I guess I could blog…

So. November came and went. My 2nd novel crashed and burned at around 32k words – if you follow me on Facebook, or are in my NaNoWriMo circle on G+, you already know the details. It took a wrong turn within the first 2 chapters, for example, veering away from my initial conceptual intent. Then, at nearly every opportunity, the characters & the writing veered the book away from any opportunity for plot, conflict, or in some cases for meaningful character growth/development – usually by skipping beyond the need for it. Solutions were cropping up before I’d reached the problems, nullifying whole sections of the plot. Interactions and conversations were demonstrating depths of character before I’d been able to express the flaws which the events of the book were meant to turn into that depth. And so on. Right now, I don’t even want to read that draft. I’m considering sharing it with a few trusted people (Let me know if you’re interested; you’re willing to give constructive feedback and can be trusted not to share a terrible, unedited, unfinished book around, right?), to get them to read it and tell me what they like about it, what they hate about it, and what they think I can do to improve & develop it into something that works – and then still not read it, but instead, later, write the whole thing from scratch. Probably with a plan, an outline, or some such thing prepared, first, rather than running in blind and on a very tight schedule.

The Death Noodle Glitterfairy Robot Saga book came out fine. I haven’t read that yet, either, but I know at least the first half is quite good. (The half I wrote this summer, which I did read, before beginning to write new material.) Tentatively titled Deep Noodling, I’m definitely looking for Beta Readers for that book, which I hope to have in print this Spring. I have a feeling that some of the descriptions need clarifying, and that my arguments on both sides of the Extreme-Copyright-Enforcement vs. Everything-Is-A-Remix argument could use some work, but I’m pretty sure the emotional arcs, the tone, and the world-building all turned out better than I’d hoped. Reading/writing this book made me want to read the rest of the books in the DNGR Saga… None of which exist. Yet.

If you’d like access to the Google Docs Drive document where I copy/pasted the first draft chapter by chapter as I wrote it, let me know your Google email address so I can share it with you. I’d love to get as much feedback as possible before going to print. And this one, I think, needs a lot more work than Never Let the Right One Go did.

I also need to ‘get off my butt’ and get to work on drawing. I’m hoping to create a series of illustrations for the DNGR book, as well as a cover unlike anything I’ve attempted to date. I just need to start by figuring out how to draw a set of characters whose descriptions were, at best, still quite surreal. I mean, how can a noodle, while remaining noodly, also become skeletal? What does it mean for my protagonist to be a noodle? Is he a humanoid version of something like the FSM? Does he have hair? And Glitterfairy… I’m pretty sure she’s basically just a cloud of glitter which appears to express the silhouette of a fairy when you look through it. Except she can play musical instruments and interact physically with people and the environment. And then there’s Robot. Who is a robot, of alien design/origin, at least vaguely humanoid, capable of excellent drumming, and … metallic, I think, may have been the only physical descriptor I used?

Maybe I won’t try to draw them … but then what do I put on the cover?

I don’t know…

Anyway, after my brain broke over that 2nd novel like Batman’s spine over Bane’s knee, I’ve spent the last couple weeks recuperating. Too crazy and messed up to accomplish anything much. Playing video games, mostly – did I explain that here, before? About how I’ve been using video games this year to distract myself from thoughts of suicide and other mental/emotional danger zones? I’m still super-broken, right now.

I mean, yesterday (or the day before, or … some time this week – time/space/dates are flowing/blurring together for me, lately; was it last week?) I read someone’s brief blog post about how they’d approached publishing a book in an out-of-traditional-order way, by podcasting one set of stories before going to print with another (related) story, and were considering some third route for their next book. All stuff I’ve done, mostly stuff I’ve seen others do, even the stuff they’re thinking of as new/original, just things I naturally did in those untraditional ways from day one (over a decade ago, now) of my publishing adventure. Anyway, there was some throwaway line in the middle about how their podcasting had helped them build interest in the book before it went to print so they were able to sell 1,000 copies as soon as it was available – and characterizing that as not having been enough to consider the book’s launch a success.

So, then I spent a few hours (days?) having a slow-burn anxiety attack. At first, I didn’t even realize what was happening, or why. I just felt like dying, like being crushed, like death, like pain and acid and suffocation, and like failure and disappointment and giving up. Because, in a way which oughtn’t be so deep down, it hurts me that my highest-volume title has sold fewer than 80 copies, and that my highest-revenue title has netted me around $450, while other people sell 1,000 copies in a day of their first book and don’t consider it a success. I’ve built a profitable business out of my dozens of sales; can you imagine what I could do with hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of sales? And this doesn’t feel like jealousy; it feels like failure.

And I know, I know, and am handily reminded by people like Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, that what I create is worth creating, even if there are plenty of other creators out there, and even if my work doesn’t have mass appeal or doesn’t have a broad reach. And I know that even affecting one person’s life means that my work was worth producing. And that there are (at least) a dozen people I’ve never met who have been moved enough by my work to reach out and let me know. Probably dozens. I have no way to count, not really, and certainly not right now. But there are some. There are people who have been moved by my work. Changed by it, their minds or hearts thinking differently, beating differently, even just for a little while, because of what I’ve created. I know there are people who are very happy to hang my art on their walls, and/or who are very excited to read my books. It isn’t hundreds of people. (That I know of.) It isn’t thousands of people. But I tell stories that only I could tell, in ways only I could tell them, and when I put them out into the world, they enter and alter people’s lives. And I know this. I know this.

I know.

But still, my heart aches sometimes. My heart aches to be stilled. I ache. To give up. To end.

I’m a bit broken, right now.

Perhaps I’ll be well enough to create more great work in January. To finish the DNGR book. To get back to my YA Adventure research & planning (or at least to definitively give it up). Soon enough to move forward with one or the other of the big projects I pushed back for NaNoWriMo, only to go from a little broken to completely shattered in just a few short weeks. A few more weeks, and … well? Well enough, anyway?

Oh, I haven’t posted in how long, now?

So, since posting last, I did finish that novel, and it did come out to about 45k words, total. It being November/NaNoWriMo, I haven’t taken the time to go back and read it, edit it, or otherwise see if it makes sense and/or is any good. (Though I do believe that the arguments for and against stronger copyright enforcement could use some improvement.) I spent a couple days thinking about which project/idea to tackle next, and picked one from my long list of ideas (I effectively come up with three new ideas for stories/projects for every one I execute on) which after four days without writing anything, I began. It’s another short novel, and it’s being written entirely “by the seat of the pants” – I wrote a single page of notes & ideas, with a very vague, very rough sort of sketch of what I thought the plot might be, but I haven’t actually been looking at that. Except when I realize I’ve completely forgotten to put something in, and I go back and read a few lines of notes and realize … I’m entirely off track, and half (or more) of what I put down won’t possibly make it into the book.

Technically, I discovered that, within the first two chapters, I’d entirely subverted the original idea. The core idea. I’m not exploring the original idea, not following the intended throug-line, at all. Like, as in this book, while interesting, does not address the themes and ideas I set out to explore – and in fact, it would make sense to leave the original idea on my list of potential future projects, it’s so far off. (Except, of course, that it’s not that far off in terms of structure, character, or the sort of vague details one finds in a 100-word book description, so if I did write the “correct” version of the idea, they’d be hard to differentiate in the market. People would be confused, and might even think they were different editions of the same book, rather than two books which explored related but totally different themes.) Not wanting to go back after having written over 11k words in the “wrong” direction, and finding the book I’m writing at least somewhat interesting, I decided to keep moving forward.

I’m currently about 21k words into the book, which makes finishing it by the end of November a difficult, though not impossible, challenge. If I’m able to do it, this would be the first year I actually finished two different novels during NaNoWriMo. I usually finish half of one and half of another, or all of one and very little of another – this time I’ll have written a bit over half of one and all of another. If I finish it by the end of the month.

The next several chapters will either be relatively easy, or extremely difficult. I’ve got to describe a war (economic, military, philosophical – and global), and likely have to do it from the perspective of just one man at the center of it all. I’m not as good at describing conflict as I am at describing everyone getting along nicely and working together for the greater good… So, we’ll see how this goes. I have the advantage that one of the sides in the war is being targeted by the other because they get along nicely and work together for the greater good, and have the advantage of numbers, youth, hope, and a strong work ethic.

Yes, the greedy capitalists will lose, in the end. If you don’t know that about my books by know, you haven’t been reading them very long.

Anyway, wish me luck. Less than 9 days left to write (potentially) 30,000 more words. Realistically, I’ll just keep writing until the story is done – if that gives me another 45k-word novel, or requires a 60k- or 80k- word novel, so be it.

The longer I write this novel, the shorter it gets

It seems the longer I write this novel, the shorter it gets. Not in a literal sense; I’m still adding new words. It’s just that I keep combining chapters. I’m working from a long and detailed outline, and for the first half (or so) of the book, each part of the outline I’d thought would become enough words to be a chapter did, in fact, reach the length I’m targeting per chapter. Then things started getting shorter. I’d read over my outline, my character notes, the prior scene, and start writing … and the scene would go faster/shorter than expected. I’d look at the notes for the next chapter and see that it, too probably wouldn’t be enough – start adding those elements and scenes and conflicts, waiting to see whether the whole thing would fit within the chapter or need to be broken up differently… and so far, three times, I’ve ended up with what my outline thought was two chapters fitting nicely into the length and logical structure of a single chapter.

According to projections based on the original outline, the novel ought to have been at least somewhat over 50k words – I was hoping to come in around 200 pages, just a short book. Some chapters have been longer than others, and that length hadn’t seemed entirely inconceivable, before yesterday (and the third excised chapter, and another which looks even shorter than half a chapter currently under way), but now I’m projecting that it’ll come in under 45k (at most). Which isn’t the end of the world, it’s still about 180 pages and it’s still the story I set out to tell, but it’s a bit frustrating.

Especially during NaNoWriMo. Having started with almost 20k words already written (back in June), if this one reaches its conclusion at around 45k words, I’ll only have written 25k new words in November – half the minimum goal for the month. I’ll have nearly three weeks left in which to make up the difference, but it’s still a bit frustrating to consider the fact that, partially because the longer I write this one the shorter it gets, I may end up completing two novels this month – neither of which is part of either of the big novel-writing projects I’ve been working toward for most of this year! (Alternatively, I may decide to quit writing for the month after the end of this one and go back to researching and preparing for one of those other projects (or begin the editing & other publishing-related work on this one) – it depends on how I feel when I reach the end of this one, in a day or two. In my 11th year doing it, the rules and official “winning” of NaNoWriMo aren’t the most important things to me about the event.)

It’s possible that the work I’ve been doing toward my other projects has been an influence, since I’m aiming for even shorter books (with even smaller scope per book) for both of those projects – around 35k-40k words per title, probably, with 50k as a likely upper limit I’d consider reasonable. I’m aiming for tighter, more succinct works, for middle grade and YA audiences. The book I’m writing now is intended for a general audience (children included, but not the target), and was intended to be a quick, relatively light read, but not so short as all that. Luckily, it seems to be allowing me to compromise, somewhere between my target length for those books and my target for this one. Hopefully a few people will enjoy it when it’s done, regardless of its length.

DNGR, NaNo’12, timing

So, November arrived. I decided to start my NaNoWriMo efforts with the Death Noodle Glitterfairy Robot Saga novel I already had ~19k words written on. I’m not sure I care whether I actually hit 50k new words during the month; it depends on how quickly I’m able to finish this novel (tentatively titled Deep Noodling), and what else I decide to write during the month. I’m “cheating”, in that my “official” word count on the NaNo site includes the words I wrote back in June – though I am also keeping track (for myself) how many actually new words I’ve written each day. As of right now, in the early hours of day 4, I’m behind. I was meant to be at 5k new words by midnight, but I barely wrote anything yesterday (a bit after midnight last night), so I’m only at ~3774 new words. By the end of the day today I’m meant to be at 6,666 words – which means I need ~3k words, or about 4 hours of good effort. (just under 3 hours, if things go amazingly well) Weekends, I suspect, will not be good for my progress at writing. Too many other things to do, not to mention a wife not participating this year (since she’s doing much more important work), makes weekdays during the day -and late nights- the best times to get any work done. I’m hoping the coming week proves fruitful; it wouldn’t surprise me to be closing in on the end of Deep Noodling by this time next week. (It also wouldn’t surprise me to be coming back here to make a post about how poorly things had been going, and that I wasn’t expecting to do more than barely finish the thing by the end of the month. Depends on brain chemistry, et cetera.)

My latest thought on timing: If things go well, I may be able to adapt the schedule I drew up for creating the Tentacle Trilogy, but bumped up two or three months, to allow me to complete my research and do NaNoWriMo – aside from perhaps not being a skilled illustrator, and not ever having attempted to develop a game all the way to being print-ready, there was nothing too difficult about the timeline I developed, in and of itself. This would mean the books couldn’t be ready in time for PHXCC’13, but perhaps I could launch the Kickstarter for the whole thing just before Comicon, and direct the crowds there to the active fundraiser. Like, “Here’s what I have this year (looks like probably Never Let the Right One Go and Deep Noodling paperbacks), and if you want to see my latest project, you can pre-order it online now! Tentacles! Steampunk! Go!” And/Or somehow also accept funds/preorders in person, since people like spending their money at cons; the funds raised that way wouldn’t be reflected in the official fundraising total, but could certainly be reflected in the totals for the stretch goals.

Anyway, there’s ~500 words written which probably ought to have been invested in my novel. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, good luck to you! If you’re eagerly anticipating my latest project, comment (or email me); I’m copy/pasting the DNGR novel into a Google Doc as I finish each chapter, so you can read it as I write it, if you like, I just need to know your Google-y email address, so I can give you permission.

Q3 Numbers, NaNoDecisions, and taking risks

Looking back, I see I didn’t make a proper numbers post for Q2, this year. This post is also a couple of weeks later than it ought to have been. Meh. Q2 looked a lot like Q1, except for a spike in Podiobooks downloads for the last few days of June. eBook downloads continued their gradual descent from the highs they’d hit after being linked to by some “free eBooks” listing sites last year. Q3 looks a bit odd, but in understandable ways.

For example, that spike in podiobook downloads coincides with the launch of Apple’s new Podcasts app for iOS – separating podcasts out of iTunes and improving visibility and ease of use for a lot of the people who wanted to listen to podcasts and podcast audio fiction. That spike actually turned out to be a new baseline level of downloads – until Podiobooks.com went down completely for a little while, torn apart by malicious, hacking spammers. All Podiobooks.com titles were de-listed from iTunes for a week or two while they rebuilt the site. When things were back online, many of my titles’ downloads continued at rates higher than they’d been prior to the launch of the standalone Podcasts app, but none of them were near the levels they were at before being temporarily de-listed, and some of them went right back down to their pre-Podcasts-app trickles. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go.

Without listing out all the totals of all the downloads for each title across multiple formats (I’ll gladly share the numbers with you if you’re interested, just ask me), here are some highlights: 124,867 total Podiobooks downloads (across all titles) for Q3, which compares favorably with ~35k in Q2, ~27k in Q1, and ~151k in all of 2011. The final episodes of the various books were downloaded a total of 9,015 times in Q3, so that’s probably the maximum number of new people who have heard an entire book, though if everyone who finished one of my books also downloaded all my other available titles it might have been as few as 693 different people downloading those 9k books – which is to say the number of new listeners my books found in Q3 via the Podiobooks feeds was somewhere in the range from 693 to 9,015. Not taking in to account things like repeated downloads or other errors, of course. Still, 124k downloads in Q3 represents fully 17% of the 731,086 total downloads (as of end-of-Q3’2012) I’ve had via Podiobooks.com over the years; hopefully the coming months will bring a steady flow of downloads and an increase in orders of the for-purchase versions of my stories. Podiobooks.com added up all the donations from all my titles for Q1 through Q3 into one payout, and my cut of the 2 donations came out to a total of $10.46; for the purposes of this post, we’ll consider them both to be Q3 donations.

eBooks did not see that dramatic up-tick. In fact, they saw the continued decline of downloads I’ve been witnessing since last fall. My eBooks were downloaded a total of 2,705 times in Q3, and only 11 of those were purchases. (This compares with 4,689/24 in Q2 and 4,992/36 in Q1.) Those purchases netted me $26.90, and the most popular title was Sophia. Alternatively, there were only 40 or 45 copies of Emily or Sophia (respectively) downloaded (in all of Q3) including the purchased and the free copies; aside from my own poetry, they are my least-popular free eBooks. (The Sophia Podiobook has been available for less than a week and has been downloaded my more than twice as many people as the eBook was downloaded in Q3. I am confident both eBooks would be downloaded more if I made them available in PDF.) Alternatively, I sold 2 Never Let the Right One Go hardbacks in Q3, earning $70. That makes a total of 15 “book sales” for Q3, earning $107.36.

Oh, and for those of you who haven’t put two and two together: Lowering prices, adjusting eBook prices down, down, down, hasn’t helped sales at all. I’ve been lowering my eBook prices the more copies they’ve sold and the more money they’ve earned, and my sales volume has gone right down with them. As an experiment, I’m thinking of putting my “floored” eBooks (those which have already earned out their expenses) “on sale” at $0.99 for November and December, rather than holding them at $2.99 for the remainder of the year, just to see what happens. Either way (barring some miraculous turn of events where my eBooks suddenly start selling thousands of copies a month at $0.99 apiece) I plan to raise all my prices back to reasonable and appropriate levels at the start of 2013, and to give up the the pricing experiment we began nearly a year ago. For the nth time (at least 3 major experiments I can recall, and several shorter or less-rigorous ones) I’ve shown that lowering my prices reduces my sales. (Not just less money, but fewer copies sold -by far- every time.) I don’t think I’ll be messing with prices in this way again any time soon. Lower prices is not, apparently, what my readers want. Continue reading Q3 Numbers, NaNoDecisions, and taking risks