All posts by jmoellerwriter

Writing Goals For 2015

Now that it’s almost February, I suppose I should decide on what writing goals I want to accomplish in 2015!

-Write 800,000 to 900,000 new words.

I would like to do one million words in a year, but realistically I don’t think it’s possible at the moment. 800,000 to 900,000 a year seems to be the current sweet spot.

-Write three new GHOST EXILE books.

-Write three new FROSTBORN books.

-Write one new tech book: WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS  & TRICKS.

-Write MASK OF DRAGONS.

-Start bundling short stories into four-pack omnibus editions. For a while I dithered about doing omnibus editions of short stories, but I could never get the covers right. Then I saw that some other writers were doing omnibus editions by shrinking the covers of four books down to 400 x 600 pixel images and then combining them to form the usual 1600 x 2400 image. When I saw that, a light went on. So I’ll start making omnibus short story editions later in this year.

-Get up to at least 30 of my books available in print. Right now I’m at 19.

So those are my writing goals for 2015. It will be interesting to revisit in January 2016 and see how many of them I reached!

-JM

Bestselling Books Of 2014

I had a spare moment, so I tallied up my total books sold in 2014, and then worked out the percentages of the individual series.

The Ghosts & Ghost Exile: 36% of the total.

Computer Beginner’s Guides: 20% of the total.

Frostborn: 18% of the total.

Demonsouled: 12% of the total.

The Third Soul: 3% of the total.

The Tower of Endless Worlds: 1.5% of the total.

My bestselling fiction book was FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT, and my bestselling nonfiction book was THE LINUX COMMAND LINE BEGINNER’S GUIDE. My second-bestselling fiction book was GHOST IN THE FLAMES (exactly 101 fewer copies than FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT), and my second-bestselling nonfiction book was WINDOWS 8.1: 101 TIPS & TRICKS.

Thanks everyone! It is amusing in hindsight that in 2010 I decided to stop writing novels after CHILD OF THE GHOSTS. Clearly I cannot see the future. :)

-JM

another FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT update (Frostborn #7)

Now on Chapter 10 of 24 of FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT, at about 46,000 words. I think the rough draft will wind up at about 100,000 to 120,000 words, but we’ll see. Gauging a book’s final length while you’re writing it is more of an art than a science. :)

Let’s have a short excerpt!

“We have a problem,” said Gavin.

No one seemed to notice. How would Ridmark have handled this? Gavin considered for a moment, then drew a deep breath.

“Shut up and stop talking!” he roared at the top of his lungs.

Morigna and Arandar both whirled to face him, Arandar lifting Heartwarden and Morigna her staff. The others looked astonished. Gavin supposed that he did not shout all that often, now that he thought about it.

“Shut up and stop talking?” said Jager. “That’s redundant, you know.”

-JM

GHOST IN THE RAZOR Questions & Answers

Note that this post CONTAINS SPOILERS for GHOST IN THE RAZOR and numerous other GHOSTS books.

A reader has several questions about GHOST IN THE RAZOR.

“I wanted to ask when is your next book coming out. Can you betray something that will happen in it?”

The next GHOST EXILE book I’m writing is GHOST IN THE INFERNO, which I hope to start writing in March (when FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT is finished). So if all goes well I’ll have GHOST IN THE INFERNO out sometime around Memorial Day.

In GHOST IN THE INFERNO, Caina and her allies will try to break into the Inferno, the hellish fortress where the Immortals are made and trained.

“I can’t wait and I really, really, really want to know what will happen with Kylon.  I don’t know why, but when I read your books, I keep thinking he will get killed around every corner!”

Thanks! I was quite surprised at how popular he has been. When I wrote GHOST IN THE STORM (Kylon’s first appearance) back in 2012, I intended him to be a one-off character. But then I got a lot of emails asking “when is Kylon coming back?” So I brought him back for GHOST IN THE FORGE, got even more emails about Kylon, so then I brought him back in GHOST IN THE MASK…and here we are three years later and I’m still writing about Kylon. :)

“1. What are daevagoths?”

Normal humans twisted into insane monsters by alchemical sorcery, equipped with absolutely lethal venom in their stingers. The Alchemists typically use them as guard dogs.

“2. How are they made?”

Alchemical sorcery. Think a lot of vats and vile elixirs and madness-inducing transformations, that kind of thing.

“3. What do they look like?”

Dog-sized spiders with human heads and scorpion tails. Their heads are hairless and gray, and their eyes and blood glow with a pale blue light.

“4. How do you spell the word? daevegoths? deavagoths?”

Daevagoth.

“5. What is Ulvan? (master trader, sorcerer…I know WHAT he is I just don’t know how it’s called)…(Ulvan and the others, in what category are they in? Did I say guess right? Master sorcerers or traders or else?)”

Ulvan is a Master Slaver of the Brotherhood of Slavers of Istarinmul. The Master Slavers wear cowls of black leather as formal, ceremonial garb (similar to how certain legal officials in Britain wear black robes and white wigs when in court), and so the Master Slavers are informally known as the “cowled masters”.

The Brotherhood of Slavers is the only organization that has the legal right to sell slaves in Istarinmul. (Even when people sell slaves to each other, the Brotherhood is technically supposed to record the sale and receive a cut, though transactions often happen under the table.) Because of that, the Brotherhood is richer and more powerful than many nobles, the way a modern international corporation is sometimes richer than smaller national governments. Callatas hired the Brotherhood to supply him with the thousands of slaves he needed to murder to create wraithblood, so they became even wealthier and more powerful.

That said, by the time of GHOST IN THE RAZOR Caina has spent a year and a half harassing the Brotherhood and disrupting their operations, and the Brotherhood is in a lot of political and financial trouble. They are having a very difficult time finding new slaves, and so the price of slaves have skyrocketed. This in turn is disrupting Istarinmul’s economy and ticked off Grand Master Callatas, which has made the Brotherhood desperate. They’re legally forbidden from kidnapping Istarish citizens to sell as slaves, but the Brotherhood has been kidnapping Istarish peasants to meet the demand for slaves. That in turn has seriously angered a lot of powerful rural Istarish nobles.

So Caina hasn’t fully realized it yet (Morgant and Nasser have, though), but she has been pushing Istarinmul towards a major civil war…and there is your hint for what might happen in GHOST IN THE INFERNO. :)

-JM

Kindle Unlimited For Self-Publishers, The Final Month

December of 2014 was the final month of my three month experiment with Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription service for ebooks. In October I started an experiment where I put 19 of my older short stories into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. My goal was to have at least 34 Kindle Unlimited borrows, since that would match the sales I lost by removing the short stories from non-Amazon sales platforms, assuming the rate that Amazon pays for borrows stays above $1. For October the rate Amazon paid per borrow was $1.33, in November it was $1.39, and for December it was $1.43. I suspect Amazon will boost up the payment around the holidays and let it drop a bit in non-peak months, but we’ll see whether that’s right or not.

In October, the first month of the experiment, I had 49 borrows. In November, 61 borrows, and in December, 62 total. Now that the experiment is over, I’m phasing my short stories out of Kindle Unlimited, and making them available on Barnes & Noble and iBooks and the other sites.

So, after three months and 172 borrows, what conclusions have I learned?

-I think Kindle Unlimited would be most valuable to a writer who’s just starting out. Like, if you have two or three books and are working to find visibility for them. The free days of KDP Select and the ability for people to borrow out your book would definitely help with visibility. For someone like me, with as many books as I have (FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT is going to be novel #36), I think it makes more sense to have the books spread across as many platforms as possible. If you have four or five books and have them all on Amazon, you’re not losing out on that many non-Amazon sales, objectively speaking. If you have thirty-six books (and 20+ short stories and 9 technical books) the non-Amazon sales really add up over time. Conversely, if I wanted to start, say, a pen name to write romance novels or political thrillers or something, Kindle Unlimited would be a good way to kick it off. (Not that I’m planning to – I barely have enough time to write books under my own name!)

-Another option might be to rotate an older series into Kindle Unlimited for a boost. I haven’t tried this so I don’t know how it would work, but movie and TV companies do this all the time – movies and TV series appear on Netflix and then disappear again after a while.

-Finally, if you have a nonfiction topic that would primarily be of interest to people in the US and the UK, Kindle Unlimited might make a good home for it, since KU is still primarily popular on Amazon US and Amazon UK. Like, a book on US Congressional elections would work on Kindle Unlimited, since that would be a topic mostly of interest to US readers. Whereas for my books about Linux, I’ve never even considered putting them in Kindle Unlimited because Linux is used worldwide. In fact, on iBooks and Google Play a large part of my sales to countries where English is not the primary language are my books on Linux.

So, that is my opinion of Kindle Unlimited. Feel free to share your experiences with it below, whether as a reader or as a writer (or both).

-JM

FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT progress (Frostborn #7 update)

Some determined person has been searching for “frostborn #7″ on my website every day for the last week, so I thought it was time to share a progress update.

I’m current on Chapter 4 of 24. Chapter 1 and 2 were a bit longer than usual, 8,000 and 5,000 words respectively, so they took longer to write. I’m hoping to have the book out in March, and the main point-of-view characters in this one will be Ridmark, Gavin, and Calliande.

Now let’s have an excerpt:

“I would say they were kobold tracks,” said Morigna, “but they are far too large. Kobolds stand three or four feet tall. Whatever left those tracks, to judge from their stride, was at least eight or nine feet tall.”

“You have a good eye,” said Ridmark, his own eyes moving back and forth over the trees.

“Calliande is right about you,” said Morigna.

That startled him so much that he almost stopped. “You and Calliande never agree about anything.”

“She says you keep secrets out of habit,” said Morigna, “and that you would rather make a point in a dramatic fashion that explain something. Like the marsh gas near Moraime. Or that carnivorous plant in the Torn Hills. Or…”

-JM

my 11 favorite GHOSTS scenes of 2014

Note that this post has SPOILERS for the entirety of THE GHOSTS books to date!

In 2014 I wrote three complete GHOSTS novels – GHOST IN THE COWL, GHOST IN THE MAZE, and GHOST IN THE HUNT, along with the first draft of GHOST IN THE RAZOR.

As I mentioned with the FROSTBORN post, some scenes are more fun to write than others. Of course, this often has no bearing whatsoever on which scenes the readers enjoy most. On multiple occasions, I’ve heard something that I threw in or changed at the last minute was a reader’s favorite scene or line in the book, whereas no one notices something I planned to put in for months. It is always amusing to see how it shakes out, and THE GHOSTS books are no different.

That said, now that GHOST IN THE RAZOR has been out for a week, here are the 11 GHOSTS scenes that I enjoyed writing the most in 2014:

11.) Caina, Damla, and the lice in GHOST IN THE COWL.

10.) Caina bluffing her way into joining the circus in GHOST IN THE COWL.

9.) Caina terrorizing Ulvan and the other Master Slavers in GHOST IN THE COWL.

8.) The destruction of the Widow’s Tower in GHOST IN THE COWL.

7.) Pretty much any time Nerina Strake says something.

6.) Caina’s and Nasser’s escape from Grand Master Callatas’s Maze through the netherworld in GHOST IN THE MAZE.

5.) Caina realizing who the gladiator is in GHOST IN THE RAZOR.

4.) Nerina attempting to ask Caina how to seduce the gladiator in GHOST IN THE RAZOR.

3.) Caina realizing that she had miscalculated and that Kalgri had been hunting her, not Martin Dorius, all along in GHOST IN THE HUNT.

2.) Caina’ s confrontation with The Sifter in the laboratory of the Craven’s Tower in GHOST IN THE RAZOR.

1.) Caina’s final fight with Kalgri in Silent Ash Temple in GHOST IN THE HUNT.

-JM

the writing goals of 2014

Last year, I wrote a post detailing my writing goals for 2014. Let’s look back and see how many of them I met!

“At least two or three more THE GHOSTS books.”

Success! GHOST IN THE COWL, GHOST IN THE MAZE, and GHOST IN THE HUNT, and I wrote the rough draft of GHOST IN THE RAZOR.

“At least two or three more FROSTBORN books.”

Success! FROSTBORN: THE MASTER THIEF, FROSTBORN: THE IRON TOWER, and FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN. I also wrote the second half of FROSTBORN: THE UNDYING WIZARD in January of 2014.

“Return to DEMONSOULED. I’ve been bashing my head against the wall for a year trying to figure out what to do next, but I think I have it at last. More on that later.”

Success! I wrote MASK OF SWORDS and published it at the end of November 2014.

“Return to THE THIRD SOUL.”

Did not do this one, alas. I think writing three series simultaneously might be too much even for me.

“In 2012 I wrote 530,000 words, and in 2013 I wrote 863,000 new words. So in 2014, I’d like to see if I can push that up to one million words. This might not be doable, but I shall like to try. (Of course, reaching the first four goals will help with this. Synergy!”

I almost did it. In 2014, I wrote about 930,000 new words.

“A tech book. I didn’t write any new tech books in 2013, but I would like to do one. My new website, Computer Beginner’s Guides, should help with that.”

Success! I wrote WINDOWS 8.1: 101 TIPS AND TRICKS and UBUNTU: 101 TIPS AND TRICKS

“6 books available in print by the holidays of 2014. I’ve found it’s best not to think of them as “print books”, but as “holiday gift editions”. So, I hope to have 16 of my books available as “holiday gift editions” by the holidays of 2014.”

Success! 19 of my books are available in print right now.

“I’m hoping to get another book in the Top 100 for Epic Fantasy, since GHOST IN THE FLAMES & GHOST IN THE BLOOD made it into the Top 100 on Thanksgiving Day.”

-I didn’t do that one. I changed tactics, instead, and decided it was better to have my books sitting higher in a less trafficked Amazon bestseller list than lower on more popular one. It’s better to have a book that’s #5 on a less visible list than at #79 in the more competitive ones. Not too many people scroll down to #79.

“I hope to reach 1,000 total subscribers for my New Release Newsletter. Subscribe here!

Success! The mailing list is at 1,320 subscribers as of this writing.

“Sell a thousand copies of a one book in an individual month.”

Success! I did that a couple times, most notably with FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN, which sold over 1,200 copies its first month.

“Have more books available on Google Play. I’ve heard rumblings that Google Play is growing as a market for ebooks, which makes sense, as there are something like a billion Android phones floating around out there.”

Success! Most of my books are available on Google Play, and I’ve been selling about 200 copies a month there. And I’ve learned all kinds of things about foreign currency. I had no idea that the currency of South Africa was called the “rand”, or that Sweden was not on the euro.

So, all in all, I’d say 2014 was a pretty successful writing year. Later this week I’ll lay out my goals for 2015.

-JM

how I make print books in CreateSpace

Another writer asked how I sell print books. She saw that I have print books available for sale on the Barnes & Noble website, and wanted to know how I had gotten them there.

Short answer: I used CreateSpace.com to do it.

Now for a much longer, step-by-step answer, but first some of my guiding principles for making print books.

PRINCIPLE #1: It is entirely possible to do a handsome print book in CreateSpace. Granted, the process is tedious and nitpicky, but it is doable. The first time is the hardest, and after you’ve gotten it down, you can go much faster. It took me a few weeks of on-and-off work to make a CreateSpace book the first time. Nineteen of them later, I can do it in about two hours if I put my mind to it. If I figured it out, you can too.

Realistically, it is far easier to create a print book now, right now as you are reading these very words, than at any other point in human history. Medieval monks spent months or even years creating print books by hand. Early printers had to toil for days with lead type, pages, ink, and binding. Even in the computer age, preparing documents for print publication was a lot of work. If you’ve ever spent any time with the abomination that was Quark eXPress, you know what I mean.

By contrast, creating a book with CreateSpace requires a few hours of fiddling with Microsoft Word. I think anyone can learn to do it.

PRINCIPLE #2: I try to make the print books as simple as possible while retaining an acceptable level of quality. This is because, by and large, people buy more ebooks than print books from self-published writers like me. Like, in December of 2014, I sold 17 copies of print books through CreateSpace, but over 6,400 copies of ebooks. So print books run into the Law Of Diminishing Returns. You can make an amazingly beautiful print book through CreateSpace, but unless you’re doing so for emotional reasons (like turning your grandmother’s memoirs into a paperback book or something of that nature), it generally does not represent a good return on the time investment.

PRINCIPLE #3: I try to sell the print book for the lowest possible price that will allow me to earn $1 per copy through Expanded Distribution sales. More on that below.

PRINCIPLE #4: This isn’t likely the Most Efficient Method to create print books, and I don’t claim this is the best way for you to do it, either. That said, it works pretty well for my workflow, and some of it might be helpful for you.

So! Now that those are out of the way, how does one create a print book in CreateSpace?

You start by creating a new project on your CreateSpace member dashboard. Once you do, you’ll need to fill out some basic information about the book – title, author, and so forth. You will also need to select an ISBN, both an old ISBN-10 number and the new ISBN-13 numbers. CreateSpace offers free ISBNs, but then CreateSpace gets listed as the publisher. Some writers prefer to buy their own ISBNs so they can list themselves (or their LLC or S-corporation) as the publisher. I think that is a prestige thing and I don’t think it’s worth the trouble (ISBNs are expensive, and frankly in my opinion obsolete), but that’s up to you.
The next step is the interior layout. This is where you can get really elaborate, and this is also where inexperienced people can trip themselves up. Print book layout is much harder than ebook layout, since the ereader or tablet can adjust the text size and layout on the fly. Once a print book is printed, it is set in stone (or print). So here I try to keep things as simple as possible.

I use the CreateSpace suggested Word template for 6 x 9 print books. What I do is convert the EPUB of the book in question to an RTF. Then I copy and paste the chapters one by one into Notepad to scrub out all the formatting, and then copy the plain text from Notepad into the Word template. This means all the raw text inherits the formatting of the template, so I get a nicely formatted book without much effort.

There are a few things I have to guard against. The template does have a bad habit of forcing the final line of a chapter to be justified rather than left-aligned, so if the last line of the chapter is only a few words it looks weird. I also use a triple hash mark (###) for scene breaks, so I need to make sure they’re all centered. It is also important to remember to copy and paste your text into Notepad so it scrubs out the formatting, otherwise all the formatting comes from the RTF file and then into the template, overriding the template’s settings.

Also, the template file itself can get pretty huge – a 4 megabyte Word document for a book of, say, 240 pages. This is normal. It can take Word up to 20 or 30 seconds to save the file when you make changes because of all the formatting. This is also normal.

Once you’re finished, you upload the book file to CreateSpace, preview it, and then approve it. That means it’s time to do the cover.

How you do the cover depends on how you made the original cover. Some book cover designers can create a cover for you at this stage. They’ll just need to know the physical dimensions of the book along with the page count, which CreateSpace will tell you after you’ve uploaded the interior file, and they can create a PDF wrap-around cover you upload. Otherwise, you can use one of the CreateSpace templates and drop your own image into it. This is what I typically do.

After you’ve uploaded your cover, CreateSpace will do an automated print check to make sure the files can print without making their printer explode (I presume). This usually takes about 24 to 48 hours. Once the print check is done, CreateSpace suggests you order a physical proof to examine the book before making it live. This is a good idea to do – the cost with shipping is usually under $10, and you can see firsthand what your book will look like. You can check for any egregious errors that you might have missed in the layout.

Finally, you will have to decide on your book’s price. There is a minimum cost based on the size of the book, but after that you can set pretty much any price you like. You might be tempted to set the lowest possible price, but I would recommend that you avoid that. The trick is to set the price high enough that you will get paid at least $1 through Expanded Distribution. This is because small bookshops can order CreateSpace books through their catalogs, and small bookshops like discounts. If the price is high enough, the distributor can offer a discount, which makes it easier for small bookshops to order your book. (They’re unlikely to actually carry your book unless you’re hugely popular – what is more likely is that a customer will ask for your book and the bookstore will order it for them.)

After you’ve set your books price, be sure to include Expanded Distribution as well. This is what will push your book into the distributor catalogs, allowing bookstores (including Barnes & Noble) to order it. Otherwise, your book will be available only through CreateSpace and Amazon. Granted, most of my paperback sales come through Amazon and Amazon UK, but Expanded Distribution is the way to get your paperback in other stores. And since Expanded Distribution is now free (CreateSpace previously charged a one-time fee of $25 per book, but that was dropped at the end of 2013), there is literally no reason not to use it.

Once you have examined your print proof and decided upon pricing, all that is left to do is to approve it. The book will go on sale. It will appear on the CreateSpace site immediately, on Amazon in a few days, and in Expanded Distribution catalogs in a few weeks.

-JM

Chromebook: 101 Tips & Tricks For Chrome OS

This is really more a topic for my other website, but I thought I would mention it here in case someone found it useful.

I wrote a short introductory guide to using a Chromebook, partly because the topic interested me, and partly because many educators of my acquaintance switched to Chromebooks at their schools and found that they had a bit of a learning curve. If that’s a topic that interests you (or if you’re forced to use a Chromebook at your school ) you can get CHROMEBOOK: 101 TIPS & TRICKS FOR CHROME OS for $0.99 at the links below:

BNChromeOS

Available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia,Barnes & Noble, (iTunes coming soon), Kobo, Google Play, and Smashwords.

-JM