Moving on to Something Old

For the first time ever, I'm faced with a complete rewrite after my editor reviewed one of my books.

I was asking for it, in a sense -- I pushed this book into her hands with one less editing pass than I would normally perform, hoping that I'd developed my craft well enough that it was really ready.

Alas, no.  Her main comment -- the kiss of death -- the protagonist isn't likable.

Yeah, this is going to take fixing throughout the story -- particularly since this book is written in first person.  It is a tricky thing, making small, subtle changes to dialog (both internal and external) that make the character sympathetic.  A good learning experience for me, but still tough, none-the-less.

On the other hand, I am enthusiastic about plowing through the project, so here I go.....

Back to the Salt Mines

After several exhausting days two weeks ago, last week was a return to normality.

As a result, I made nice progress on my current project "Outsourced."  This book is the third and final installment in the Carson/Lively/Eichmann trilogy and is set in the People's Republic of China.  This book is shaping up less like a "Corporate Thriller" and more like just a straight adventure/thriller novel.  Of course, the book features the two protagonists from my first novel, "Leverage," who were also featured in one of my more recent releases -- "Pursuing Other Opportunities."

Also on the writing front, I have everything I need to put together another draft of "Synergy" a novel that I thought was nearing completion, but after talks with Heather, my editor, needs another round of work.  I'm looking forward to diving back into that project with a few ideas I think will further charge the story line.

What A Week

Small, short-term goals that lead to the completion of long term projects are the "secret" to my ability to complete several novels in parallel.  I normally know exactly where I'm at on every active project, and set daily goals for writing, reading, or editing.  Every day.

But when life throws you a curve ball, you have to know when it is time to forget all about that stuff and refocus on what's really important.

This last week was a perfect example.

My wife, Paula, went in for a routine colonoscopy on Monday morning.  I considered bringing along my computer to write during the procedure, but decided it was too much bulk to transport for too short of a window of time.  Everything appeared to go normally during the appointment, which lasted a couple of hours from arrival to departure.  We came home and Paula napped while I organized the kids a bit and then left the house to take the twins to their Monday gymnastics practice.

Gymnastics practice is one of my most productive writing times because after dropping the girls off, I normally go to a restaurant and work, taking only a brief break to eat a light meal.  This time, however, I'd only been settled into my chair for about forty-five minutes when I got a text from Paula telling me she needed us to come home.  She was experiencing severe pain and nausea.

By midnight, Paula and I were in the emergency room awaiting a CT scan technician to arrive.

It turned out that during her procedure, Paula developed a colon perforation.  This is extremely painful and can be life threatening if a serious infection results.  She was admitted to Methodist hospital at 4:30AM, about the same time I got home to catch 2 hours of sleep before getting the kids off to school Tuesday morning.

The next four days were an exhausting blur of worry, anticipation, telephone calls asking for help to watch/transport children, and very limited sleep.  Even when I did get a chance to lie down I was having trouble sleeping for longer than an hour -- such was my concern for my spouse's condition.

Today, she was released from the hospital, and is resting in our bedroom, just where she ought to be.

It goes without saying that there was no writing this week.  Not even any plot-work going on in the background of my subconscious.  Writing is great, but sometimes life has to come first.

Empowered is Out There

My latest novel -- Empowered -- hit internet-wide distribution this week.

The novel was originally released back in October 2014 in paperback, and in ebook form (but ONLY for Kindle.)  I've done an exclusive release on Kindle for most of my novels because Amazon offers some nice promotional benefits to authors that are distributing ebooks only through them (countdown discounts, free days, free borrowing for Amazon Prime members).  I must admit, however, that the response by readers this time around was a bit muted -- I suspect because of increased competition from a growing number of titles, which  ends up meaning less attention per book.

Now Empowered can be found on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, FlipKart, Oyster, Scribd, and a number of other eBook outlets.

For interested readers, here is a summary of the novel:

"Ever wonder what other people think about you?  Your work?  What you should be focused on?

Colin Jensen is obsessed with this question.

As the newly appointed President of the Chemicals Division of the TruePhase Instrument Company, Jensen want to know everything -- where the weak spots are, what needs to be fixed, what's wrong with management, and how the employees feel about getting a new manager.  To find out, Jensen takes a page out of reality television, constructing his own, private version of the show Undercover Boss. 

Jensen's Undercover Boss, however, has no cameras, scripts or staff.  It's just him posing as new shipping department employee Conner Jackson.  In the absence of the cameras, Jensen finds a veritable cesspool of illegal and immoral activities are taking place on the factory floor -- illicit drugs, assault, intimidation, extortion.  All of this seems to revolve around union boss, Walt Sharp, and his neanderthal henchman, Lazlo.

Grasping at straws, Jensen sends young analyst Sandy Martin in search of the answer to a clue he uncovers on the shop floor.  That clue leads Sandy to the tip of a conspiracy that could bring the company to its knees.  It also puts her squarely in the sights of Sharp and his peers.

Jensen must decide how far he's willing to push things, and how much he's willing to tolerate as things progress from shockingly bad to worse, all during a driving blizzard in central Indiana."

I'm very pleased with the way this novel developed, and think it might represent my best work yet.  If you enjoy an action-oriented book with plenty of plot twists and an unpredictable outcome, you might just love Empowered.  Click on any of the links to learn more, including where you can buy this Corporate Thriller.

Inserting a FREE Offer

I'm making progress on my latest promotional idea.  The concept, in summary, is to insert an invitation into all of my books (paper and electronic) that directs a reader to my website.  There, the reader can register their email address and by doing so they will get a free download of LESSONS LEARNED THE HARD WAY by John Samuels (normally priced at $9.99).

In the last week....

...I set up a page on my site with the registration form.

...I developed the offer language and inserted it into EMPOWERED.

...I submitted EMPOWERED to Smashwords (which is my distributor for all ebook channels EXCEPT Amazon).  I'm waiting for them to approve the book and then distribute to the universe.

Still to go...

...Add the offer language to the Amazon and Paperback versions of EMPOWERED.

...Add the offer language to all my other books (six books, three versions each, for a total of 18 version revisions).  While I'm doing this, of course I'll want to input any corrections that have piled up.  This is a BIG job, and one I'm not looking forward to.

...Promote the FREE offer on my website.

...Promote the FREE offer on social media.

Yes, all this sounds like a pain, but I've simply got to find something that helps me gather names and email addresses of fans and other readers.  I'd love to hear any other ideas people have.

Registering Readers

I'm going to try something new with the publication of SYNERGY -- providing a free eBook offer for buyers of my novels.

Here is the idea:  Future (and eventually those already published) books will contain a web reference to a page here on my website.  When a reader clicks or enters the URL for that website, they will see a registration page, where they can provide their webpage and email.  In exchange, I'll give them a coupon for a free copy of LESSONS LEARNED THE HARD WAY by John Samuels from Smashwords (that way they can download the format of their choice).

Over time I hope to build this list of readers into a group I can email with things like notices of future book releases and other information they might find interesting.  I'm also considering sending them my twice weekly blog posts.

This was something I probably should have done a couple of years ago, but I suppose its better late than never.

"Free" and other Promotions

I ran a "free" promotion for my latest novel, EMPOWERED,  from December 19-24 and must admit I found the response to be underwhelming.

The book is "free" only if you want the electronic version, have a Kindle-compatible reading device, and you somehow find out about the promo.  I can access this promotion (or the newer, "countdown" promotion) only when the ebook is enrolled in Kindle Select, a program where the author agrees that the only place the ebook will be listed and sold is Amazon.  Even then, the "free" promotion is limited in length to 5 days during a 90 day time frame.

I've used this program with most of my previously released novels.  Typically, I'll initially release the novel on Amazon (along with the paperback copy,) and then three months later I give it a broader release with other devices and through other distributors.

The first few times I did this, I would end up giving away 1,000 to 2,000 copies.  Afterward, I would see a bump in sales of related titles, as well as the promoted book, that would last 2-3 months.  It definitely justified giving copies away.  Last week that total was reduced to a sad 131 -- a total so low that I doubt I'll see ANY follow-on sales.  I admit I did little to promote the "free" promotion, but even if I had, I'm sure the response would have been muted.

I've got a few theories as to why this was the case.  First, I think the market is saturated with this type of promotion.  In the early days, there were a limited number of book offered for "free" at any given point in time.  Now the total is overwhelming -- so many so that today a reader could easily read nothing but free books, and never run out of material.

Secondly, I think the popularity of the Kindle is waning as the popularity of tablets to rise.  I see more and more IPads and other tablets when I go to events.  And while you can still purchase Kindle books and read them there with the appropriate APP, you also have other options, some of which integrate more easily with the platform.

The third cause is my lack of active promotion.  Truthfully, I'm just weary of this kind of work.  I'd definitely rather write the next novel than promote the current one.  That said, I think this is a 3rd order effect.

So I think I will deviate from past practice when the next novel comes out (SYNERGY) and try to find something new and fresh to get some attention for my work.  Anyone have any ideas? 

Update #1 on Pricing

So far I'd have to rate my reduced pricing plan as an abject failure.  After one month with the price of LEVERAGE at a mere $1.99, I've sold no more copies than I was selling at $9.90.  Of course, on the (few) copies sold, I've earned considerably less.

Sometimes pricing changes take time to take hold, so a bit of patience is still reasonable.  While I'm sure that LEVERAGE is showing up at the lower price on Amazon and Smashwords, because Smashwords "distributes" the ebook to other retailers and updates happen at irregular intervals, I'm not positive that it has even reached some of them at the lower price.

It was my intention to run the experiment for six months, and I'll be sticking with it -- even if I don't seem to be getting much traction.

My "Luggable" Laptop

Like most writers, I'm rather attached to my computer.  I currently use a Dell Inspiron with a 17" screen and love it.

The most important aspects of the computer are the screen size followed distantly by battery life.  You may have noticed that this screen size, in the era of tablets, is becoming increasingly difficult to find.  The width and overall size of the screen allows me to open two Word files simultaneously, which is particularly helpful when translating editing or proofreading notes into the master draft of one of my books.  And when I'm writing a first draft, the large screen allows me to have the draft and my design documents open at the same time.

But there is one thing about the giant laptop I don't like -- it's lack of portability.  The computer is a beast.  It was difficult to find a backpack that could contain it, and when I carry the machine around in the pack it feels like there is a boat anchor back there.

The monstrous size of the screen also seems to be directly related to the shorter (although, not terrible) battery life.

I've experimented with smaller laptops.  We have a tiny and much older Dell Inspiron Mini 10 which I've taken on a few vacations.  It is less than half the size of the "luggable," but it seems to offer less than half the utility.  Still, it isn't a bad compromise when you have to carry it around for hours, rather than perching it semi-permanently on a desk, table, or kitchen counter (where I actually do most of my writing.)

So I guess I'll stick with my giant laptop, even if that makes me look (even more) like a dinosaur!

When Other Priorities Arise

One thing I love about writing is the flexibility it affords me in my daily life.  If I have time available, it's a simple thing to sit down at the computer and edit a scene, write a few paragraphs, or work on promoting one of my books.  On the other hand, if other priorities arise, my writing projects can sit for a time.

Right now is one of those times.

In addition to the typical holiday bustle, I've got two major events impinging on my writing time.

In early November, Paula and I adopted our fourth child from Ethiopia -- our seventh child overall.  Those first  few weeks with a newly adopted child,  particularly one that is a little older (Lisle is 5,) can be be a bit tumultuous.  Any child being adopted has experienced a tragic life, and often they exhibit scars from their experiences.  Lisle is adapting to his new family -- in a strange country where he doesn't speak the language -- as well as could be expected.  Amazingly well, in many ways.

But that only happens with the commitment of plenty of love and time.

And if that wasn't enough, things have heated up on the entrepreneurial side of my life, as well.  The small company I partially own in Nebraska is in the process of acquiring another small company in Michigan.  While the transaction is fairly straightforward, there are still a million things that need to be completed before the closing (set for December 31st).  Because of my experience with acquisitions, a good chunk of the due diligence work is mine to handle.

So while I'm anxious to dig into the editor's notes on SYNERGY, and then move onto the second draft of OUTSOURCED, these tasks may have to wait a while.

Reviews, Anyone?

Like many authors, I struggle to get reviews written for my books, and often resort to asking friends and acquaintances to write them.  While I don't put words in their mouths and I do ask the reviewers to actually read the book (I'm aware there is a small cottage industry where people basically pay for reviews -- and I'm sure in those cases the reviewers are not reading), I have a really tough time getting past a couple dozen reviews for each one.

Even getting this number of reviews takes a lot of work.  I ask for volunteers, write instructions that simplify the mechanics of acquiring the book and writing the review, and volunteer to reimburse the reviewers for their copy of the book (much less complicated than mailing out copies).  Then I send out reminder after reminder.  Even with all that, the fallout rate (the percentage of volunteers that never write a review) is roughly 50%.

There's no question, getting reviews is tough.  If other authors have a more successful procedure, I'd love to hear about it.

I'm sitting on two books right now with single-digit numbers of reviews.  The first one is EMPOWERED, my latest novel.  There are two reviews written by people that have been long-time readers of my books.  I didn't ask for these, and really appreciate that the were willing to write them without prompting.  I'm going to wait until the book comes out of KDP select before starting the review cycle again (January 2015).

The other book is NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS.  It has three reviews, and is my second best selling book.  Although it has been out for quite some time, I have never attempted to recruit reviewers.  Since the sales were initially pretty brisk, I didn't feel I needed to bother -- particularly as the book is non-fiction, and my main interest is in focusing on my fictional works.

Unfortunately, some time back a tepid review appeared, a 3 star saying the book "wasn't really all that great" (the reviewer was apparently savvy in corporate politics, and felt the book was too elementary).  That review had a chilling effect on sales.  Now I would like to get some additional reviews to help offset this negative one.  Doing so will be another major task.

If any of my Writing Journal readers would like to do me big favor, just pop over to Amazon and review NCP!

Pricing

About a year ago I ran some pricing experiments on my novels.

My conclusion at that time was that deeply discounting my ebooks had little impact on volume.

At the end of the experiments, I placed the ebook prices of all my novels at $9.90 (the regular paperback prices are dictated by production costs more than anything else, and are already pretty close to the minimum if I want to make any money on them.)

I'm starting to doubt the results of that pricing decision.  Volume has dropped off to a trickle on many of the ebooks.  Quite frankly, I'll probably never make big money on any of the first four novels because of the high cost of editing I paid on those books -- a factor that was driving me to keep the prices high.

It sounds like it is time for another round of pricing experiments.

Starting today, I'm going to drop the price of Leverage to $1.99 for the next six months and measure the impact on it's volume.  Half-way through the experiment I'll drop the price of Pursuing Other Opportunities to $3.99 to see if it helps to have the second book in the series available at a discounted price.

Hopefully, there will be some lessons to be learned in all of this!

Many Other Priorities

I love writing but sometimes life gets in the way.  And while one great things about this avocation is that I can squeeze in small doses of writing around the periphery of a busy life, sometimes this results in very little real writing getting done.

 Carlisle gets ready for a busy day.

Carlisle gets ready for a busy day.

Now is one of those times.  Right now we have a new family member -- Carlisle -- who has been home for only one week.  For those of you who don't know about this, Carlisle is an adopted child from Ethiopia.  He is five years old, and barely speaks a word of English.  And when he is home, he is running around the house getting into pretty much anything he can reach.  It takes a lot of energy and attention to follow him around, trying to establish some limits and keep him safe.

And in my small manufacturing business, we are currently looking at not just one, but TWO acquisitions -- one of which would almost double the size of the company.  And while I have plenty of help on these tasks, having the most "deal" experience on the team definitely keeps me front and center.

 Twins Candace (L) and Sarah (R) in the summer of 2013 when they were flower girls.

Twins Candace (L) and Sarah (R) in the summer of 2013 when they were flower girls.

Right now writing is happening during the odd free moment and during kid sporting practices, particularly when the twins are at gymnastics and I'm responsible for driving (once a week.)  Of course, things will eventually change and I'll be back on the writing fast track, but for now it is slow going.

And the Plane Flight Results are In

Went from 45,500 words to 55,000 -- an addition of almost 10,000 words.  That takes the novel from 53% complete to 64%.  Under normal circumstances, it would take me between 5 and 10 good days of effort to add that much quantity.

13 hours from Washington DC to Ethiopia (plus more just getting to Dulles airport), and a 17 hour return trip (plane stops in Rome to refuel) certainly provides plenty of time for writing, even if you are tired.

And I could have squeezed in more if I wasn't helping to take care of a child on the return trip.

Carlisle Fitsum Spears, welcome to the family!

Long Plane Flights

As I am still only half-way done with RIGHT SIZED, I'm really looking forward to my upcoming plane flights to Ethiopia and back -- they should give me plenty of time to devote to advancing the first draft of the book.

RIGHT SIZED is a bit of an experiment for me.  Starting with a confrontation between boss and employee, the story then traces the arc of both of their lives.  Both take surprising twists that lead them back to another encounter near the end of the book.

The story is flowing fine, I've just been so busy recently that I can't seem to get into a regular writing rhythm.  That probably means the first round of edits will be horrible.

Upon my return from the trip, I'll be instituting my revised Corporate Politics Blog schedule (classic blog post on Mondays, new blog post on Wednesdays), which will hopefully provide me with a few more hours each week to work on novels.