starting point, leaving documents concerning the run-up to the war for another volume. The first chapter is done (subject, of course, to future editing and polishing).

The second chapter is based on the documents issued by President Lincoln between Fort Sumter and when the Confederacy met in their Congress in late April 1861. The third chapter will be Jefferson Davis’ address to that Congress, and the fourth will be Lincoln’s address to his Congress in July 1861—or maybe I get two chapters out of each of those; can’t remember without having my TOC in front of me. I have the rest of the chapters also planned out, and all but seven of the source documents found, and in hand or linked.

My progress on the second chapter is, so far, limited to excerpting the documents. I believe that is done. I may also have started on the commentary section. In case someone drops by and reads this who isn’t familiar with this budding series, my method is to take a document from USA history, excerpt it down to about 500 to 750 words, and write that much commentary on it. The commentary is a mix of explanation, re-quoting, and tying the issues in the documents to something going on in 21st Century America.

From the first chapter, I can see that tying these Civil War documents to the 21st Century will be the hardest part. The issues that caused the Civil War are not present today. Slavery is gone. Sectionalism is less strong than it once was. So I will have plenty of thinking to do on this portion of each chapter. My fear is that the commentaries will all sound the same after a while. I’ll have to work really hard to make that not so.

Thus, DA-CWE is still in its fledgling stages. I’m working on other projects at the same time, so am not dedicating my full writing time to it. I suspect it won’t be till somewhere around chapter 7 or 8 that I get into a writing rhythm, and start making real progress. I had hoped to get this book out this year, but at this point think that is unlikely. Early 2015 is more probable.

Status of “Headshots”

Headshots 2014-07-08 Cover 02  My latest novel, Headshots, is very close to being finished  and ready for publishing. Consequently I have started some other activities, including creating the cover. I’m going to put in three renditions of the cover, beginning with the second one I did up till where it stands now.

When I say it’s close to being finished, here’s what I mean:

  • I’ve read Headshots 2014-07-08 Cover 04the completed novel twice, once out loud.
  • My wife joined me in that reading out loud, becoming my beta reader.
  • The readings revealed a number of plot lapses, changes in plot, redundancies, and of course typos to fix. All of those have been noted and typed.

So now I need to give it one more reading for typos and smoothness of flow and plot. I’d like to get one or two more beta readers. Last novel, however, the beta reading process didn’t go so well, and so I’m hesitant to put out a wide call for beta readers. I’ll probably ask two or three people, and hope at least one, preferably two, will be willing to read it in a timely manner.

And, here’s the latest version of the cover. I think it’s close to being done as well.

Headshots 2014-07-09 Cover 01


Amazon v. Hachette—Again

The Internet war between bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette is heating up—although it is being fought through or by surrogates. How much either of the two negotiating behemoths are orchestrating the surrogates is just speculation. I suspect some of it is, but not all. So far the war isn’t dying down; if anything it’s escalating.

I won’t trouble you with a bunch of links. If you follow them then follow the links they give and one more time you’ll be blaming me for all the time you’re spending. No, I won’t be giving you links. It’s all pretty easy to see. The Passive Voice blog has a number of summarized, aggregated posts about it. Joe Konrath has a couple, as does Barry Eisler, David Gaughran, and Hugh Howey on the self-publishing side. Several on the trade publishing side have blog posts as well. I have read a few, but don’t remember the names. All of the self-publishers I mentioned have links to blogs on the other side.

I’ve said before that the gist of the war is the Amazon-Hachette negotiations. Because of non-disclosure agreements no one knows for sure what the negotiations are about, or why they are taking so long. Lots of people speak authoritatively, as if they do know, but then say they don’t. One such person is Stephen Zacharias of Kensington Publishing, who, in comments on another blog, wrote: “The negotiations stem from one side wanting more money than before and the other side not wanting to give it up…but no one knows for sure what all the negotiations entail.” So he states it as a sure thing, then says he doesn’t know. This is typical of the commentary on the negotiations.

The latest salvos are open letters. An open letter to Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, has been written and signed by several bestselling authors, including James Patterson and John Grisham. The gist of that letter: Amazon, stop hurting authors and readers. It has around 70 signatories. A competing letter written by Howey and signed by most of the outspoken in the self-publishing world says: Hachette and other big publishers, stop hurting authors and readers. It has, at last count, a few less than 5,000 signatories.

I haven’t signed either. But I think I’ve made it clear on this blog where I stand. Amazon actually wears a few hats in the publishing world. They are a bookseller. They are a book publisher through a couple of trade publishing imprints. And they are a publisher for the huge self-publishing community through Kindle Direct Publishing. My involvement in publishing is through the latter.

Since it’s remotely possible that someone may read my blog who is considering what side “to take” in the Amazon-Hachette standoff, I offer my take on which is better for writers and readers.

  • Amazon, as a bookseller, discounts aggressively and extensively. Big Publishing colluded to fix prices and prevent Amazon from discounting. Higher prices hurt consumers, i.e. readers. So Amazon wins this round.
  • Amazon, as a publisher, pays higher royalties to authors. For an e-book that costs the consumer $5.00, at Amazon the author receives $3.50. At Big Publishing the author would receive $0.63. Larger earnings per book sold are better for the author, so Amazon wins this round too.
  • Except, of course, Big Publishing won’t price their books as low as Amazon does. They will price it around $14, and the author would earn $1.75 per copy sold. Also of course, they will sell fewer copies at $14 than they would at $5, so they will receive less per copy and sell fewer copies. So at the higher price the author is not truly helped and the reader is hurt. I still award this round to Amazon.
  • When e-readers proved successful to early adaptors and commercially viable, Amazon innovated and developed Kindle Direct Publishing. Taking no rights from the author, and charging nothing for use of the publishing platform, they made that 70% royalty possible for any author, independent or with a publisher, to use it and put their work before the public. Big Publishing waited a few years, and when they decided they needed to compete, they bought Author Solutions (well, one of them did, but the others all use it), that company that takes money from writers to profit, rather than doing so by selling books. So this round clearly goes to Amazon.
  • Bookstores boycott products published by Amazon while they embrace products published by Big Publishing. This one we can’t mark off against Big Publishing, unless they are the ones convincing booksellers not to sell Amazon-published products. I suspect booksellers have enough motivation on their own. This one is a draw.
  • That leaves only the book creation process itself. Big Publishing does things for each book it publishes: three different types of editing, professionally made covers, professionally designed book interiors. Some self-published books have that, either because the author hired some or all of them done or happened to have those skills. But I will admit that, on average, the average trade published book is of better quality than the average self-published book: in the writing and the production. This round goes to Big Publishing as being better for the reader, and for those writers fortunate enough to be let in the gate.
  • Oops, I forgot about rights. Who’s better in terms of what rights they insist on having for the money that the author receives? This is a long subject, much too long to discuss here. I’ll summarize by saying that Amazon takes no rights while Big Publishing typically takes all rights for the life of the copyright (which is the author’s life plus 70 years). Some authors are able to negotiate more favorable terms, but most can’t. At least that’s what the best heads in the industry tell me. So obviously Amazon is better for authors on this than is big publishing.

Food for thought as you go about your book buying.


What to do on a Holiday

It’s Independence Day! On my other blog I’m going to sneak in an extra post about that. But on this blog, I’ll talk about what I’m going to do. Unfortunately, I have way too much to chose from.

Writing is something I could do, of course. I have a manuscript of edits for Headshots, things Lynda and I came up with as we read it aloud last weekend and earlier this week. The edits are: fixing typos, improving word use, improving sentence structure, eliminating redundancies, and correcting a few plot lapses (where I changed something as the book went on, or forgot I’d already written something another way). All but the last can be accomplished in a day, and I’m looking forward to doing so, possibly on Sunday. Another day is all it should take to fix the plot issues. I’ll then be very close to publishing.

Alas, I have some things I need to do before I can give time to the book. The back yard still looks like a disaster zone. I’ve cut most of the small branches from the tree cutting and piled them. Those piles need to be hauled off. Most of the branches that can easily be carried up to the road and hauled to the stump dump have been so hauled. I’ll have one more load to take. All the others I’ll be hauling off into the woods, far enough away, at the request of the wife, to be non-visible from the house. Dealing with the small stuff should be about a six hour job, I figure, or maybe more, too much to do on one day in this heat. But it would be nice today to get the one load to the dump and get two piles hauled into the woods.

Then I’ll begin dealing with those limbs that are big enough to justify cutting into firewood. On Tuesday I moved a bunch of them over to where they are at a convenient place to cut. Others are too heavy to move and will have to be cut into smaller pieces first. I’d like to pile a few more of them, and will try to do so today.

But, alas, we are dog sitting for the weekend, beginning today, and we have company coming in on Saturday. The toilet in the hall bathroom is turned off due to leaking, so fixing that by Saturday midday is a priority. As is getting some things from the store to feed the guests on Sunday. So a couple of hours must go into that.

As they must into clean-up and preparing the house for guests. We aren’t in bad shape, except for papers for filing or sorting on tables. Most of these are Lynda’s mom’s papers. We have taken over that part of her life. Lynda has been working on that sorting and filing this past week. It’s possible that most of that will be done by noon today, with me having to do little or none of it. I’m not even going to think about straightening the computer room, or perhaps will do it a little.

So, will I really get to write? Hopefully an hour on Friday, and on Saturday, and maybe two on Sunday. Except, I’m way behind on filing our own personal papers, and on my budget tracking spreadsheet, on my health expenses spreadsheet, and on our business financial sheets. I see close to ten hours of work on those, though I did make some headway on it last week and this. Then, of course, it is the start of blackberry season. Those blackberries don’t wait to ripen just because I have writing to do. So I will be taking time for them.

But I will write this weekend. I will write. If I keep saying that it might just come true. Now on to the back yard and the cleanup, while it’s still cool outside.

June 2014 Book Sales

June was a stronger month for me with book sales. I’ll post my sales table below. I released two short stories this month:

“It Happened At the Burger Joint” and

“Saturday Haircuts, Tuesday Funeral”

I only sold three of the first and one of the second, but they did contribute to both total sales and titles selling. The other thing I did this month was release the paperback version of The Gutter Chronicles, the Continuing Saga of Norman D. Gutter, Engineer. The e-book has been around since October 2012, but I finally did the work to have the paperback available. I asked people around the office if they were interested, and pre-sold 21 copies while waiting on the books to arrive. Four of those I haven’t been able to deliver, so I’ll count them in July.

I sold a total of 26 books. 17 paperbacks in the office, the rest e-books at Amazon. I had six titles selling, including one more copy in Japan of my Thomas Carlyle public domain book.

All in all, I’m happy. This is  my second best month ever for sales, and second best for royalties. Now time to get back to my novel and edit it and then publish it.

2014-06 Book Sales Table full size


2014-06 Book Sales 529x227

Almost a Book Signing

One of the things a self-published author is likely to not have, which a trade published author will have, is a book signing. That’s not an awful problem, as writers on both sides report that book signings really don’t bring a lot of people or sales to the writer. Still, there’s something magical about book signings. Just having one will, I would think, cause you to dream of long lines, piles of books flying off the table, and many fans saying nice things to you.

Yesterday my order of 25 copies of The Gutter Chronicles arrived at the office. I had pre-sold 19 of these (15 in the office; 4 offsite). I immediately began signing them, distributing, and collecting $8 per copy. I sat at my desk and signed. Then I took the copy across the building and delivered it. Then I went back to my desk and repeated the process with the next one. As I did this, two other people bought  the book and I signed the copies.

No, it wasn’t a book signing. But it was the first time I signed books in quantities and gave them to readers. It was a good feeling, even if it wasn’t a book signing. Perhaps, some day, I’ll have one of those too.

Author | Engineer