Archives for November 2011

Freedom

I have mentioned before how I waste a lot of time wilfing (What am I Looking For) on the net. It is a constant temptation. What starts out as a simple look at my sales figures on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing can turn into a multi-click odyssey in which I scrabble around the whole Amazon site chasing up things that interest me just because they appeared on the also bought list of Death’s Angels. A fact check for my current project can turn into a trail of breadcrumbs which leads to articles on 80’s role-playing games.  Sometimes I am not even aware of how these things start. One link simply leads to another and before you know it you’ve gone from the front page of the Guardian to the home page of some obscure Norwegian Death Metal band. I’m sure you’ve been there. It would be a particularly restrained Internet user who has not.

For a freelance writer such as myself, this represents a terrible hazard. There is no one standing over my shoulder forcing me to get work done. If I waste hours, I have to claw them back later. I can remember, and it is not an illusion, days before the Internet when I was much more productive as a writer.

I’ve speculated before about cutting myself off from the Internet. Freedom is a program that gives me a very simple way of doing it. You install the program, click to start and it lets you decide exactly how long you want to be severed from your networks for. At the end of that time, a message flashes back on screen letting you know you’ve been connected again. I have tried it and it works for me.

Why does it work? More importantly why does it work better for me than simply unplugging my router? In my case, the answer is simple. I am not the only person in the household who uses the network. Ok—why does it work better than switching off the network from the Task Bar of my computer. Because switching the network back on is trivially easy. It’s one click to switch off and one click to switch on. In a moment of weakness, I can easily feed my network addiction by hitting that button. In order to get network connectivity back from Freedom, I need to reboot my computer. That gives me pause for thought. It causes me enough inconvenience to make me think twice about doing so.

There is also the fact that a psychological trick is being played. By switching on Freedom I am making a commitment that it is easy for me to keep and inconvenient for me to break. And the program acts as a timer. I don’t need to keep watching the clock to see how much longer I have to go till I can go online again. This can be a distraction for me all by itself when I am in the mood. I constantly check my watch when I am working to a fixed time. With Freedom I know I will get an alert when the time comes up. The program plays to my deep-seated (if incorrect) fixation with the idea that I can find a technological solution for everything.

I know it is sad that I am reduced to this sort of device to get myself working, but, hey, I am a sad sort of guy. I like the idea that I can cut myself off from the Internet for an hour of solid writing. It makes it easy for me to manage my time too. And I am in good company apparently. I am not the only writer who uses such technological crutches. Nick Hornby, Nora Ephron, Naomi Klein and Seth Godin all use it too.

Ebook News

On Saturday, I sold the one thousandth ebook of Death’s Angels. It was a nice milestone to pass. It comes in the first month in which I have sold over a thousand ebooks too. All in all I have sold a couple of thousand books in the Terrarch series and roughly 2400 ebooks in total including short stories and collections. I have also had roughly five thousand downloads of the Guardian of the Dawn since it went free.

I started selling ebooks in July and have released one of the Terrarch books roughly every six weeks since then. The last book, Shadowblood only went on sale this month. December will be the first month that the whole series will be available and I am curious to see how it goes.

Creating your own ebooks is pretty simple. It’s not quite as simple as saving a document on your word-processor but pretty close. If you know how to save a document you can learn how to create your own ebooks in about fifteen minutes. I am not kidding. You can do it all with free software as well. I’ll cover this in a future post.

It is amazing what the ebook revolution has made possible. The Terrarch sales numbers would be very good for a small press. I doubt any major publisher would be interested in selling in these numbers but if you consider the fact that the royalty rates are much higher (35% or 70% depending on price) it still looks perfectly possible to make a living doing this. It is certainly the most profitable hobby I have ever had.

When I started out, I mentioned the fact that I would be delighted to sell two books a day. For the past few months Death’s Angels has been averaging 13-15 books a day and the rest of the books in the series roughly 6-7 per day. There is usually a surge of sales during the initial release but these seem to be the way long term numbers fall.

Is there anything I learned that might prove useful to anyone else contemplating doing this? A few things. In my experience novels sell a lot better than short stories (not really a surprise there!) and a series is a very good idea. Releasing the latest book always seems to give a boost to the earlier ones.

What about marketing? My marketing has consisted of posting on this blog and on a couple of boards dedicated to the Kindle. There has been no advertising and very little tweeting. I strongly suspect most of the heavy lifting has been done by Amazon’s algorithms.

Is there anything you can do to increase sales? Well, my sales really took off when I reduced the price of Death’s Angels to 99 cents. This meant a huge fall in revenue for this book, not just from the drop in price but from the reduction of the royalty rate to 35% from 70%. On the other hand, sales of Death’s Angels increased by a factor of about 6. Sales on the later books increased by a factor of three.

There does not seem to be any difference in sales between prices of $2.99 or $3.99. The books sold equally well at either price. There was a definite fall-off in sales at $4.99, more than the increased royalty rate would make up for. For me this seems to fix the price for future releases. I would open a series with a 99 cent book and follow on with prices set at $3.99 for books of 75K or longer, less for shorter books.

If you do go in for this, I would also advise you to be patient. In my first month (really my first 3 weeks since I released on July 8th) I sold 38 books. This month I have sold more than a thousand. It takes sales time to build. The more books you have the more you will sell too (that seems only common sense, doesn’t it?)

For me, the biggest benefit is that epub had renewed my enthusiasm for writing. It’s not that I was not enjoying my work previously either, I enjoy writing Warhammer novels. But it was disheartening (to say the least) to go 6 years with out finding an English language publisher for the Terrarch series. Now at least a thousand people have bought a copy and maybe more will find it. It has a chance to reach its audience. When you consider it’s in a genre that is not exactly fashionable (Lovecraftian gunpowder military fantasy), that is all that can reasonably be asked.

There is something tremendously invigorating about the idea that you can write what makes you really enthusiastic even if it does not fit into the lengths or genres that publishers demand. You can write short stories or novellas or short novels or very, very long novels and you can find an audience. It might not be a huge one but it will be an audience. It makes me truly, truly grateful to be working in this field at this time and I would like to thank every single person who has bought one of these books.

How To Write 10000 Words a Day and Other Recommendations

I am finally tying up Angel of Fire. I’ve had one of those rewrites where changing one thing led to changing another which led to changing another and on and on. I’ve simply not had time to keep up to date with the blog over the past couple of weeks. In a pitiful attempt to actually post something this week, here are a few things I can recommend.

First up is Rachel Aaron’s guide to writing 10,000 words a day. Yes, you read that right, that’s how to write 10K a day, not a week, which is what I aim for. I’ve looked at this and I have to say that it all seems sound and sensible. I have written 10K a day in my time before old age and RSI took their toll and I recognise the good sense in what Rachel is saying. I don’t see myself writing 10K a day again any time soon but the basic techniques she writes about will certainly increase my productivity. Yours too if you read them!

Second up, for those of you who want a Windows version of the very wonderful TextExpander, which I have used for many years on the Mac, I can recommend Phrase Express. This does pretty much what TextExpander does and it is free for non-professional use. Now all you have to do is type in abbreviations such ty for Tyrion and it will be expanded into the complete word or phrase wherever you go on your PC. This saves a surprising amount of time with words and phrases that get repeated often.

I would also like to mention the people at Literature and Latte who are responsible for my favourite piece of writing software Scrivener. I had a small problem with installing Scrivener for Windows on my second PC. I wrote to them after midnight last night. I had a response and a solution when I woke up this morning. You can’t beat that for customer service.

Lastly, I finally got around to installing Lion on my MacBook Pro. My basic response is that I like it. I’ll probably inflict more of my thoughts on you real soon now.

Writing on an Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook

Netbook Desktop

I often carry my eeePC 1001P around with me when I am travelling or going out to cafes to write (Yes, I really do this! I know it’s not cool but I stopped worrying about looking cool a very long time ago.) Worried about Windows security, I replaced the XP installation with Ubuntu Linux 10.10.

This has been something of a revelation. Ubuntu is a very light operating system and it boots and runs very quickly indeed even on older Intel Atom processors. It’s free and it comes with pretty much all the software you could possibly need to get some work done, including its own capable office suite (OpenOffice in the case of Ubuntu 10.10) and hey, you can even install Scrivener on it. (The Scrivener forum has links to downloads for Linux.) There are far fewer security threats for Linux than Windows (or even OSX these days). I am not going to tell you it is a perfectly secure OS because I do not believe there is any such thing but it is secure enough.

The machine itself is light enough to slip into a bag and not be noticed. (It’s about the same weight as a MacBook Air but cost less than 20% of the price.) It has great battery life (8 hours approximately). The build quality is high. The machine has a matte screen so you can read it in sunlight or under glare. Boot time is very fast– much faster than Windows XP used to be although I have not measured it with a stopwatch.

I have had some problems with my Linux installations on other computers. They have required tweaking and workarounds to get them working properly. On this machine Ubuntu 10.10 has worked more or less perfectly since the install with one exception– the screen brightness function keys seem to be somewhat out of sync. It reaches maximum brightness a couple of points below the maximum indicator on the slider and if you keep trying to increase the brightness the screen goes dark. That’s it– this is the only problem I have ever had with the machine. It’s certainly possible that there are other problems that I have not noticed but I can honestly say I have been delighted to use Ubuntu when writing.

I get a surprising amount of work done on this little netbook. Over time I have learned a few tricks to maximise productivity.

Install the Chromium browser. It takes up less space on the limited screen area with its headers and tabs. This leaves you with more space to read. Personally I delete the bottom panel and install Cairo Dock. This is set to autohide so that it vanishes when I am working on something.

Set your screen panels to autohide. For the same reason as above. You want to be able to see as much of your text as possible.

Make use of workspaces. Use one space for each program you are running. Learn the keyboard shortcut for switching between them. (Control + Alt + the left and right arrow keys.) Working on a netbook is all about making the most of your screen real estate.

Find a netbook whose keyboard works for you. This is often easier said than done. I found the Asus eeePC 1001p keyboard really works for me. I had another one from MSI which really hurt my hands.

Install Dropbox and set up as the default save folder for Writer or whatever word processor you choose to use. It’s the easiest and fastest way of making remote backups that I know off. It makes it easy to open the document elsewhere and just get back to work.

In Writer or your wordprocessor of choice reduce the number of toolbars to the absolute minimum. I usually just keep formatting. If I am hard at work I get rid of even that.

Don’t write for more than half an hour at a time if you are prone to any sort of RSI injuries. The smaller netbook keyboards tend to make things worse. I try to write for not more than one hour a day on a netbook keyboard.

Don’t try and do heavy editing on a netbook unless you absolutely have to. This is what monitors or laptops with bigger screens were meant for. You will go mad trying to manipulate large wodges of text on a small screen with a dodgy trackpad.

Learn to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible or bring a mouse. Trackpads on netbooks are rarely very good.

OK– I admit it. I am still making some final changes and alterations to The Angel of Fire. I wrote this post some time ago and put on file against need. These days you will probably only be able to easily download the 10.04 Long Term Service release of Ubuntu or the new 11.10 release. I tried the Unity interface in Ubuntu 11.04 and I thought it was not quite ready for prime time. I will try again with the 12.04 Long Term Service Release. Next week, I hope to return to normal blogging duties and write some more about Tyrion and Teclis.

The Fastest Book I Ever Wrote

Today we have our first guest post. It’s from Matt Forbeck, author of the Blood Bowl novels, Deadlands, Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon and many, many more.

I’ve been friends with Matt for more than 20 years. We met in my first week at the old Games Workshop Design Studio in Low Pavement in Nottingham. He had just graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and come to Britain on a 6 month student work visa. He walked in off the street carrying a huge backpack and just asked for a job. I thought this jaw-dropping audacity. And all credit to the management at Games Workshop for their foresight, they gave him one. They knew talent when they saw it. Since we were both looking for a place to stay, I ended up sharing a house with Matt in the Meadows for the rest of his stay. Since then Matt has gone on to create a dazzling array of projects such as Deadlands and Brave New Worlds. He has also worked on some of the biggest properties in the games industry from Blood Bowl, to Magic: The Gathering to Guild Wars to Dungeons and Dragons.

I know I am simply repeating what everyone who has already met him or read his work knows but I feel compelled to do it anyway. Matt is an all around great guy, a brilliant writer and a devoted father and husband. When I heard about his 12 for 12 plan I was gobsmacked by the sheer boldness and ambition of it and I knew that if anyone could pull of this insane scheme it was him. He has the combination of talent, energy and dedication to make it happen. I pledged money on the first day.

Anyway, enough of the build up. Here’s Matt…

The Fastest Book I Ever Wrote

By Matt Forbeck

On November 2, I launched a project I call 12 for ’12, for which I hope to write a novel every month for the entirety of 2012. I set up a Kickstarter drive to help fund the first trilogy of 50,000-word novels, which is based on my Brave New World Roleplaying Game (which has zip to do with Huxley’s book, other than that we both seemed to have enjoyed The Tempest).

The first question most people ask is if I’ve gone insane. It’s impossible for anyone to write that many books so fast, right?

Not at all. Walter Gibson, creator of the Shadow, famously wrote nearly 1.7 million words in a single year at the height of his output. Of course, I’m not Gibson, but I have written a full novel — 91,000 words — in two weeks.

It was Death Match, the third book in the Blood Bowl series I wrote for Games Workshop’s Black Library. In the middle of November of 2005, my editor emailed me and asked me how the book was coming along. This surprised me because he’d never given me a deadline for it.

When the Black Library first hired me to the write the first three Blood Bowl books, I hadn’t had a mass-market novel published. They hadn’t wanted to hand me an advance for all three novels at once, so instead they’d paid me for the first one and promised to send me the paperwork and the money for the each of the other books after I’d finished the novel before it.

I’d finished the second book in the series, Dead Ball, in such a rush that my editor had forgotten to get the paperwork for the third book off to me. I’d been too busy with other projects and had neglected to ask for it. When he finally came around to check on the book, the Black Library’s internal deadline was looming over us like a tidal wave about to come crashing down on our heads.

“If I don’t have it in two weeks, we’ll have to resolicit,” he wrote. In other words, they’d have to cancel the book and reschedule it for later in the year. Having been a publisher (I helped run Pinnacle Entertainment Group as its co-founder and president for four years in the ‘90s), I knew that could only hurt the book’s chances, and I didn’t want that to happen.

I did some quick calculations and fired off a couple emails to other editors asking them for a bit of wiggle room on concurrent projects. Then I told my editor I could do it, if he’d give me just two more days. This happened to be over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I had family coming in, so I needed to be able to spend some time with them.

He agreed, and I went to it. I locked myself in my office and wrote. I kept track of my running word totals:

November 15: 7,000

November 16: 14,000

November 17: 21,000

November 18: 24,500

November 19: 31,500

November 20: 34,500

November 21: 39,500

November 22: 43,500

November 23: 50,500

November 24: 55,000

November 25: Thanksgiving!

November 26: 63,000

November 27: 69,000

November 28: 76,000

November 29: 80,000

November 30: 91,000

I averaged a bit over 6,000 words per day, and I capped it off with an 11,000-word dash over the goal line. I was beat when I finished, but I got the job done. The book even got solid reviews.

I had the benefit here, of course, of already having an outline for the book in hand. On top of that, I’d been writing about the main characters in it for two whole books already, so I knew them cold, and I’d been leaving plotlines dangling all over the place in both of those earlier tomes. All I had to do was gather them up and tie them into a nice, big bow.

How fast I tied that bow up had nothing to do with whether or not I did it or even how pretty it looked when it was done. It depended instead on my determination to use all my skill and speed to get the work done as fast as I could.

You can expect me to put at least that much determination into 12 for ’12. Stop on by the Kickstarter drive for the first trilogy and dare me to try it.

Matt Forbeck is the author of countless games and many stories. His Magic: The Gathering comic launches from IDW in December, and his 16th novel, Carpathia, hits stores in March. He also has a mad plan called 12 for ’12, in which he plans to write a dozen novels in 2012. His first Kickstarter drive for his Brave New World Roleplaying Game novels hit its first funding level, so he starts writing the first book in January.


Not Here Today

I am still working on the Macharius rewrite. I’ll try and have something written for Wednesday.