Build a Space Battle

Build a Space Battle: A Workshop

I’ll be conducting my new workshop, “Build a Space Battle,” at Capclave 2017 tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it. Here’s the official description of my the workshop:

So, you want to include a titanic space battle in your military SF novel or your galaxy-spanning space opera. But…who’s fighting? Why are they fighting? You’d like to make the battle realistic…but what tactics and strategies make sense? In this workshop, you’ll learn by doing as we collaboratively build an epic space battle.

My accompanying presentation is already complete and uploaded to SlideShare.net.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Amazon Kindle Tiers

Amazon sells books in both print and ebook formats, but, frankly, most indie writers generate the bulk of their revenue from ebooks. Since most indie writers make the majority of their money on Amazon, this means the most indies are generating income from Kindle sales, borrows or page views through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Over time, as various authors have compared notes on sales, some general statistics have been developed to indicate what the different Kindle sales rankings actually mean in terms of the number of units sold. I’ve broken those sales rankings into seven distinct tiers, which are described below.

Note that these numbers are approximate, and may vary from day to day. Nevertheless, they provide a useful model for understanding Amazon’s sales and may be useful for planning purposes, as well.

Tier 1: 1 – 10

You’re selling an ungodly number of books and probably making six figures per month from just a single book. You’re also killing it in borrows and page reads from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Sales: More than 60K books per month.

Tier 2: 11 – 100

You’re selling ten thousand or more books and probably making mid to high five figures per month for an individual title. Again, borrows and page reads will kick in additional revenue. The highest charting indies may move into this territory briefly, but generally won’t be there for long.

Sales: More than 16K books per month.

Tier 3: 101 – 1000

You’re selling thousands of books per month. At best, you’re doing low five figures. Even at the high end of the ranking, you’re still making a few thousand per month. Best-selling indies who end up in this territory for even a relatively short period may end up making more money than most traditionally published writers ever see. Borrows and page reads are a significant revenue stream.

Sales: More than 3K books per month.

Tier 4: 1001 – 10,000

You’re a real writer making real money, selling hundreds to low thousands of books per month. Borrows and page reads are still a significant revenue stream. This is where best-selling indies tend to hang out, especially if they have a large portfolio of books for sale.

Sales: More than 400 books per month.

Tier 5: 10,001 – 100,000

You’re selling 1 to 10 books per day, which adds up over time. At the lower rankings, you may be getting some revenue from borrows and page reads, but most of that will have dried up at the higher rankings. A lot of indie books settle into this tier and steadily earn money for writers. This is probably the bread and butter tier for most indies. Once again, having multiple products is the key to success when books are in this tier.

Sales: More than 35 books per month.

Tier 6: 100,001 – 1,000,000

You’re making a few sales per month. Don’t quit your day job.The settling place for indies that need to learn more about marketing.

Sales: About 2 sales per month.

Tier 7: 1,000,000+

You’re basically not really selling at all. This is not a good place for a book to be. Ever.

Sales: A sale every once in a while, maybe.


Why are tiers important?

During an intense marketing effort, such as a launch, an ebook tends to naturally reach a particular tier in terms of sales. Amazon’s own internal algorithms even take into account different factors, such as honoring slowly rising sales more than temporary spikes, and try to optimize where the book should be in the sales rankings.

After a time, generally at the 30, 60 and 90 day marks, an ebook ages enough that sales generally fade a bit and it drops to a lower tier. What you’d really like is a book that, even on auto-pilot, settles into a high-enough tier that it continues to bring in significant revenue with little or no ongoing marketing.

Best-selling author Hugh Howey’s book, “Wool,” after five+ years in publication, has settled in at the high-end of Tier 3. This means that he makes money month after month with little to no advertising. The books also leads readers in to the next two books in the trilogy, which means that the sell-through makes him even more money.

If you’re marketing your ebook, what you really want to do is to create a campaign of some sort that generates slowly rising sales rather than a sudden spike. Likewise, you want your ebook to reach the highest level possible so that 1) you make a boatload of money, and 2) your ebook eventually settles at a lower tier in terms of sales, but continues to generate real revenue.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Monday Mashup: Little Fuzzy

Little Fuzzy - by H. Beam PiperToday’s mashup is going to be a little different. The image is the excellent cover of the book, Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper (the Kindle edition appears to be free). The cover is from a 1970’s reissue of the book; it was originally published in 1962. The illustration is by renowned cover artist Michael Whelan.

Why is this a mashup?

Well, the character is Jack Holloway, a prospector on a Class III frontier planet called Zarathustra. The planet is essentially “owned” by the Zarathustra Corporation, which was created to exploit the planet. The story thus has the general feel of a western, albeit technically updated in plausible ways.

But note the furry little critters in the image. They’re fuzzies, a new mammalian species that’s migrating into Jack’s prospecting territory due to an ecological catastrophe caused by the Zarathustra Corporation. Jack comes to believe that the fuzzies are sapient, i.e. – as intelligent and self-aware as humans. If he’s right, it means that the Zarathustra Corporation may lose its exclusive charter to the planet.

Now we’ve got a thrilling David/Goliath showdown, with ecological overtones, combined with a first contact scenario.

But the whole story is going to hinge on a ground-breaking court case…which means that it also becomes a legal drama.

Now that’s what I call a serious mashup. Check out the book. It’s excellent fun, although you’ll have to ignore a few things that date it a little bit (cigarette smoking, the clumsy way the characters use view screens for communication, etc.).

Posted in A Little Inspiration | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Monday Mashup: Buzz Lightyear Enters the Grid

Buzz Lightyear Enter the Grid from TronWhat could be better than Buzz Lightyear, of Toy Story fame, entering the Tron universe?

Heck, it’s even possible. Disney owns Pixar, which created the Toy Story movies, and Disney itself created the two Tron movies.

This is one mashup that I’d certainly go see…

Posted in A Little Inspiration | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Mashup: Godzilla vs. Titanic

Godzilla vs. Titanic

OK, yes, I know, it’s probably not politically correct. But it was a long time ago. This picture purports to show the true cause behind the sinking of the Titanic way back in 1912. Clearly, the tragedy resulted from a collision between the Titanic and Godzilla.

Posted in A Little Inspiration | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Writing Tips: Sprints vs. Marathons

Marathon RunnerI’ve been in two writing groups for the last four years, both of which are open to new writers. At this point, I can’t tell you the number of times a new writer has arrived and said something like…

  • “I’m writing a dystopian YA novel…”
  • “I’m writing a werewolf urban fantasy police procedural novel…”
  • “I’m struggling with an SF thriller conspiracy novel…”
  • “I’m working on a post-apocalyptic novel…”

The common element here is “novel” and, more specifically, their first novel. Ever.

Folks, writing a novel is like a marathon. For those who aren’t overly familiar with marathons, it’s 26.2 miles long. I’ll come back to this momentarily…

In the last four years, none of these new writers have published any of these novels.

Let me repeat this. None of these new writers have published any of these novels.

None. Nada. Zilch.

Because writing a novel is hard. In order to reach the finish line for a good novel, a writer has to do a lot of things right. The story concept has to sustain a novel-length work, the characters need to be well constructed, the plotting needs to be crisp, the scenes have to move the story forward effectively, etc.

Only a few of these novels were ever finished. Even when they were finished, I haven’t seen any of the writers do the kind of ruthless editing and rewriting that would be necessary to bring the novels I saw up to what I would consider a professional level.

Admittedly, my writing groups are a relatively small sample of the overall writing pool, but all of the beginning writers had the same thing in common. The novel they were writing was the first significant work they were seriously trying to get done.

On the other hand, the writers who have achieved some degree of success seem to have a few things in common, too. They’d honed their craft by working on a bunch of different works over time before they successful completed a (publishable) novel. In the case of one author, he had a string of novels he’d either 1) abandoned part-way through, or 2) finished but had decided that they were unpublishable first drafts (that he didn’t know how to fix). Other authors honed their craft on short stories and novelettes before embarking successfully on longer works.

Now, obviously, there are people out there who have been successful with their first novel (although we don’t know how many drafts they went through to get the novel to where it needed to be). There are people who write very fast and finish novels in two weeks. But, based on what I’ve seen, that’s not the way I’d place my bets.

Runners typically train for marathons by participating in shorter races before moving up to marathons. So, if you’re a new writer, I want you to consider honing your craft on shorter works before trying to write that masterpiece of a novel that you have in your head.

And if you do choose to develop your craft with some short stories and novelettes, go for some diversity. Write that emotional story that doesn’t have much action in it. Write the origin story for the character that’s going to be the hero in your eventual masterpiece. Do an urban fantasy mystery short story. Do a…well, you get the picture. Stretch your boundaries so you’ll be ready for that novel when the time comes.

OK, your mileage may vary. I understand this. Starting with shorter works might not be the right path for everybody. But…at least consider it. I’m getting tired of critiquing trunk novels.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged | Leave a comment

Monday Mashup: Arya vs. Brienne, with Light Sabers

Sometimes the most interesting things come from mixing together two other “ingredients” that might otherwise seem an unlikely combination. So, here’s the fight between Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones…with light sabers.

Mashup: Arya vs. Brienne

The entire scene is also available on YouTube. Search for it…you won’t be sorry.

Posted in Creativity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I’m Reading…the Black Tide Rising Series

Black Tide Rising - A Zombie Series by John Ringo

Since I’m working on a zombie story of my own for Martin Wilsey’s upcoming anthology, Whispers of the Apoc, I’ve been reading a LOT of zombie fiction lately. In this case, I’ve just re-read the Black Tide Rising series by John Ringo.

The premise is simple. There’s a zombie apocalypse and a family of disaster preppers manages to escape to sea in a boat with lots of weapons, ammunition and food. When civilization is inevitably smashed to pieces by the man-made virus, they begin collecting survivors from boats and ships in the Atlantic ocean and gradually try to bootstrap a successful recovery effort.

The four-book series is a lot of fun, which isn’t something you often hear about zombie books. It’s got humor, lots of action and a pretty high degree of logic to the recovery efforts. It’s also one of the few zombie stories in which the various US military organizations play a substantial part in assisting with the recovery process.

Recommended for the military and action-oriented readers out there.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mission Statement

Mission StatementI’ve been reading books on the craft and business of writing lately. One of the authors I’ve been reading is Susan Kaye Quinn, a successful, indie-published writer who creates YA fiction (and also writes a few craft-related books on the side). In particular, in her book, 10 Step Self-Publishing Boot Camp, she suggests that writers create a Mission Statement.

The basic idea is that the act of crafting a Mission Statement forces you to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish with your writing. It’s something you can revisit each year and modify as needed if your goals change. But it also becomes a metric by which activities can be measured: Does this task that I’m contemplating further my mission?

So, here’s my Mission Statement.


As a writer, I want…

  • To create compelling heroes who, through no fault of their own, are underdogs and are forced to evolve, because these are the types of heroes that inspire me.

  • To create stories about crimes, because people will always be people and somewhere, whether it’s a fantasy realm or a far-off planet, there will be evildoers who need to be brought to justice.

  • To craft genre-bending mash-ups with twists and turns that defy expectations, liberally infused with humor but still deeply rooted in the realm of drama, not outright comedy.

  • To continually seek out new ways to improve my craft.

  • To be a leader and member of a supportive writing community.

  • To create a body of works that reaches a large number of readers and explores the reaches of my creativity.


That’s it. Six bullets.

The first three are focused on what I want to write. I like mash-ups. I like mystery/crime stories set in exotic SF or Fantasy settings. I like stories with humor, twists, surprises, as well as sudden violence tempered with emotional moments.

This tells me that I’m going to have a harder time really establishing my brand than other writers who may just stick to one narrowly focused niche. Because my brand is “hard to define, cross-genre mash-up crime stories.” So be it. But it also means that my stories won’t be just like everybody else’s stories.

I’m OK with that. It seems to have worked well for people like Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin and others.

The fourth bullet is about always striving to improve my craft. Yes, absolutely. I want to write stories that move people, not just solely entertain them. To do that, I need to keep pushing my limits as a writer.

The fifth bullet is about being part of a supportive writer community. The way I see it, a rising tide lifts all boats. Help others if you want help yourself. In giving to others, I receive far more. And it’s fun, too.

The sixth bullet is about a writing career. I don’t want to be that “one and done” writer, the one who only ever writes one novel… I want to create a body of works that are worth people’s time.

Now you’ve seen my Mission Statement. I hope it makes sense. It does to me. I think Susan Kaye Quinn was right—it is a good exercise to find out exactly what you’re striving to do as a writer.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Kindness of Strangers

Potbelly Sandwich Shop I’m at the Potbelly Sandwich Shop, where I’ve ordered a salad for myself, a sandwich for my wife and a few accessories. I get up to the cash register, they ring up my order and I reach into my back for my wallet…which isn’t there.

I apologize, make my excuses and head out to the car to see if I’ve left it there.

Nope. I head back in and tell the cashier to just set my order to the side. I’ll run home and get my wallet.

A tall man with salt and pepper hair is standing near the cash register, waiting for part of his own order to be completed. He says, “You forgot your wallet?”

“Yeah.” I’m shaking my head, because I’m still annoyed with myself. “I’m just gonna go home and get it.”

“Ah, don’t do that. How big’s your order?”

“Just lunch for me and my wife,” I say.

He grimaces and then gives a shrug. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just pick it up for you. I’ve been in this situation before, myself.”

“Thanks. Uh, if you give me your name and number, I can pay you back…”

He waves me off. “Don’t worry about it. Just pay it forward.”

He calls out to the cashier. “I’ll pay for this guy’s order.”

The cashier looks over at us. “The order’s already paid for.” He points past us at a slim, red-haired lady who’d been behind me in line. Without saying anything to us, she’s walking out of the shop. “She’s already paid for it.”

I ended up getting my lunch for free because of the kindness of strangers.

Sometimes it’s easy to be down on humanity, thinking that people are stupid, ignorant, callous, easily fooled, etc. Pick your particular gripe at any given moment. But really, most folks are just regular, decent people. And sometimes it’s really nice to be reminded of that.

Posted in A Little Inspiration | Tagged | Leave a comment
« Older