Coming Soon: Tranquility and Other Myths

Tranquility and Other Myths, Full Cover

My (very) short story, “Winter Roses,” will be appearing in the upcoming anthology, Tranquility and Other Myths.” The anthology will be published in April, 2017. Here’s hoping you get a kick out of the full cover above, which was put together by John Dwight (including the back cover verbiage).

Seventeen stories of light, night and the writhing shadows. Indeed.

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The Shortest Fight

This is easily the shortest fight scene I’ve ever written in one of my stories. It’s from “The Rooftop Game,” a 16K word novelette of mine that will be appearing in May in the anthology, “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders.”

The basic premise is “Die Hard, on the roof of a castle tower.” While the King is away, the castle the royal family is staying in is overrun. Unable to escape, Lydio Malik, the Royal Bodyguard for the infant Princess Analisa, takes refuge on the roof of a tower where his enemies will have trouble getting to him.

This is the scene:

   The Kashmal fighter heaved himself over the edge of the roof, lunged to a standing position, drew his sword and took a step towards Malik.
   The fighter’s forward boot slipped on the wet tile where Malik had urinated only a few moments before. He fell forward, audibly cracking his chin as he landed face first on the orange roof tiles. Stunned, he dropped his sword, which slid off the roof, followed almost immediately by the screaming rebel warrior.
   A few seconds later, there was a thud and clatter as the fighter hit the ground below.
   Malik couldn’t help grinning. All of his fights should be that easy.

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Writing Tips: Anthology Roles

Creating a quality anthology is a complex project, especially an indie-published anthology. Through painful experience, I’ve learned that it is most effectively accomplished by a dedicated team. I thought it would be useful to others if I defined the roles that I think are necessary for the production of a successful indie-published anthology.

It’s worth noting that, in addition to these roles, other people may provide services for a project, such as a cover artist, a photographer for author biography photos, an illustrator, etc. In practice, I’ve also found that participants may swap some tasks around a bit. Still, the roles are generally as I’ve outlined.

Project Manager: Manages the anthology as a project, starting with the creation of a project plan that defines the activities necessary to create the anthology and a realistic timeline for those activities. Ensures that all necessary roles are filled on the project. Responsible for ensuring that content contracts are signed and rights are properly secured, by contract or by usage agreement, for other elements such as graphics, photos, illustrations and the cover. Often referred to as the “Chief Cat Herder.” Sometimes functions as the “Bad Cop.”

  • Contracts
  • Timeline
  • Project Management

Editor: Responsible for the content of the anthology, including story selection and editorial input on stories. Also writes the “Call for Stories,” which publicizes the anthology theme, payment plan and submission guidelines. Writes the “Introduction” for the anthology. Responsible for nagging contributors to get their stories or edits “done by the due date or they’ll face the wrath of the Project Manager.” Sometimes referred to as the “Good Cop.”

  • Call for Stories
  • Provides an “Introduction” for the anthology
  • Provides Editorial Input on all stories

Copy Editor: Does an exhaustive scan of the anthology content for typos, text problems, grammar mistakes and other issues that would detract from the content. Also responsible for copyediting related content, including back cover text, blurbs, advertisements and author biographies. Often referred to as “Donna Royston.”

  • Edits content for typos and grammatical issues

Book Designer, Print: Professional-caliber books are designed, especially indie-published books that need to stand out from competitors. The book designer lays out the copyedited content in a pleasing and effective design, which can be painstaking work.

  • Designs the print edition, including layout, fonts, graphic elements, illustrations, photos, etc.
  • Orders proofs from Amazon as needed to verify print quality.

Book Designer, Ebook: The ebook designer lays out the copyedited content in a pleasing and effective design, emulating the print design as much as is feasible due to the limitations of the Kindle’s mobi format.

  • Designs the Kindle ebook edition.
  • Tests the design in HTML, in the Kindle Previewer, the Kindle Reader and any
    Kindle devices that are accessible to the designer.

Marketing: Creates any necessary marketing materials for the anthology, including the back cover blurb, the Amazon blurb, etc. Sets the pricing strategy for the anthology, including pricing for the various editions as well as any pricing for marketing campaigns.

  • Back Cover Blurb
  • Amazon Blurb
  • Pricing, for all editions including ebook, print and audio (if any)
  • Marketing Activities
  • Initial Wholesale Order

Author: There is no anthology without content. Authors provide the content, as well as edits to that content and approval/rejection of copyedit changes. Authors are expected to deliver their stories in a timely manner and respond to editorial input and copyedit changes in a timely manner.

  • Provides a Story
  • Provides an Author Biography
  • Provides an Author Photo (or allows one to be taken)
  • Signs a contract for any content provided
  • Responds to Editorial Changes
  • Responds to Copyedit Changes
  • Assists in promotional activities for the anthology when published
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State of the Publishing Industry in 2016

Author Earnings is a (free) web site run by best-selling writer Hugh Howey and the anonymous data analyst known only as Data Guy. For the last few years, they have spidered Amazon’s online bestseller lists, as well as other sites, on a quarterly basis. Basically, using some pretty advanced data collection and analysis techniques, they’ve assembled the best look at what is really going on in terms of sales of books in the United States.

Last week, Data Guy was invited to do a keynote presentation at the Digital Book World conference, which is now online for everybody to view. I have taken some time to digest his presentation, which includes some startling findings. Especially in light of the fact that the October 2016 Earnings Report showed a slight, but unexplained, downturn in ebook sales.

The best graphic from the presentation was this one, which illustrates what Amazon did to traditional publishers in 2016:

Slide 13: Amazon Eats Traditional Publishers and Retailers

For easier discussion, I’ve divided my takeaways into distinct categories…

Market Size

The traditional publishers have virtually no understanding of the size of the book market in US. And the data vendors they depend on are only slightly better. Data Guy’s collection/analysis techniques are not rocket science, but the principles they’re using are alien to organizations like Bookscan, Nielsen and others that the traditional publishers relay on to make business decisions.

  • Even 15% of traditional publisher sales are not being recorded at the point of sale.
  • For traditional publishers, 49% of their sales are digital, but their pricing strategies are designed to preserve the profitability of their print products. Despite the fact that they make more money per sale off ebooks. So they’re using a more profitable format to bolster up the sales of a less profitable format.
  • Overall, Adult Fiction is 42% non-traditional. And 70% of Adult Fiction sold is digital. For the record, digital formats aren’t sold in brick & mortar stores, so this means that 70% of the action is online. As an author, do you even have to be in bookstores to be successful? Especially if you’re a debut author or a mid-list author?
  • In 2016, 14% of all ebook sales were Kindle Unlimited (KU) full-read equivalents. KU is Amazon’s subscription service for online books. Nobody else has tracked this area of the market except Data Guy.

Print is Back

  • In 2016, US print sales grew 3.3%. BUT all channels declined except for Amazon. So “Print is Back” really translates into “Amazon is eating the lunch of Traditional Publishers and Brick & Mortar Retailers.”
  • Ebook sales are not shrinking. They only stopped growing for traditional publishers because of stupid pricing ($14.99 for an ebook!) and Amazon print discounts.In actuality, Amazon’s ebook sales grew 4% in 2016. Traditional publishers are losing market share to indie published writers and Amazon imprints./li>
  • Print sales ticked up in 2016 because of Amazon. Unable to discount ebook prices thanks to publisher-enforced contract terms, Amazon discounted ebooks so they were often lower than the (ridiculously high) ebook prices set by traditional publishers. This caused publishers to sell more print books…instead of more profitable ebooks, which in turn affected their overall earnings.
  • 43% of all print sales occur online, with the majority going to Amazon.

Should Authors Go Traditional or Indie?

  • Print-book customers are migrating away from venues where indie authors cannot compete effectively toward venues where indies can compete effectively, with less risk, with digital upsells, better pricing and outlearn traditional authors on every sale.
  • Overall, Adult Fiction is 42% non-traditional. And 70% of Adult Fiction sold is digital. For the record, digital formats aren’t sold in brick & mortar stores, so this means that 70% of the action is online. As an author, do you even have to be in bookstores to be successful? Especially if you’re a debut author or a mid list author?

Where Did the Coloring Books Go?

Coloring Books emerged as a major new profit area for traditional publishers. Then it disappeared almost overnight. Where did it go? Data Guy has the answer…

Well, it went indie. It seems that indie authors and artists can produce coloring books faster, cheaper and more effectively than traditional publishers.

Conclusion

If you’re a debut author, it’s probably better to start indie, build an audience and go hybrid if a publisher provides a sufficiently lucrative contract (this includes potentially being picked up by an Amazon imprint).

If you’re an indie author, the market has gotten both better and tougher at the same time. The bad news is that, in order to be competitive, indie products must be comparable…or better…than products from traditional publishers. The good news is that most sales are happening online, and in digital formats, so authors with traditional publisher support getting into bookstores are increasingly on a level playing field with indie authors.

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Inspiration: Dandelion Dreams

Dandelion Dreams

I just love this picture. Hope you do, too.

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New Release: Reliquary

Reliquary I have a novelette in an anthology called Reliquary, which was published on Amazon today. The anthology features twelve stories by new writers on the theme of relics.

My story is called Road Trip:

Rocco Fitch, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, doesn’t have much left to live for. He’s disabled, unemployed and his wife has left him, taking their daughter with her. Then a beggar, a war veteran like himself, offers to sell him a road.

Go. Buy. Now. 😎

(And we’d all love a fair and honest Amazon review, if you have the time)

Oh, and for anybody who’d like a bit of a preview of the story, here’s an interview with Rocco Fitch, the main character of my story.

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Zombies of Manhattan

Warning: ZombiesCHAPTER 1: LEVEL 82

In any apocalyptic scenario, location is a major survival determinant…

         — apocalyptica.blogspot.com

I descend the stairs slowly, careful not to make any noise. The level I’d just come from had been safe. I know this, because I’m the one that cleared it. But all four stairways in the Kraftt Tower are apparently open on multiple levels, which means that they are emphatically not safe.

I clutch my flashlight in my sweaty left hand and direct its dim glow, muted by the red cloth I’ve tied over it, directly in front of me. I’m wearing three jackets for padding, plus Janet’s scarf (I try not to think about Janet, she was my first) and the motorcycle helmet I found on 85.

I’m holding a three-foot-long metal strut from a computer rack in my right hand. I’d wrapped duct tape around one end to give me a better grip. I call it “George,” I’m not sure why. Sometimes I talk to it, too. I’m probably not entirely sane anymore, but it beats the alternatives.

In a moment I’m on the landing, which turns out to be covered with bloodstains, long since dried. They look black in the light. There are drag marks going down the stairs, too.

I try not to imagine what happened here. I need to stay focused.

Ten more steps and I’m at the door for Level 82. I strain my senses for any sound of movement. I hear a faint scuffing sound, so faint that I’m not sure if it’s real or just my imagination.

It doesn’t matter.

Here and now, my choices are constrained. If I’m swarmed in the stairway, retreat to the floor above might be possible, unless I have the bad luck to be attacked from that direction. But retreat would only be a temporary respite. Food and water are limiting factors. To live, I need to keep moving. And if I’ve got to be moving, then it has to be down because that’s the only way I’ll ever escape this God-forsaken Tower of Doom.

The door is metal, with a faux wood façade. Pine, I think.

It’s locked, of course. There’s a badge reader next to it so all of us office workers can unlock it with our badges. Since the power’s been off for the past week, that’s not real useful. I shift George to my left hand, juggling to hold both my weapon and flashlight in one hand. The light shakes a little as I do this.

I pull my +3 Vorpal Lock Pick out of my pocket. OK, it’s really a screwdriver with a few metal bits superglued to it, but that just sounds too mundane for the apocalypse. Anyway, the server room on 88 has the same kind of lock as the stairway doors. It had taken me half a day of experimentation to cobble together a working lock pick.

I hear another scuffing sound. Unmistakable this time. And closer. I think there’s a hostile on the landing below me.

This is how things get dicey. I call this whole routine American Roulette. Pick a floor. See what’s behind the door. Live or die. Repeat again tomorrow, if you’re lucky.

I insert my lock pick in the gap between the door and its frame. Shove, twist, pry. All of this makes noise. Not a lot, but more than enough.

I pull the door open enough to put my foot in the gap, then I bite down on the handle of the screwdriver, sorry, I mean my +3 Vorpal Lock Pick. I grab George in my right hand and swing it in a whistling arc as a bloody-faced man in a grungy business suit lunges upward into my circle of illumination. The metal bar smashes his skull and sends blood splatter into the wall.

It’s really all about the follow-through. That’s something my grandfather taught me. Although he was talking about baseball, not smashing skulls. I’m still really glad he taught me how to properly swing a bat. I just never imagined that it would be a survival skill.

My attacker falls backward down the stairs, knocking at least one companion down, or so I judge from the snarling. In the momentary lull after that, I hear footsteps and groaning coming from above, too. I guess it’s time to see what’s behind door 82. I slip through and pull the door shut behind me, then move about six feet down the blessedly empty hallway.

I ignore the savage sounds from beyond the door and try to listen for any sounds of hostiles on this floor. Hearing nothing, I move to my next critical task.

Before I can clear a floor, I have to make sure all four stairway doors are closed, otherwise, well, I could be facing a nearly unending supply of hostiles.

From personal experience, let me tell you: Swarms are bad.

At full occupancy, the Kraftt Building could supposedly hold 20,000 people. I don’t really think the skyscraper was full when disaster struck, and some people undoubtedly escaped even then. I’m estimating that the building was half-full at worst. Of those, I figured half turned and the rest got eaten. That makes me a rounding error, I guess.

I jog quietly around the floor to check the other stairs. I’m careful to avoid the restrooms. All the bad guys need to survive is water; they’ll sleep and conserve energy if there’s no food (so never, never, never assume they’re dead until George has verified it), but they get weaker without water.

The floor turns out to be secure. Lucky me.

While I’d gotten my daily cardio in by barreling around the hallway track, I’d only passed one glass-fronted corporate entrance. This is a sure sign that the company has the entire floor, which isn’t my favorite situation. I prefer when the hostiles are penned up in different office pods.

I walk back to the entrance. A law firm. Not much use for that anymore. Glass doors embedded in glass walls let me look in on a fancy foyer with a marble floor, comfy chairs and a mahogany counter behind which, in some lost world now quickly receding from memory and never to return, an immaculately dressed administrative assistant would have smiled and greeted me.

Printed on one of the glass doors in white letters:

In an emergency
Press on door for 15 seconds
An alarm will sound

I press hard with my shoulder. After a moment, there’s a very slight pop and the door swings inward. No alarm goes off.

I wait for full minute with the door half-open, counting the seconds. Nothing happens. It’s all very boring. Which is good. I like boring.

Quietly, I make my way through the office. It’s daylight outside, which isn’t a surprise because that’s the way I plan these excursions. Light fans in through the exterior windows.

I see bloodstains in places, and drag marks, but no hostiles and no dead bodies. As I pass the break room, I curse silently when I see that the vending machine has been smashed open and all my junk food is gone. It’s not all bad, though. The soda machine is a tougher nut to crack (I have a tool for that, too), and it’s undamaged.

I turn a corner and I see a hostile fifteen feet away. Female, with her back turned to me. I’m feeling good because the floor’s been empty so far and maybe I’m feeling a little cocky, too. Plus, sometimes I think I just need to hear a voice, even if it’s only mine.

In my best faux Spanish accent, which is actually pretty awful, I say: “I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my co-workers. Prepare to die.”

Then I raise George and charge at the hostile.

The figure turns around, a shocked expression on her face, and screams.

Stunned, I shift my swing at the last second and slam George into the wall beside her. I yank it out of the wall and jump back away from her.

“You’re not a—”

“Obviously,” she says. “You moron.”

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Happy New Year, 2017!

Washington DC Fireworks

Washington DC Fireworks

Out with 2016! And in with 2017!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!

And look out, this is the year I start publishing stuff almost every month.

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D-Day for Worlds Enough Anthology

Worlds Enough Anthology Today is Deadline Day, or D-Day, for submissions for the anthology that I’m putting together: “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders.” Technically, I guess this makes me an Editor, since I’m one of the editors of the book. And an Anthologist, too, since I’m the one driving the project. Exciting stuff.

It’s an anthology of novelettes/novellas in the range of 10-20K words each, with a total of five slots. As a “mostly” curated anthology, four of the writers were pre-selected, and I have three of their stories in hand. The fourth writer is in the final stages of finishing up his story, which I expect to have in about a week. The stories are:

“The Mists of Lu-Shan” by Donna Royston
“Once Damned” by Martin Wilsey
“The Rooftop Game” by David Keener
“The Iron Garden” by Jeff Patterson

We opened up the fifth slot for competition. I’ve also received three submissions thus far for the last slot. I’ve heard that there may be a few more on the way.

All in all, it’s pretty exciting, though it’s a bit like herding cats. Of course, now the real work starts….

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Inspiration: Prague, the Charles Bridge, Fog

Prague, the Charles Bridge in the Fog

This is a real photo of the Charles Bridge in Prague, in the fog. I think it’s a beautiful photo and potentially a great fantasy book cover for someone.

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