Category Archives: writing

assimilate

Apropos of a discussion in the CLOAK GAMES thread, I should mention that I liked to think of my writing career as being like the Borg from STAR TREK.

I am always trying to learn new things and adapt new techniques and new technologies.

Of course, if one day you look up and the see the sun blocked out by a Giant Space Cube, you’ll know I’ve taken the metaphor too far. 🙂

-JM

did I meet 2016’s writing goals?

As 2016 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock and consider whether or not I met the writing goals I laid out in 2015.

-800,000 to 900,000 words of new fiction.

Success! I wrote about 1.1 million words of new fiction in 2016.

-Three new FROSTBORN books.

Success! In 2016 I published FROSTBORN: THE HIGH LORDS, FROSTBORN: THE FALSE KING, and FROSTBORN: THE DWARVEN PRINCE.

-Finish the GHOST EXILE series!

Success! In 2016 I finished GHOST IN THE PACT and GHOST IN THE WINDS, which brought the GHOST EXILE series to its conclusion.

-Finish the MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED trilogy at last!

Success! Both MASK OF DRAGONS and MASK OF SPELLS came out in 2016, bringing the trilogy to a close.

-Two new CLOAK GAMES books.

Success! CLOAK GAMES: SHADOW JUMP and CLOAK GAMES: SHATTER STONE came out in 2016.

-A systematic approach to print books.

It’s funny I should mention that, because GHOST IN THE PACT and GHOST IN THE WINDS have both been available in print for a couple of weeks now, and I haven’t gotten around to updating the catalog page yet. But I think this one was a success. I have a main page for print books on my site, I made 17 of my books available as trade paperbacks in 2016, and November and December 2016 were my best months for print books ever.

-More Kindle Unlimited Fix-Up Novels.

We’ll say this one was a half-success. I put out FROSTBORN: THE KNIGHT QUESTS, a compilation of some of the early FROSTBORN short stories, and originally put it in Kindle Unlimited. That said, I got completely out of Kindle Unlimited in the summer, so FROSTBORN: THE KNIGHT QUESTS is now available on all platforms.

I wanted to combine the Mazael short stories into a novel, but I never got around to it. Maybe in 2017.

-A 101 TIPS & TRICKS tech book on Linux Mint.

I didn’t do that one. The only tech writing I did in 2016 was to update my Ubuntu book from edition seven to edition eight. I wrote about half of the Linux Mint book, but I never got around to finishing it.

So I met most of my writing goals for 2016! In a few days I will type up my writing goals for 2017.

-JM

Does permafree still work?

Occasionally I see writers taking about whether or not “permafree” still works. Permafree is a marketing tactic where a writer with a long series of books makes the first book of the series more or less permanently free. The idea is that readers will read the first book, enjoy it, and then move on to purchase additional books in the series.

Some writers strongly dislike the idea of permafree, since they feel it devalues literature and writing in general. Other writers aren’t opposed to the idea, but doubt that it is effective.

Fortunately, while feelings are subjective, math is not. I recently made CLOAK GAMES: THIEF TRAP, the first book in the CLOAK GAMES series, permafree. Here is the Amazon sales chart of the last thirty days for the second book in the series, CLOAK GAMES: FROST FEVER:

frostfeversalescopy

Note that CLOAK GAMES: THIEF TRAP went permafree on November 30th.

Permafree, like any other marketing tactic, has its time and place, but it still can be useful if employed at the proper time and place. Generally, I think permafree works best once a series has 3-5 books, but a writer can’t expect older books to sell well forever. Eventually, you do have to write new ones.

Fortunately, I enjoy doing that. 🙂

-JM

The FROSTBORN Outline

Steve writes to ask:

A question… when you start something as big as Frostborn, do you have the whole plot laid out in your head for 15 books, or is it a bit more organic than that?

I totally outline everything in advance. I plotted out the entire FROSTBORN series in 2012, something like six months before I even started writing it.

That’s not to say some things haven’t developed organically over time.

I’d say the biggest changes are the role of Morigna, Imaria Licinius, and Mara. Originally, Morigna and Imaria were supposed to be the same character (more or less), but after I finished writing FROSTBORN: THE UNDYING WIZARD, I realized there was no way that would ever work. Fortunately, Imaria would serve the role just as well, given her massive grudge against Ridmark, which was why she appeared in FROSTBORN: THE MASTER THIEF.

Mara’s change had an even bigger impact on the series. Originally, I basically planned her as Jager’s somewhat dimwitted but good-natured girlfriend. But when I got to her first scene in FROSTBORN: THE MASTER THIEF, I was bored with her character, so I threw in that she was half-dark elven and used to be an assassin.

And THAT really changed the series, because I hadn’t originally designed the world of FROSTBORN to have half-elves. So the Artificer, the Anathgrimm, the Traveler, and Third, all of that came from that one impulse decision to make Mara’s character half dark elf.

Antenora was also a later addition to the series (her character was originally supposed to be male, but I didn’t think that worked and changed it at the last minute), and I didn’t think of the idea of the Sculptor until I was about halfway through FROSTBORN: THE FALSE KING.

But the overall arc of the series was planned out in 2012, and I’m looking forward to finishing at last in 2017!

-JM

can you make a monthly income writing?

Let’s talk about the business of writing today! Bradford emails to ask:

I am a new author with my first book out this week on amazon. I have read your frostborn series, Demonsouled series and the Ghost series. I have enjoyed them all so far and looking forward to reading the Ghost Exile series next.

Was hoping you might have a few tips on marketing. Do you have any recommended places to put my money for advertising.Also very curious at what book number did you finally start seeing a steady income?  I have read many a authors tale and some say 3 books others 5 books.

It’s important to remember that there are no guarantees of anything with writing or publishing, and especially with marketing. I’ve tried things that I thought were good ideas, but nothing happened. I’ve tried things on a whim that took five minutes, and it turned out to be wildly successful.

That said, I started seeing (relatively) steady income after eight books – the 1st three Demonsouled books, the 1st three Ghosts books, my Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide, and my Windows Command Line Beginner’s Guide. I had also made the first Demonsouled book free and the first Ghost book free. That especially did the trick, since it’s five years later and there are now ten Demonsouled books and eighteen Ghosts books (nineteen if you count Blade of the Ghosts).

I should also mention that I was something of an anomalous case because I was able to do all of that in four months. I had written the novels over the previous ten years and was unable to get them traditionally published, so I could self-publish them pretty swiftly. Additionally, my Ubuntu books was originally a long series of blog posts for one of my older websites, so I combined them together in a single book.

If I was starting now, I wouldn’t spend any money on advertising until I’ve got at least three or four books in the series. (I won’t really do anything to advertise CLOAK GAMES until after  the fifth book SHATTER STONE comes out, hopefully in December.) I’ve had good results with BargainBooksy, BookGorilla, and BookSends. Bookbub is the best, but you need a certain minimum number of reviews first, and they reject about 90 percent of their submissions, so persistence helps.

Of course, that is true of all things in life!

-JM

the romance AI

After editing some GHOST IN THE WINDS, I read a news article. Apparently Google is having its natural language algorithm scan romance novels in order to develop more “conversational” responses.

I dunno. Traditionally in science fiction artificial intelligence decides to destroy humans, but instead of the Terminator or the Matrix we might get a cybernetic version of the Glenn Close character from Fatal Attraction.

I don’t think that would be an improvement. 🙂

-JM

how did I learn to write non-fiction?

Ubuntu1510Terminal

Antonio asks:

“How in the world do you write so much and such diverse topics?

How did you learn both fiction and non-fiction writing?”

How did I learn to write non-fiction? Long story.

First, I learned the fundamentals in high school. I took a journalism class from a very competent teacher, who taught me the three basics of non-fiction writing: 1.) Avoid passive verbs, 2.) Answer the questions “who, why, where, when, and how”, 3.) You can write an article on any topic by sticking to the basic structure of Introduction/Thesis, Point A, Point B, Point C, and Conclusion, with additional Points added as necessary.

This was to serve me in excellent stead later in life.

Jumping ahead to 2005, DEMONSOULED was published, and author blogs were all the rage back then. Since I wanted DEMONSOULED to sell lots of copies (it didn’t) so the publisher would buy the sequel (they didn’t), I started an author blog, and promptly ran into a problem.

Namely, I didn’t have anything to blog about. The trouble about writing non-fiction is that you need something to write about.

So I tried blogging about various observations and witticisms, but nobody read them, and I gradually started to lose interest until I accidentally did something clever.

Namely, I complained about a Ubuntu Linux problem.

My day job is in IT, and Ubuntu Linux is the most popular version of Linux, and it turns up in a lot of server rooms. Back in early 2008, I upgraded a machine from Ubuntu 7.10 to Ubuntu 8.04, and in the process the upgrade broke the file sharing functionality. I happened to complain about it on my blog, and the next day I noticed that the blog post had gotten over 60 hits from Google searches. Apparently a lot of people were having that problem, and turn to Google in search of solutions, and so came to my blog.

That suggested possibilities.

I started writing more about Ubuntu Linux and the various things you could do with it – SSH, Samba, web servers, WordPress, and so forth – and my blog traffic climbed steadily, spiking up a bit with every new release of Ubuntu. Soon the site was getting hundreds of hits a day, and then thousands. I started experimenting with Google Adsense ads on the site, and at its peak in 2011 and 2012 it was getting five thousand hits a day and bringing in a few hundred dollars in ad revenue every month.

In fact, it was going so well, and I was so disgusted with the traditional publishing industry, that after I wrote CHILD OF THE GHOSTS in 2010, I decided to stop writing novels and focus entirely on the Linux website. Maybe I would do a short story from time to time if I saw a call for submissions that looked promising, but that would be it.

Then in 2011 I found the Kindle, and discovered self-publishing ebooks. After I got the rights back to DEMONSOULED, I self-published that, and then I realized my various posts on Ubuntu could make a book. So in April of 2011 I combined them, rewrote them, and self-published THE $0.99 UBUNTU BEGINNER’S GUIDE, later renamed to simply THE UBUNTU BEGINNER’S GUIDE. It sold really well – it was my first book to reach 10,000 copies, as it happens.

However, I also decided to write one more novel to finish off DEMONSOULED, so I wrote SOUL OF SERPENTS, and after I made DEMONSOULED free, the novels started to sell more copies than the nonfiction books, so I’ve been focusing on that ever since.

So that’s how I learned to write nonfiction – real-time feedback from blogging! I don’t do as much nonfiction these days, since all my attention goes into novels. That said, if I lose my day job, I’ll add in non-fiction, since it’s easy to do 500 words here or there as you work on a novel.

-JM

on writing speed

DiamondWall

Image credit BBC. 

I received a few questions about writing speed lately, since I can usually do a rough draft in a month.

Typically, when I’m trying to write something new, I’ll do 3,000 to 4,000 words a day, more if possible. It doesn’t always happen – sometimes other stuff just takes priority, and there are things more important than writing (I missed a couple days last week because of said priorities) – but I do it whenever possible. And sometimes I surprise myself – if I’m tired and want to finish for the day, if I push a little further, sometimes I can go farther than I planned. Like on yesterday, I thought I would only write 4,000 words of GHOST IN THE PACT and then play Pillars Of Eternity, but I kept going and pushed to 7,000 words.

Now, that might sound impressive, but it just takes practice to write that fast, and I know people who can write a lot faster. I’ve written something like 50 novels at this point, and it’s a lot easier to write quickly on the 50th novel than on the 1st!

So, how did I learn to write that fast?

Basically, I failed into it.

I think it took me five or six tries to finish a novel for the first time. The first time I actually finished a novel, I started it in January, and I managed to finish it finally in August. I insisted on doing a thousand words a day, and it finally turned into this 330,000 word monstrosity. (This is when I learned the value of outlining thoroughly in advance.) When I wrote DEMONSOULED, I started it in August and finished it in December.

Originally I stuck with 1,000 words a day, but when I wrote SOUL OF SERPENTS in 2011 I upped it to 1,500 words a day, and started the book in May and finished it in mid-July. As it turns out, having people actively waiting for the next book is an excellent motivator to write! In 2012 I pushed up to 2,000 words a day. By the time 2013 rolled around, I hit my stride and dialed it up to 3,000 words a day, and have tried to stick to it ever since.

So I think it just takes practice, just like acquiring any other skill.

That said, finishing the first novel feels like an immense hurdle. It’s THE BOOK, and you think a lot about finishing THE BOOK or worrying about being unable to do so. I suppose the first time doing anything, whether writing a book or running a 5k or asking someone out on a date or driving a car or whatever, the first time is just the hardest. The trick is, of course, is that once THE BOOK is done, you write the next one, and the next one, and keep going. Every time you learn new tricks, and get a little better and a little faster.

Now, during this process, a lot of people realize that writing’s not for them. That’s fine – we all have different strengths. Or people realize they detest the business side of writing, whether in traditional publishing or self-publishing. That’s also fine – I stopped writing novels in 2010 because I had lost all respect for traditional publishing (I was going to focus on my Linux website), but fortunately I found out about the Kindle in 2011, and I took to the business of self-publishing very well. Not everyone does. I used to be baffled why certain writers didn’t self-publish, but then I realized they couldn’t – they were either unwilling or simply unable to learn the skills required, just as I didn’t want to master the networking necessary to succeed in traditional publishing.

But if you do realize that writing is for you, and you don’t mind the business side of it, and you do stick with it, eventually it does get easier. 🙂

-JM

2016’s writing goals

It’s time to lay out my writing goals for 2016. Of course, before making any kind of long-term plan, it’s good to consider this bit from the book of James:

‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”’

That’s good advice. (I’ve been in some planning meetings where the management should have read that first!) So, if it is the Lord’s will, here is what I will do in 2016:

-800,000 to 900,000 words of new fiction

I’ve done this over the last four years, so barring unexpected developments, I should be able to repeat it in 2016. One of the really useful things I taught myself how to do in 2015 was how to work on two fiction books simultaneously. I’ve never been able to do that before, which I think is why I was able to write over a million new words in 2015.

-Three new FROSTBORN books.

-Finish the GHOST EXILE series!

GHOST EXILE has only two books left to go after GHOST IN THE THRONE. So if all goes well, I should be able to bring GHOST EXILE to its conclusion in 2016.

-Finish the MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED trilogy at last!

I’m into the second book, MASK OF DRAGONS, right now, and hopefully I can finish the third book in the second half of 2016.

-Two new CLOAK GAMES books.

-A systematic approach to print books.

I’ve got 20 of my books available in print, but I’ve taken a very scattershot approach to it, and most people don’t even know the print books exist. So I want to do it more systematically. The first step is to make a central page for print books on my website, with links and ISBNs in case people want to order the books from their friendly local bookstore.

-More Kindle Unlimited Fix-Up Novels.

My experiment with turning the short stories into fix-up novels worked pretty well in CHAMPION OF THE GHOSTS, so I’ll be doing more of that in 2016.

-A 101 TIPS & TRICKS tech book on Linux Mint.

So, if all goes well, this is what I hope to do in 2016.

-JM

Did I reach 2015’s writing goals?

laptop

Back in January I laid out the Writing Goals I would like to accomplish in 2015.

2015 was kind of a weird year, and a lot of unexpected things happened (I thought I would have to move, twice, but it didn’t happen either time), so let’s see how I did with my Writing Goals. The original Writing Goals are in parentheses below:

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

And how! I actually wrote over a million words in 2015.

-(Write three new GHOST EXILE books.)

I did this one. I wrote GHOST IN THE INFERNO, GHOST IN THE SEAL, and GHOST IN THE THRONE. Also BLADE OF THE GHOSTS, which isn’t a GHOST EXILE book, but close enough. 🙂

-(Write three new FROSTBORN books.)

I did this one as well. I wrote FROSTBORN: THE GORGON SPIRIT, FROSTBORN: THE BROKEN MAGE, and FROSTBORN: THE WORLD GATE.

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

I did that, too!

(-Write MASK OF DRAGONS.)

I didn’t get to that one, alas. I started MASK OF DRAGONS, and am currently on Chapter 2. I also wrote THE SERPENT KNIGHT, a novella to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the original hardcover release of DEMONSOULED back in 2005. So I only did that one partially.

(-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.)

I did that one with WORLD OF THE GHOSTS volumes one and two. However, I’ve since discarded that idea in favor of creating fix-up novels out of the short stories and releasing them on Kindle Unlimited. It’s working, so far – CHAMPION OF THE GHOSTS had sold more copies and made more money from KU page reads than the WORLD OF THE GHOSTS volumes ever did. So we can say this goal was met, and I’ll be assembling more fix-up novels in 2016.

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

I definitely didn’t get to this one. I fell off the Print Books Wagon in 2015. I only made a print version of CLOAK GAMES: THIEF TRAP, and that was all. So I definitely didn’t come anywhere near this one.

Some unexpected things happened as well. I was planning to stick exclusively to FROSTBORN, GHOST EXILE, and MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED in 2015, but around the time of Potential Move #1 I was writing down some ideas as a mental break, and I sort of went with it. Five months later we have three CLOAK GAMES books, so it’s funny how things work out.

So I met most of my writing goals in 2015! In a few days I’ll lay out writing goals for 2016.

-JM