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Time Is Not On Your Side June 18, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, e-books, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, serial fiction, Uncategorized, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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Tick. Tick. Tock. Cuckoo clock chimes. The weights descend and you are out of time. All a writer (or any of us) has is time. That’s the commodity to hoard and covet and use to its fullest extent.

I come up with a never-ending flood of ideas. That’s not a problem of “What next?” When I get down to writing, there’s not a writer’s block to be seen. No problemo. What is harder is choosing among the ideas to work on next because there is so little time and triage has to be done.

Looking back on 40+ years of writing, I mostly wouldn’t change things, but maybe, perhaps, kinda, one tactic stands out that should have been modified. Writing series books (ie, Jake Logan, Trailsman, Nick Carter) is fun and it paid a lot of bills. But none of those books is mine. I can’t put up new ebook editions or take them down or do anything. They belong to the publisher and are forever deadwood to me. Filling some of the time spent writing so many with my own work would have been a smarter move. I know writers of prodigious output who own almost no titles of their own–they did too many work-for-hires. As a result they have only a handful of titles under their control, ie, to make money now as opposed to when it was written.

Write what you need to stay alive. It’s tough out there and always has been. But do as much of your own as you can. It’s yours and there is never enough time to do “just one more.” Time’s arrow will pierce you and once gone from the quiver, time cannot be recovered.

In case you want some sf about relativity….

Of Cyber and Sound June 11, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, review, sense of wonder, Uncategorized, writing.
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Mario Acevedo sent me an honest-to-Ghu dead tree copy of Cyber World, Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow. It is, as the title suggests, cyberpunk. I’m not much of a cyberpunk reader, and many of the stories herein remind me why. The stories are well done, literate and mostly leave me feeling depressed. The mark of a good story is to elicit a reaction, but the drumbeat of down is a bit much for me to take at a reading, which is the way I tried this anthology. In the afternotes there’s an explanation of what editors Jason Heller and Joshua Viola were looking for. Mixing magic realism with cyberpunk is an experiment that didn’t work for me. Give me the good ole timey noir.

I used to read horror. I don’t anymore. Got too dark. Steampunk is more to my liking as a subgenre since it can be upbeat, have heroes … and stories that have a conclusion. Too many modern short stories leave me hanging, as if I lost the last page. “Lady or the Tiger” works fine–once. I don’t mind doing the work to come up with my own endings, and sometimes (!) they are better than what’s there. The stories that simply dangle make me feel cheated out of the author’s notion of what the story ought to be. And this collection is darker than I want to deal with right now. Too much dystopia in the real world for this to be either an escape or series of cautionary tales.

One clever marketing technique with this book alone might make it worth getting. A CD of what I’d call EDM/electronica is included and most listenable. In today’s world differentiating your book from the pack is hard. This works to accomplish that. I’d never heard any of the groups, but Scandroid has 3 songs of the 7 and give songs that are great to work to.

Not Tired of Winning May 21, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, e-books, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Awards are nice. Very much so, but cutthroat, dog-eat-dog competition for them has always struck me as worthless. A writer’s job is to entertain. An award for giving readers a moment’s fun is great. A writing award gained by maneuverings and political machinations is not so great. And I am unconvinced that putting “Winner of XYZ Award!” on a book cover has much selling power any more.

That said, I am delighted and incredibly honored to have won the Western Fictioneer’s Life Achievement Peacemaker Award for my work, especially since it puts me in the company of writers I respect and admire so much.

While I am considering having the award tattooed on my chest, I doubt it means much in the way of additional sales. A million-copy bestseller means 329 million people in the USA never bought the book. A trickle more might have read it in a library. Most of those who do read the book probably can’t tell you the author’s name. Just the way it is. As authors we want to establish ourselves as a brand, something readers will hunt out when they are in the mood for more entertainment. Practically, it doesn’t happen except for a very few. Love the award, thank everyone responsible for giving it to me, but the lifetime achievement and $10 might get me a small exotic coffee at Starbucks.

But would I trade it for that $10 cup of exotic Starbucks coffee? Not in a million years. It tells me readers (and other writers) appreciate the handful of books I (as Jackson Lowry, Karl Lassiter, Jake Logan, Jon Sharpe, Ford Fargo and others), have written.

As a real bargain, you can get not only what I consider my best Jackson Lowry western (The Artist) but also seven others from different writers for a mere 99 cents.

The Artist

Double Down May 14, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, contest, e-books, ideas, Uncategorized, VIPub, writing.
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When you write a story, consider how many different ways you can use it/sell it.  Easiest of all is submitting a story to a contest.  I saw one that is pretty nifty with big prizes.  Futurescapes Contest

Benefits: you write, you win.  You become an award-winning author (and much richer, in this case).  If you don’t win, you’ve got a story that can sell elsewhere.  A story you can use as a promotion for other work (your ebook can contain an entire novel *plus* that story as a bonus).  A story to put into your own collection.  A story that might just fit into the raft of theme anthologies that crop up all the time (but which have impossibly short deadlines–”Sure, I can get you a story by Thursday.”  And you can since it is already written.)  And it’s possible that story can serve as the beginning of a longer work.  A first chapter, if you will.

How many other ways can that single story be used?  Let me know.

Some contests are futile to try, being set up to give specific authors a win.  Beware of those which charge an entry fee.  Those might be used to generate money for the people running the contest and nothing more, but if the reward is big enough and you’re confident, go for it.  Look for contests where your entry is anonymously judged to avoid a judge knowing and hating you (for whatever reason).  Some contests you might have to swallow hard to consider, but there are worthwhile results.  Writers of the Future
might be like that, but the contest seems fair, the judges are well known and respected pros and if you win (and there is a steady stream of winners), you can make a bunch of bucks with your story.

Your story is going to be tied up in the sales process anyway.  A few extra weeks or months can benefit you greatly by putting a contest at the start of the submissions queue.

And another list.

Write on!

Semi-Weird April 9, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, fantasy, Haiti, movies & TV, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Weird westerns are like zebras, either black with white stripes or white with black stripes, depending on your viewpoint. Is it weird, ie horror oriented? Or is a western, complete with western tropes? Mixing the two requires some kind of a decision. Mostly, when I write weird westerns, I go with the western basis and the horror/fantastical added on top of it.

Considering the interests of the readership (is it western or is it horror?) I have chosen poorly going the way I have. Western readers don’t seem to like much outside the traditional. Horror readers are more eclectic in their tastes, and a western setting can be reshaped into Victorian or even Gothic. I tried a trilogy, which I quite like both in concept and execution, with the voodoo element causing the western protagonist all kinds of trouble. Marketed to western readers, it hasn’t done well at all.

Punished was called semi-weird by one reviewer because it isn’t the usual stew pot of weird (like Penny Dreadful with Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, witchcraft and about everything else in the supernatural arsenal). I stuck with one menace. A not very nice protagonist is cursed by a voodoo practitioner and slowly turns into a zombie. To lift the curse he has to cross country from San Francisco to New Orleans. Along the way the very people he hates most are the only ones who can help him hold the curse at bay. As a zombie he is old school, not George Romero brain-eating, shambling or hyperzombie.

Poor Vincente has lost everything and now deals with Navajo shaman, Chinese herbalists and reluctant black voodoo mama loi. But at its core, this is a western dealing with outlaws, riverboats and all the usual, including cavalry, hanging judges and snake oil salesman. I enjoyed writing the three books but if I had them to do over, I’d go the route of western romances (romance base, western setting). Undead, Navajo Witches and Bayou Voodoo would be horrific stories set in the West.

Undead

Punished 01

Riding Off Into the Sunset October 26, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, New Mexico, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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If a song can be said to have an impact on my life, it might be Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'”. I have always liked the line about getting out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. Looking at publishing this way has kept everything in perspective for me over a long writing career.

Ebooks changed the publishing world. Dead tree books will always be around but I found out Friday that there will be a lot fewer from a Big 5 publisher in the future. My editor of quite a few westerns (including Sonora Noose and The Great West Detective Agency) was gone. Along with her apparently went the entire Berkley line of westerns. Earlier this year they had gunned down all their monthly series. With this lynching, I’d say upward of 100 books won’t be published next year. The times are, indeed, changing.

This opens the door for a slew of indie presses to fill the vacuum. And for VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing, where the author writes, edits, produces and markets the book–every aspect of traditional publishing all in the author’s grip). Check out Western Fictioneers, Western Trail Blazer, Rough Edges Press, and more riding down the trail every day.

At the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium I gave a talk on how the weird western has saved traditional westerns at least twice before. We may be looking at it happening a third time. The times are a’ changin’. And we have to move along or get plowed under. For one, I see this and am doing what I can to stay in the saddle.

One benefit of speaking at the LCCS is meeting a lot of great people. Here’s a picture of me with a very nice lady, 2014 >Mrs NM Kori Zwaagstra.

(Those are some of my books in the center!)

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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Discoverability is an important part of any author’s excursion through the profession. How do you get eyes on your work? A study on what kids in K-12 read makes for fascinating reading, especially when you dig down into it and find the youngest grades are more amenable to ebooks than other groups. I’d always said ereaders would never become commonplace until the earliest grades read using them. It has happened.

The report What Kids Are Reading is downloadable as a pdf and takes a while to go through.

Here are some of my takeaways.

Many of these books are assigned by teachers and, to my way of thinking, aren’t of much use to us as writers of VIPub original fiction. A student reading To Kill A Mockingbird as a class assignment is less important than finding that Hunger Games has found itself a high ranking over the past few years or that the younger students read Dav Pilkey. Those are hardly revelations but give direction to our hunt to garner new readers. One trend that seems obvious to me in the younger readers (pre 6th grade) is the number of “outcast” stories. The kids want stories in the little tailor vein, Heinlein’s ordinary person who overcomes great peril to triumph as an individual. Superheroes are ok (are we being force fed them?) but the kids read stories about solitary heroes and heroines, probably because they see themselves that way (a fight between Katniss Everdeen and Percy Jackson?). No super powers, just outcast and subpar and wanting to do great things. Stories of accomplishment seem to rate higher than those of ordering the kids to have self-esteem. SF looks important in this extracurricular reading.

As long as I have been in science fiction fandom, there has been the semi-joke about the golden age of sf being 12. This report bears that out when you look at the number of words read by each grade group (page 55). The sixth graders read the most. You might make the argument later grades are reading more challenging books and are therefore reading less due to the time it takes to wade through. Maybe so, but if you want to capture an audience and keep it, find what appeals to a 6th grader. By that age they have access to an ereader, are becoming autonomous and developing their tastes in reading, and probably have more money to spend on their epurchases than the authors writing the stories.

Mostly, I need to sift through this report and find what is being read for pleasure, then figure out how to capture some of the market.

Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 3) April 20, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, history, VIPub, Wild West, writing.
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The word circulated last week that Random Penguin had axed four different western series. This wasn’t unexpected–I pretty much assumed this in December and realized what the merger of Random House and Penguin meant last year when it was announced. I said in an article by Rod Miller in the Feb 2014 issue of WWA Roundup Magazine about the merger: After the dust settles on most mergers, fewer titles are published and fewer editors are needed.

No swami crystal ball sf futurist navel gazing required. That’s how business is done. The easy explanation was also in the article where I said: A merger yields one company selling into a customer base inadequate to keep the two in business.

In other words, the number of readers for separate companies isn’t big enough but a smaller output of books to that same readership might let the merged company survive. That’s the way legacy publishers have to work. Be the biggest fish swimming in the ocean or die. The problem is when your ocean dries up to a mere mud puddle. Big doesn’t work for survival then.

VIPub is different. Ebooks have changed the game, and for the reader (and probably the author) for the better. Four cancelled series = 50 books a year. That’s quite a void for the nimble VIPub ebook author to fill. In the case of westerns, a lot of the readers don’t want or use ereaders, but thanks Amazon, thanks for CreateSpace. Print on Demand! With overhead smaller for independent publishers, smaller lead times and more agile editing and production, this deficit can be addressed fast.

And it seems to be in the works. At least one indie publisher is working on several possible new series, and I expressed my interest. I would love to have input into how these series are structured, since they can be done radically different from legacy publishing. I pitched several weird western limited series years back, to no takers. Maybe now. Interlocking stories is a possibility. A return to the old-school sf trilogy, only with westerns? Open-ended series are fine but sometimes you want a story to, you know, end. Fifty books is a big gap to fill and numbers are on the side of the VIPub/indie publisher. Ten percent of that former legacy market is good money.

But reaching it might be difficult since Walmart isn’t likely to take PoD books due to size and nonreturns. That will go into a future blog post on discoverability and pushing your own series titles.

A tribute to all the fallen heroes in those four series.

Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 2) April 13, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, Free, ideas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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Nothing is certain but change. That’s the way of life, but not necessarily so in series. If you intend to do a limited series, say a trilogy, your protagonist can have a character arc where all kinds of flaws are corrected or augmented by the end of the series. The protagonist usually grows as a person and responds to the vicissitudes of the plot thrown at him/her. This makes for a satisfying conclusion but presents a problem if the series stretches to more titles.

Readers get invested in the character. Watching one grow and change is fine if the series ends in a predetermined number of titles. If the series has multiple entries, this isn’t such a good idea. A reader coming into the series after 5 or 6 titles (or 50 or 60) can fall in love with that character, go back to read earlier titles and find the character doesn’t measure up. End of interest. Ebooks have the advantage of always being in print so a reader can scrounge up the first book and ride the wave through all the titles and enjoy the character development. But in a print series, this isn’t an easy thing. Print books go OP (out of print) in a few weeks.

Some many-authored long-running series like the Jake Logan books insist that the main character (in this case, John Slocum) never change from the traits listed in the series bible. Authors don’t have to deal with changes or details a book or a hundred books earlier. But what’s an author to do with a static protagonist?

The answer comes in the secondary characters. They can change (or even die). The protagonist carries the plot and everyone around can learn and grow or devolve. End of book, satisfying character changes, but not in the protagonist who moves on, as is, to begin a new adventure.

I am trying something a bit different in a western series starting in October. The protagonist in The Great West Detective Agency is a gambler and something of a wastrel whose liking for the ladies always gets him in trouble. It’s a print series so Lucas Stanton’s not going to change much, but I hit upon the idea of publishing short stories using secondary characters to augment the plot. What are the histories behind the characters in the book? The dance hall girl or the bartender? The sidekick or the femme fatale? The curious “source of all information” or the hellfire and brimstone preacher or the sweet young thing who entices Stanton into a new mystery? This volume (the first will be called 4 Lives) will be an ebook and maybe PoD. But it gives a chance for the behind the scenes look at the characters and how they got to where they are in the book, leaving the protagonist free to push the plot.

If you want a free copy of 4 Lives when it is ready in a month or so to see what I’m doing, drop me a line via my website at http://www.cenotaphroad.com and mention it. Be sure to tell me what your preferred format is.

Great West Detective Agency

Great West Detective Agency

Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 1) April 6, 2014

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Prior bloggy installments dealt with different ways of working with someone else’s property. I have done quite a few trilogies and short run series (the longest is the Swords of Raemllyn at nine titles) and decided to meander about with some ways I have developed them.

Most trilogies are structured similarly. There is one overarching plot that has to be resolved by the end of book 3. But each book has to stand on its own for a variety of reasons. In the legacy publishing days, it might be a year between books in a trilogy (Stephen Donaldson’s first Thomas Covenant trilogy was a groundbreaker–all three books were published simultaneously). In the publishing world this is an eternity. The second book will hit the stands and the first book might not be in print any more, or if it came out in hardcover, there was a boost with paperback publication concurrent with book 2 (in hc). If book 1 came out in mass market, finding it will be difficult. That third book stands the best chance of being the worst seller, both through interest attrition and inability to muster an audience since the first two titles are out of print. (I’ll get into e-books and how great they are for series in another installment)

Making each title a standalone helps keep the series interest high. A reader coming in on book 3 might know how the major plot is resolved but won’t be disappointed picking up the first two since those are different books, different plots but with the overarching plot being developed.

I do a synopsis for everything I wrote (even short stories). Doing one for the main plot and then a separate one for each book in the set helps keep action high and avoid the “marking time” complaint so common about #2 books in a trilogy. (That complaint will always be there, no matter what, because too many readers think it is the smart thing to say–it might be true, but planning keeps it from happening).

The classic plot structure for a trilogy was used by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his first Barsoom books, A Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, Warlord of Mars. A great value both for entertainment and to see how a longer series is done can be found here. This is where I learned how to do it.

ERB Mars series

ERB Mars series