Category Archives: eBooks

2014 Writing Progress

Once MASK OF SWORDS is done, I will have written seven novels this year.

GHOST IN THE COWL, GHOST IN THE MAZE, GHOST IN THE HUNT, FROSTBORN: THE MASTER THIEF, FROSTBORN: THE IRON TOWER, FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN, and MASK OF SWORDS.

Also, I wrote the last half of FROSTBORN: THE UNDYING WIZARD in January, and I’m really hoping to get most of the rough draft of GHOST IN THE RAZOR written in December yet.

-JM

Stop Yer Whining! – three rules for self-pitying characters in fiction

Recently, I read a thriller novel about a middle-aged female detective we’ll call Cheryl. Having spent all her twenties and thirties working hundred-hour weeks to make detective, Cheryl wound up driving away her husband, and by the time she was forty-six, lived alone with no major relationships in her life. Cheryl admitted that her woes were entirely of her own making, but spent a lot of time feeling sorry for herself.

Which got me to thinking – how much self-pity is too much in a fictional character? Or, more specifically, how much self-pity is acceptable in a protagonist or a main character? If the villain feels sorry for himself while committing crimes, that can be part of his malevolence. (Think of the ungrateful debtor from the Bible, who was forgiven a debt of millions yet threw a man into prison over a trivial debt.) Yet self-pity is generally an annoying quality in the main character.

For some readers, no amount of self-pitying is acceptable, and they will immediately reject a book with a whiny protagonist. Yet one aspect of the human condition is that people feel sorry for themselves and sometimes complain about it. In Real Life, this can last for years – I once met a man who inevitably brought every conversation back to the social difficulties he suffered in high school twenty years ago. However, in fiction, this can become tedious. No one wants to read a 300 page novel about a protagonist who spends all his time whining and feeling sorry for himself.

I think there are three rules for a protagonist to feel self-pity without alienating the readers.

First, the character needs to have something worth self-pity, something significant enough that the reader will not feel contempt for the character. A character who feels pity because, say, his family died, will be far more sympathetic to the reader than a character who feels bad because all the treadmills are full at the gym or because McDonald’s ran out of chicken nuggets at lunch. In other words, the nature of the self-pity cannot inspire contempt for the protagonist in the reader.

For severe problems (death, injury, illness, financial ruin, mortal peril, and so on) this is easy. It becomes harder with a less threatening problem. For instance, consider the the classic love triangle – a woman trying to sort out her feelings for two different men. If the writer is not careful, the woman can quickly become unlikeable if she spends too much time dithering or bemoaning the necessity of the choice. The trick for self-pity is to make it understandable, even in problems that are not life-threatening. In THE KING’S SPEECH, the protagonist is in no physical danger, but after seeing all the suffering his speech impediment has caused him, it is entirely understandable that he feels sorry for himself and doesn’t want to try and overcome his impediment at first.

Second, if the character feels sorry for himself because of something he did, he needs to own up to it at some point. In Cheryl’s case, her self-pity was not annoying because she freely admitted that all her problems were her own fault – her obsessive focus on her job (in the fine tradition of dogged detectives everywhere) had driven away her husband, alienated all her friends, and left her alone. Now, if she had blamed everyone else for her problems while denying her own culpability in them, that would quickly have become annoying and made her a less compelling character. Cersei Lannister from A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is an excellent example of such an unsympathetic character. Her misfortunes in the fourth and fifth books are almost entirely her fault, yet at no point does she realize that the blame lies with herself.

Thirdthe self-pity can be made part of the plot, allowing it to be overcome as part of the protagonist’s character arc. The essential nature of storytelling, boiled down, is about a character who faces a conflict as a result of a problem and resolves the conflict. This can be as kinetically violent as Conan of Cimmeria killing the evil sorcerer Tsotha-lanti, or (to cite another example from the Bible) as quiet as the prodigal son reuniting with his father after squandering his inheritance. Self-pity can be part of the conflict to be overcome. Properly handled, the self-pity can become part of the protagonist’s character arc.

The parable of the prodigal son is an excellent example of this. After moving to a foreign land and squandering his inheritance, the prodigal son spent time bemoaning his fate and feeding pigs to support himself. Like the detective Cheryl or Cersei Lannister, his problems were entirely of his own making. (Though to be fair, Cheryl had been hunting down murderers while the prodigal son had been partying with prostitutes.) However, unlike Cersei Lannister, the prodigal son realized that his problems were his own fault, and traveled home to beg forgiveness of his father.

To sum up, I think the best use of self-pity in fiction is as part of a character’s arc, as something that is eventually resolved one way or another. Like any other storytelling tool, it can be overused, but when employed well, it can contribute to a powerful story.

-JM

Kindle Unlimited For Self-Publishers, Month #1

Last month (October) I started an experiment where I put 19 of my older short stories into Kindle Unlimited. (My reasoning is explained in this post.) My goal was to have at least 34 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.

So, for the month of October, the 19 short stories had 49 borrows between them, exceeding my goal of 34 – 44 in the US, and 5 in the UK. GHOST PRICE was the most borrowed short story. I should also point out that most of the stories were not listed in Kindle Unlimited until October 12th, which means November will be the first full month of my Kindle Unlimited experiment. So the experiment looks promising so far.

That said, I think short stories are more valuable to the self-publisher as a promotional tool, and a book in Kindle Unlimited is also in Kindle Select, and a book in Kindle Select can be given away for 5 days out of the 90 day enrollment period. In October, I set THE SOULBLADE’S TALE, THE MAGE’S TALE, THE TOURNAMENT KNIGHT, and GHOST CLAWS for free, and between the four short stories I gave away 647 copies. I usually saw a small uptick in the related novel series for a few days after the giveaway (like, 1-5 copies more than usual). A small bonus, but certainly a welcome one.

For now, I think I will keep to my plan for short stories – giving them away for free with my new-release newsletter via Smashwords coupon code, and then phasing them into Kindle Unlimited after a month or two. My novels and technical books will continue to remain available on all ebook platforms.

Tune in next month to see my results for November!

-JM

 

 

Smashwords and DRM

Reader Miguel Guhlin has some nice things to say about my books here, along with some entirely accurate criticisms of DRM.

I should mention that, whenever possible, I upload my books without DRM. So if you buy one of my books off Amazon, you can always download it, convert it through the free Calibre program into an EPUB file, and then load it onto a Nook or Kobo reader or whatever your device of choice.

But if that sounds like too much work, you could always get it off Smashwords in all formats at once. :)

-JM

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL by L. Jagi Lamplighter

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL, sequel to 2014’s THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT OF RACHEL GRIFFIN, follows the adventures of Rachel Griffin, a thirteen-year-old girl at the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts. (Roanoke, of course, having disappeared when the Parliament of the Wise, the governing body of wizards, hid the school to keep it from the Unwary, or non-magical mortals.) As is traditional for wizard schools, there is trouble afoot, with a sinister secret society of wizards plotting to bring about the end of the world. Much to her vast frustration, none of the adults in Rachel’s world seem to take the danger seriously, so if someone’s going to save the world, it’s up to her.

Rachel makes for a compelling protagonist, largely because she is a genius who nonetheless has the personality flaws and weaknesses of a 13-year-old girl without those flaws becoming annoying to the reader. She hasn’t quite grasped the fact that her emotional state is not necessarily reflective of the actual state of the universe, and her intellect and eidetic memory causes her to hoard secrets, refusing to give information unless she receives some in turn, which quite naturally causes trouble for her.

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL is a entertaining fantasy YA novel with compelling protagonists and an intriguing setting, though I suspect the book will be more enjoyable to teenage girls due to the amount of space devoted to Rachel’s examination of her feelings.

-JM

Special FROSTBORN and THE GHOSTS sale for Kobo readers!

Kobo is running a special promotion this weekend (October 17th through 20th). You can get THE GHOSTS OMNIBUS ONE for 50% off, GHOST IN THE COWL for 35% off, and FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT for 25% off.

So if you’re a Kobo user and you want to give the FROSTBORN  or THE GHOSTS series a try, now is an excellent chance!

Links and coupon codes below.

50% off THE GHOSTS OMNIBUS ONE, with coupon code SAVE50.

35% off GHOST IN THE COWL, with coupon code SAVE35.

25% off FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT, with coupon code SAVE25. (Since FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT is on sale for $0.99 until the end of the week, this is literally the cheapest the book has ever been!)

-JM

one more thought on Kindle Unlimited for self-publishers

Apropos of my last post about short stories and Kindle Unlimited, I got an email from another writer saying that it seemed like a good idea, but he really hates writing short stories.

Well, yes. This strategy would only work if you actually like writing short stories.

Myself, I quite like writing short stories. In fact, for years short stories were all that I wrote, since in the Bad Old Days before ebooks, it was way easier to sell short stories than novels. So I got really good at paring down a story to 4,000 words or 6,000 words or whatever the word count limit of the particular market was. Of course, now that we’re in the age of ebooks, those limitations are artificial, and my short stories tend to want to land at 9,000 to 12,000 words or so. (I think that’s technically a novelette or a novella, but whatever.) That said, short stories are generally not very profitable, but I like doing them, and I enjoy using them as free giveaways for my longer books.

But if you don’t like writing short stories, I don’t think you should force yourself to write them just because it seems like a good promotional strategy. Book promotion should not make you want to tear your hair out.

-JM

Kindle Unlimited For Self-Publishers

So why did I put a bunch of short stories into Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle Unlimited (KU), if you haven’t heard of it, is basically Amazon’s version of Netflix for ebooks. Basically, you pay $9.99 a month in the US and £7.99 in the UK, and you can read all the ebooks you want from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited catalog. For readers, especially the sort of power readers who can get through multiple books a day, this is a pretty good deal. 

For writers, this can be a variable deal. Basically, once 10% of a borrowed book has been read, the writer receives a payment. The payment comes out of a fund of money Amazon sets aside each month for KU, which is then divided by the number of borrows total across Amazon for the month. The fund for October 2014 is $3 million, so the payment per borrow will be $3 million divided by the total number of borrows. So far, this has been about $1 to $2 per borrow.

There’s a catch, though – to be in KU, a book has to be in Amazon’s Kindle Select program, which confers a number of benefits (you can set a book to free for 5 days every 90 days), but a book can only be on Amazon – no Barnes & Noble, no Kobo, no iBookstore, no Google Play, no Scribd, nothing. It has to be only in Amazon.

This wasn’t something I was willing to do. On any given month, about 75% to 80% of my sales are on Amazon, which means to do KU, I would have had to walk away from about 25% of my monthly book sales. I wasn’t willing to do that with my novels or technical books.

My short stories, though…

I write short stories mostly as a bonus. I give them away for free with my new-release newsletter via Smashwords coupon, and after that I put them for sale on the various platforms. They don’t really do much then. A few copies a month, but little more than that. Most of those copies are on Amazon.

So I did some math, and in September, of all the short stories for THE GHOSTS, GHOST EXILE, DEMONSOULED, and FROSTBORN, I sold 155 copies (not counting GHOST RELICS, which was too new), and of those 155, only 34 of them were on non-Amazon platforms.  Why not experiment with those in KU? That’s one of the advantages of self-publishing – you can try something and base further decisions on actual data from the results, not upon whatever a particular publisher happens to feel like doing that day.

I decided to put the short stories into KU as a promotional tool. The enrollment term for Kindle Select is three months, and I figure it I can get more than 34 borrows a month by the end of December, the experiment will have been a success, especially since the borrow would (currently) earn more money than the $0.35 or $0.70 I would get per story. Additionally, I can use the free days to give away stories when I send out newsletters. When I sent out the newsletter for FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN on October 5th, I also set THE SOULBLADE’S TALE to free. THE SOULBLADE’S TALE got downloaded a bunch of times and was briefly in the top 20 free SF/F short stories on Amazon. Since THE SOULBLADE’S TALE also had a link to FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT, which had a mini-boom in sales from that – as of this writing it’s at #14 for Arthurian Fantasy in Amazon US, #2 for Arthurian Fantasy in the UK and #8 for Historical Fantasy on Amazon AU.

So even if KU is a bust, the ability to give away an older short story as a free bonus with my new-release newsletter is obviously valuable.

Writers do have to self-promote, and I think my old short stories will help me do that. Since I know many writers are unsure about Kindle Unlimited, I will post my results here.

-JM

on writing speed, part II

Continuing with yesterday’s post, part of the reason I write so quickly is that it is a splendid time to be a writer. Compared to as recently, say, 2008, the difference in opportunities for writers is astounding.

Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Google Play are all competing to attract self-published writers to their platforms. Amazon just added pre-orders and Kindle Unlimited for self-published writers. Kobo is available in a bunch of countries, and keeps connecting with self-published writers for promotions (like happened with FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT back in August). Apple added iBooks as part of the default installation with iOS 8, and as part of that did a huge promotion of book bundles from self-published writers. (Full disclosure: I was invited to participate, but I didn’t have time to pull anything together.) Google Play is available globally, and regularly puts out a newsletter boasting of improvements to their platform and interviews with best-selling self-published writers.

So you have all these different sellers competing to get writers on their platforms and their devices. But back in 2008, before the Kindle, the only way to get published was through traditional publishers and agents, and the submission guidelines for traditional publishers and agents essentially boiled down to GO AWAY AND NEVER EVER BOTHER US AGAIN FOR ANY REASON.

Amazon & its competitors, by contrast, have put out a giant flashing neon sign that says EVERYONE WELCOME! You can write as many books as you want, and Amazon & competitors will be delighted to have every last one of them for sale. This is very different from a traditional publisher, which only publishes a fixed amount of books every year.

So a big part of the reason I write so fast is that there is the opportunity to do so. If I was trying to write for a traditional publisher, with only one book a year, I wouldn’t write nearly as fast.

-JM

on writing speed

Someone mentioned that I seem to write fast compared to other writers. This amused me, because I’ve encountered people who can do a novel in a week.

But I do write pretty fast. Two reasons why.

One, since 2011, I’ve written exclusively for ebooks. So that means we don’t have to deal with all the stuff of legacy publishing – typesetting and page proofs and warehousing and shipping and all that.  In the old days you could only print so many books and stay profitable, which was why writers had to write slow. Now I can write as much as I want!

Second, I’ve had a lot of practice. I believe FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN was my 33rd novel – 12 GHOSTS books, 7 DEMONSOULED books, 6 FROSTBORN books,  4 in THE TOWER OF ENDLESS WORLDS, 3 in THE THIRD SOUL (I count the first five novellas as one book), and my one attempt at a thriller novel that sells one copy every other month. I’ve done this before, and when I type “CHAPTER 1″ I know exactly what I’m getting myself into.

Writing novels is a lot like baking elaborate cakes from scratch. The first time, you go very slowly. But after enough practice, you can go much faster, and the cakes will actually taste better than your first one.

-JM