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New Focus

[Warning - this might be a longer post than normal]

This week, I start a new direction for this blog. I intend on focusing on helping any writer who is looking to self publish their work. I am a self-published author and I've done well at it. That does not mean I'm making money by the truckload, but it does mean that I'm making money from my books. There are other blogs and entire websites devoted to self-publishing and I encourage you to seek them out. If you're looking to self-publish, you should do your research, read, take notes, and then act.

I've been blogging for some time so what brought me to this point? My last post described some of the revelations I had while at WorldCon and if you have not read it yet I encourage you to go read it now. I have started on a plan to elevate my self-publishing to a more professional level. In the past, I would write a novel, edit it multiple times, have my wife check it for grammar, have a friend of mine create a cover, and then upload the book to Amazon and Smashwords. Sounds like the right way to go about it- wouldn't you say? Perhaps, if you want to be seen as a semi-professional or even an amateur.

Self-published author: What does this mean? It means you are the writer and publisher of your work. Publishers are viewed as professionals and that means a self-published author should be as professional as possible. So what does that mean? What have I been missing? Plenty!

  • I published my first book in 2009. My writing skills have improved since then yet, I have not gone back and reviewed my early novels to see if they can be improved. I've corrected grammatical mistakes, but I've never gone back and done a full re-edit. 
  • I have relied on the automatic Word to Kindle converter provided by Amazon to convert and format my novels for ebook distribution. I glance at the end result and if it looked okay I was done. I did no post-conversion formatting at all.
  • I sent my Word version to a PDF and used that to create a print version using CreateSpace. I thought I would be "different" and use ragged-right. If you put all of my print books side-by-side you will notice that they are all formatted differently and they do not conform to today's standards for print publications.

I've been working on a new novel for several months. Dragonverse Origins is 75% complete and I'm setting it aside to fix what I believe is a major problem with my writing platform. I've laid out a plan to set things right:

  1. I've been doing some serious reading and taking notes on how to properly format a novel in print form. I have a collection of notes and observations that I intend on applying to my previously published works starting with the entire Galactic Alliance series.
  2. Beginning with Translight, I will go through the entire manuscript and perform a detailed re-edit, fixing any mistakes I find and improving the novel without changing the story. I will have another person read the newly edited novel looking for areas of improvement. After putting the improvements into place, the novel will be republished.
  3. Each new book will most likely have a new cover. I hope to use the original cover art with updated titling and author bylines. The interiors will be formatted the same and I will hand-format the final ebook if necessary. Additional changes will be made to the front and back matter to enhance the book's sales (more on this in a later post).
  4. I will use Microsoft Publisher to generate the newly formatted interior for each book making sure that the typesetting looks professional, follows today's best practices, and presents a consistent look and feel for the entire series. Microsoft Publisher is a very powerful typesetting program--something I just recently discovered.
While I'm involved in all this above work, I will be working on a list of issues I plan on discussing in this blog as it relates to self-publishing. I will post this proposed list next week. I am also thinking of creating a Facebook group dedicated to self publishing where advertising your book is strictly forbidden. I've looked at a few writer groups and it seems they turn into places where authors try to promote their books. I want a group where self-published authors can share their opinions, ideas, and experiences.

One point I do want to make before I close: Self-publishing is easy. So easy that there are a lot of people out there who have written a poor story and uploaded it to Amazon thinking they will become wealthy. If you are serious about self-publishing, there is a formula you need to follow:

  1. Write the best book possible. If your writing skills are weak, pick up some books on writing and start reading.
  2. Edit your manuscript at least once.
  3. Have two or three opinionated people read your story. These should be people who are not afraid to tell you that your story needs work. If they all agree that the story is bad--either rewrite it or forget it and start on another one.
  4. Set the novel aside and start reading books and websites on how to self publish.
  5. Take the comments you've received and revise your story. Edit it again and again. Read it out loud to yourself and edit it again. Run it through a grammar checker and spell checker.
  6. If you are making money on a book, then by all means spend a few extra dollars to have your book professionally edited. This can get expensive but if you are already making an income on your writing this is the professional thing to do. If you do not have a writing income yet you can skip this step.
  7. Get yourself a top-notch cover. Look into using to get a decent cover for as little as $5.00. If you know someone who can do a good cover, then ask them to make one for you.
  8. When you're set, upload you book to Amazon. If you've done your research you should know what to expect when you get to this point.
One last point: If you are serious about being a writer you need to think of yourself as a business. This will be the subject of next week's post. I will also be sharing all of my notes with you.

Comments concerning the new focus of this blog are welcome. If you have any specific questions, I am always willing to engage with other authors. Please email me if you have questions:


Sasquan (WorldCon) Report

Worldcon has ended. Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I will refrain from giving a day-by-day, blow-by-blow report and, instead, present the highlights.

I sat on 5 panels and I have mixed emotions concerning them. On one of the panels (The New Space Opera) I was very much out of my league and felt very uncomfortable. The other panelists had far more experience than I and one of the members had an encyclopedic memory of the field, being able to rattle off the names of novels along with the author and date of original publication. But, I believe I did okay. Two of the panels had a hard time staying on the subject and the moderator allowed two of the more forceful panelists to dominate the conversation. There were things I felt we should have talked about but the panel never seemed to come close to the subject. The remaining panels went very well and I had several individuals approach me afterwards to discuss additional details.

Overall, if I decide to do panels in the future, I will pay very close attention to who else is assigned and withdraw if I feel I will not be able to contribute. I will say that I learned as much as a panelist as I would have had I been sitting in the audience. I also attended a handful of panels on a broad range of subjects and picked up a lot of useful information.

There were two highlights I need to mention: The Launch Pad reunion, and the Hugo awards. The Launch Pad reunion was my idea and I believe it was a big success. I connected with many of the people I have met over the years as well as people who attended Launch Pad before I started going. Vonda McIntyre suggested that we introduce ourselves and share our experience. As each person talked I noticed that everyone agreed that becoming friends with a group of people you otherwise might never have met was one of their best memories. I am still kicking myself for not recording that part of the meet-up.

The second highlight event was attending the Hugo awards. Stu Segal obtained a ticket for me in the upper tier press area where I had a great view of the proceedings. This year's Hugo awards have been marred by controversy (the Sad Puppies thing) and the awards reflected how the fans felt about what had happened. As of 1967 (I hope I have the date right) there has been a choice for voters of "No Award". Between then and 2014 there have been a total of 5 such awards. That number was doubled at this year's ceremony. Although I'm still a bit confused over exactly what transpired, from all the tweets I've read from my fellow authors, it sounds as if the voting fans have overwhelmingly declared that the attempted manipulation of the Hugos was not something they appreciated. I should also mention that David Gerrold and Tananarive Due did an outstanding job of MCing the event. I had a great time time.

WorldCon has been a staple of science fiction fans for 78 years and it still remains a relatively uncrowded convention. While large conventions such as DragonCon and San Diego Comicon draw tens of thousands, this year's WorldCon had a total attendance of 4,394 persons (6,755 additional people purchased memberships bringing the total to 11,149). [Thanks to Stu Segal and Farah Mendlesohn for correcting my previous post which incorrectly said almost 12,000 people attended] Because of how spread out it is and the number of activities going on at any one time, it did not seem overly crowded. According to those who know, there were over 600 writers in attendance. These writers mingled with the fans, making themselves available to them as well as to each other.

Unfortunately, because I was so busy, I did not manage to get any writing done. I have not added a single word to Dragonverse Origins for over two weeks. And, I'm not sure when I will get back to it. There are some things I learned at WorldCon that I need to attend to first. The reasoning behind this is that after it was all said and done, I've learned that I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to be viewed as a "professional" writer. I'm a member of SFWA (based on my sales) and I sell a fair number of books. But, I have not buckled down and spent the time I need to spend on putting the finishing touches on my novels. I'm weak in the promotion area as well. WorldCon has shown me that after a writer finishes a novel, gets a cover, and has the manuscript edited, there is still much work to be done. I need to pay more attention to that phase of my writing. I am, in the words of several authors, not just a writer, but a publisher as well. It's time I start acting like one.

WorldCon also helped me decide on where to focus my future blog posts. I learned that traditionally published writers (even those who were once self-published) tend to have a warped view of how a self-published author should produce and market their work. I got the general (but not always) feeling that many traditionally published authors have forgotten that they were once an unknown. Everyone starts off as an unknown author. In the past, you would gain a reputation and hone your skills as a writer by publishing in magazines until you signed a contract with a publisher. These days, anyone can upload a book--and therein lies the problem. The number of bad stories out there continues to give self-published authors a bad name.

I intend on altering the focus of this blog to self-publishing. Next week's post will be the starting point. If you know someone who is looking to self-publish, please tell them about this blog and ask them to join my mailing list. If you send me an email question, I will respond--I promise.

I attended WorldCon with a friend of mine--a member of our local writers group. Andi Lawrencovna (her pen name) has written a very interesting post on her take of her time at WorldCon. I encourage you to read it.


Preparing for WorldCon

I accomplished very little in the writing department this past week. Excuses:

1) My sister-in-law brought over several computers that needed work: A slow laptop; An old XP box with pictures on it that refused to remain on; An all-in-one that is dead. I loaded Windows 10 on the laptop and then had to remove McAfee antivirus because it was hogging the CPU. Cleaned it up and now it works great. I managed to pull the pictures off the XP box and loaded them into her newly upgraded laptop. I have not had a chance to look at the all-in-one.

2) I've been neglecting some minor home repairs - these have been completed.

3) Other household activities such as scanning 1.5 months of receipts into the system, putting shelves together that my wife bought weeks ago, and other little items that have piled up.

4) Research into the self-publishing industry in preparation for being on panels at next week's World Science Fiction Convention.

One of the new members of the writer's workgroup I attend is preparing to launch her books using a well-crafted self-publishing scheme. She's done her research and is on top of the game. Her son speaks several languages and has translated her books into both Spanish and German giving her an edge. She's purchasing ISBN numbers, has formed an LLC company, and has chosen her printer. I dug into her choice of printer and other aspects of her plan to help give me some insight when I sit on the self-publishing panels at WorldCon. I agree with most of her plan but there are aspects of it that I believe are unnecessary.  I wish her all the luck in the world.

I did, however, manage to put the finishing touches on my short story--Ship's Logs--following having it critiqued at my writer's workgroup. They, as always, had some very good feedback and now the story is complete. I will begin submitting it to magazines in the very near future. This is also a new adventure for me because I've never submitted anything to a magazine before. I'm also not a short story writer.

My next post will be from an airport (most likely Denver) on my way back from Spokane. You can see my panel schedule by clicking here. Now, I have to finish scanning. Writing will have to wait awhile longer.


Vigilance in a Digital World

I want to start off by thanking everyone who replied to my request in my last blog. I will compile the answers and send them off to Mr.Capobianco this week. Also, if you're interested in seeing some pictures from the Schrodinger Sessions or some of the Launch Pads I've attended you can view them here:

I use a program called Crystal Disk to monitor the health of my hard drives (there are others as well). I have 3 external and 2 internal drives that are packed full of information. Pictures I've scanned in or that we've taken, videos that I've converted from VCR format (remember those?) as well as ones we've taken, my entire CD collection as well as most of the DVD's I own are all on those hard drives. Important electronic records are stored there as well; Tax returns; Quicken financial data; Scanned documents; And tons of other stuff. One of my internals is dedicated to being used by Windows Media Center as a DVR and it holds all sorts of shows we want to watch and keep.

Last year, my internal DVR drive began to fail. I purchased a new one, transferred the data, and replaced it prior to complete failure. This morning, Crystal Disk reported that one of my external drives was reporting an excessive number of sector reallocation errors - one of the first signs of a failing hard drive. I'm in the process of offloading all that data to one of my spare externals.

It pays to be vigilant when it comes to protecting your data. As a writer, I can't afford to loose a day's work. I back up my writing using Dropbox. It runs on all my devices and just works. I use CrashPlan to back up almost 2 terrabytes of data from multiple computers to the cloud. And, I monitor the health of my hard drives so I can be proactive and replace one that's failing before it completely dies. One of my wife's relatives had their laptop pulled off a table by a running dog. She lost 3 years worth of pictures because she did not have her computer backed up.

Hard drives fail - that's a fact of life. Think about it for a minute: If one of your hard drives were to crash this morning, what would you lose? Solid state drives (SSDs) are not immune to crashes either. Their electronics can fail and you can lose everything. Be vigilant! Check the health of your hard drives on a regular basis - that's why they have built-in internal monitoring programs. Replace them when they show signs of impending failure. Back up all your data in case the drive fails suddenly.

One of these days, I'm going to either build or buy a file server with a high-capacity RAID and hot-swappable disks. Even then, I'll be backing things up to the cloud. Because the entire RAID could be lost in a house fire or break in. We live in an increasingly digital world where we store our entire life in electronic bits. Your computer hard drives are not the only thing you should be worried about - what about your phone?

How many phone numbers can you recall from memory? How many phone numbers would you lose forever if your phone were to be lost? How many pictures and videos would you lose? What about financial apps such as PayPal? Are they protected? If a thief were to steal your phone can they drain your bank account? If you don't take measures to protect and back up your phone's data you could lose it all. If you don't password protect your phone, then anyone can access the information it contains.

Too many people these days take our electronic life too lightly. Your life can be ruined if that data falls into the wrong hands. Think about the consequences of losing a hard drive or having your phone stolen. Back up your data. Password protect your phone. Encrypt your sensitive data if at all possible.


Schrodinger Sessions

Correction: I have mentioned Grammarly several times in the past. I would like to point out that this product has a totally free plug-in for most browsers. If you want a grammar-checker embedded in your browser that will help you check your grammar, I recommend getting the plug-in.

I have returned from a 3-day workshop on quantum mechanics. My brain is still throbbing from the experience. The workshop took place at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland. The workshop is named The Schrodinger Sessions and is modeled after Launch Pad. We were treated to lectures from a variety of instructors who told us about various aspects of quantum mechanics. Over a two-day period, we were given a tour of four labs working on various quantum experiments including quantum teleportation. One of the biggest disappointments was the cancellation of the reactor tour - more about this in a moment.

On the second day, Eric Choi put together a mixer and invited several of his friends and acquaintances from the International Space University. This event took place in a bar appropriately named Science Club. It was during this event that I met and had a long talk with Michael Capobianco - former President of SFWA. I don't need to go into the details of that discussion but I will say that he inspired me to become more involved in SFWA activities.

On the last night of the workshop, we were treated to a dinner at a very interesting restaurant called Busboys and Poets. The guest speaker was Jim Gates, winner of the National Medal of Science, former science adviser to the Obama administration, and a highly respected theoretical physicist.

One of the most interesting instructors--Raman Sundrum--spoke to us on the very last day. He presented a lot of information of great interest to science fiction writers and was such a clear and informative speaker that many of us kept him talking even while we was trying to eat lunch.

All-in-all, it was a wonderful experience that I hope to see repeated. It was obvious that this was the first time the workshop has been done and it did not run as smoothly as Launch Pad now does. Transportation to and from the airport as well as locally was a constant issue. One of the biggest complaints was the cancellation of the reactor tour. We were told that the university Director has the authority to allow anyone to visit the reactor except writers. At first, we thought they were joking, but this is an actual university policy. This struck many of the class as being discriminatory and several people felt offended. So, perhaps after attending the workshop there will be a few stories written about a certain nuclear reactor at the University of Maryland.

Thanks to the workshop, I now have a lot to process. Thanks to the people this workshop allowed me to meet, I have a lot of things to do relating to my writing.

Finally - and I'm asking everyone who reads this blog to please respond - Mr. Capobianco asked if I had any idea if the people who read my books are also the same people who attend conventions and read traditionally published science fiction. In order to try to answer that question I'm asking everyone who reads this blog to answer a few simple questions:

  1. Have you read at least one of my books?
  2. Do you also read traditionally published science fiction?
  3. Have you or do you think you might attend a science fiction convention?
Please send the answers to: