Envy

Well, after having the cover to my book as my phone background since November, I finally changed it earlier this week.  I tend to change phone backgrounds pretty frequently, so my dedication to the book cover background was unusual.

I switched to the image above, a sketch by the artist Nick Derington.  A quick perusal through his website – especially the sketchbook section – was pretty inspiring and impressive.  I love the guy’s art style.  Reminds me quite a bit of Chris Samnee or Darwyn Cooke.

And his stuff makes me extremely jealous.

I mean, that Batman image is a rough sketch he did with a ballpoint pen.  My finished art has never looked that good.  Never will.  Part of me is so envious of his talent.

It’s the same way with lots of authors, too.  I read their work and I’m jealous of their talent, their skill, their ability to craft a story or a character or even just a line of dialogue.  “I’ll never write anything that good,” I say to myself, discouraged and deflated.

Here’s the thing, though: everyone who does anything creative or artistic feels that way at some point.  When someone as talented and well-regarded as Neil Gaiman can still experience impostor syndrome, you know it’s a worry that weighs heavily on all of us.

So I constantly have to remind myself that someone else’s skill does not detract or reduce what I do.  I think back to a thing I heard, years ago, about music: every song is someone’s favorite.  By correlation, every book or comic must be someone’s favorite, too.  So, while there’s folks out there who absolutely love that image of Batman up there (like I do), there’s probably someone out there who prefers something I’ve drawn.  For every fan of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, there’s someone out there who loves some other book more (maybe even my book, though I’m not so full of myself to think that’s actually true).  Hell, there’s probably even someone out there who likes the “song” (and I use that term loosely) “Revolution #9.”

Am I still jealous of Nick Derington’s skills?  God, yes.  Am I going to let that stop me from creating my own stuff?  Hell, no.

Analytics

So, I performed a bit of an experiment over the weekend, offering up The Invisible Crown ebook for free through Amazon.  If we’re measuring success by the number of downloads, it was fairly successful (for me; for other authors, these numbers would be abysmal [side note: I always misspell “abysmal,” because I always assume it should have two “s”s in it, like “abyss.”  But it does not]).  Anyway, I thought I’d share the results and a couple of thoughts I’ve had about them.

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Oooh, but that “sales” ranking though.

First of all, totals: Over the course of the three days it was available for free, the book moved a total of 111 units.  Considering the first month and a half it was available under Royal James, it only sold a total of 9 copies, I’d say those numbers are pretty good.

But I noticed something: the drop off after the first day was steep.  On Friday, the first day the book was available for free, it was downloaded 76 times.  Saturday?  22.  By Sunday, it was barely doing double digits (13).

I’ve seen this before.  Back in the before times, when I was first self-publishing and had no idea what I was doing, I did a couple of free weekends, and they usually went the same way: lots of folks jump on it Friday, then the steep drop off through the weekend.  What it tells me is that Friday is probably the best day to do these.

It’s also made me think a bit about my price point.  When I resubmitted the book to Amazon through Kindle Direct, I left the book price where Royal James had set it.  Now, I wondering if maybe dropping it a dollar or two might be beneficial and cause more people to take a chance on it.

More than anything, I’m realizing I still need to do lots of marketing and get lots more reviews.  Maybe a couple of the folks who downloaded the book this weekend will come through?  Time will tell.

Pre-Existing

Like a lot of people, I’m frustrated, terrified, and absolutely appalled by the passage in the House of Representatives of the AHCA.  With provisions that allow state governments and employers to strip away patient protections (things like pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits) and punish people for being old or poor, it’s a nasty piece of work from top to bottom.  And the joyfulness, the smug glee the Republicans took in crafting and passing this piece of legislation, is sickening (which is a problem, given what we know about the way they’re treating health care).

Now, I currently have pretty decent health insurance through my employer, a public school system in Northern Virginia.  Assuming everything goes well, they’ll keep providing that quality coverage for the rest of my career, ensuring I get to keep taking all the medications I need to take to remain alive and stable.

Oh, what’s that?  You didn’t know that I needed medication just to live?  Well, it’s true.  I’ve diabetes, depression, and an anxiety disorder, all three of which are on the list of things from AHCA that could get me dropped from my coverage.  And if pre-existing conditions make a comeback, there is no way I’d ever be able to get on insurance again.  The medication that helps keep my diabetes in check would go away.  The medication that keeps my anxiety and depression manageable would be so far beyond my ability to pay for (it’s not available as a generic, and all the generic ones I tried didn’t work for me) that it might as well not even exist.  If I were to lose my health insurance tomorrow, I’d be dead before the next presidential election, I can almost guarantee it.

And I don’t even have it as bad as other people I know.  I have friends who suffer from Type 1 diabetes and have to be on an insulin pump.  Insulin is a tremendously expensive medicine to have to take on a daily basis, as it turns out.  Too expensive for most folks to handle paying for without the benefits of insurance.  So those friends are dead.  I have other friends who suffer from bipolar disorder.  Medication helps keep them functioning, though for some it feels like it only barely manages that.  If they have stop taking their medication because they can no longer afford it (because they’re no longer covered)…well,suicidal ideation is one of the common components of bipolar.  Some folks aren’t able to sleep because of bipolar.  If you aren’t sleeping, you will die.  That’s just how the human body works.

I could go on, but it makes me too angry to.  We are at a crossroads as a society.  If Republicans are going to insist they’re Christians, they should probably start acting more Christ-like.  Jesus went around giving away free health care, folks.  And he wasn’t too keen on the super-rich.  Maybe something for members of the House of Representatives to keep in mind.

Independent

So apparently Royal James Publishing has closed its doors.

This was…surprising news to find in my inbox this morning.  Their website is gone, their twitter is gone, their entire online presence has been wiped overnight.

My book is still available from Amazon at the moment.  I’m not sure how long that will last.

Now, before anyone panics and thinks that my book is gonna disappear from the shelves forever, know that I have the rights and all the appropriate files and I’ll keep the book up on Amazon and Smashwords and all that.  I’ll also be self-publishing the next book, The Hidden Throne, sometime later this year, and all subsequent books and stories in the series.

Here’s where it gets kind of interesting for me.  While I enjoyed my relationship with Royal James and appreciated their support, self-publishing is actually going to be much better for me.  I won’t pretend Royal James didn’t frustrate me sometimes; the publisher was sometimes hard to get in contact with and not particularly transparent with important information about sales and the editing/pre-publishing process.  I am gonna have to pay for editing and book covers and formatting and stuff like that myself now, which is a bummer.  But I’ve got a helluva lot more freedom.  I can sell the book for whatever price I want.  I can do giveaways and sales and things of that nature.  I don’t have to get someone else’s approval for anything.  and I can schedule book releases whenever I want to (instead of having to wait for what’s convenient for the publisher’s publishing schedule).

So, looking at the ol’ pros and cons list, it’s coming up way more pro than con, I think.  My year with Royal James was enlightening, and I’ve come out of it much more knowledgeable about the publishing process than I was before.

Stay tuned for more information about upcoming releases and side projects!  Oh, I have so many side projects I wanna do, you don’t even know.

Brain Droppings

I don’t really have any specific topic to rant about today, so I’ll just give you a rundown of how my week has gone and hope that it’s entertaining enough for you.  If it’s not, tough; I’ve been sick most of the week, so my ability to care has been greatly diminished.

Monday was my birthday.  I’ve inched into the “late 30s” demographic, and realized I’m closer to AARP than I am to high school.  Or college, even.  I did get to see my brother, who stopped by on his way to DC for some meetings (yeah, he does meetings with members of Congress in DC, the poor bastard).  My wife bought me many books for my birthday (including Neil Gaiman’s new Norse Mythology, which I’m going to enjoy the heck out of), and my sister-in-law got me the Hamilton Soundtrack on vinyl, because she is the awesomest.

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Me, on Tuesday.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been pretty ill this week.  Sore throat, aching body, head that felt like it might fall off if I moved it too quickly.  On Tuesday, I was able to lay in bed all morning and then on the couch all afternoon, but didn’t feel up to anything else (I think I managed to drink a ginger ale or two that afternoon and I ate some Saltines, but that was it).  Wednesday was somewhat better.  My body didn’t feel like it was betraying me every time I moved and my head felt clearer, though my throat was still sore.  I was able to do things like go to the Apple Store to find out what was wrong with my laptop (answer: battery was swelling, which was not something I was aware batteries did), then run around all creation getting what I needed to replace said battery.  It’s done, thankfully.

Today…well, I’ve come in to work this morning, but I’m wondering if it was the right choice.  My throat is still very sore, and I spent five minutes this morning dry heaving for no apparent reason.  So that was good times.

Anyway, my dad’s supposed to be in the area this weekend while he and his wife are in DC for a thing at the Museum of the American Indian.  I looking forward to getting to see them.  Assuming I can stop dry heaving, that is.

Another Old Guitar

I have many guitars.  Too many, depending on who you ask.  But each one serves a very real, important purpose!  Of course I have the Fender Mustang my wife’s uncle gave to me.  I also have a bass guitar and a G & L Bluesboy Tribute (think semi-hollowbody Telecaster), a couple of Martin acoustics, and the beater.

The beater was a gift from a former coworker.  My first year of teaching, I bought a crappy, terrible-sounding Epiphone acoustic, the cheapest damn guitar I ever laid hands on.  It played awful, too, and I got rid of it after that first year of teaching.

I was able to get rid of it, in large part, because this coworker came in one morning carrying a guitar case that had seen much better days, probably sometime back before the BC/AD switch over.  There was a spot where a hole had basically been punched through the case, the handle was gone and replaced with a shoelace, and the whole thing basically looked like it had sat in someone’s attic for the better part of a decade.

“It sat in my mom’s attic for about a decade,” the coworker said.  “Do you want it?”

I shrugged.  “Sure, why not?” I replied.  “You can never have too many guitars.”  And hey, this was a type of guitar I didn’t have: a 3/4 classical guitar (a guitar three-fourths the size of a usual acoustic.  Classical guitars also differ from a standard acoustic guitar in that it uses a combination of nylon and phosphorus bronze strings instead of just six phosphorus bronze strings.  It also has a slightly-wider neck to accommodate the fact that classical guitars are meant to be fingerpicked, though that’s never stopped me from strumming like holy hell with a pick).

The guitar itself was in rough shape, cosmetically, but still played perfectly after I replaced the ancient strings.

The guitar became my school instrument, the one that I kept in my classroom and picked up to strum when the mood took me.  I’ve written dozens of songs with that guitar over the years, and it still sounds lovely.  But the case, which was falling apart and pretty worthless when I got the guitar twelve years ago, has recently started deteriorating even further.  The shoelace handle was actually breaking, one of the hinges detached from the body of the case, and the thing was just really falling apart completely.  So, over the weekend, I went out and purchased a new gig bag for it.  The fact that the gig bag is worth as much as the guitar itself was a bit odd, but what can you do?  The guitar is still good.  It’ll remain playable for years to come, assuming nothing horrible happens to it.  And with the new gig bag, nothing horrible should happen to it.

So, farewell, crappy classical guitar case.  You served me well, but the time has come for you to retire.  To the dumpster.

Hike-a-Thon

Over on my comic blog the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running a storyline about the Trail Police.  The Trail Police were an idea my brother and I came up with back in the summer of 2002 while we were working in Yellowstone National Park.  The idea was the Park Rangers couldn’t manage the trails and the park visitors alone, and needed a vigilante to run around zapping ne’er-do-wells with a cattle prod.  It became this whole convoluted thing, involving a rival trail police guy named the Trail Master, and then I moved on with my life.  I revisited the idea a couple of summers later, then again late last year by bringing the Trail Master into the “real world” to compete and then befriend the comic representation of my brother.

And then all the nonsense with the Parks Service Twitter accounts happened, and my brother texted me asking why I wasn’t doing a Trail Police comic about it.  And then I couldn’t not do a series.

For this week’s comics, I decided to do a series of images of the characters hiking in various national parks.  I picked five of my favorites, found photos, and added Clyde, his daughter, and the Trail Master into them.  And the idea behind that – hiking in the parks to highlight and bring attention to the astonishing beauty and importance of these public spaces – felt like something important, something I’d like to see actually happen in the real world.

Now, I know not everyone lives near a national park, or a national park that isn’t under six feet of snow in the middle of February.  So what I was thinking was this: why not do a big hike for the parks sort of thing in March?  Get people out there, expressing their appreciation for the parks, reminding people of how important America’s Best Idea really is.

The plan, then: on March 25, we hike.  Everyone.  Get out to the nearest national park and get on the trail.  Carry signs if you want.  Tell the world you think the National Park System is worth preserving, worth fighting for.  Join me on the trail that day, won’t you?

What Makes A Good Review?

Many of you (hopefully) have had a chance to purchase and read The Invisible Crown by now. You’ve probably heard me (and other authors) say that reviews are really important: they help drive sales, encourage readers to take a chance on an unknown author, and feedback helps us grow as writers.  But maybe you’re not sure what to write, or think writing a review is a painstaking, time-consuming process.

Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not the case!  You can write a review in just a minute or two, really, even if you type like my father (who has never evolved past the hunt-and-peck-with-his-index-fingers method of typing).  Below are all the important elements you’ll need to write a great review for any book!

  1. Keep it simple.  No reason to explain the whole plot or provide bios for all the characters.  The readers will get that stuff when they read the book.  On the other hand, you should…
  2. Be specific.  What did you really like?  What did you really dislike?  What is the one thing about the book that really jumped out at you?
  3. Be constructive.  It’s okay if you didn’t think it was the best book you’ve ever picked up.  Sometimes readers and books just don’t gel.  I had one of my self-published books disparaged because the reviewer found the book to just be, “too weird.”  Which is fine, if that’s how you feel, but it doesn’t really help, y’know?
  4. Be positive.  This isn’t saying you can’t voice legitimate criticism or talk about what you didn’t like.  You can totally do that.  But there are positive, constructive ways to do that.  One reviewer for TIC said they had a difficult time connecting with Hazzard because he was just too mean and drunk most of the time.  But he also couched it in a larger discussion of the things that the reviewer enjoyed in the book, and how he thought the book fit into a larger genre of fiction.  Plus, this is the first book in a series: gotta leave myself room for character growth (and improved sobriety).
  5. Be honest.  If you liked it, say so.  If you didn’t, still say so, but don’t be a jerk about it.

Ultimately, a short, honest review that is specific and constructive is much better than a long, rambling review that tries to do too much.  Happy reading and reviewing!

Book Giveaway!

I have a few digital download codes for The Invisible Crown courtesy of Royal James Publishing and Smashwords!  How do you get your hands on one of these downloads, you ask?  Well, it’s quite simple: like and comment on this post, and you’ll be entered in the drawing!  All I ask in return is a fair and honest review on Amazon or Goodreads.  I’ll be giving away five download codes at random to entrants this coming Friday, January 27th!