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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 Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 6)(collaborations) March 23, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, fantasy, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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This isn’t strictly about playing in someone else’s sandbox as much as learning to share your toys. For someone who doesn’t like doing collaborations it seems I have done quite a few. 16? About that. Mostly I go with the dictum: coauthoring is where you do twice the work for half the money.

An early collab was with Victor Milan in the 6-title series War of Powers. This one had a strange journey going from Playboy books to Ace/Berkley, but the best of the covers were in the twin omnibus New English Library volumes–the covers were by Chris Achilleos and rank with the best on any heroic fantasy book, any time, ever. The migration came about as Playboy dropped out of genre publishing but sales were so good Berkley nee Ace continued them.

I was doing the Cenotaph Road series for Ace when the first 3 Swords of Raemllyn books with Geo. Proctor were sold there. Geo and I talked over where we wanted to go, I did the synopsis, we rewrote it, I did the first draft since I wrote faster, Geo did a rewrite and then I did a final rewrite with him doing the page proofs. The process went quite well and we were able to talk endlessly about it. Geo lived in Texas, I was in NM. We both had Apple ][e computers and bought super hi-speed modems (4800 baud!) We swapped work via the modem, though a book took as long as 20 minutes to transfer, whereupon we would talk for another 2 hours about how techno savvy we were and how we saved so much money on postage. No matter that the phone bills were higher!

The first 3 Raemllyn books did so well, we sold 3 more. Ace balked at a final 3, but those sold to New English Library and never saw American dead tree publication. Unlike the lovely NEL covers for the War of Powers omnibus volumes, I thought these were all subpar. But they did ok in sales and the third omnibus with book #9 in it completed the series we had started ten years earlier.

Working with Geo was trying, especially when our ideas diverged, but the books came out a great fusion of his characters and my plots. And somehow we remained best friends throughout and after.

My other collaboration came with Matt Stover under not so ideal conditions (see the earlier blog about God of War 1), through no fault on either of our parts. His medical problems aside, it went well enough but the merging wasn’t as seamless as with Geo and the Raemllyn books.

Alas, Geo died before the Raemllyn ebooks were put up. It would have been fun doing more titles, with some of the old characters but new situations. We had an sf collaboration in the works, Forge of the Stars, but this isn’t a project that will go anywhere now. Time and science have left it behind. And without Geo, it wouldn’t be the same.

Do I recommend a newer writer collaborate? No. Do your own stuff. Do I recommend 2 authors at similar places in their careers to collaborate? Maybe. For fun. Then get to your own stuff. Always focus on doing your own work. (Remember, a collaboration is doing twice the work for half the money.)

To Demons Bound

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 1)(The Stink of Flesh) February 16, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, movies, New Mexico, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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Tie-in work comes in a lot of varieties and most readers don’t appreciate the problems inherent. This is why the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers was formed.

Too many readers dismiss such work as hack work. Might be, but expectations enter in that aren’t brought to other sub-genres. If the reader hates the original game/movie/comic/tv show, then any novelization is going to be awful. Similarly, if the reader loves the original source so much it is part of his life, his very soul, it’s doubtful any novelization will live up to those lofty expectations (those intensely *personal* expectations).

The challenges of adapting a work can be daunting, especially moving from a movie to a novel. In the next few weeks I’ll go over the tie-in work I’ve done for video games, card-based games, series tie-ins and some other stuff. This time I want to hit the movie tie-in I did for Scott Phillips’ The Stink of Flesh. This had some extra thrill for me since I was in the movie (even if my son gets better billing ) so could enjoy killing myself off all over again in the novelization.

I had a copy of the script but had to remember from the time spent on the set what everything around me looked like. Playing the VHS copy I had, stopping it and making notes, helped, too, but with tape this is a tedious process. When I had my notes for every scene, I looked them over and saw this wasn’t a full-fledged book. In a movie characters can, well, act. A major character never says a word. They show emotions without words. Things happen in the background that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the movie There has to be extra material in a book to communicate this. More than this, a script comes up short in terms of page count in a novel. I put in extra scenes to bridge ones in the movie and introduced new characters that fit into the strange world Scott had built so well in the movie. The “Vegetable Man” scene in the book is an example. We know what the zombies want. How do the regular, still-human people live?

The movie is on its way to becoming a cult classic. A 30-copy limited edition is just now for sale.

As Joe Bob Briggs would say, check it out. Also the novelization.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Stink-Flesh-Robert-Vardeman/dp/0976943409/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392574144&sr=8-1&keywords=stink+of+flesh+vardeman

Analysis Paralysis January 19, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, money, VIPub.
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“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Lord Kelvin’s statement works for things technological. If you can’t measure it, what do you really have, anyway? When it comes to matters like psychology, mathematical analysis gets chancy. (Mike Stackpole tweeted on this article earlier today) Can you mathematically define happiness? Considering that they used chaos theory ought to give a clue to that. The starting point (boundary conditions) affect the outcome. Begin a wee bit differently and you get, possibly, a hugely different result.

VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) authors have to choose not only where we start but what our desired outcome is. That decided, how do we measure it?

For years I have followed investment newsletters. The more I look at them, the more contradictory the advice becomes. The recommendations turn into Johnson-Nyquist background noise. For every one saying “buy” another says “sell.” It comes down to my gut feeling and how I see the future. The best that can be done to avoid the analysis paralysis is to choose an advisor who produces the best result, however imperfect, and ignore the rest. It all averages out to average mush otherwise.

The big question in VIPub is how to get eyes onto your book. I’ve tried lots of schemes and will try many more to find better ones. But the analysis of how to say one is better than the other technique shouldn’t be too hard. It shouldn’t be just what sells books. You can rack up impressive numbers by giving your book away for damned little. A different metric is to my liking. The money in the bank is the counter, the measurement, the end result of various experiments. The Laffer Curve might well pertain here. How much should we spend on promotion/advertising for the biggest monetary return? (I won’t entertain political argument on this–I think the Laffer Curve is a model of reality and don’t care about your opinion). If pricing low and selling huge numbers works better than higher prices and fewer sales, go for it. But it could well be the other way around. The measurement: total money in your pocket.

The trouble comes in analysis paralysis, having too much data. Reading other blogs on this gives me the impression nothing works–and everything works. David Morrell once said at a WWA panel, 10% of your time ought to go for promotion. And no more. Your time is better spent writing (and I agree). But what kind of promo? Another bit of advice was to make a list of all the possible promotional gimmicks you can do–then pick 3 to pursue. A new wrinkle is introduced with paid advertising. Do FB or Google ads work? Maybe not if an ad has to be seen 7 times to be effective. They can sell more ads than you can afford. Again, what return do you get for your money? The maximum bang for the buck?

You as a VIPub author have to decide, but if you read too much and think about what you can actually do too little, you are going to end up in a sea of despair. Analysis paralysis. Pick and choose. What works for you won’t necessarily work for others. But do choose. Then do it. (And if it doesn’t give you the money (not sales) you expected, try something else.)

analysis paralysis cartoon photo Fin16s.jpg

Triage March 17, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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Ideas are easy, developing them isn’t. Worse, choosing which to work on is even more daunting. I have a row of notebooks filled with ideas accumulated over the years and, as good as some are, I will never try to use them because others are better.

This segment of a Dilbert cartoon seems appropriate.

Did you ever have to decide?

Did you ever have to decide?

So how do you choose? Excitement has to be a factor for any writer. All you have in way of capital is time that must be spent properly. An idea that won’t let go of your imagination is a good candidate, but writing and rewriting it in your head isn’t good enough if you want to sell it to a publisher. Think of a Venn diagram of all the ideas you want to write and ideas that are salable. The intersection of the two sets is where you write. That’s not to say any other point in your “what you want to write about” set isn’t worthy. But to sell to an editor, that overlap has to be there.

Otherwise, VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is the way to go. Do it yourself. Damn the commercial sales, full steam ahead! This opens vistas galore, but the money isn’t likely to be as good (face it, not every book is going to be 50 Shades of Gray, which, depending on your outlook, is a good thing. But I am talking sales, not content.)

So, traditional dead tree publishing requires that overlap in idea/commercial. That eliminates a lot of what is always kicking around in my head. For a year or two I’ve wanted to do a Gormenghast type fantasy but it doesn’t have the feel of something that would sell. But it would be great to write (from my personal standpoint). Likely, it’ll stay on the backburner until a mystery and an sf book, both dancing on tippytoe through my head for years, are done since both strike me as great fun to write and commercial. One way of deciding if an idea is “good enough” is the test of time. Does it endure in your head and even grow? Or do newer ideas supplant?

You’ve got to decide, then stick with it to finish the writing before moving on. Don’t be seduced by the Siren’s lure of a “better” idea or you’ll never see a completed story.

You Don’t Have to Be Crazy, But It Helps February 28, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, awards, business, conventions, e-books, fantasy, VIPub, writing.
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Writing can be so strange. Sitting and writing is great, but no much else is required now. A writer is a small corporation, a business doing everything from thinking up the ideas to marketing them (I call this VIPub–Vertically Integrated Publishing).

I’ve spent the past month working on an sf book. It’s done, it’s sent out and when I get the okay, I will let you know all about it and the exciting project surrounding it. Since I spent most of January coughing up my lungs, not as much work got done then as I’d’ve liked. So, two months gone, only one book written so far this year.

Now that it is off to the editor, I had to catch up on other writing chores today. Updated my website. Wrote this blog. My accountant is asking where all my financial stuff is. Yeah, tax season. But then it’s always tax season when you need to file quarterlies and tons of other forms. This morning I went through a half dozen questions–Q&A–for an Writer’s Digest article on tie-in writing. Sent it off. Jeff Mariotte asked if I’d like to join him in an autographing at the end of March. Sure, it’s here in town, 4 miles from my front door and a block from the high school where I graduated, uh, er, a while ago. Looks good to get Ian Tregellis and Steve Gould there, too, plus some western fiction and nf writers. I sent out a bunch of emails and am happy at the response. Struggled with Walgreen’s over my online account, did too many mundane things like laundry and packing and…you get the idea. Not writing things.

But one writing thing I am delighted about was a fan letter from “Raven Van Helsing.” He’s the guy whose YouTube videos
I used as a guide for both God of War 1 and 2.

I had sent him a copy of GoW1. Here he is with it.

Raven Van Helsing with GOD OF WAR 1

Raven Van Helsing with GOD OF WAR 1

I’ll be autographing this, God of War 2 and Career Guide to Your Job in Hell at the Arizona Renaissance Faire March 3, all day at Lady Ann’s Book Shoppe along with the inimitable Michael Stackpole.

Stop by and see us. If you can’t make it, you can still snag the books here. Huzzah!

Scribe Award nominated novel

Scribe Award nominated novel

God of War 2

God of War 2

Career Guide Job in Hell

Career Guide Job in Hell

Funny, You Don’t Look Phlegmish January 13, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, VIPub, writing.
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A monster cold has seized me by the throat (literally) and is shaking me hard. Won’t let go, even after a week. Robot-tusson helps the wicked cough but sleep is done in small stretches. The good thing is that I’ve lost about 10 lbs–it seems I did not really invent a perpetual motion body, one where phlegm is generated, swallowed and powers the body to generate more (factoid: an avg person swallows a qt of phlegm a day. I have been on a Guinness Book of World Records pace for a week now)

Trying to work has been problematic. An hr is as long as I go before collapsing in exhaustion, writhing about on the floor and mewling piteously. Well, not the latter. My voice is about gone. An hr work, 23 in bed. Not a bad gig but one which I have to ramp up because work’s coming at me hard. I completed the comic book project before this hit, but I have an sf book to write ASAP. But physically the stamina to sit and do it isn’t back yet.

I have been proofreading scanned books to prep for ebook posting. Three of 4 in the Jade Demons series are checked for paragraph errors (which abound). I find myself wanting to tinker since these were written 25 years ago and I have changed how I write as much as what I write. Resisting to some extent. These will be ready eventually, but are closer now than they were a couple weeks back.

How much to push myself on writing is a question. Too much and I relapse? Not enough and I fall into the 1/23 schedule? Since I’ve worked over an hr on revamping the website and this blog, it is time to … return to bed to see if I can’t grab a few winks. Maybe this afternoon will see another burst of energy and I can work longer. *coff* *coff*

I leave you with this Dilbert Classic from today’s news.
dilbertCold