Do I Write? Do I Publish? Do I Market?

For the last week I’ve done no writing. Not a word. For more than a week, actually. Nor have I done anything about marketing my writing. Instead, I’ve read; I’ve rested; I’ve watched television; I’ve worked a little on genealogy. Oh, and this past weekend I spent a few hours filing and culling my writing papers.

So when do I start writing again? I’m not sure I’m ready yet. I’m still reeling from the lack of sales. Sales looked so promising in April through July. After months of selling two or three copies a month, I was up to 10 to 12 copies per month. Then Amazon started the Kindle Unlimited book borrowing service in July. None of my books are in that. Coincidentally, about that time, my book sales dried up to nothing. I went from July 30 to August 28 selling not one book on Kindle. On August 28 I dropped the price of my first baseball/Mafia novel to $0.99, and sold seven copies in two days. I hoped this would spur sales of the sequel, but unfortunately it did not. I sold one copy of that.

In the face of those sales results, it’s difficult to carry on. I don’t know that Kindle Unlimited caused people to quit buying my books because they can borrow books less expensively elsewhere. I don’t particularly want to pull my books from all other sales channels so that they can be exclusive to Amazon and thus in KU. But the timing of my sales drop and the launch of KU are, if not effect and cause, quite coincidental. This past weekend I had my first two sales in September, on back-to-back days. It’s a welcome development, which I hope will continue. Alas, my pessimistic side says it won’t.

So, I need to decide what to do. Do I write? Do I promote and see what happens? Do I publish what I have ready? Do I finish what’s in the pipeline and publish those? All of those things require work and sacrifice. Publishing means creating covers, the thought of which makes me ill. I either need to buck up and do it or hire it done with money I don’t have. I could also opt for ugly, generic covers that don’t attract readers. Since my fancier covers aren’t attracting readers, maybe it won’t make a difference.

The book that’s closest to being done and ready to publish is my poetry book, Father Daughter Day. It’s done, just needing e-book and print book formatting and a cover. I say it’s done. I had hoped to add one more poem to it. I’ve worked on that poem, but nothing has come to me that seems good. The book could go out without it. Maybe this week I’ll take the drafts of the poem and work on it, see if I can finish it. Then next week I could do the formatting. As for a cover, I have an idea of exactly what I want, but I can’t produce it. It would take an artist, or at least a graphic artist to combine elements into an attractive cover.

I’m mainly thinking out loud here. Possibly finishing FDD is the way I’ll go, though maybe not. Stay tuned.

Dreaming

The problem with not writing is my mind fills the hours with dreaming instead. Dreaming about completing books that I’ve set aside for the moment. Dreaming about sales that never come. Dreaming about future books in the queue.

Dreaming is not a good practice, IMHO, because dreams tend to grow out of proportion to what reality can deliver. I don’t discount how big God is, and that He can certainly work results that can exceed even our wildest dreams. But my experience is we have to make our best efforts and work out our dreams.

So this is going to be a rough period. Dreaming but not doing. I don’t know how long it’s going to last. I suppose this weekend I’ll at least do some research in the Civil War book. Although, with all the filing I have to do, maybe not.

Rethinking

Book sales in April through August are significantly better than they were in January through March. So why am I so depressed about book sales?

Because, except for a couple of special circumstances, I’ve had close to zero sales of late. Last month I put In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People on sale for $0.99; the regular price is $3.99. I did this, intending for it to last a week, because the sequel, Headshots, was to be released August 28, and I hoped a sale on the first might spark sales on the second. That’s what the conventional wisdom is, at least.

Well, the sale resulted in 7 sales of FTSP and exactly 1 sale of Headshots. I had two pre-orders of Headshots, but when I asked Amazon why only one sale they said the other pre-order was never paid, so they never shipped the book.  One sale of a novel that included a pre-order time and some notifications on Facebook is pathetic, to say the least.

The other special circumstance was the release of the paperback copy of The Gutter Chronicles, Volume 1 in June. I sold 23 copies of that in the office and to a couple of clients. Since then none. Except for these two circumstances, I’ve sold 47 books this year. That’s for 17 items published. It’s true, I don’t do a lot of promotion. I’m sure my FB friends get tired of what promotional posts I do make. My two blogs have almost no readers, so the promotion I do on them probably results in no sales. So, any sales I have are the occasional drive-by sale. I don’t know that I have any/many from relatives, acquaintances, or on-line friends. I know that a couple of co-workers bought electronic copies of The Gutter Chronicles earlier in the year.

I have several works-in-progress. I’ll probably finish and publish them, but beyond that I have no vision and no plan. I’ll write more about this on Friday.

I Enjoy Editing

Right now, or I guess I should say for the past several days, when not consumed by the busyness of life not related to writing, rather than writing I’ve been editing. I agreed to be a beta reader for a cousin who has completed a memoir, her sixth or seventh book. She has been beta reader for me a couple of times, and I was glad to finally be able to do this for her.

The memoir is painful to read, as her life had much trouble and trauma, things she had to overcome. I had some of that in my own life, but hers was different, more painful I think. Reading it has been hard. Until last night when I got to the point where she writes uplifting chapters about her Christian conversion. I have another 40 or 50 pages to go, which I hope to finish tonight. I was actually hoping to finish it last night, but a late start and a need to quit earlier than intended due to working on a sleep deficit put me behind where I wanted to be. Tonight, possibly I’ll finish, though I need to make a major grocery run tonight. We’ll see.

Some writers say they like to write, but they hate editing. They hate editing not only their own work but also the works of others. I don’t find it to be that way. Maybe all the editing I’ve had to do over the years for my engineering career has prepared me for editing in my creative writing. To me it’s an exciting thing to look at words on a page, figure out what the writer (myself or someone else) intended to communicate to the reader, and see if I can find a better way to say it.

A high school and college friend recently was one of my beta readers on Headshots. He sent me a couple of pages of notes, which identified some typos, and indicated places where he thought the plot was sub-optimal, or where character actions were not believable because something hadn’t been set up correctly. I agreed with most of his comments, and looked for ways to make those corrections to the text.

What I found was that fixing these things didn’t take a lot of time or words. Adding one sentence, somewhere in the text, might be all it took to foreshadow a coming event. A plot issue could be fixed in a similar manner. At other times, it took adding in a whole scene (maybe a short one) to fix the problem.  Either way, I enjoyed the process.

Now, I’m enjoying the editing I’m doing as a beta reader. For a memoir it’s different than for a novel. Events happened, and the memoir is conveying them factually along with the writer’s thoughts, emotions, reactions, etc. A memoir can’t have a plot hole, can it? Not really, but it can give information that is sprung on the reader in a less than optimal way. Found one of them last night. It can have good sentences and awkward sentences. Plenty for an editor to do.

Of course, we’ll see how the cuz likes it. “What? You want to change my sentence? No way!!” Or maybe, “It’s fine how it is, thank you.” Or possible, “Thanks; that will make it better.” As writers we fall in love with our words, sentences, paragraphs, and books/stories. Changing them is sometimes hard. The cuz might look at the Word file, filled with track changes notations, and wonder if it was a good idea sending it to me.

That’s okay. I have enjoyed the process. Maybe, if I don’t make it as a writer, I can be an editor some day.

August 2014 Book Sales

My post will be brief today, as much is going on in my world. The last couple of days have been very emotional, in a good way. Things have happened, things that I might someday discuss on my other blog.

But for now I’ll just report August 2014 book sales. I sold 12 books, near as I can tell. I don’t understand how Amazon counted the pre-sales for my novels Headshots. The sales report says two were pre-ordered, and that they would post to the novel sales on the day of release. However, only one posted on that day, August 28. I contacted Amazon about it, and they said I only had one preorder and that was the sale that posted on the 28th. I’m about to respond to them, “Then why did my pre-order report show two pre-orders?” For now, I’m just counting it as one sale. Given that’s the only sale I had of it, you could say my novel release, including going for pre-orders, was a huge flop. “It’s a long tail game” I keep telling myself.

Here’s the sales table.  I’ll insert s smaller one later for display at Absolute Write.

2014-08 Book Sales Table 909x409

The Battle of Shiloh 1862

Having completed the work on Headshots—all but the re-formatting for Smashwords and uploading it there—I have turned my attention back to Documenting America, Civil War Edition. Last weekend I wrote one chapter in manuscript, and typed it. I also went searching for source documents for some non-battle chapters, and had some success. I’d already identified what documents I wanted to use, so it was just a question of whether I could find these on-line, in a copy-able form, to avoid re-typing. I found three of four of them for upcoming chapters, and copied them into my Word document for the book. I still have editing to do on them, but at least they are there. That’s a big part of the work.

Yesterday I began careful reading of the reports I downloaded on the Battle of Shiloh. From a couple of websites I found a good number of reports from generals in the field, from both the North and South. These ranged from initial battle orders to snap reports to detailed reports to transmittals. I didn’t find any orders during the heat of the battle, but possibly back then they didn’t write such orders, rather sending them via orderlies and assistants. A couple of weeks ago I aggregated these reports into a single Word document and formatted it for convenient reading. Yesterday I printed it, and last night I began detailed reading of it. As I was gathering the reports, I mainly skimmed them for general understanding of the content.

I find these reports quite interesting. I’ve talked with military men, at the junior officer level, about what modern military orders and battle reports look like, and I think they are nothing like what was done in the Civil War era. The orders issued by General Johnston of the Confederates said very little about the military objectives of the campaign. I realize I likely don’t have every document, every order he issued. But if, as I think, I have the main one, he’s not very clear about what he wants to do. Drive the invaders out of his country. Turn the enemy’s flank. Corps such and so under General So and So to form a battle line here. But no where does it say, “Our objective is to take [this land] [this town]” or “Our objective is to stop the enemy’s advance south of Shiloh meeting house, and drive him back to the Savannah-Bethel Springs line,” etc.

Snap reports, on both sides, tended to convey little information to remote superiors, and even to misstate things. Both sides claimed they were fighting a foe of superior numbers, whereas history teaches us the two sides were about equal in soldiers and armaments. The North had a slight superiority in that they had ironclad gunboats on the river, close enough to fire on the Southern armies. But except for that, from what I’ve been able to gather, it was a pretty even fight.

The battle results seem to be much the same as the one I looked at for a previous chapter, the first Battle of Bull Run, but with the sides reversed. The South were the aggressors, advancing on Northern positions, with a (seemingly) vague idea to turn the flank of the enemy and thus prevent his retreat. Initially the South had success, capturing Northern artillery, gaining ground, and, at the end of first day, able to report success. After that the North had reinforcements come in, which encouraged their troops and demoralized the South, and they pushed the South back. At the end of the second day the South was defeated and in retreat. It was just like that at Bull Run, but with North and South reversed, and with that battle happening on a single day.

A big difference between the two battles was that at Bull Run, the North retreated in panic and disarray, whereas at Shiloh the Southern retreat was orderly and disciplined. The fighting had been going on eight additional months by this time, and both armies were learning how to fight like soldiers. Their generals, also, were learning how to lead like generals. At Shiloh, the big “star,” if I may call him that, was William Tecumseh Sherman, who had the main success for the North on day two, and was recommended for a promotion as a result.

I’m about 1/3 of the way through these reports. I hope to finish them tonight, or perhaps tomorrow. The following day I’ll edit them, and the day after will write the chapter. Certain parts of the chapter are already coming to mind. Some of it might be similar to parts of this blog. I can for sure see that the battle chapters are going to take longer to research/edit/write than will the other chapters. Shiloh is chapter 11, I think. The book will have 31 chapters if my current plans hold. Since I have much research done for later chapters, I’d say I’m 1/3 or more done with the book. That’s a good feeling.

HEADSHOTS Available for Pre-Order

Headshots 2014-07-09 Cover 01Yesterday was my scheduled day to post to this blog. I didn’t do it, however, as I spent my pre-work hour at the office on putting some finishing touches on Headshots. That meant putting back in some new chapter divisions, working on the copyright page, and something else I can’t remember right now. That took up the time I would otherwise have spent writing a post. I still intended to write one, either on the noon hour or at home after work.

Alas, the noon hour went by on something else, and when I got home I discovered I had failed to e-mail myself the Headshots file I’d worked on at the office. So I had to do all that work over again, an hour more or less. My goal was to upload it to Amazon last night, and take advantage of their new pre-order feature on Kindle Direct Publishing, with an issue date of August 28. So I did the work over again, tweaked the copyright page a little more, built a table of contents, and added the “About the Author” and “Works by the Author” sections. This took another hour, more or less.

When that was done I went to KDP and began the uploading process. This is not difficult, but it is somewhat tedious. You have to pick your book’s genre (you’re allowed to list it in two) and add description for the book. I find both of those fairly difficult to do. As for genres, I put it in:

> Fiction > Sports

> Fiction > Thrillers > Crime

I suppose those work. As for description, I used this as the tag line: A young pitcher must make a comeback while protecting his family from Mafia hit men. That seemed a good one-line description. I was supposed to add something more, much more, but moved on for the moment to other parts of the uploading process. The cover gave me some trouble, as I had never adjusted the size to the dimensions Kindle and Smashwords wants. It took me a while to get the right file loaded and to make the adjustment, but it was done. With the book file uploaded, I checked it on the Kindle previewer. It seems the chapter titles aren’t displaying correctly on the Kindle. They are correct in the Word file. I decided that was something I could fix between now and the 28th, so didn’t worry about it.

I went to the second page of the uploading form and worked on pricing, royalty rate, rights, etc. I had it all done. As I’d been at it for two and a half hours and was tired of it all, I clicked on “Publish”.  I got the notice that it would be about twelve hours before it showed up at Amazon as available to pre-order. All was well. Then I remembered I’d never gone back and finished the book description. All that was there was the one-liner.

So today, sometime, I’ll need to finish the book description and re-publish. Hopefully that won’t take too long. Here’s the link to the book in its pre-order state:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MVFV6R8

My next step is to see if I want to make another change suggested by all my beta readers. They all said too many characters were introduced in the first three chapters, making it overwhelming. In response to that I had already written out one character, a police detective. Well, I didn’t actually write him out; I just deleted his name from the text. I had already decided I could delete the names of two key associates of the New York Mafia Don. They had no real role in the first chapter—they were just there, and I had referred to them by name. I could introduce them in the chapters where they first appeared with substantive contributions to the story.

I went upstairs and began marking up a copy of the book. I re-read the first three chapters. As I said , taking out the associates names were fairly easy. I decided the only other names I could remove from those three chapters were of the three Cubs’ players who had had slumps during the playoffs in the first book, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. They are key characters in Headshots, but I decided they really didn’t need to be introduced by name in the first three chapters. So I took an hour to go through those chapters, see what would need to be changed or moved to make it a good change, and marked-up the manuscript accordingly. That took me all the way till bed time.

My mind was very tired by then, but I was satisfied. I knew I could delete six character names from the first three chapters, which should improve the reading experience. The book publishing was in progress. Yes, I still had more to do, but that was okay. For now all was good. And there’s lots of time between now and August 28th to make other corrections. And I still have the Smashwords edition to prepare, but won’t have that up until the publication date.

Headshots is my 17th item published, all at Amazon, and all but one at Smashwords. Hopefully this will spur sales.

 

Back on “Headshots”

Night before last I went back to working on my novel Headshots. Back around July 20 I sent it out to five beta readers and have been anxiously waitingHeadshots 2014-07-09 Cover 01 for their reviews.

I received the first one back from my cousin Sue. She is also a writer. She gave me a detailed review via a Word document, with color coding for suggested changes. I scanned it to see the nature of the comments, and saved it to my computer in The Dungeon.

The second review to come back was from my Internet writing friend, Veronica. This was a partial review, sent as a PDF document. She pointed out a number of things that need fixing, as well as a few things that were good. I read her comments, and saved it. Today my inbox had another doc from her, with the next section she’s completed.

The third review I received was from high school/college friend Gary. He’s not a writer, but is well versed in literary issues based on interest and experience. He sent me a Word document with his comments—not the text marked-up, but his comments alone. He noted typos by page (all three noted typos, actually), noted some areas where more description would do some good, and pointed out a few things that seemed incongruous to him, things that stretched believability too much.

Wednesday night I started the process using Gary’s review. I went through and fixed the typos he’d caught. I then read through his critique in considerable detail, trying to see what things I needed to tackle. Alas, I wasted some time, listened to some music, and didn’t have much time to write. Last night was different. Yes, I wasted some time and listened to some doo-wop, but I also knuckled down and tackled Gary’s substantive comments. I “yellowed them out” on the screen as I did them. Some, I felt, were things I couldn’t do, as they would change something too much. These I “greened-out”. By the end of an hour I didn’t have all his comments answered, but most of them. I still have a few descriptions to add—or not, as I look at them.

Tonight I hope to finish with Gary’s, and move on to one of the others, probably Sue’s.  By the end of my writing time on Sunday I hopefully will have all three completed, and maybe a book ready to go! Hoping to have it published before baseball season is over.

Three Main Writing Paths

That’s  what I’m following right now: three main writing paths.

First is the technical paper I wrote about in my last post here. Last Thursday-Friday I made good progress on it, though I didn’t finish it. I hope to get it in today. I worked on the paper over this past weekend, adding a good amount of text to what I already had. Yesterday I found the couple of missing data points, added them to the mix, and recalculated my results. I’m pleased with the way it turned out. Hopefully IECA will give me grace, and not kick me off the conference schedule.

The second path is my next non-fiction book, Documenting America – Civil War Edition. Last weekend I completed three chapters. Two of these I had started late last week, but they were in an unfinished state as I approached the weekend. I was able to finish those two, start a third, and finish it. I now have nine chapters complete (subject to editing, of course).  That’s between 1/3 and 1/4 of the book. My next step in it is research into the Battle of Battle of Shiloh, which takes me up to April 1862. The three chapters after that already have research started, though not far along. I hope to complete three chapters a week for this, which will see it done in seven to eight weeks, and thus published before the year is out.

However, I may slow down on that briefly, as I pick up Headshots again. I have received feedback on the full book from two beta readers, and on part of the book from another. This is plenty to allow me to look closely at those comments and see what edits are needed. One I already know, expressed by all three, is that the reader gets hit with too many characters in the first 14 pages or so. Somehow I need to either add other scenes without characters, which delay character introduction, or in some other way reduce/delay names. It will be a challenge.

One beta reader said a couple of things were incongruous. Too many murders, and them being unsolved makes the police/FBI look incompetent; and not enough media attention to a couple of items. Adding scenes of media attention won’t be too difficult. I’m not sure what to do about the murders. I don’t mean to make the police look incompetent. It’s just that the Mafia is good at hiding their tracks. Still, I can have some shooters picked up and be kept in lock-up. That I can do.

So, this week will be a mix of 1) completing my paper, 2) trying to continue with progress on DA-CWE, and 3) making major progress on Headshots edits, which I hope will be final edits. Then, since one beta reader said there were numerous typos, despite my two rounds of editing that included proofreading, I obviously have to do another.

Fun times ahead.

Different Writing: A Professional Paper

I continue with my creative writing endeavors. Last night I made good progress on Documenting America: Civil War Edition. I typed some writing from manuscript, and added to it on the computer to complete a chapter. Then I continued research into the next chapter to be written. Today I completed reading the source document, and read some background material. Tomorrow I’ll excerpt the material and write the chapter. Good stuff, good progress.

But my main writing work yesterday and today was working on my technical paper for the EC15 conference. The paper was due today to the International Erosion Control Association. I still haven’t finished and submitted it. The presentation will be in Portland, OR next February. Long lead time, I know.

The idea for this paper came to me over a year ago, and gelled into an outline at the EC14 conference in Nashville last February. The concept was: gather data from the bid forms from a number of projects about how erosion control work is bid out. Analyze the data, as well as qualitative information from the projects, to see if one method of contracting seems to be better. My hopes, and soft expectation, was that unit price contracting, as opposed to lump sum contracting, would be better for erosion and sediment control work. Hence the name of my paper: “Unit Price Contracting for Erosion and Sediment Control Work: Does it Improve Our Practice?”

I gathered the data (i.e. the bid forms) from ten projects several months ago, and talked with our employee who handled the field work on several of those projects. I’m a big fan of unit price contracting because it is a risk-sharing approach to construction contracting. Explaining what I mean with that would be way too long for a blog post. I teach a 90 minute class on that topic. I felt that going with this risk-sharing approach for erosion and sediment control work would result in better prices, better implementation  of devices and practices, better maintenance of these devices, and less pollution to the environment. It was the ultimate win-win situation to me.

But that’s my intuitive analysis, based on my own biases and qualitative analysis. What would the data say? As I said above, I gathered the data some time ago, and had aggregated it into one spreadsheet. I created my outline about a month ago, and wrote a tentative introductory sentence. There the paper stood until yesterday just afternoon.

At that time I started with the real writing. I had much more introduction to write, then get into an explanation of what I mean by “improved practice.” I also had a little more outline to think over, and dusting off and re-looking at the data. I did all this, and by the end of the day I had a little over 900 words. I anticipate the paper will run somewhere around 3,000 words, so this seemed like reasonable progress. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to finish the paper today, but I might get close.

The morning was full of meetings, site visits, and a little personal stuff. I got back to the paper around 1:30 p.m., ready to write the part about the hard data I collected and draw some conclusions out of it. I started writing, but when I got to the part where I should show what the data said, I realized I had never gone the next step and done a few calculations to see what the data actually said. Did it support my hope and anticipation that unit price contracting would result in less expensive erosion control measures that were equally effective as were those of a project that’s where the erosion control work is bid as a lump sum?

So I stopped writing and went back to the data. I quickly saw that I had too much data. I wasn’t going to be able to present all the data I had intended; it would overwhelm the paper. Including it in an appendix was a possibility, but for the moment I had to concentrate on what was in the paper.

I dug into it, and after an hour figured out what I had to do. I ran the calculations needed, from the data already in the spreadsheet, then ranked the projects according to which had the least expensive erosion control, then penciled in the type of bidding used (unit price, lump sum, mixed). To my great pleasure the five lowest cost projects (on a unit basis) for erosion control work were the five that were bid as unit prices! The most expensive three were the ones that trended most to lump sum, using fewer unit prices. My hope and expectation had been realized. On two projects I didn’t have enough data to do the full calculations and rank by unit cost.

I e-mailed the IECA education coordinator, telling her I wouldn’t have the paper in until Tuesday and hoped that would still be alright. I believe it will be. I printed the paper and have it here. I’ll work on it some, or maybe a lot, this weekend. Hopefully by Monday it will be written. All I’ll have to do is see if I can find the rest of the data for those two projects, and interview the field man to get his further opinion on the non-qualitative criteria.

I wish I had it done by the deadline, but I feel good about it. The end is in sight, and it will be a good paper.

Author | Engineer