2014-02-23

How important are your fans?

How important are your fans? Think hard before you answer this one because a fan is far more than just a source of income. They are the reason why you write. Without them, a writer is nothing, a voice without an audience. You should listen to them, interact with them, and always treat them with respect.

People have been saying for a long time that an author should have a wide social networking footprint. That means spending time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and a host of other sites. Recently, I’ve read that a study has concluded there is no benefit in sales from having a strong social presence. The same study also concluded that winning an award also has little to no affect on sales. I was surprised. I thought about that for awhile and then noted that the key word here is ‘sales’.

Most people buy books based on verbal recommendations from their friends. Some read the reviews but many now realize that reviews may not always mean anything because everyone has different tastes. Writer awards are mostly for the writer community—few people other than writers have ever heard of most of them and most people simply don’t care. The average consumer wants to spend as little as possible to read a well-written book. If you write a good story and a reader enjoys it then that reader will come back for more—you’ve gained a fan.

Does all this mean that every author should quit blogging and vanish from the social network? After all, instead of writing this blog or updating my Twitter feed I could be spending that time writing. If sales is all you care about then perhaps that would be a proper strategy. I look at things in a different way.

Don’t get me wrong—sales are important; it’s what helps pay a writer’s bills. But a writer—a true writer—does not write strictly for the money. He writes because it is an insatiable itch that must be scratched. The urge to tell a story to someone else is too strong to ignore. A writer needs an audience otherwise there’s no point in writing. If you think about it carefully, this means that the reader—your fans—is all that matters. And the best way for a person to feel like they matter is to make yourself available to them for comment and to respond to those comments in a professional manner. Social networking is the modern way to accomplish this.

Example: I have a few fans who have given me feedback—good feedback. I listen to them and I try to learn from what they’ve told me. Recently, I asked one such person his opinion on an aspect of my current work in progress. The reply I received was an eye-opener and has caused me to go back and rewrite the beginning of my next novel. His feedback has changed the entire course of my main character. The novel’s basic plot remains unchanged but my main character now has a more interesting life, a more human experience, and hopefully the book will be much better because of it. I’m going to give that reader a chance for more feedback since he’ll be one of my beta-readers for Peacekeeper 2. Thank you Lee Dilkie! (You didn’t think I was going to leave your name a mystery did you?)

In case you’re wondering: I’m on Twitter (@author_farren) but I only follow fellow writers or a very few select other Twitter feeds—feel free to follow me if you desire. I have both a personal and a fan Facebook page. Because of my limited time (I do work for a living) I rarely look at what others are saying on Facebook. I also have a Google+ account and I look at that feed even less. I am on LinkedIn. I have a website and I write a weekly blog. There you have it—my complete social networking platform. If you want to get in touch with me the best way to do it is by emailing me. My email is available on all of my social network platforms which is the main reason why I have them—so people can find me. If you write me, I will write you back.


Peacekeeper update: I have managed to get some writing done this week. Peacekeeper 2 now stands at 27,788 words with a new beginning still in progress.

2014-02-17

Just a quick post

Even though I was off work today, I did not get any writing done. I did our taxes, helped get my mother-in-law over to the house for a family visit (she's in a wheelchair), reorganized Quicken to make next year's taxes easier, and spent time with my wife. I did however, get some writing done yesterday--Peacekeeper now stands at 24,658 words.

I am constantly amazed at how the human brain works. When first started thinking about a second Peacekeeper novel I had no idea where it was going to lead. I wanted to build a more detailed picture of Tom Wilks and I was sure that his relationship with Lashpa would play a pivotal roll. As I thought about different story lines, the plot began to gel until I had something I could work with. It wasn't firm and I had no idea where the book would go but I started writing. As I wrote, more details filled themselves in and the novel's major challenge took shape--seemingly all by itself. It's the subconscious at work

Here's an example; Early in the writing process for Peacekeeper 2 an idea popped into my head. It was incomplete and went something like this -- A lone survivor is found in space. He has witnessed something so upsetting that he has closed himself off from the rest of the world. -- That was it. I had no idea what the event was but I wanted to use this. I do a lot of thinking while in the shower and while I'm trying to fall asleep. One day, while taking a shower, I was playing around with this idea and the perfect solution popped into my head. The solution created other problems for the story but as time went on the details were ironed out and a solid plot developed.

This is how a SOP (Seat Of the Pants) author works. If I were an outliner, I would still be thinking about the plot and working on the outline. Not a single word would be written. A year or so from now, the outline would be finished and I could start writing. But that's not how I work. I love it when a story seems to write itself. One of the things that continually blows my mind is how a little detail early in a story can reappear later on and become suddenly very important. A small factoid presented in chapter 3 can become a pivotal point in chapter 38. These events are not planned--the story writes itself and sometimes even I'm surprised at the result. I love it.

If anyone reading this post has something to offer concerning Peacekeeper 2, please let me know. I love the feedback. I will respond.

2014-02-09

By the numbers

Peacekeeper 2 is currently at 22,911 words. It has become a weekend only project. Obligations at home and a tough work schedule (like getting called at 7:00 PM to come in at midnight and work until 6:30 AM) have made it difficult to get any writing done at all during the week. Progress, however is being made but this is only the first draft. During the editing I will be incorporating some feedback I've received in my writer's group. 

Back at the beginning of 2012, sales of Translight suddenly and inexplicably took off. I enjoyed an enormous surge in sales that lasted about 6 weeks and then began to taper off. Prior to that, sales were pitiful. Since then, sales have been relatively steady but significantly lower than the early part of 2012. So what happened? I wish I knew.

That burst of sales got me into Launch Pad 2012; an adventure I will never forget. I met a group of people I still stay in contact with and it allowed me to finally meet a group of writers. I can clearly remember feeling out of my league in their company. Most had won awards or been published by major publishing houses. I was an unknown indie author who had never met another writer.

With sales remaining more-or-less steady, I recently started wondering how I was doing in relation to other indie authors. But without knowing their sales figures I had nothing to compare my success or failure against. After a great deal of internal debating I decided to ask a writer friend of mine if she would be willing to share some general sales numbers with me. She agreed. I asked her because she has several awards and her name is fairly well known in the writing community. I am glad to report that even after my request we are still on good terms!

Before I get into the results, I want to point out something that many writers struggle with. Even though there are awards and contests for writers, writing should never be considered a competition. If I have a tip to help improve sales, I will share it with my writer friends. If someone does well, I will sincerely congratulate them. Their success does not mean I will be less successful. If a friend of mine wants to know how many books I've sold, then what harm does it cause to share the numbers? If another writer shares her numbers with me, what harm could I do to her with that information? Why are some writers so afraid to share this information?

So what were the results? I’m doing quite well—thank you. I won’t divulge the numbers or who I compared myself against so please don't ask. But having a reference point has allowed me to feel much better about my current rate of sales.

Why didn't I just look at my ranking on Amazon? Several reasons. Sales rankings include well-known authors who are published through a major publishing house. I am interested in how I am doing in relationship to other indie authors. Book sales typically spike when an author releases a new book causing the ranking of others to fall. Authors who have published a large number of books have an advantage over those who have fewer. Finally, it’s not a competition! I simply wanted to know if I was doing well—I am and that’s all I needed to know.


I loved my experience at Launch Pad so much that I went back last year and helped out by renting a van and being a driver. I am going again this year. Each time I go I will add a few more friends to my list of writer friends. And if I ever find out what drove my sales to such heights in early 2012 I will gladly share it on this blog so others can enjoy the same benefits—if only for a brief time.

One final note--it's tax time and if you receive 1099's from Amazon you need to be aware of a hidden fee they are not very open about. If you compare the total of the 1099's to the total of all the deposits you received during the year and you have foreign sales, you will notice a difference. That difference is the fee you are charged for converting the foreign currency into dollars. It's tax deductible so make sure you do the math.

2014-02-02

Humans - will we ever become civilized?

Peacekeeper 2 now stands at 20,611 words. If you're keeping track, that's not much more than last Sunday. Working 12-hr days leaves little time to write. Even when I do have a few minutes here and there I can't take the time to jog down any words. People are usually talking to me, I'm reading ahead on the next job we are about to do, or I simply can't get my train of thought back to where it needs to be.

I've been reading Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers and there are stories in this collection of people who have managed to write an entire book in 15 minute segments. I've tried and the result is that much of it gets trashed and rewritten when I have time to put it into the computer. I need silence and time to think about what I'm writing. For those parents out there who can write while the kids are running around the house screaming and your spouse is watching a show on TV--my hat is off to you!

In the news
Yesterday while playing Scrabble with my wife, I sat flabbergasted at an article that appeared in my Twitter feed. Scientists create an artificial magnetic monopole! I ignored my poor wife while I read through the article. What a fantastic discovery! We are on the brink of incredible discoveries in physics. Warp drive anyone?

I would also like to send out a congratulations to a friend of mine; Linda Nagata's self-published novel The Red: First Light is on the Locus magazine's recommended reading list. You should read this book. She is currently putting the finishing touches on the sequel.

The Launch Pad Workshop is now accepting applications! I attended this event for the first time in 2012 and had such a wonderful experience and met such a fantastic group of people that I practically begged the founder, Professor Mike Brotherton, to let me come back. Last year's event was no less enjoyable. I already have my tickets for this year and I'm helping out as a driver. If you're interested in science and want to meet a group of people you will stay in touch with for many years to come then please apply. Space is limited.

Headline
My headline is a little off my norm but it's a topic that deserves discussion. I am not a habitual watcher of the news (no time) but I don't live my life in the dark either. I listen to NPR in the car and I check out the CNN headlines at least once a day. The stories I see say a lot about humanity as a whole. We are a very diverse race with people from all extremes coexisting together. We have the ultra-generous and kind bumping elbows with the cruel and foul with every other shade of behavior smashed between them. A person leaves her kids in the car to freeze to death while having sex. Men shooting people in malls. Home invasions where the elderly are beaten or simply shot. Corporate greed running rampant and people trusted with the life savings of others becoming rich and giving nothing in return.

If you were a member of an advanced alien culture and in charge of surveying our planet for possible contact--would you recommend turning humans loose on the galaxy? My vote would be NO.

We are a technologically advanced culture with the collective mind of a six-year-old. Greed drives most of us to stab our fellow human in the back when they least expect it. Imagine, for just a moment, what we could accomplish if every last one of us learned how to behave like adults. No more murders, everyone helping those in need, tolerance of others beliefs, sharing our good fortune with those who are less fortunate. Yes I know it's a pipe dream--I'm a writer--I dream a lot. If our collective mind had matured along with our technology we would have conquered our solar system by now and may even be on our way to the stars. If there are alien civilizations out there, we would have been welcomed into their community. Poverty would be abolished and our world would be an incredibly wonderful place to live.

We are all human. That's how I think of us. Men, women, children, rich, poor, smart, mentally challenged, black, red, or white--no matter what label you slap on people we are all human. Alien races have probably turned the name of our race into an insult: "Stop acting human!" The big question is why are we like this? I do not have the answers. But at least I can try my best not to be part of the problem. A famous man once said, "I have a dream." So do I. As a writer, it's a bit more global.