2018-06-24

June 24: What's Next?

Collision Course is done and is just sitting on Amazon's server collecting prerelease sales until July 9th when the book becomes available. The print version is done but has not yet been uploaded. I'll do that after the ebook is released. So, what's next?

Even though I write computer programs at my day job, I've been finding myself wanting to learn more about website programming. Sales have been pathetic so the incentive to write is just not there. So, I think I will be turning my attention towards learning some more about jQuery and then PHP and MySQL which are the final technologies I need to build some really cool websites. If you haven't been to my author website recently, please check it out. I will be adding a ton more pictures in the very near future so keep checking back.

Why are sales so low? Well, I'm not the only author complaining. Amazon is named after one of the world's largest forests and rightly so. There are literally millions of books available on Amazon. Unless you have the advertising power of a large publishing house or a huge fan base that constantly look to see when your next novel is published, getting noticed is difficult. The winners of this year's Nebula awards have been released. You won't find a single self-published story in the list. There are self-published authors, but the stories that were nominated are those that have been published in a magazine or by one of the large publishing houses.

I'm not complaining (well, not too much anyway) because I've had a really good run so far. But, when sales drop too low, the thrill of publishing a new novel and seeing a spike in sales is just no longer there. If there are competing interests (such as website programming for myself) then such interests become more important than writing for a shrinking audience.

This does not mean I will be abandoning writing or that I will never self-publish another book. The urge will return and I will open up Scrivener and start my next novel. What it will be is anyone's guess since I have nothing in mind at the moment. And as for when ... only time will tell.

2018-06-17

June 17: Next novel is done!

Collision Course is complete! It is available for pre-order now.  Please consider pre-ordering the book as pre-order sales help a new book get off to a good start. The cover is at the end of this post.

Grammatical corrections from my wife (who has 27 years of newspaper experience) were entered during the week of June 4th. On June 9th, the manuscript was emailed to Ekkehard Flessa in Germany for his final proofing. English is Mr. Flessa's second language and his English is impeccable. While I waited for his comments, I began the process of formatting the book for printing. This involves setting the size of the page, adding the page headers, and adjusting the layout so that chapter headings all appear on even number pages.

Formatting a book for printing takes a considerable amount of time and patience. Page numbering starts at the first page of chapter 1 which is page 1. All chapters must begin on even-numbered pages. The first page of each chapter does not have a heading but all other pages do. Even-numbered pages get the author's name and odd-numbered pages show the title of the book. Margins are set for mirror margins to allow for the size of the binding and the header of the odd pages and the even pages are not only different in what they contain by how they are aligned.

I also look at where each chapter breaks. If there are only a few lines on a page, the line spacing is adjusted by tiny amounts to either shrink or expand the text to make the final page of the chapter either blank or filled with more lines to make it look better. Other formatting issues are taken care of by the styles I use when creating the book. For example, the first paragraph of a chapter or after a scene break is always left-aligned. Using styles to format a book makes things so much easier, especially when it comes time to alter that format for export to Kindle.

Once the manuscript is properly formatted, it is exported to PDF. I then go through it one more time to verify the book has been exported correctly and looks good. The two-page, side-by-side view is especially useful here. Since I make some corrections to the manuscript when it is formatted for print, I need to take all these corrections and roll them into the Kindle version. A copy of the CreateSpace version is made for this.

I apply a new template to the document and alter the page size to quickly put most of the text into the correct format. The new template alters the formatting as well as the font used throughout the entire manuscript. The final formatting step is to take the rough Kindle version and alter it so it can be converted to Kindle format by Amazon. All headers and section breaks are removed. A page break is inserted at the end of each chapter. The front matter is adjusted to a font size that will look better on e-readers and all tabs are removed (tabs do not translate).

Now that I have a PDF version, I know how many pages are in the final version. This is used to download a template from CreateSpace that is used to create the cover. I use Photoshop to assemble all the artwork and other elements to create the final cover. Since I've done this before, most of this can be accomplished by dragging and dropping the elements from a previous cover into the new one and then altering the text. This gives all of my books the same look.

As you can see, self-publishing a book takes a considerable amount of time. Please share this post with your friends who enjoy science fiction. Ask them to pre-order it; the cost is only $3.50. These sales will give the book a boost when it becomes available in a few weeks. Thank you! And, here is the cover:


2018-06-10

June 10--Post Launch Pad

The Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop is over. I met another fine group of people and had a wonderful time. Unlike all past workshops, the transportation arrangements for this workshop did not go smoothly. The vehicles that had originally been rented turned out to be far too small and all three drivers were forced to upgrade. The rental company charged us $50.00 a day for the upgrade cost. In addition to this, the cost that is quoted online does not include a bevy of added charges that quickly put the total cost of each vehicle at well over twice what Launch Pad has paid in the past. The line to pick up the vehicles was long and it took the drivers almost 45 minutes to pick up the vehicles. If you ever have a need to rent a vehicle--you would be wise not to choose Advantage.

 My wife has finished her grammar check of Collision Course and the manuscript is now in the hands of my final proofing editor for his review. I will be making a final editing run on the book after I get all his comments as well as starting work on the formatting of the book for CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle. Once I have a completed manuscript, I can build a final cover. With luck, the book will be out in another month or so.

Sales have been very disappointing of late. This does have an effect on how enthused I am about getting this next book out. I have other things I enjoy doing and if people aren't buying my books, why should I spend a lot of time working on writing them and getting them out for publication? Seriously, if there's no incentive to publish, then I'll turn my attention to other things. I'll still continue to write and publish, but it won't be with the same enthusiasm I would have if I was selling more.

One of my other interests is in learning how to build web pages. This involves learning HTML (done), CSS (done), JavaScript (mostly done), jQuery (in progress), and PHP (not yet started). Even though I now know enough about JavaScript and jQuery to build a decent web page, I'm not proficient at it. Being proficient will require practice. Right now, I have a good start on my website and it's only going to be getting better in the future. If you're interested, please check it out. Just point your browser to Dougfarren.com and take a look. Comments are always welcome.

Some of you might recall that I work at a nuclear power plant. The company I work for has been in the news recently because they've filed for bankruptcy protection. The Trump administration is also pushing to keep the nuclear and coal plants open. As of right now, the company plans on closing the plant in May of 2021. I should still be able to remain employed until at least a year after that date putting me within striking distance of full retirement. I believe nuclear power should have a place in our energy supply matrix. I am not a fan of any fossil fuel generators unless they have a way to reduce their carbon emissions. Granted, nuclear power must be treated with extreme respect because the results of failing to do so are disasterous (i.e. Fukashima). But, done right, it is a viable source of power.

Time to post this and get back to working on editing my book ... or maybe I should spend my time updating my website ... or maybe ...

2018-05-27

May 28: Launch Pad

It has been some time since I’ve posted a blog entry—mostly because I’ve not had much to report. Proofing of Collision Course is nearly complete and I expect to have it ready for publication in about three weeks. I might delay that a bit to see if I can’t get some pre-orders lined up. The artwork is complete and ready to be turned into a cover.

I leave for Laramie on the 28th to attend another Launch Pad. This will be the first time the workshop has been held starting on a holiday. I wonder what the airport is going to be like? This trip is also unique in that I will be sticking around at the airport until the last person arrives. I will be coordinating which authors will depart with which drivers. We do have one author that has a very tight (36 minutes) layover in Salt Lake City. He also happens to be one of our drivers. If he misses his flight, we will have to designate another driver. This could get interesting!

I’m also getting ready to roll out an update to my author website. I’ve already made some modifications based on my new knowledge of JavaScript and jQuery. This update should be rolled out sometime while I am at Launch Pad.


If you enjoyed Off Course, I think you will enjoy Collision Course. If you’ve read my other novels (especially the Dragonverse series) you will find a pleasant surprise towards the end of the book. Keep your eyes open for an announcement in the next few weeks. Pre-order sales help get a new novel kicked off on the right foot.

2018-05-06

May 6: Collision Course and website

My wife has passed the halfway point of her review of Collision Course. It's been slow going but she's promised to speed things up a bit. I'm still hoping for a release sometime this month.

Work on my website is also going slow but I am making progress. In fact, I uploaded all of the changes to the site last weekend. More improvements are coming. The biggest factor in how slow things are going is the weather--it's been very nice! With good weather comes all the work needed to clean things up after Winter. The list was a long one but now I think it's all behind me.

As for writing--I've been thinking about scaling that way back. Writers put a lot of things on hold while they're writing and it's good to take a break from writing and do other things. Reading and watching science and science fiction movies and programs are the things I've been sacrificing. I will get back to writing when the urge hits.

As for my future as an employee at the nuclear power plant, that is still a total unknown. The efforts to save the plant's future with government support are not going well. With the company in bankruptcy, the future is very uncertain. I've been working at the plant for 29 years and was hoping to make it until 70. But, if the news reports turn out to be true, the plant will cease producing power on May 21st of 2021 and begin the process of decommissioning. Once the paperwork to change the license is sent, there is no turning back. I think I will be able to keep working there for at least the first year after the reactor is finally shut down but after that--who knows. The sad thing about it all is that we generate carbon-free power. Replacement power will generate more carbon and the air quality will decrease. Studies show that peoples electric rates will also go up--a lot.

2018-04-15

Taxes and website

Collision Course is still in the process of being proofed by my meticulous wife. I believe she's about at the half-way point. While she's been proofing, I've been learning how to build a website.

My current website isn't that bad but it's not complete. I also realized when I built it that the JavaScript code driving two of the pages was not written using techniques that are recognized as acceptable in professional programming circles. I sought out some advice, learned a bit about jQuery and then started work on version 2. I haven't updated the live site yet, but I'm closing in on a site that will look very similar to what is seen now but has more professional-looking code driving it.

One of my primary goals is to keep the site simple and easy to use on any platform from small cell phones to giant multi-screened systems. I also want the user who likes to keep JavaScript disabled to be able to view the site. Achieving these goals has not been easy! The new site relies heavily on CSS and HTML 5 for as much of the design and functionality as possible. The pages where JavaScript are required are clearly marked as such.

My biggest problem was in creating a menuing system that works on all platforms. The current system you see now uses CSS and works okay. But with more pages coming, the menu needed updating. A simple drop-down where the user hovers over an item and a sub-menu appears seemed like a good choice but such a menuing system will have problems on a touch-screen. Yesterday, while at the writer's group, a fellow author showed me her website. She uses the now standard three bar menu icon to take the user to a central navigation hub. This is a more elegant solution and is the one I will be adopting.

I've seen such a menu before but never really thought about it until now. It's also far easier to maintain than an old-style menu with categories listed at the top or the side of a site. When a change is made, I will no longer have to update every single page to show the new menu. This is a much better design.

I wanted to bring up a concern about taxes that I noted on Twitter the other day. Two of my author acquaintances have books that have done well last year. One was complaining she was not prepared for the amount of money she needed to send to the IRS while the other said that his accountant had been pretty much useless. I've written several times in the past about taxes for authors. A writer must treat their writing like a business. This involves more than just claiming that your writing is a business. You must be able to show the IRS that you are treating your writing as a business by documentation, separate bank accounts, etc.

One of the other aspects of owning a business is to understand how the finances work. Please don't rely totally on an accountant for this. Take the time to read the IRS publications. Believe it or not, they're not that difficult to read. When tax time comes, the IRS will hold you responsible for the accuracy of the forms you submit--not your accountant. I do my own taxes and I periodically read the IRS publications to keep abreast of the changes in tax law. Sure it takes time. But it's better than finding out that you or your accountant missed something important and now you owe more taxes than you can afford to pay.

There are many resources out there if you care to take the time to do the research. Taxes can be tricky. But after reading the IRS publications, reading a book on taxes for small businesses, and taking the time to get your writing business in order can make tax time less challenging. Planning ahead for the tax you will need to pay is also a must. The IRS will want their fair share of your writing income. Make sure you have it available when the time comes.

2018-03-25

JavaScript

Collision Course is currently being proofed by my wife. Her 27 years of newspaper experience makes her the perfect person to edit my books. She is not a big fan of science fiction and that actually is a plus for her being my proof-reader. Because she does not enjoy reading science fiction, she does not have the tendency to switch from editing mode to story-reading mode. She's committed to proofing at least one chapter a day so I should have a proofed copy in a little over a month.

In the meantime, I've started playing around with my website. It's been too long since I last played around with website development and the memory of how it all works was beginning to fade. It took some time this morning to get back up to speed but now I'm making progress. I'm using a local web server called XAMPP to locally host the test site.

I'm building my site totally manually without using any sort of web building software. This way, I'll be actually learning how to do the programming and how everything ties together. If I were to use a site builder, it would generate the code for me and I would not be doing any learning. That's also why I took the path of learning JavaScript before learning JQuery. I want to know how it works.

XAMPP is a free program and it has all the features of a full-fledged web server. It runs Apache with support for JavaScript, Perl, MySQL, and everything else you need to run a full-blown website. Installation was a snap and it consumes few resources. If you need to build a WordPress or Joomla site, there are installers to put those platforms on XAMPP. If you're serious about developing websites, then this is the route to go.

The editor I'm using is Atom. I tried a few others but Atom is the one with the best documentation and is highly configurable. Brackets is another good choice but finding good documentation on how to use it is virtually impossible. What good is a program that does not have good documentation?

As a self-published author, it's up to me to build my own website. I have a good background in computer programming and learning to build a website is just an extension of my current skill-set. Many self-published authors have taken the time to learn how to build a website because having one is pretty much mandatory these days and paying someone else to build it can get expensive. If you don't want to take the time to learn JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and a host of other acronyms, then give WordPress or one of the other popular content manager platforms a shot. For myself, the best way to learn is to play.

Time to get back to playing!

2018-03-18

Ready for Proofing

As of a few moments ago, Collision Course is complete and ready to be proofed. Based on the feedback I received from my content editor Lee Dilkie, I've made a few changes in how the story unfolded. I also added a new final chapter that neatly wraps things up. Additional text was added to explain a few things that were left unexplained in the original draft. All-in-all, I am pleased with the book.

I have also selected the artwork that will be used for the cover. I will begin adding the text and making a few minor changes to the artwork to make it look more like all my other books. I would like to thank Lee for his insight and Heather Zak for her hard work in creating the new cover. Now, the book goes to my wife Cheryl so she can work her grammatical magic. I expect that process to take about a month. So what will I be doing next?

My website is presentable but it is missing many features that should be on a professional website. I will be applying my recently acquired knowledge of JaveScript and JQuery to rebuild the website and finally finish it into something any web developer would be proud of. This will be the focus of my attention for the next few months. My intention is to continue to learn JavaScript, JQuery, HTML, CSS, and even PHP to build my knowledge of website development.

I spent all of last weekend in Aurora Ohio attending the Cleveland Concoction Convention. I decided to go for two reasons: 1) Geoffrey Landis, an author and NASA engineer with hardware on Mars, whom I'd met at my first Launch Pad workshop in 2012 and his wife (also an author) would be attending. 2) The convention has an author's showroom where they sell books.

It was very good to see Geoff and his wife Mary Turzillo again. We had dinner together and caught up on things. The book sales are another story. I am positive I did not sell enough to cover the cost of the room. I had decided to stay in the hotel instead of driving back and forth and that decision made the convention unprofitable. But, I had a good time, got to see old acquaintances, and managed to get a ton of editing done. In the end, I think it was a worthwhile investment.

As far as writing is concerned, I'm not sure what I will be working on next. I might just decide to take a long break from writing, focus on learning new programming languages and environments and take some time to see how non-writers live. Writing means sacrificing a lot of things like going out to movies, watching television, surfing the net, reading other's books, and just taking time to do nothing. Time to take a break.

2018-03-04

Weather

Editing and revisions to Collision Course are slowly proceeding. I did not get much done this weekend due to our not having any power from 7:15 PM Thursday until 8:30 PM Saturday. I do have a generator but I only set it up to power up the refrigerator and a few items. We have an all-electric home and the power outage was partial, giving us about 50 volts coming into the house. This was enough juice to allow the baseboard heaters to get warm enough to keep the inside of the house comfortable. I do have a rig I can use to power the entire house but the generator does not have a high enough rating to run everything. For example, the generator is rated at 5,200 watts and my hot water tank will draw 4,500. That leaves very little room for anything else.

I should be able to get some serious editing done next weekend since I will be at the Cleveland Concoction. When I'm not sitting on panels on Friday, I will be in the bar or lounge editing. If you're in at the convention, stop by and say hi. I will be spending Friday night in the hotel but driving home Saturday. I will return on Sunday morning to retrieve any unsold books; hopefully, that will be none! Because of the busy schedule next weekend, I don't plan on putting out a blog post.

Time to get back to editing--if my cats will let me. They seem to be especially clingy this morning and insist on getting in my lap no matter where I sit.

2018-02-25

Feelings

The editing of Collision Course is slowly proceeding. I'm making some minor plot changes and a few corrections to how my characters are developed. The ending will also need to be revised. These changes will result in a slightly longer book which is fine by me. I have also received the first pieces of possible artwork to be used for the cover. My cover artist has given me a tough choice this time and once I have a few minor changes made I'm going to be shopping the pictures around to see which one people like the best.

I will be going to the Cleveland Concoction Convention which runs from March 9th until March 11th. All of my books will be on sale and I will be sitting on three panels (all on Friday). When I'm not sitting on a panel, I will be found either wandering around the rest of the convention or parked in the hotel bar getting some writing and editing done. I decided to get a room for the first night since my last panel ends at 9:00 PM and it's about an hour drive home. Now, if someone wants to chat after the last panel, I can do so and not have to worry about the long drive home.

Sales have been okay. Back in 2009, when I self-published my first book, I was thrilled when I sold my first book. That thrill continued for every sale especially when I had more than one in a week. As you can see, I set my expectations pretty low back then. Sales began to pick up until a miracle happened in 2011/2012 and I was selling books so fast I could have updated the counts every hour and seen a change. Sales then began to slowly drop until they've steadied out at their current levels.

When you've had a run where you were selling tens of books an hour, you tend to raise your expectations and lowering them is very difficult. Book sales are what authors live for. It's why we sacrifice the things that others take for granted and spend all our free time writing. It's a rare author who can say they make a living writing. Most of us have other jobs that provide our main family income. When the sales began to drop, so did the thrill of writing. But, for most writers, sales don't always remain high. So, I've lowered my expectations to more realistic numbers and I'm happy again.

Last year at Launch Pad, I met an author who has become very successful in the romance field. She has made enough in her sales to afford to pay for a professional translation of her books into German. I am human and, of course, I envy her sales. But, I am also truly happy for her success. Not everyone can have such success. Ann Leckie, an award-winning science fiction author whom I've also met, recently posted a series of tweets concerning how authors feel about their fellow authors. I can't quote the entire text here (mostly because I can't find it) but the gist is that authors must acknowledge they have feelings and will feel things like envy towards their fellow writers when they are nominated for awards and you are not. It's perfectly natural and part of what it is to be human. But being envious should not prevent one writer from also feeling good about another writer's success. We are complex beings and often have to deal with complex and conflicting emotions. How we deal with them is a reflection of who we are as a person.


2018-02-18

Editing and revising

I have started another editing pass on Collision Course and I believe I have a plan to address some of the issues identified by Lee Dilkie, my content editor. I might not be able to address all of his concerns, but I can at least fix a few of them. Collision Course is a unique book as it's a mixture of science fiction with a hefty splash of fantasy. The fusion is hard to do correctly. After this second editing pass, the book will be in the hands of my wife who will check it for grammatical errors. If all goes well, it will be available for publication sometime in May.

While I was thinking about how to fix the story, I was continuing my studies of JavaScript. I've been reading a massive book titled JavaScript: The Definitive Reference. I've finally gotten to the point in the book where the author is talking about JQuery. I've known for some time that JQuery is a powerful library for JavaScript and I've always planned on making use of it. I now know just how useful it can be and I will most definitely be re-writing my website using this powerful tool.

As a long-time professional programmer, I also realize there are standards and best practices that have become part of the language. Even though it is possible to write code that works, that does not necessarily mean you've written the most professional looking code possible. I reached out to a JavaScript programmer and received some good feedback on my coding. As in my writing, I have no problem with receiving constructive feedback from people concerning how I do things. That's how people learn.

There's a huge difference though between constructive feedback that's meant to teach and destructive feedback which is little more than ranting and raving. For example; Say a reader believes an author's character development is a bit weak. The overall story, though, is a good one. A proper feedback would point this out and provide some constructive feedback such as "I would have liked to have gotten to know Mary a bit better". Another reader might just say "The character development in this novel is terrible". A writer can learn from the first but will disregard the second as being offensive.

This sort of constructive feedback applies to all aspects of our lives as well. The problem is, people become offended and their first reaction is to lash out at the person who offended them because they feel that person is being deliberately offensive. In some cases, this is probably true and such people should be ignored. They are doing it to provoke a fight and will not listen to constructive feedback. In many cases, however, the person might not realize he or she is being offensive. This can be due to the person's cultural background or simply a lack of knowledge.

A recent example was the use of a Christian cross to honor the students killed in the recent Florida school shooting. Many of the students were Jewish and the use of the cross is considered offensive in the Jewish community. I'm sure the people who placed those crosses were not trying to be offensive. The reactions from some members of the Jewish community, however, were swift and damning. They blasted the crosses and condemned those who placed them there. This doesn't help solve the problem!

The correct response would be to point out that the use of a cross was offensive and politely ask that they be removed. Those who placed the crosses should apologize and then immediately respond to correct their error. They should then take the opportunity to understand why the cross is considered offensive so they don't repeat their error. Ignorance can't be helped because nobody can know everything. But when ignorance is pointed out, it should be taken as an opportunity to learn. Ignorance has become a bad word and it should probably be replaced with something with fewer negative emotions attached to it such as "lack of knowledge".

Humans are a diverse people with thousands of different cultures. It is not possible for a single person to know everything that everyone will consider as being offensive. If you're visiting China and someone gives you the middle finger, don't explode and start flinging a string of four-letter words back at them. In China, the middle finger is used to point because pointing with your index finger is highly offensive.

Humans need to become more aware of the fact that not everything everyone does that's offensive to one person is done in an effort to actually cause offense. They might just not know any better. Politely correct them. If they refuse to learn, then they are being offensive on purpose and then it's okay to lambast them. Tollerance should be practiced first.

2018-02-04

Collision Course Feedback

The person who creates my cover art reported she very much enjoyed reading Collision Course. My content editor had a slightly different take on the book. He enjoyed it, but he wanted more. So, I'm going to spend a few days (or maybe a few weeks) trying to come up with some ideas on how to improve the story. As of this moment, I'm coming up blank. I know what he's after--I just don't know how to get there. But, I've been in this situation before and just letting things simmer in the old gray matter for awhile usually produces unexpected results. In the meantime, I'm hitting the JavaScript hard.

There is a huge difference between knowing and understanding a complex computer language. I started off programming using the original BASIC in high school. I eventually learned Z80 assembler. Neither of these was much of a challenge because of their simplicity. I then learned C back when DOS 3.2 was king. C was a bit of a challenge but because I had started with assembler it wasn't long before I was writing complex code in the new language.

My next language (if you can call it that) was a database programming language called DB2. I developed all sorts of applications while in the Navy and was involved in modifying and upgrading a DB2 program that was used to manage a group of retirement community apartments. When I started work at my current place of employment, programming was set aside as I had nothing to program. But, the itch to write code is just as bad as the itch to write and I found myself learning VBA in an ancient version of Microsoft Access (2.0 if I recall). After many years, I've become very good at VBA programming.

Now, I'm trying to learn JavaScript. The problem with this language is you need to have a very good knowledge of HTML and a lot of CSS in order to make sense out of it. Compared to the other languages I've learned, JavaScript is a very different sort of beast. I'm nearing the end of a massive book on JavaScript and I can now read a lot of the code I see. But actually understanding how the code functions is something I'm finding difficult. JavaScript is nothing like any other language I've ever used before. I have the book knowledge, but translating that into actually understanding what the code is doing is proving to be a challenge.

I have hand-coded my website and it does have a chunk of JavaScript powering the equations. But I'm sure a professional JavaScript programmer would have some unkind words to say about how I wrote the code. The transition from novice to professional programmer is going to take a lot of work. It's sort of like reading a book on how to drive a car. If you've never driven a car you can have all the knowledge possible but I would not recommend getting behind the wheel unless you have someone else there to guide you. There is a difference between knowing and understanding. Understanding comes with experience. When you can do something, or look at a piece of code and understand at a glance how it all works, then you can say you understand. That's where I want to be.

2018-01-28

Tax time

As anticipated, I finished my first round of editing of Collision Course. The initial feedback from the those who have been allowed to read the novel so far have been positive. My content editor did a quick read-through and enjoyed the book. Now, he's going to take another pass through it to see it the plot holds water. My cover artist also enjoyed it and is now working on a cover. I will wait until I hear back from my content editor (Lee Dilkie) before starting on my second editing pass. After that, the book goes to my wife for proofing.

Tax Time
For those of you who are self-published, you should have received a notification that your 1099s are ready to be printed through Amazon's website. If you opted for paper copies, they're either in the mail or have already arrived. So now what? If this is the first time you've done taxes for your writing business you should do some reading up on the tax laws concerning what you can and cannot deduct. Hopefully, you've been maintaining a detailed set of records for your new business. If you've done this before, then it's just a re-hash of last year.

Writers should realize that the IRS does allow you to consider your writing as a business. But, you must treat it as such. If you don't, then it's considered a hobby and you don't get to deduct anything. You will, however, need to pay taxes on your writing income. So what's the difference? Mostly, it's how you maintain your records. Having a separate bank account, separate credit card, and an office dedicated to writing is pretty much proof that your writing business is a business. If you're ever audited and your writing income and expenses are mixed in with your personal accounts, you're going to have a harder time convincing the agent that your writing is a business.

One sure way to ensure your writing is considered a business is to register it with an EIN. Since most writers are a sole proprietor, this EIN will be linked to your social security number. If you've gone the route of incorporating (as some writers I know have done) then you're all set--you have a business. An EIN is not absolutely required though and you can still claim your writing as a business as long as you can prove it is a legitimate business entity. How? Documentation!

Having a separate bank account is an enormous help. It also helps tremendously when tax time comes as all of your writing finances are contained in a single source. If you use Quicken or other software to track your finances, then getting the data you need to file your taxes is even easier. So what are the advantages of claiming your writing as a business? Deductions for one.

You can deduct travel costs, meals eaten during travel, meals eaten where business is discussed, and mileage for all business-related trips. The cost of paper, computers, printers, and other office supplies and equipment are also deductible. A portion of the cost of the internet service, as well as the cost of maintaining an author website, is also a deduction. Magazine subscriptions, writing software, membership fees, and virtually any other cost associated with your writing are deductible. If you meet the strict requirements of a home office, you can deduct that as well.

If you write as a hobby, you get none of these deductions. The key to surviving an audit though is meticulous documentation. Detailed financial records specific to your writing activities, mileage logs, a business log, and other detailed documentation is proof that you treat your writing as a business.

Filling out the forms is not difficult. I used to use one of the online programs to do my taxes. The cost is minimal. Nowadays, I do my taxes by hand. I don't mind reading the IRS publications and I prefer to know exactly how my taxes are prepared. The publications produced by the IRS are actually quite clear. If you want to be assured that your taxes are done right, read the publications yourself and then do your taxes by hand. After finding a $650.00 mistake a few years ago by a tax professional, I have always done my taxes myself.

2018-01-21

Editing

The first round of editing for Collision Course has begun. I have been off since Friday and have had a lot of time to edit. As such, I am about halfway through the first editing pass.

About 2 years ago, I had an idea for a short story. I started it, then set it aside because I really didn't know what to do with it. Last year, I caved in to the requests from my writers group and finished it. I still don't know what to do with it. My wife suggested I make it publicly available. Since I have no clue where I would even start to sell this story, I agreed. It's very short and will take about 10 or 15 minutes to read. Please feel free to distribute this story to anyone.

This is normally the time of year when I begin my series on how a writer should be treating their writing as a business. I'm going to defer this until next week. This post is being kept short because I really need to get back to editing. I prefer to do the first editing pass as quickly as possible so the entire story can be processed without delay. That's how I manage to find some of the biggest plot blunders. I've already found a few.

Back to editing.

2018-01-14

Editing to Begin soon

Collision Course has now sat idle for a couple of weeks and I've been focusing on all sorts of non-writing related activities. The urge to dive into the editing is growing which means I will be starting that process next weekend. I actually wanted to begin editing this weekend but the weather made it impossible. Last Thursday, our 18 inches of snow was nearly gone. The temperature was hovering around 50 and it was raining making a big mess of things. But that was about to change--quickly!

I took Friday off expecting bad weather. The day started off around 50 with rain and then the temperature began to drop. By noon, we saw our first sleet. By one o'clock, things were starting to be coated with a thin layer of ice. Luckily, the temperature continued to drop and by 3:00 it was snowing. My wife and I made an early trip out and then stayed inside. Instead of editing, I took care of cleaning up a lot of computer-related things I'd been putting off.

Saturday morning, I woke up to find the back door frozen shut (the handle won't even turn) and a drift blocking the front door. It took some effort to get it open. As soon as it was light enough outside, I began the process of clearing the driveway. The snow I was dealing with was the consistency of lightly packed sugar sitting on top of a layer of harder packed sugar on top of a coating of rough ice. The drifts were enough to cause my blower to chug forcing me to take smaller bites. I did my driveway as well as two of my neighbors. It was 12 degrees outside so I came in for a break. Later that day, after the sun had come out, I deiced the cars and thawed out the back door. No writing or editing got done as I spent more time outside than in.

Now, it's Sunday and I'm debating if I should start editing or wait until next weekend. I do have a considerable amount of Java reading I need to do and my website still needs to be finished. I won't be making up my mind until after I finish this post.

My wife and I Skyped with our friends in Minnesota. Heather (my best friend's wife) is my cover artist and she's been reading the first draft so she can come up with an appropriate cover. She told me she loved the book so far and was laughing her ass off in certain places. I was so glad to hear this as this particular book was a difficult to write and I wanted to try to give it a bit of humor as well as structure it to keep the reader wanting more. Based on her feedback, I succeeded.

In other news, I will be returning to Launch Pad again this year. I originally attended Launch Pad in 2012 and I've been going back ever since. It is an experience you will never forget. If you are an author, editor, illustrator, script-writer, movie producer, or anyone who creates material for the public, you should seriously consider applying for Launch Pad. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass this on to them. The only out of pocket expense is your round-trip ticket to Denver and Launch Pad might be able to help cover this cost. This year's workshop runs from May 28th to June 3rd. I've already booked my flight.

I will also be attending the Cleveland Concoction science fiction convention from March 9th to March 11th. I will be on several panels and my books will be available for sale in the convention's bookstore.

2018-01-01

Welcome to 2018

2017 is now history and 2018 has arrived. I finished last year by finishing the first draft of my next novel Collision Course. The final word count is a bit less than my normal target but that's fine. When a book is finished, it's finished. I will be letting the book rest for a few weeks and before starting the editing process. The manuscript will also go out to my content editor in Canada as well as my cover artist in Minnesota. The content editor will let me know if I've screwed up the overall plot. He gets a very early draft so I don't have to do multiple massive edits. My cover artist needs to have a copy as soon as possible so she can begin work on another of her fantastic covers. The process takes almost as long as it takes me to do my editing passes.

The process of getting a novel ready for publication is a long one. Rushing it will result in the release of a bad final product. I will be making several editing passes before the manuscript is ready. The first pass is fairly high level and I do it over a short period of time. This lets me clean up the overall plot. I might rearrange chapters, add a chapter, or on a rare occasion delete one. By the time this is finished I usually have my content editor's input. I will use his feedback to go back and make any large-scale changes that are required. At the end of this process, the manuscript's chapters are in their correct order and the general plot is in good shape.

All of the preceding work is done in Scrivener. I like to use it because I can keep two documents open at the same time and moving chapters around is a piece of cake. I realize this can be done just as easily in Microsoft Word, but Scrivener is designed for writers and it just works better in my opinion. When I'm doing my detailed editing though, I prefer Word. At the end of the rough editing process, I transfer the manuscript to Word.

The next editing pass is far more detailed and takes place after allowing some time to pass giving me a fresh look at things. Here, I add descriptions and make subtle changes to sentence structure to allow the story to flow as smoothly as possible and to bring the story to life in the reader's imagination. There is a fine art to doing this that I have yet to master. Add too much description and your reader's imagination is constrained to what the author sees in their mind. Add too little and the reader might imagine something that clashes with what the author needs them to visualize. It's during this pass that I also find a lot of strange grammatical errors as I look to give each sentence a proper place in the overall manuscript.

Sometimes, I will go through the manuscript one more time making sure that all the sentences work together to move the story along. If the detailed editing pass was done properly, this is nothing more than a quick read. After I'm satisfied with the finished product, I print it out and give it to my wife who is my grammarian. She is not a fan of science fiction and it typically takes her many weeks to review a novel. I take her comments and enter them into the manuscript. This is also usually when I begin working on my next novel.

When all the grammatical errors have been corrected, the manuscript is sent off to a reader in Germany for a final check. Having a second proofreader ensures I have the best possible product for release to the public. While the novel is getting its final review, I register for my copyright and begin the process of creating the print version. The interior is formatted to the proper size, page numbers are added, headers are created, and chapter page breaks are defined.

Usually, by this point in time, I have a final version of my cover art. If I get this sooner, I can build a cover while my wife is doing her editing. I create the cover by downloading a template from CreateSpace and building the cover in Photoshop Elements by merging in the artwork and adding all the other stuff that's on a cover (title, author name, back cover description, author photo, etc.). I use an estimate of the page count for this process. Once the cover is done, I generate a JPG and let the world see it for the first time.
 
This is also when I plan for a release date and begin promoting the book on social media. I can also upload a preliminary copy to Amazon and allow pre-release orders to begin.

The final step is to upload the Kindle version of the book to Amazon. I then generate a PDF of the print version and then look at it as if I was looking at a book. The problem here is that the book is actually shown as a mirror image of how it's going to be printed with the left page appearing on the right-side of the screen. This is an artifact of how the book is printed and I've gotten used to it. When I'm satisfied the PDF is 100% correct, I check the page counts and if needed download a new template and rebuild the cover. If the page count was accurate, I can skip this step.  Finally, after everything is done, the book is uploaded to CreateSpace and the process is complete.

As you can see, a lot goes into publishing a novel and if you're a self-published author it all falls on you to make it happen. I will let you know here as this long process works its way to completion.