Author Interview Mel Hearse

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you what may be the last in my series of author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Let me say, before we get to the introduction, that this has been a lot of fun for me. An eye opening experience, but alas all good things must come to an end. Currently, I don’t have any more scheduled interviews. If you’re reading this and thinking “Hey, what about my story?” don’t fret. I would very much like to speak with you. Drop me a line and we’ll make it happen.

Now, on to the introduction. Today we’ll be talking with author, journalist and Mom Melanie Hearse. Check out her website, she has a journalistic bibliography a mile and  a half long. Interestingly, however, her contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, THE GREATER GOOD, was a first step into the world of fiction. It’s an interesting mashup of Mother’s Day and Tales from the Dark Side and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Mel, who lives and works in Australia, has a novel on the way and has since produced several short stories. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Continue reading

A Degree in DIY?

I found an article today the Guardian, the University of Central Lancashire is now offering an MA in Self Publishing. Which raises the question, if there is enough material to teach what is essentially a Do-It-Yourself sort of endeavor, and grant a degree which certifies that the bearer posses the skills necessary to be successful within the field, when are they going to start handing out honorary degrees to those of us who have figured all this out on our own?

I have to say, for the most part, I’m pretty glad that this program is happening. Maybe we’ll see some well researched techniques coming out of other education outlets such as Coursera. Now that would be cool.

After Action Report: Cover Words & Formatting

I had never previously considered all the extra parts that you must necessarily write, edit, and have at hand when you publish a book. And in hind sight this is something any Indie should be ready to deal with, and have a plan to manage.

Blurbs

These are short, one or two sentence, “reviews” that get appended to the story cover and to book descriptions. At release date you could have powered a zero-point singularity generator with the amount I had. It was not something I was considering, and while I knew they existed, it was in the way a Toyota owner knows that there are American made cars out there.

After ConFusion I am interested in gaining a couple of these. My timeline is open, so there is no rush. The idea is to have them in my pocket and ready to use by the time I’ve got a book or two to package together. Sooner is, of course better, so if you’d like to blurbThe Big Red Buckle” let me know and I’ll get it out on Amazon right away.

Cover Description

This is a short description of the story meant to sell the work. It has to catch the eye while not giving away the story. While at ConFusion I was able to get a little feedback on what appears on the kindle book description and the back cover of the paperback.

For Marco Aguilar, just being at the race’s starting line represents the culmination of two years of careful preparation and training. He feels a momentary pang of guilt knowing that his wife Emma has carried their family while his focus has been elsewhere. But he also knows that winning the Grand Martian Traverse is a shared decision, not just his goal.

Petrus Mandel is a novice endurance sport athlete hoping to soar alongside Aguilar to greatness. He suspects Aguilar may have a solution to traversing the gaping expanse between the distant shield volcanoes and must face his fears and follow his curiosity.

Together, these two Martian-born endurance athletes run and soar in the solar system’s greatest race.

Humanity has survived environmental and atmospheric calamity and begun to move out into the stars. Sport still plays a vital role in our day-to-day affairs. The Big Red Buckle recounts an episode of a single-stage endurance race held between two shield volcanoes on a Mars that is slowly being terraformed. Participants must run and soar over 1,500 kilometers while the solar system watches.

I need to cut this down, it is far too long for its mission and I agree it gives up too much of the story, killing the reader’s anticipation. I’ve reconsidered this bit of sales information and plan on replacing it as soon as my first Amazon Kindle Count Down Deal is completed.

Humanity has survived environmental and atmospheric calamity and begun to move out into the stars. Sport still plays a vital role in our day-to-day affairs. The Big Red Buckle recounts an episode of a single-stage endurance race held between two shield volcanoes on a Mars that is slowly being terraformed. Participants must run and soar over 1,500 kilometers while the solar system watches.

For Marco Aguilar, just being at the starting line represents the culmination of two years of careful preparation and training. He aims to win the Grand Martian Traverse, and take home The Big Red Buckle for himself and for native Martians.

Notice that it is essentially the same thing, only less of the same. There is a little bit of setting given, important to the story, and the focus is on the main protagonist, Marco Aguilar.

Paperback Formatting

I have come to realize that I probably need some help with this. For the most part I was able to take care of most of the formatting issues before CreateSpace got the manuscript, but I also know I missed a couple of things (or maybe they were introduced when I uploaded).

I will reiterate my feature plea to 180g. I would pay extra if they would integrate with CreateSpace and convert manuscripts to print format in selected trim size. And I suspect there would be a lot of other Indies that would do the same if we had a one-stop option for conversion. Want a selling point that no one has yet immitated? There you go. If I worked there and noticed this kind of request it would be a top priority for next release. Got that? Top priority!

Conclusion

So, I suspect that these all fall into the “unforeseen nuisance” category, but they are all also important polish that should be there. I know that now, and I’ll move to correct them as soon as possible. There are a number of people I should thank for helping me sort these things out, but in particular J.C. Daniels/Shiloh Walker deserves special mention.

Oh I am Happy with This Bit

Low Muscle Glycogen. Yep, I just completed a chapter which focuses on the endurance demon that ends all races. And wow, is it good. Even if I do say so myself. And I do.

Write what you know? Have you ever bonked before? Why yes I have. And after reading this bit I’m guessing that even if you have never been in the situation where your body literally gives up — while your mind screams “lift that leg, yes, one more time. Now that one, you can do it” — you will feel that pain. That sweet, sweet pain which narrows your focus and will inevitably prove to anyone who matters, to yourself, to your only competition, that you are the only God of this damned temple.

Writer’s Tool Box: OMG Vellum

OMG

OMG

Have you been wrestling with formatting crap in your ebook publication tonight? Guess what, in about 30 minutes I turned my manuscript from a struggle to a dream. Previously, the table of contents was not working. KDP split several front papers including the copyright page and the single line dedication. Word for Mac would not embed fonts so any time there was a font size change the whole thing went wonky. And adding an “About the Author” page was ridiculous.

I can’t recall where I heard about this Mac resident application by 180g, but it had been something I’ve been wanting to try for a little while now. Holy cow! I am so glad that I did.

Feature request guys, integration with CreateSpace please! Yeah, I imagine that this might lead to a few additional hoops to jump through, but oh how I crave that ease for the print version of anything else I write. Seriously, this is well worth the money.

If you’ve already bought the ebook on Amazon wait about 12 hours and the new and improved version should download to your favorite reading device. If not, go take a look at the preview tomorrow morning. What a difference, and so easy. This application is being added to the regular workflow for any publication in the future.

Trying Something New

I’ve been playing around with several methods for outlining stories and plot runs. Everything from using post-it notes or notecards to taping together legal paper and drawing from left to right the direction of the story. For the most part, all of these are workable solutions. Each of the techniques I’ve tried has been helpful in reminding me where I’m headed as I tease words from my brain during the writing process.

The chief issue I’ve had so far with these various approaches is that none of them are very portable. It is extremely difficult to trot off to the rec center and start writing knowing that your plot outline is back at home pinned to the wall on a white board. I’ve had to re-write several plot outlines because the paper has been torn or “augmented” by my three-year-old when I look away.

In the time before I was a writer, I did some work managing projects. I’ve used many tools to get those jobs done, and tonight I took that tool knowledge and tried to adapt it to the task of providing a mobile, cloud-based plot outline that I can take with me on my laptop or iPad when I travel. I’m actually pretty pleased with the results. I’ve created a mind map (not 100%, but close) of the Novella “Up Slope” that I’ve been working on using MindNode Pro.

That is some snazzy stuff right there. The best part is that I can work on it from wherever. It lives in the cloud, which means that if I need to consult it while I’m tapping away, it’s only another tap on the touchpad. It is going to give me much more control, not just the illusion of the control and direction I hope for every time I break out a pile of sticky notes.

The downside is that there’s nothing really tactile about it. I can’t scribble in the margins and Tess won’t leave me spelling corrections and suggestions if I accidentally leave it out on the table.

Promotions to Book Sales

Boosted

Boosted

When I finished the paperback version, wading through hours of copy-editing, I took some friendly advice. Basically, it amounted to the following, “Plug your book, foo!” Nearly a full month after releasing the ebook version I had friends who had not heard my good news.

I researched my options and quickly came to realize that the best  was probably going to be Facebook. So I plugged the book on my blog, it posted to twitter, and thence to my author page on Facebook. This post, like all blog posts, is also forwarded to my GoodReads author page as well as my Amazon Author page (although the amount of page space granted blog posts is pretty slim) and LinkedIn (when their data connection isn’t borked).

Everything except the Facebook promotion was free of charge. But, and here is the important part, it’s really difficult to get any meaningful information about clicks to the Amazon book page from these media outlets. Facebook on the other hand offers this option (although very rudimentary).

Metrics

Total Reach and Paid Reach

I boosted my “Plugging” post twice through Facebook. What I really want to learn is how to turn my very limited budget of promotional dollars into book sales. The five to six-thousand views are likely a distraction. If you did not click through your scroll finger flew past my post in seconds. So toss those numbers out as meaningless.

“Photo clicks” and “page likes” also are meaningless. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m glad you liked my post about my book, but since I want you to buy my book (for the equivalent of a small cup of coffee) these likes just tickle my ego. A very small tickle.

Now what I want to know is how many of you looked at my book. Seventy of you clicked through. Unless something is wrong with Amazon’s reporting, seventy of you clicked through and then went back to browsing inspiring, viral videos of pandas rolling through pudding and snarky pictures that 97% of people won’t ever repost (supposedly because they’re not brave enough). So at roughly $0.97 a click, Facebook advertising does not seem to be what this Indie author needs to get the job done. Had absolutely all of you bought the ebook version of “The Big Red Buckle” I would have broke even, meaning my book sales would have covered the cost of the promotion.

Okay, so at least we know what not to do to make a living as an Indie.


In other news, I have additional experiments planned for the near future. I have ordered twenty copies of the paperback to take along with me to Detroit. Legendary ConFusion will mostly be a place for me to listen and soak up the finer points of how to make ends meet in this business. But I’m hoping to give away the print version of the book as well in the hope that it will get read and passed along as “worth reading.”

Also I’ve printed off fifty cards with QR codes embedded. They should look pretty snazzy when they show up and the best part is that they are a low cost, recyclable way to get the book out there.

Finally, I’m planning on re-pricing the book with a KDP “Countdown Deal” starting on the 17th. For some period of time I’m going to drop the cost by about two thirds. Coupled with the giveaways, and the cards maybe I can generate some sales this way.

This sales game is a little disheartening, at least right now and from this side. In some ways I can see the advantage of going the traditional route, seeking out a publisher, nailing a contract, and getting that advance. Even if it’s a tiny fraction of what you could make with any particular work your publisher’s focus is on distribution and sales so your’s does not need to be.

That said, I’m holding up well. I know that this is the right path for me, at least right now. I’ve been hard at work continuing to write “Up Slope” and “Jojk” (a second short, companion to “Joulupukki“) although my daily word count is down, the result of moving and other monkey wrench activity in our daily lives, I will continue to write, write, and write some more.

Self Publication Mistakes

There exists a very gray space for “indie” authors. Acting as your own advocate, you must find the sweet spot between advertising your book and bothering your potential readers. I have spent a great deal of time recently watching other “indie” authors in a variety of locations to get a better idea of how to find this balance while expanding readership. Here are some observations I’ve made along the way. What works and what crosses over that line.

Misleading Key Word or Hashtag

I learned my lesson about this one a while ago. I wrote a blog post during the hight of my seizure period in which I complained about “A Fucking Wall of Secretaries” in which I complained about running into officious bureaucrats and busybodies that were universally in my way while I struggled to find help, a diagnosis, and even (a hope in vain) a cure. In 2012, it was the single most searched on post of mine, but not because the rest of the world was running into a similar wall of phone-answering boobs. Rather, some of you watch porn and you search on the terms “Fucking” and “Secretaries” … a lot.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of “indies” out there seeking to capitalize on this phenomenon. About once a day I see this one.

The problem with this strategy is that if you happen to attract Anthony Weiner with this bait, he is unlikely to actually bite your hook. You won’t sell any books to someone searching for “#sex” unless you happen to write erotic graphic novels.

One Book Wonder

In a recent industry guide I picked up, “Write, Publish, Repeat“, the authors, Sean and Johnny, spend the better part of a chapter building an illustrative narrative about anyone’s experience going into an old fashioned book store (the kind with walls and shelves). Within the narrative, they describe the several layers of book marketing that happen for someone searching for their next read. You walk through the door and there will be some choices, usually best sellers, sitting on a table right in your path. They are there because someone, the publishers and their authors, want you to see those first.

Maybe there’s nothing there for you, so you wander over to your favorite section. Genre fiction. Along the shelves you’ll notice that there are a few books with their covers out, but most are only spine out. Maybe you’re interested in a particular author so you side-step down the aisle. Maybe you’re looking for the next in a particular saga. However, in this “indie” marketing mistake, none of that matters because you’re actually experiencing a hallucination. The hallucination is an after effect of the book some overzealous author fired from a cannon at your head when you first got out of your car in the parking lot of your favorite Barnes & Noble.

Yep, there are people out there that write. And then, once the writing is done, they try to sell the crap out of that book. They load it up in their social media shot guns, yell “pull” at the top of their lungs, close their eyes, and pull the trigger. Over and over and over again.

And frankly this sort of self-promotion is annoying. Regardless of the quality or price of your book, the only thing it does is turn people off. It is like trying to attract flies with highly concentrated sulfuric acid or win friends by punching strangers square in the mouth.

And of course I see “indie” authors making this mistake on Twitter all the time too. It has gotten to the point that as I scroll my feed I simply blank them out, already knowing what they’re going to say. I know, when you are the only one at the helm of your little writing and publication company, it can be very tempting to imagine that the aggressive sell might work. You know your book is *that* awesome, if everyone would just cough up the equivalent of half a cup of coffee they too could know the wonders of your imagination.

But folks — and I’m reminding myself right here, right now — if you want your reader’s love and affection, you’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to seduce them. You’ve got to romance them in 140 characters or less. You gotta, gotta, gotta show a lil tenderness. Just try, try a little tenderness, yeah yeah yeah.

Indifference

So you have worked hard. You have written your book or your trilogy or whatever. And you have enough in the way of connections and leverage that as soon as your magnum opus hits the shelves, you have already hit several best seller lists and you’re making plans to attend “WorldCon Where Ever” because there will be a little metal rocket waiting for you when you arrive. And hey, good on ya! Because that sort of fairy tale actually happens so infrequently that it is phenomenal if only for its rarity.

But maybe your modicum of success goes to your head. Maybe you never were a very nice or considerate person in the first place. Or perhaps you are too privileged to recognize what a good thing you have. It is a rare thing when authors actively scare away their fans à la Orson Scott Card style. Most of us will just lose our enthusiasts because we simply fail to recognize that they exist.

This marketing failure is best illustrated by its negative. There are a few very notable examples of what I mean. Near the top of that list are folks like Hugh Howey and John Scalzi. These guys both have earned enviable positions within the publishing world. Yet, both of them have a well oiled socialization mechanism that does two things for them.

First, it keeps them human. Your fans really like to know that you do the same things that they do every day. If they’re like me, if they aspire to your level of success within this business, they’ll want to know the details of each little fuck up or struggle. And you can tell them about these things via your blog, or Twitter, or whatever. They’ll listen.

But with guys like this, who annually receive millions of hits on their sites, it is unlikely you’ll ever get a reply email. Yet it still happens. Even these guys at the top of the game will take a moment to listen to their fans, to their followers. And I think, in some way, they gain something from this interaction, although I suppose no one really expects anything from them.

But then there are guys like Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, and Michael Bunker who are all working very hard at their craft, but who have more nominations than awards. These three examples have built a large and flourishing fan base, but routinely find time to reply to their email, hold twitter conversations with strangers, and are quick to provide a word of encouragement or even publicly acknowledge someone else’s work. That my friends is the stuff of greatness.

Incidentally, if I didn’t mention you here, please don’t take it personally. It is New Year’s Eve and I have had a couple glasses of wine, so much of this is simply coming off the top. I know these authors perhaps better than others (because I’m a fan) and so its easy for me to talk up, not only their work, but also their contributions to other writers. This message is for those of you who *DO* acknowledge their readers, keep up the good work.

Finally, if you’re reading this and wondering “Where are all my readers going/gone?” then you may be illustrating the consequences of not taking care of your readers. Think back: have you ignored someone because it just seemed like too much time or effort to respond? Get followed on Twitter, but refuse to follow back? How about your blog? Do you have followers that you refuse to read? They are all little slights, but even well beyond high school ignoring someone who is just trying to, at the very least, be friendly with you is a fine way to create a foe. They wont forget the slight.

Conclusion

Yes, here is the resolution part. Having thought about these things, in apparently great detail, I also resolve to do my best to remember them. The difficult part of this whole thing for me is the business side of this small business. I can write my fingers off day after day, but ultimately that’s just step one. After the editing and copy work, comes the selling of the books and stories. My intention is to build a loyal if small fan base, and write a mountain of stories. I don’t want to cross that line with any of you, straying into the territory of annoying author/self-publisher, but I sure would love to see more of you reading the stories I have to tell.

The Conversation We Never Have

Here’s my life. My lovely and patient wife wakes up at the crack of dawn, usually the semi-predictable perturbations of our toddler, and the two of us claw our way to the kitchen where we split coffee duty (yes, Tess I know you make it most of the time lately). There are discussions held around the table while we try and stuff food into our child’s mouth. Then we break, I usually go sit with Aral on the potty (it is toilet training time) and she’ll go take a bath and get ready for the day.

By the time she is walking out the door, headed to her solid job with good benefits and reasonable pay, I’ve either packed up the kiddo and headed out to the Rec Center where I will write for a while or am ensconced at my desk writing up a storm. Time is limited and soon I know I’ll have 16 kgs of squirming three year old hanging off my arm or climbing up my back. He will be ready for adventure.

So, I am fully aware of the special position I occupy both in my family’s financial and home life. My wife brings home the bacon, while I’m working out the details of being a successful writer. Fake it until you make it, right?

This blog post is in response to a really well written piece I encountered earlier today by Ann Bauer. In “The Conversation We Never Have” she describes a couple of instances of people, authors who have achieved some level of success and notoriety, but are completely oblivious the advantages they have had along the way. And I think she makes a most excellent point when she writes “In my opinion, we do an enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed.”

It is important to recognize the support system that allows us to move forward, making incremental progress day after day; I know this because it has not always been this way for me. The difficulties along the way, the challenges and distractions, all kept me from writing when I was younger even though the stories were all there to be written.

Today, I am essentially sponsored by the woman who shows up at the dinner table every evening. We exchange our tales-of-the-day and kvetch about the little nuisances that we’ve encountered. We also spend hours talking about what I’ve written and what I might write. That is my favorite part about all this, working with my best friend on ideas.

I just completed my first novelette and am up to my neck in other writing projects (two novellas and a full length novel). I’m writing happily and quickly, averaging about a thousand words a day, because I have the time and funding to support me. Also the encouragement and good reviews are a big boost. I get much help from my wife and family, and my cover art from an old Army buddy. Without these advantages I wouldn’t have stacks of editorial work to dive into. Sure, there is still a lot for me to work out, a lot to learn. But without all this help I wouldn’t be creating.

OK, there’s mine. Now show me yours.

Holy Poo Sticks!

Oh Poop!

So the last time I attended a scifi convention was in the early 90’s. I went with a bunch of friends, coming down from the little mountain town where I attended college, and we carpooled in a VW bus that blew a spark plug out of the block somewhere on the backside of Kenosha Pass (IIRC).  Ostensibly I went there to play games, and I had a great time.

But I just signed up for my first Convention in more than twenty years. I’m going to attend Legendary ConFusion in Detroit. There are a couple of authors going that I’d really like to meet face-to-face and I’m also hoping that to get some learn’in.

Last night, laying in bed with a strained back, I realized how little I actually know about this business. I feel like a blind sword fighter, constantly stabbing in the dark. You know you have struck meat when you feel that squishy, yielding flesh under your blade, but most of the time you just end up sending your cutlass uselessly zipping through the air.

There are a number of symposium that I want to attend, but in particular, Tobias Buckell is sitting on this panel.

Becoming a working writer with Tobias Buckell

12pm Sunday – Rotunda
In this intimate Q&A Tobias talks openly about strategies, tips, and what it took to make it out of hobby and into career, as well as answers questions readers might have about his work)

So not only has it been a long time since I’ve been to a Con, but it was under much different circumstances. I feel that the stakes are higher this go around and the intent is certainly to learn the ropes of this business a little better (or to stick with my earlier metaphor, lift the veil).

In the mean time, I’ve got the pre-trip-with-a-purpose jitters. It helps that my first good review came in on Amazon yesterday. But the pucker-factor needle is still hitting “oh poop” tick way over on the far side of the gauge.

The Big Red Buckle, for those with an interest in Colonial-Mars-genre science fiction, or paragliding, or just about anyone else with a pulse and an imagination, is a compelling page -turner. Well beyond short story length, more of a lean and taut novella, it’s a great late-evening read that still won’t take all night. Thyer’s characters, even those whose physical characteristics differ from birth in Mars’ low gravity, are ultimately human at heart. I look forward to more from this author!

I guess now I need an appearance page. I’m going to bring a couple of print copies of The Big Red Buckle along with me. If you’re going to be there, let me know, I’d love to meet some new faces and other writers.