Monday, 29 December 2014

Why I don't, as a rule, do anthologies anymore (aka, the death of the anthology)

Since my last post, I got food poisoning, so this is the first day I feel mostly clear, though my stomach is still delicate (read: I'm clutching inoffensive teas like peppermint and other herbal stuff). I'm hoping to venture out today to post some paper contracts and pick up a parcel from the post office.

Elsewhere, somebody asked why there were fewer anthology calls. And yeah, some of the most prolific/inventive anthology callers among publishers have closed their doors, gone inactive or stopped doing them. I think it's a good question, and shows the effect of several changes in the current market.

Publishing in the age of tighter budgets

Personally, I think many publishers have realised that you can't make a decent profit from an anthology. All anthologies I was involved in sold abysmally (exception is Another Place In Time, which is a charity anthology and arguably an "all-stars line-up" and "invitation-only" - more about those further down). But generally, the economics just don't work out.

To produce an anthology costs at least as much as producing a full-sized novel, but sales are usually much lower. So many publishers used to offset that with lowering their costs - say, authors don't get paid at all and only receive contributor copies. I never got paid for my contribution to "Illustrated Men", for example, and we only got actual paper copies after personal intervention of the artist. That experience told me that I'm never again working for free.

Mind you, some publishers pay a token amount rather than royalties (because doing, say, 12 royalty payments for one book is work intensive and generally a pain), so may will pay something like $25 or so for a short story.

In this market, short stories are valuable

Now, paying token amounts used to work, because it was common knowledge that short stories "have no market" or "have no value." In a world of easy self-publishing and the overall resurgence of the short form (novellas and shorts do sell, if less than novels), this is no longer the case. Authors quickly realised that you can now make a LOT more than $25 off a short story. (Even my weakest shorts have made me $250 a piece - and I've had short stories that made me much, much more than that over a couple years.) 

Against that background, the established authors tend to no longer sub to anthology calls - it makes no financial sense. Therefore, you tend to end up with a) authors who can't sell their work on their own, b) complete newbies, or c) authors who haven't crunched the numbers. The first two won't do anything to up sales, and the third group is thankfully getting rare.

All work, no gain

As somebody who's compiled multiple anthologies over the last 15 years or so, if you do an open call, you get maybe 2 good stories, 2 mediocre ones, and 2 shitty ones you can polish up enough to be publishable. This is out of up to 200 submissions, which all need reading, email confirmation, email rejection, etc. Of course, getting 200 submissions is a brilliant success - in about half the times I was involved in anthologies behind the scenes, you don't get any submissions, so you start begging your friends and family and run with whatever they give you. With all the drumming up of interest and just dealing with submissions/acceptances/rejections, I'd estimate an anthology is roughly 5-10 times the work you'd have to put into processing a novel or novella submission. And it'll likely make less money.

Considering how reality is stacked against anthologies, why are they still happening?

A way to try out a publisher

If you do submit a short story to an anthology call, negotiate either a royalty payment (no token payment!) or non-exclusive rights. By which I mean standard royalty (split among authors) or the right to keep using the story and self-publish it. (Some anthology publishers will accept only signing "rights as a part of a compilation", which leaves you single-release ebooks, for example. Many out there accept "print-only" rights, which is cool, too. I've recently done an exclusive deal, but it's only exclusive for 6 months, after which it turns non-exclusive. The very day that exclusivity period ends, that short story it hitting the market on its own. 

Always negotiate your rights. It's good practice with a short story - it'll help you so much when you negotiate terms for a novel. 

DO NOT submit anything to unpaid anthologies. You might be giving away hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars over the lifetime of that story. I was in a position once where I was desperate for exposure, so I gave publishers short work for basically free, and I've signed some shitty contracts. In hindsight, those did nothing for my career, and I've regretted practically all of them. Do get paid for your work. Always.

Trying to find new talent

Many publishers try to find new talent via anthologies. It's a time-honored way of especially smaller publishers that may or may not struggle to attract longer submissions (which is where the money is). Sometimes they can be hobby horses of an editor at a house, who'd really like to see "more X", and hence write up a call for "more X". The idea is simply - attract new authors, find talent, get to know them (always better to see how an author behaves in edits when it's just a short story), hopefully build a relationship, publish something longer that makes more money for all sides. It can be a win.

The problem: reader "meh"

From a reader's point of view, anthologies are unattractive. Very often, they know and like maybe one or two authors, but the rest are unknowns. Still, they are asked to pay the price of a novel for those one or two shorts. Why not buy a novel from the same author? It's a LOT more bang for your buck. I've had readers approach me and tell me that they'd really like to read my short story in anthology X, but weren't willing to pay $6 for it, as they didn't care for the other stories.

Reviews bear this out. There's one cliche phrase in reviews for anthologies - that it was "a mixed bag", which is a polite way of saying, "I enjoyed 1-2, found most kinda meh and several shorts were WFT". Going back over the anthologies I've read to completion (most I simply give up on or end up skim-reading), that's exactly my experience.


I don't do anthologies anymore unless I have a very, very good reasons. Even getting paid royalties isn't very attractive because overall sales are lower, and I might get paid only pennies per sold copy, with a lot less copies sold than I would hope/expect to sell on my own.

If I do do them, the reasons have to be compelling. I'd be happy to do single-author anthologies (which really count like normal releases, just bundling a number of shorts or novellas so readers get a better deal). A variation on that is bundling with 1-2 other authors who have very similar readerships/themes.

Charity is a big reason for me. Readers are fundamentally generous and if you raise money for a worthy cause (ideally one that's tied to the theme of the anthology in some way), readers will consider buying the anthology essentially a donation - getting one or two good stories out of it is a bonus, but the satisfaction for the reader is in "helping". Getting the book is just like the free pen you get when you donate blood - it's no longer really the point of the transaction, but it makes everybody feel better.

I've donated a story to the Another Place In Time anthology, and all proceeds go to, which organizes global campaigns to support GLBTQ rights. I've wanted to donate to them for a long time, but by donating a story, we raised several thousand dollars - which is vastly more than I could have raised, pro rata, on my own. I'd do charity anthologies again, and hope to donate more money next year to GLBTQ homeless charities.

Another way to overcome "reader meh" is the all-stars anthology - in other words, ensure that all stories are good and/or by established names. All of those anthologies are internal affairs, often driven inside a publishing house or a circle of writer friends. It eliminates the need to drum up submissions, deal with entries that are not up to par, and about 90% of the total workload. If it's invite-only, you can judge much better what you're getting.

But obviously those won't help you find talent, and new authors might struggle to get in there unless they know people or have somebody vouch for them.

It does look a lot like new authors getting screwed - there used to be plentiful calls and at least they got exposure, some argue, and many were hoping to get into an anthology with a "big name" or "headliner" who'd sell it, and maybe their readers will discover the new writer and turn into a fan that way. 

I think that's possibly still true, but has moved from anthologies to boxed sets, which means bundling full novels and novellas rather than short stories, and these are often priced so cheaply (read: free or $0.99 for the whole lot) that tens of thousand of copies would get sold. I'm not sure how efficient they are - financially, they were more or less a bust, but they still used to be done to get every participant the coveted "New York Times Bestseller" bit before their names. But then the NYT changed its rules, so even selling a huge amount of copies doesn't guarantee anybody bestseller status these days.

I'd argue that the authors who could "headline" anthologies don't anymore, and in general, releasing a short story on its own makes more sense. I strongly doubt anybody can build or has ever built a career out of low- or non-paying anthologies, and exposure tends to happen over time, with more stories out.

There are many better ways to piggyback on established authors (network, people!) and make a bit of money from writing.

I do hope to blog about those at some point, but generally, I'd argue that the standard open-call, commercial "mixed-bag" anthology is dead and hasn't served any real purpose for authors in years.


Friday, 26 December 2014

Bird book is done

Just now, I've sent the 88k polished first draft of the Bird book to my editor and a number of betas who'll be able to help me with some details. So,yeah, it's done. After nearly abandoning it three or four times, in the end I'm glad I didn't. I'm hoping it'll all come together in January and we'll look at a release date either in March or August.

I'm currently in that dazed zone where I can't quite believe it's done. The book's been with me in one shape or other from at least March 2011 onwards. Since then, I've changed jobs several times. I started it when we'd just moved into the house. In the meantime, I've written about ten other books and co-written about a dozen--which should reveal just how scared I've been to mess this up.

Now, I'm planning to grab breakfast, then go see a movie (current Hobbit part) and then clean up my research books and papers. There's outlines and notes I don't need anymore, and I don't believe there will be literary historians who'll terribly mind as I throw out all the paperwork I've amassed over those years. I'm also going to seriously triage my research books, only keeping a few of them, namely the ones I might read again. (My house is getting too small for all these books.)

Tomorrow, I'll start on finishing Suckerpunch, so I'll be re-reading Counterpunch and get all my boxing research books/materials into line. There's also other stuff I have to do (taxes, etc), so I'll be busy for the rest of the year. Ideally, I'll wrap Suckerpunch by end-January, and I'm not planning any further than that at the moment.

Whew. Done.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Novel bunny roll call

2014 draws to a close, and personally, I'm glad it does, because holy crap, it's been a story of ups and downs - whenever I thought I had settled in somewhat, something would happen that threw it all off its track. I'm a Taurus, I'm not keen on changes I can't control.

I still managed to finish the Memory of Scorpions trilogy, polish and release Return on Investment, co-write Lone Wolf and No Place That Far, and overall managed to wrap up some projects that have been with me for years. I also did some personal development (hypnosis, et al) and hope to do more of that in 2015.

As the year draws to a close (tonight is the Winter Solstice), I'm focusing on getting the Bird Book ready to go into edits. It's my one remaining "big ticket item" I want to close.

With finances what they are (and the Kindle Unlimited-induced 40% dip in my earnings),  I have to keep my eyes open for work in the conventional economy, and I'm in the running for a job that sounds like a clone of my favourite/best-paid day job ever. The second round is is early January. The idea is to pay off the house, put together some reserves, and keep writing and hoping for that break, while developing other skills. I'm at peace with all that.

Regardless of what will happen in January, I'm still planning to write 3-5 novels next year. (Ideally 5, but, well, day job.)

So, in terms of solo books, I'm looking at the following:

  • Suckerpunch - I have 20,000 words on that one and will hopefully wrap this even before the potential job offer.
  • Another WWII novel - this one spans from 1940 (Battle of Britain) to  post-WWII Germany. It's about 50% written, but the research is likely patchy, so it needs a LOT of work. I call it the "Medals books".
  • Franco's novel. This will complete Franco Spadaro's arch from Dark Soul. I have a plot for him and just need to sort out a way to do it--I can't do the same plot I've done for him back when I created him. It's way, way too problematic on all kinds of levels. This should be released close to LA Witt's official sequel to Dark Soul. Lots of Spadaros coming your way in 2015!
  • Question of Intent (QOI). This is a kinda-sorta prequel to Return on Investment. I have about 20,000 words written and it needs a serious upgrade. However, it's 100% written in Francis de Bracy's point of view. It's not a romance, more the history of romantic trainwrecks, but that's what you'd expect from him, right?
  • Yet another WWII novel. This one will be set in post-war Germany, and the bombing campaigns and civilian aftermath will be major themes. Not a feel-good novel. I'm planning to set it in my hometown - or a thinly veiled version of it. I'm still wrestling with the exact angle.

I can't commit to co-written releases quite the same way, because life happens, but Lori and I have been talking about writing the following in 2015:

  • Rolex's story. We've made a start this month and have 20,000 words. It's looking like a long novella or a short novel at this point.
  • A short Nick & Spencer story, to catch up with the boys.
  • 2-3 more Market Garden titles of varying lengths, because they're fun and we didn't get much traction in 2014.
  • Finishing up our WWII novel that's 70% done.

All of this is very much subject to change. I've been entertaining all of them in my head and they're all talking (apart from Franco, who never talks, and the last solo WWII novel, which more swirls and has no main character yet), so chances are fair they'll happen.

Right now, the main problem I could see happening is that the new day job gets seriously in the way or that the WWII research eats me alive. I've found the Bird Book a formidable book to wrestle, so I'm quite ready to expect that all historical novels will take a LOT longer than is commercially sane and healthy (Bird Book : 3.5 years+). If a book only earns for three months, it's crazy to spend six months or longer on it, but that's one of the reasons why I'm ready to take on a day job - if that's what it takes to write those books, I'm ready to do it. That was one of those tough choices in 2014. I find myself incapable of writing the stuff that sells just so I can pay my mortgage, so I need alternative avenues for that. In the end, I have to follow where the energy is, and I fully intend to do that in 2015, too.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Red wire / green wire - choose wisely

Because it bears repeating - every so often, the whole "women writing m/m" thing pops up - thankfully, the discussion now seems pretty much decided along the lines of "authors can write whatever the hell they want", so we're making progress on that front. 

However, I do want to submit the following on the topic. When people describe m/m as "gay romance written by straight women for straight women, with a few gay male authors in there", they might do that with the best of intentions, but I think it's over-simplified to the point of uselessness. This does not sum up our genre, nor does it reflect where it's going, and I hope that that cliche dies a fiery death as soon as possible.

Personally, I don't feel attacked when/if people mis-gender me - I'm pretty much at peace with my identity, and it takes more than (often well-meaning) ignorance to shake me up. I've been called "tranny" behind my back by some cis-male gay authors in the genre, but I'm OK with that. It's their ignorance/malice rather than my identity. 

What is so much more important is that we really don't know the gender identities/sexual orientations of people in this genre. To my knowledge, there is no hard data that's truly representative. Also, the genre is changing.

I'm basing my observation largely on anecdote, and I understand that the plural of anecdote isn't "data", but it's the best I have after 6 years inside the genre. 

For example, I personally know at least 3 trans*/genderqueer people who'd look "straight & female" on their profiles or outward presentation, and at least about as many as that who are fluid in one way or other. I also know a number of bisexuals who appear "straight", but have or have had same-sex relationships and who haven't come out. Some don't because their families don't know, or because they rightly fear repercussions at the work place. Sometimes, it's safer to be and stay in the closet or communicate only to the people who have an actual stake in their orientation/gender identity - namely the people they live/sleep with.

Some of us don't communicate non-cis, non-straight identities because it's simply extremely private and people prefer to keep their innermost identities protected - not all of us enjoy our orientation/identity to spark off discussion/controversy on the internet; we're writers, not celebrities. Our performance is (ideally) our work, not who we sleep with or where we fall on the male/female spectrum. Basically, we're not Kanye West. We also don't have his bodyguards or his PR strategist who carefully times every mini-scandal to maximise album/ticket sales.

Lastly, I've done a (very informal) poll of readers/writers inside the genre during my keynote speech in Bristol mid-2014, and asked an audience of about 150 people directly whether they identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. Out of 150 people, 60% raised their hands, so in my book, m/m/queer romance is a genuinely queer genre, written and read by predominantly queer people of one shape or other, while straights/cis people are welcome. (And hopefully feel welcome.)

I'd be about as careful when talking about "straight cis-women writing/reading m/m" as I'd choose the red over the green wire when dis-arming a bomb. Wrong choices get people hurt.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


I've been invited to stay for a few weeks in the Seattle area with my co-writer LA Witt, so I landed on the 12th November and we've already seen/done quite a few things, like made an expedition out to the Olympic peninsula and checked out the area where Bluewater Bay is located. (Also met wildlife, like a bald eagle, several kinds of deer and lots of ravens and crows). Hurricane Ridge was really cool, too.

We also went to downtown Seattle and spent two productive days writing our respective books at the Seattle Public Library (central) and ended up bantering with them on Twitter. Lori actually finished her Christian book there yesterday and I've still a few chapters to go on my historical, but it's all moving along. We've also met lovely people, like readers and writers, and I'm looking forward to meeting friends in Portland this weekend.

I think I've most overcome my jetlag (the 8-hr time difference scrambled my brain a bit), so I'm almost on "local time" now. The Dude is going to join us for a week on 3 December, and then we'll do some of the local highlights.

Lori took me to Halfprice Books (and they had a 20% off day too), which was cruel. And while driving along on the peninsula, we stopped at a Native American art gallery and I bought an eagle carving. It's actually an eagle catching a salmon, and I asked the lady what the meaning of the salmon is, and she said, "Oh, that's determination." Well, sold. I'll put it up in my study and let it remind me that writing a book can be like swimming upstream with bears fishing for you. So that was apt.

Overall, very much enjoying the change of scenery and the overall Washington State - seems like a lovely place to live.

Today, we're likely staying in and writing. Lori's working on a half-finished book, and I still have a few chapters of the Bird Book. But I'm pretty sure I'll wrap the whole thing before the end of the month. I did some really good, very emotional scenes and I'm definitely on the home stretch (the last 5-10%). Just need to get from about 20 July 1944 to where the book ends, which isn't much more, time-wise. It'll just be intense.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Wake-up call

I started that full-time writing thing with a dose of optimism. Return on Investment did much better than expected (about 500 sold copies since July and more than that lent via Kindle Unlimited), although it's now much slower and sells about one copy a day on average. Sales and lowering the price did nothing to boost sales, but considering how weird and uncommercial that book is, I'm still happy with how it's done. I'll call it a modest success.

I didn't walk out of that job without a "business plan". I did projections based on about 12 months of sales data, built a model based on average yield per book (aka, how much do I make per month per book). For yield, I went with the sales of "backlist" titles - not the ones that are just out and might sell a thousand copies or so in their first month, but the few dribs-and-drabs sales I get on titles that are "older" (= older than six months).

Based on that, I averaged out yield and then assumed that future books would sell about the same. I was hoping that the front list sales spike and maybe even growing readership would mean I was low-balling, but I didn't count on either of those. Basically, I was running what I thought was a worst-worst case scenario.

So when I got my royalty payment for last month, I thought there was a mistake, but I went through the statement and ran the numbers, and it's pretty alarming. Almost half (40%) my royalties are from one front list title that's rapidly fading. It had a very good three months, but the money from that title is falling at a rate of 50% a month. And worse: My strongest, long-term sellers sold a good 50% less than they had for the last 1.5 years.

Overall, my backlist (the books I rely on to pay my bills), are over 40% down, and once that strong front list title hits sales hell in a couple months, and assuming my back list doesn't recover by some miracle, I won't be able to pay my bills/fixed costs in about 2-3 months. If the sales trend continues, I'm going from "below minimum wage" to officially "poverty line" in the same timeframe. It's the kind of crash that makes me look at my monthly outgoings and ponder which one I can/should cut. Do I really need regular haircuts? (And yeah, it's made worse by living near one of the most expensive cities on the planet - not really a choice as long as my partner works there.)

(I don't mean to be whining. I have the best readers, and I'm grateful for every book they bought in September - or earlier, in the case of the retailers. I'm speaking quite candidly because it might be helpful for other writers. If any of you have seen the same sales drop, you're definitely not alone.)

I'm not sure what a viable strategy is for the future. I clearly over-relied on my backlist and my worst-worst case scenario was about 50% too optimistic. Which means I quit my day job about 3-4 years too soon. I knew I'd be scraping by for a few years and hoped I'd write my way out of there, but this month really claw-hammered that confidence.

I'm not good at writing the kind of book that sells inside this genre. And I don't see that changing.

And just the explicit/gay/bisexual content means a somewhat limited audience - that material doesn't get into the mainstream. I'm currently pretty much aiming at a sub-group of a sub-group of a sub-group, and apparently that niche audience is too small to sustain me.

One part of me is completely freaked out. (And freaked-out writer = too freaked-out to write, so this isn't even a productive frame of mind, much as I'd prefer to call it a "kick in the pants".) I prefer to have a rough idea where things are going, how much money I can expect, because I want to intervene on time and steer against it.

This might have been a freak month, and gods give that it is, but I have to act pretty much now to be prepared if this is the shape of things to come. (Smoke, fire, the works.) Anything I write now and publish via a small press will still take 9 months at least to earn me money (At least 6 months of production time for a publisher, plus 3 months until Amazon pays out), and it's closer to 12.

Self-publishing is closer to 6 months - three months of production time (editing, layout, cover, etc), plus 3 months until Amazon pays out. I can't do much until mid-December (as I won't be here, and I'm still working on the Birds book), but from mid-December, I really need to act.

Going the traditional route (getting an agent, getting a big publisher) is now literally something I can't afford. I can't wait 4 years or more to get paid. I'm entering crisis/survival mode now.

What it'll mean above all is: 1) I will self-publish some things fairly quickly. 2) I need to write faster, and even a LOT faster. 3) I have to diversify in terms of genre. 4) I will very likely re-join the workforce in early 2015.

Number 3) means I'll likely launch a second pen name and write speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy,  historical) under a different name. For that, I'll likely revive my old German pseudonym, but it's not yet decided. I think a new name would be good to leave some expectations at the door (read, no more disclaimers that the current book "isn't a romance" - there won't be romance expectations attached to it. This might prove to be tremendously liberating.)

It'll also mean I'll be writing from a different angle. My characters might still be gay or bisexual, but there won't be any explicit content on the page (this will likely affect my urban fantasy series I've been planning as well as my historical thriller). There might still be a romance sub-plot, but it won't be the main focus of the story. I'm also very likely going to write a few books with a female lead. Which will be brilliant, I think. I have at least two books that focus on women, and only one of them is bisexual.

Above all, it means re-shuffling my release/writing schedule. I knew that writing fantasy and historicals was a financially risky idea, but now I have the actual numbers to see just how fucking stupid it is to write either and more than maybe one a year.

I will still indulge myself and finish the Bird Book, because I've already almost lost this book twice, and if I stop now and desert it again, I fear it'll just wither and die off - gods know when I get into the position again where I can devote several months to it. Yes, it's a luxury I can't afford, but screw it, I'm 70-75% done with it now.

I'm putting the other five WWII novels and any further gay fantasy novels on hold for the time being. I literally can't afford to write them, and I'm sorry for that, but the bank wants the mortgage money every month, and I like eating.

In mid-December, I'll start on my straight-up historical with a main character who's most definitely bisexual, but will only be courting women. My partner has been requesting that book for the last 3 years, and it's time I write a book I can sell to mainstream readers without having to "warn" about the gay sex. It'll mean a screeching halt on my WWII stuff and pushing hard into the crusades research, which is not what I was aiming to do, but hopefully more sustainable. It'll also mean that what WWII research I've done will go into a book told from a hetero/female POV.

Overall, and as weird as it might sound, I'm still optimistic. What I consider crisis mode now might lead to some amazing books/experiences/growth. And I'm all for that.

So, yeah. This is my Halloween/Samhain post. The irony doesn't escape me. This is as "horror" as I can muster, and it all comes back to one of my main fears: fear of change, fear or loss of control. I'll get over it. This is most likely a good thing when seen from a couple years' distance.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Inspiration: Family

I think I've written repeatedly about family. It's clearly something that keep coming back, so I'll just risk repeating myself.

I think real life has made writing about family A Thing in my work.

Let me explain. My family, gods bless them, wasn't/isn't the sanest one. While my mother managed to create a more supportive micro-environment, my family's psycho-dynamics are shaped by a grandmother who had 8 living children (out of 12 births), but neither the interest nor the emotional resources to care for even one of them.

They were fathered by a WWII veteran so fucked up from his close, prolonged brush with death (he got out of Stalingrad before the 6th Army was locked in) and wracked, for the rest of his very long life, by what we would now call survivor's guilt plus a massive dose of PTSD. One symptom of that was ... let's say "emotional unavailability". He wasn't nasty, but he never did come home from Russia. And the only thing he ever loved were his horses. (You will recognize him in my next book after this one. I have a young officer there who even looks like him.)

Eight children, all competing to the blood for the love of parents that weren't there in any meaningful way. As they grew up, my grandmother played favourites. Two of her eldest daughters were pulled into a toxic game of "today I love you, tomorrow I hate you", played in a fashion that always pitted one against the other, and played essentially for forty years. I don't think she did it on purpose. There's also the story that she worked as a nurse at 17. She saw a lot of people die.

But all that still travelled along the bloodlines. And while I was lucky and never at the core of the toxic jockeying and politicking, it has shaped how I view families, and how I write them. Many of my characters are from toxic families, families that literally threaten their sanity and continued existence (say, the Spadaros, and I think the Krasnoradas fall into that too, in the widest sense).

Others have dead mothers. Some have dead mothers and fathers. (Inspiration for that is basically taken from real life.) Say, Kendras and Adrastes - and both of them deal with their dead fathers in different ways. Both recognize themselves in their fathers or try to not make their father's mistakes.

Other families exist, but far away, some kind of benevolent (the Bird Book), some anything but (Malcolm's family in Country Mouse/City Mouse).

You can always spot the autobiographical wound. It's in every book, even when I mask it or write around it (I don't want to be that authorial one-trick pony who keeps writing about the same stuff). At times I'm leaving family out (Return on Investment), but even the absence signifies something. The unspoken can be just as significant, and usually is.

As a writer, I think I'll eventually get there to write about families that are not toxic, destructive/self-destructive/oppressive/dangerous. It would make a nice change. On the other hand, I think all families are messed up - by some standards, mine isn't even anything special. Some of its members needed 15 years of therapy to be able to cope, others have the luxury of writing about them.

Over time, I'll continue to dig into that toxic mess from several angles and try to make sense of it. I haven't even managed to write about the really vile stuff - the crimes and deliberate cruelty. There's an "accident" (read: likely murder) and at least one rape that'll keep me busy if I ever want to write a *really* dark book. I'm not there yet. Maybe I'm hoping that people die before I can write what I think is the truth, or at the very least, a compelling enough "myth" that it shaped my family and how those people act and react and interpret life.

And I'm not even beginning to look at the small, but much more pervasive stuff (like family members, both blood and married, who are not just right-wing but could be legitimately be classed as skinheads and Neo-Nazis).

Somebody once said that just surviving into adulthood means you have enough material for a lifetime of books. The books I'm bringing from there will at times be dark. It's my baggage, the load I carry. Above all, I'm glad for the distance in time and space and that I have the tools to make sense of it all.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Royalty-split deals for translators - all aboard the crazy train

I've just had a very very strange encounter with a friend who is trying to build a side business for translating fiction. (We were also discussing her translating a few short pieces for me next year, something I'm shying away from, because I've crunched some numbers and can't currently afford to pay a translator anything approaching fair wages.)
And yes, cost is a big issue, especially for self-publishers and small presses. (M/m has been trying to push into foreign markets, some with decent results, others with awful results: in essence, it's a matter of under-spending and delivering sloppy results.) Cost has definitely held me back so far.
So, to solve the cost problem, some self-publishing people are advocating what they call the "royalty split". It looks great on paper: Translator does all the work, including quality control, editing, proofing, and gets 50% of the net proceeds from Amazon, while the original author gets 50%. Sounds fair, doesn't it?
Except it stinks.
Let's look at a real case that my hopeful translator friend is planning to jump on. I'm strongly advising her against it, and the numbers will show why.
Let's assume a full-sized novel of 80,000 words or about 250 pages. A translator would probably take about 100 hours to turn the book around. I'm pulling this number out of the ether, correct me if I'm far off the mark, but here's a discussion that seems to bear out my estimate.

S/he'd have to be damn amazing to turn in clean copy (most royalty-split deals assume the translator does EVERYTHING, including editing, proofing, quality control of the finished files). So assume we're having an absolutely amazing translator who does a great job in 100 hours and delivers a print-ready, layout-ready book.
The book in question is the second book in a series in a mainstream genre (not m/m), priced at 2.99. 

In my experience, all series "fade", in other words, every next book in a series sells 10-20% less than the one before. 
The current target-market Amazon sales rank of the first translated book in the series is about 800,000.
Based on my sales in the same target market (my book, launched at a similar date, has a sales rank of 50-60,000, which, I just checked, translates to TEN sales a month). Based on the 800,000 number, I expect that other book to sell maybe 1 copy a month. 

The translator of that book may or may not have signed a royalty-split agreement, but the fact is, that book doesn't even sell two copies per month, and it's priced at 2.99. In other words, the translator can't even buy a cop of coffee for her monthly payout. I hope to gods s/he asked for a downpayment or an advance or ANTHING.
Because, at an estimated 1/month (leaving the currency out), it'll take her decades, if not centuries, to get paid a fair wage, which I'd define as at least minimum wage, which is nowhere near what a qualified translator would ask for managing such a project and all the grunt work that goes into it.
The self-publishing advocated (who otherwise make a HUGE amount of sense) like royalty-split because they say it's a "fair" split of risk for the author and translator. 

That's bollocks. There's almost zero risk for the author (if the translation ends up sucking, just get a new word slave), and all the risk is with the translator. It's madness. In my humble opinion (as somebody who's done translating and editing), it's immoral.

At the very least, if you should consider agreeing to such a deal, make sure the author has a track record and actual SALES. And plan for the worst-case scenario: namely, author sells 1 copy a month or less. Make sure you're still OK working for free, because that's pretty likely going to happen.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


I haven't done that many words recently, but I have been doing quite a bit of research for the next book (my historical novel). Originally, I was planning to wrap up the first draft by 1 November, but that's not going to happen. It would mean writing 3-4,000 words per day to hit that goal, and while it can be done, I'm a lot slower than that when I'm on my own. (That would be roughly equivalent to 15-20 pages of finished text.)

However, the new goal is to hit "The End" by 12 November. Which is the date when I pack my bags and fly out to join L.A. Witt in Seattle for four weeks. (The last week, the Dude is joining us for some sightseeing.) The plan is to see Washington State (where we have a book set), Portland and Seattle (where we have several books set) and write a couple Market Garden books while we're in the same room. We have some fragments, but really need to focus for a few days to wrap them up.

So, the last few research books helped me understand an entertainment career in 1930-1940ish, which is what I desperately needed to flesh out my character. Like, how do get a record contract, what is the usual rate of pay, and how many sold copies constitutes a hit? I also looked at the evolution of jazz/swing, and some of that history was fascinating. I didn't know, for example, about the massively positive bias Paris had for blacks - essentially, once jazz/swing started making an impact, and no doubt also driven by Josephine Baker being a mega-star, Black was cool, and many black musicians/artists were astonished how much the Parisians loved them (even discriminating against, say, whites or other ethnic groups, like Romany, when it came to hiring), compared to their US/UK home crowd. (Of course, the Nazis ruined it all, and most black artists left Paris when the Nazis were at the gates.) It's not a part of history that's commonly taught.

So, yeah, fascinating stuff. It took me about two days to research all that, and there will only be a few sentences referring to it in the final manuscript, so in some ways, researching that deeply is an outrageous waste of time. However, I think it'll show in added depth, richness and confidence, so it's all good. If this book is going to be the best one I've ever done, putting in some extra work is no problem at all.

I'm planning to re-work some passages to reflect the research (just making it sharper and more correct - I was going with some guesstimates, and they didn't prove to be spot on).

On a side note, I hope everybody is having fun at GRL in Chicago this year. I'm hoping to be back next year.

Meanwhile, if anybody wants to meet me in Seattle from 13 November to 10 December, please get in touch. Happy to meet for a coffee/chat/sign books. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Wrapping the Scorpion series

For me, a book "leaves" in two ways: I've finished the editing process (developmental edits, line edits, proofing); I'm receiving the final files (allowing me to file the project folder under "published" and update my spreadsheet entry from "in editing" to "ready"; but even after that, the book is in limbo - no reviews, hardly anybody has read it, and I have no idea how it's being received. That last step can last months, sometimes half a year or a year. Unless the book is out there, there's still something unfinished about it. I haven't been paid for all the work, and I don't know whether it's a flop or a success. Whether the people I wrote it for actually like it.

In any case, A Taste for Poison, the third and last Memory of Scorpions novel, is now available. (And thank you, pre-orderers. It'll go into general circulation in two days (13 October).

This brings to end a process that started in 2010, when the idea came to me, and 2011, when Scorpion was published in its first edition by Dreamspinner. I wrote Lying with Scorpions in 2013, and Taste for Poison in early 2014. Both represent the largest part of my solo efforts in 2013/2014 (on my own, I'm fairly slow).

I've undergone quite a few changes since that first version. I went through four real life jobs, was laid off twice, head-hunted once, walked out of a job during my probationary period once, studied "Personal Development" type courses, from energy work to hypnosis. Changed direction a few times, blundering along the path that still always means writing. Regardless of all other shenanigans, I'm writing, thinking about writing, developing as a writer, and, hopefully, as a human being.

When I began writing Scorpion, we'd just moved into our house. As I write this, we've lived here for 4 years, re-vamped the garden, but overall not changed a lot. There's a sense of history for me between those books. Ideally, the reader won't notice the years that came in between. On my trophy shelf, however, where I keep my print author copies in order of appearance, there are several books between the parts of the Memory of Scorpions series: Capture & Surrender, Unhinge the Universe, the Country Mouse collection, the Japanese version of Skybound (all between MoS #1 and MoS #2), and If It Drives, Hostile Ground and Return on Investment (between MoS #2 and MoS #3). That's seven books in between - just showing how slow I am, really.

But considering that the ending of book 3 leaves a lot of room for future adventures, am I really done with the world? 

Not quite. That is, the Kendras trilogy is currently done. I might eventually return to the Scorpions and write about their adventures again, but I think I've left them in a good place. Feel free to make up your own version about what happens next.

There are a couple things that intrigue me about that world - a great deal, actually. I do want to write a novella about Widow's origins (how he fell in love with the Lady Protector, essentially - avoiding spoilers here), I want to write about how Adrastes joined the Scorpions (which is very different from how Kendras did it), and I'm intrigued in a can't-look-away kind of way y how the Scorpions started - or Veras An Timresh's last stand against the Westlander invasion at Gorge Point. I think I'm looking at a novella each at least, if not more. Then I know stuff about Selvan I wouldn't ind sharing, but that can be part of Adrastes's story. So, yeah, those might happen. I really hope they do - I love the characters, even if some of them are villains.

In the meanwhile, I really hope you enjoy the third book - and feel free to follow me on the blog tour and ask questions. I'll do my best to answer. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Assorted October news

I think I'll soon launch back into writing (maybe today, though the evening is taken over by my Queer Book Club) - the reservoir is filling up, and the thought of writing doesn't cause reluctance or disgust (yeah, it was that bad, and gods know why).

Then I'm part of a charity bundle called Another Place in Time, which brings together some of the finest historical m/m writers. You can get it here. All profits go towards, which champions LGBTQ rights globally. My contribution is the short story Deliverance, liberated from Noble Romance a while back and re-edited. You can find a more specific blog post about it all here. I will release Deliverance on its own likely in April 2015.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Working on the Birds book

I'm back working on the Birds book, my historical set in France under the Occupation - I'm currently ploughing through my research library I've amassed a while back. The good thing about that is that I'm snapping up small details and ideas for another book that I haven't touched in 5 years. So yesterday I finally cracked the character arch of one of the main characters. He needed some level of redemption, and just beating him down and giving him dignity in defeat wasn't enough. He needs to break out of his shell, which will be a hundred times harder. I'm getting quite excited again about that book now.

I'm currently working through books at a rate of one every two days (historical non-fiction tends towards long books), and making notes. I don't quite have enough yet to continue on the Birds books - the year 1943 is currently a bit of a black hole for me, and I need ways to fill it. Once I hit about March 1944, I'll be back on safe ground, so that's what I'm currently focusing on.

The trick might be to write out of order - I do have some events I want to put in and I have an idea how they'll affect my characters, and I can always rewrite everything. In other words, I could use brackets and just fast-forward to where I get my feet back under me in the book.

Other than that, I'm well behind on everything in real life. I hope to catch up eventually, but my inbox is completely out of control. I'm the worst correspondent ever.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Back in the fray

The most writerly things I've done over the last week were: I wrote blog posts for the blog tour of a Taste for Poison, the third book in the Memory of Scorpions series. I've also followed the comments on the Counterpunch/Belonging tour. I've checked edits on a long book and sent it back to the editor. And I'm currently outlining the historical novel I abandoned out of fear/anxiety/nervousness and that I want to finish before the year's up.

I'm still no further with the translation of that short story, and I've not been great at putting new words on paper. I do hope to wrap the outline today, though, do that's some progress.

Health-wise, I've decided to make health/wellbeing a priority while working as a full-time writer. The previous weekend clued me in on a health issue I've been having for apparently way too many years, and that's a dopamine-related hormonal imbalance. I'm not even trying the NHS with that; when I went to the GP with my low thyroid function, they told me I'm "low, but within acceptable limits" (piling on the weight despite a fairly sensitive diet being apparently "completely acceptable"). So I'm not even going to try with the dopamine issue. Instead, I've changed my diet slightly and have started supplementing a dopamine precursor (L-tyrozine). I'm not sure whether it's supposed to work that quickly, but mood and motivation and energy are up. Also, all cravings for "nasty carbs", sweets, sugar and chocolate are gone. So I've been sugar/snacking/sweets-free since boosting my dopamine levels. Interestingly enough, L-tyrozine also supports the thyroid, so I might have found that magic key to several, subtle issues. I'll let you know how it goes. (Also, L-tyrozine is nothing secret or special - it's an over-the-counter amino acid.)

To give my body a chance to shed the weight and fix itself, I've also started intermittent fasting, fairly commonly known as the 5:2 diet (you go extremely low calorie on two days of the week, and eat normally on 5). I can't cope with being hungry, so I'm going with the 16:8 model, which appeals much more to me. It means I fast for 16 hrs every day and eat "normal" for 8. Apparently there's an even more hardcore version that goes 20:4, but I'm not ready for that (I can possibly switch to 18:6, which feels very doable). I'm not hungry, provided I eat something with lots of protein as my last meal before the fasting period. So that's cool. I'm starting to observe some changes, but whether that's due to only eating home-made food, the lack of snacking, or possibly a more active thyroid (I have no way of knowing), I couldn't say. I'm making sure I drink plenty and stay hydrated. I'm not in starvation mode (which apparently only kicks after 30-60hrs of no food), though it takes me a bit longer to get going in the morning without my coffee.

The science behind intermittent fasting is pretty impressive - the idea being that the body goes into ketonic (fat-burning) state after 12 hrs of fasting. You end up spending 4 hrs a day eating into your fat reserves. It's only a few hundred fat calories per day, but it adds up.

I've tried it all - calorie counting, exercise, Weight Watchers, every powder and shake and bar. Intermittent fasting is cheap, natural and easy. No expensive artificial supplements drenched in artificial sweeteners that make you hungry after an hour. It appeals to me on every level. It's also something you can do when you're meeting friends or living with a non-dieter. I'm just shifting the end point of the fast to the shared dinner.

Lastly, there's chatter in writing circles about how the "blog is dead, long live Twitter/Instagram/Facebook". Some writers are shutting down their blogs or stop blogging. I agree that the blog is no longer a "must-have", but I consider it a "nice to have". First of all, I mistrust Facebook tremendously - I'm not going to post my thoughts there only to be shut down once Zuckerberg's algos realise it's not my "real" name. Secondly, sometimes I have thoughts and updates that don't fit into 140 characters. The blog for me is "thinking out loud", and it's on a platform I might not control (Blogger can shut me down), but which I feel much more confident that I won't get screwed like it's happening to people on Facebook. And I love Twitter, but you can't develop a very detailed thought in the format.

So, for the time being, I'm going to keep the blog. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014


Over the last four days, I've acquired a qualification in hypnosis (accredited and all). It's a four-day weekend, full-on course where you put people in a trance pretty much after 3 hours on the course. I've learned quite a bit about myself (one: still lots of garbage left over from my childhood that I should work with to release some stuff I no longer need - but that's no surprise).

I've done some beautiful work with some of my partners on the exercises. Found a woman who's also into power animals/shamanism and we shared one (Eagle, though my primary is Raccoon and hers was Bear), so we tranced each other on a shamanic journey. It was lovely hanging out with Raccoon again  -we were on a beach, playing with a red plastic ball. The trance was about expansion and empowerment, which seemed somewhat incongruous, but we rolled with it. I was aware of people watching, but, to be honest, I had too much fun just playing with Raccoon and the plastic ball. At some point, he gives me the ball (it even had teeth marks).

Afterwards, we talk in the group about colours in trance. And apparently "red" means "power". Cool. On the way to the course that day, I'm standing on a full tube train, and a guy with headphones stands next to me. And what's the one line I pick up through his headphones? That's right: Snap's "I've Got The Power!"

So that was me for the rest of that day:

But even the other stuff ended up being significant. While my partner tranced me about empowerment/expansion/growth, Raccoon was all about "Let's just have fun". And it became abundantly clear that that's my path. Empowerment/expansion will come as a side-line if I play and do what I enjoy and focus on it. It's a no-brainer when you write it down like that. (Though apparently it'll come with some teeth marks, LOL).

A French guy tranced me about the birds book (which is set in France), and it was beautiful, thinking of my books as trees that sometimes rest and then grow again. He took me down a path with all my books as beautiful trees and I loved that. (I don't remember much more than that, I was way, way down.)

I did the "authoritarian" (Estabrooks) trance with two other people who are really awful at accepting authority (two of whom from countries with recent fascist/totalitarian pasts, go figure). That was the most polite, "GO, SLEEP NOW! DEEPER" you could imagine.

And yes, we did several different kinds of trance, from the very common Erickson to Estabrooks to Elman. All slightly different in approach. The one I like best is half Erickson and half whatever I think the client will respond to best. But pretty much all of my favourite inductions (the part where you put somebody in a trance in the first place) are based on touch. Big surprise - I'm overall very touchy-feely anyway.

I helped one girl release a lot of stuff (there's a huge sense of responsibility when you make somebody cry - or very nearly cry) - going from smiling and laughing to sobbing in five or ten minutes is ... interesting. I ended up crying like a dog in one of the group trances. I always do when that trainer does that particular trance. It's very healing, but I'll be the one with tears running down my face for twenty minutes.

One thing that is apparently becoming my "style" is to go very specific about the environment I put people. The teacher says "content-free" is best, but that's very generic stuff that the other person's subconsciousness just colours in. I go pretty specific and describe actual impressions. Say, "content-free" is when they send you to "your favourite place", whereas I would put people in a specific environment - a meadow, a forest, a beach, describing flowers and light and sun/stars/moon. It seemed like the right thing to do - but then, I knew the people I was trancing and tailored the environment/impressions to them and they seemed to enjoy it (saying the imagery was "beautiful"). Because, let's face it, I'm a writer - staying "generic" would be "bad writing" in prose. It's a mindset/and decades-old training that's taking over as you improvise a trance on the fly. (No scripts - urgh.)

But I'll see if I can keep it more content-free with people I know less well. In any case, I'm looking forward to trancing writers/artists. The results should be amazing with people who are so good at visualisation. But I'm looking forward to trancing just about everybody. It's play time.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Fundraiser to support trans* dramedy show "Myrna" (plus free books)

I'm currently in day three of four of my hypnosis course and it's really good fun, so I'm a bit scarce around the intarwebs. But I am resurfacing there for a moment to draw your kind attention to this fundraiser: The producers of the trans*-themed show MYRNA are seeking funding for post production.

Lots of details here.

And if that great cause weren't motivation enough to donate, LA Witt is doing a massive giveaway for books and stuff here, including a giveaway for a Kindle Fire pre-loaded with all her books (which is about a million books - but at the very least about 75-80). So a new tablet plus enough stuff to read for MONTHS.


I'm happy to offer the following rewards if you want to donate:

- an electronic copy of "Return on Investment" for a donation of $5 or more to MYRNA (just send the receipt of the donation to vashtan @ gmail com with your preferred format). Amount of rewards available: unlimited. (You don't save much money, but you do get a free book.)

- I'll dedicate an upcoming story to you for $50. Amount available: 10. (It'll take me a while to write that many, so please be patient.) In addition, I'll send you an electronic copy of "your" story. Length varies from short story to novel - will be first come, first served.

- Lori and I will write a story for you. We'll keep copyright - meaning, we still own it and can sell/publish it, but you get to be involved in the planning of it and will have it dedicated to you, with a thank-you note explaining how it came to be. This is great if you want a specific type of story, or specific characters, or a specific type of kink/setting/genre. We'll do our best to make it work. This is with the caveat that Lori doesn't do rape scenarios, and we both absolutely don't do bestiality or bodily waste products in any sexy kind of context.

A custom-made short story of up to about 7,000 words goes for $250. A novella (10-30k at least, but might be longer) goes for $1,000. Short stories available: 3. Novellas available: 1. Bear in mind we do need to own the copyright of the characters (that is, no fanfiction, and for all Special Forces lovers, no characters that I didn't create, so Dan/Hooch are right out, I'm sorry.) And we'll do our best to deliver all of these before the year is up.

Let's make this work. :)

Thank you very kindly for your attention and support. :)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


I'm way behind on a great many things, so if you've sent me an email, my response might take a while as I get back into the groove of things. I didn't manage to do anything over those last two months, so no writing, barely any editing, and very little other stuff (like emails, mailing packages or even doing my taxes).

I'll have a guest over from today to Sunday and a four-day whole-day seminar from Friday to Monday, so I don't expect to be able to do anything else. (On the positive side, I'll learn hypnosis.)

Normal service should resume on 16 September. I'll wrap up three small projects by end-September, and then I'll aim at writing 10,000 words per week from 1 October onwards, or 40,000 words per month.

It's on the low side of what friends of mine are getting accomplished, but I'm making allowances for writing several historicals. They just take longer because of the research involved, and it'll take me several days to work out where I was going with them, anyway.

I can always up the wordcount - I fully expect to beat it.

At that rate, I should be able to write a novel every two months, which tallies with the goal of writing three solo novels per year plus two co-written novels, plus assorted small stuff (shorts and novellas). I'm not too worried about ideas - right now, I have about 30 projects I want to write, and I'm spawning another one about every week.

The biggest challenge will be to move my "creative time" into the day from the evening/night. I do like the guy I'm living with, so it'll be nice to spend more time with him without feeling guilty about writing.

I'll give this a go for a year or two and see how the market/industry develops. I might make myself available for temp/project contracts in corporate editing if the money's spectacular (and it usually is), but never again return to journalism - that chapter is closed.

I'm definitely feeling much better than I have in two months.

Friday, 5 September 2014


As of today, I've resigned from the day job. I lasted pretty much exactly 2 months, so quitting while still in the probationary period, which means I'm out in a week (3 days, because I have a couple holiday days). I was semi-hoping I could last long enough to get another full paycheque out of it, but I ended up deciding that the latest thing I had to deal with wasn't worth the aggravation. Also, it's been 2+ months since I've written any meaningful amounts.

I call it Project Freelancer 2.0. I have it on some authority that "going freelance" often takes several attempts. Hopefully this one sticks. But the main thing I've learned from the whole experience is that I wasn't kidding when I said I don't want to go back to journalism. It's so not me it's not even funny (ie, it's actually excruciating).

So the target is to write 3 solo novels a year, plus 2 co-written ones. It's a schedule that'll keep me honest and engaged, but still allows for as much research as I want/need. I may look at some corporate/temp work down the line, but not this year. The job market is thawing, but I have two novels that are more urgent than any need for immediate cash.

Bear with me. Regularly scheduled service will resume once I've shaken the Kool-Aid from my ears.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Well, I lasted two months

Some people were asking how I'm doing with the new job and all.

I have two songs that answer that question:

So, yeah, I won't last the month. Now that that's decided, maybe my stress level goes back to a point where I can write again. Right now, I'm too stressed and tired after that 9-hr day plus 2.5 hrs of commute.

Next time I tell people I'll never go back to journalism, I won't even be swayed by a "brilliant opportunity" or a decent-sized pay cheque.

In even more positive news - here's an interview about the biligualness of it all. :) 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Four-Day weekend

I've taken today off to get a four-day weekend - mostly, I'm catching up with work. In the last few days, I've wrapped up the line edits for Counterpunch, and Lori and I sorted the line edits of No Place That Far.

Just a few minutes ago, I pressed "publish" on the print version of Return on Investment, so this is kinda happy print version release. It hasn't come through on Amazon yet, but here's the Createspace link.  The process took a bit longer than I liked, mostly because I had to wait for the proof copy to make sure the book produces all right. And, I'm happy to report, it does. Once Amazon gets the data from Createspace, I'll let you know.

After sorting out the edits, I need to finish off my tax preparation. This year, I don't want to scramble madly through paperwork like last year. And my accountant is already sending me reminders.

And once these are all done and dusted, I'm a bit at loose ends. I'm hoping to wrap my short stories and then dive back into my WWII novel. The idea is to finish that by year end.

But yay, I get to delete a line on my spreadsheet. Return on Investment is 100% done and out there.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Too busy for my own good

There's line edits for three novels on my desk now - each one's urgent. (So yeah, why the hell am I blogging?)

I'm hoping to wrap Counterpunch tomorrow - it's only 53k (2k less than the last version), and the most urgent. Then there's Lone Wolf, which has about a thousand comments on it and clocks in at nearly 100k, and No Place That Far, which has 63k. Just thinking of how much time and concentration it takes to polish them up makes me slightly nauseous. I cancelled on a BBQ on the weekend so I get three uninterrupted days of work to do as much as I can. It might not be enough, but I'll try. (I wasn't keen on the BBQ anyway, so it's also a convenient escape from what will be geeky roleplayers and lots of alcohol.)

That's the remaining books until January 2015, and after that, things slow down massively, which is just as well. I don't really have time for editing, so it's probably only fitting I have no time/headspace/focus to write, since writing leads to editing, and any project just gives me a double whammy of stress and anxiety.

Emotionally, I'm low. I've written a number of whiny blog posts, and ended up deleting 70% of what I've written. Nothing I say will change a thing. In some ways, that's the saddest thing of all; writers must believe that words have power. Nothing feels sadder and lower and more powerless than silence.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Return on Investment - Update

It's literally that - I've just uploaded Return on Investment to Amazon and the file has already updated. No big changes - the cover should be a bit sharper now on the high-resolution devices, and we applied a minor fix to the cover page. The text itself stayed the same.

On that note, I've moved one large step closer to releasing the book in print. My layouter was extremely busy (likely still is), so it took a while for the print interior to be done. I uploaded the file yesterday and ordered a print proof copy to actually get a sample what the print book will look like. I expect it to arrive on Wednesday - if it's all good, I'll have to fill in some legal and financial stuff and I'll then publish the book, at which point it should become available. So, end-August/early September for a release date.

I'm also currently working on the line edits for Counterpunch, trying to cut down on some word repetitions, and I expect it to be done today, mostly because I have no other choice. I won't have time or energy during the week.

I'm trying to shake what's increasingly feeling like writer's block, but meanwhile I'm slammed with edits on two novels. I can't write much more about that blocked state without coming across as whining, and in the grand scheme of things, a blocked writer might be pretty pitiful, but it'll eventually lift and I'll go back to writing.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Adventures in self-publishing, 1 month later

I've self-published Return on Investment just over a month ago on 12 July, because it's not a romance (though it does have a love plot) and because the alternative would have been to finally give up on the book after it had already languished in a drawer for about six years. Since I will be writing more books like this - books outside the strict m/m romance category but distinctly gay, at times sexy, and with a love subplot - it seemed like a good idea to give self-publishing a try.

(Since then, I've been accused of basically feeling "too good for romance", and me saying "this is not a typical romance" as a cynical marketing ploy.

To that I can only say, I can only write the books I feel, and I don't always feel romances. When I do, I write them. It's basic author mental health - you can only write well what you feel. If I feel like sci-fi or fantasy or hetero books, I'll write them. Life's too short to write other people's books, and writing a book is too much work to undertake it for any other reason than because you gotta - at least that's my take on it. 

On the second point, I really wanted to make absolutely clear that Return on Investment is not a typical m/m romance so people who buy it hoping for a romance won't get disappointed. That's the problem when a lot of your work has been in a category - there will be readers who blindly pick up your next title, hoping for more of the same, and I've spent a significant amount of time and energy trying to explain that I don't write the same category or tone or thing over and over. There's no consistency. I frankly don't know what I'll write tomorrow. And I rather lose a few dollars than have justifiably pissed-off readers hunt me at conventions with pitchforks - not that my readers would, but you get the idea. 

It has nothing to do with marketing - actually I didn't do any marketing, having just started full-time day job again, and with my head elsewhere. Return on Investment emphatically is a book I published because the alternative would have been to take it behind a shed and shoot it there and put it out of its misery, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. That's all there is to it. I'm not James Bond villain who spends his days plotting how I can screw my readers. I'm a guy haunted by books and trying to share the decent to good ones to the best of my ability.)

Anyway, numbers. 

It's a full month now, and I have an update on numbers. This will get a bit less frequent now, as I'm planning to do another update after a quarter, 6 months and a year, and, if I remember, 3 and 5 years from launch. All of this is is a fact-finding, fact-sharing exercise, based on my theory that more information about sales is a good thing - and because there seem to be people out there who believe I'm one of those lucky souls who shifts millions of copies. I'm not and I don't. The good news is: I don't have to.)

So, book launched on 12 July, so I'm pulling data up to 11 August. (I launched the book in the UK afternoon, so it's not exact.)

For that 31-day period, the numbers are:

24 copies refunded
356 net copies sold (royalties: $4.11)
266 copies "loaned" (royalties: ~$2) via KU/KOLL

Money-wise, it has recovered its costs of $500-600 and I'm well on the way to getting enough money from this release to fund the next one - which I expect to cost $1,500ish, as I'll be hiring my favourite editor.

The country breakdown is:

US: 223
UK: 73
Germany: 33
Canada: 9
France: 6
Italy: 5
Spain: 2
Mexiko: 2
Brazil: 1
Japan: 1
Australia: 1

US: 223
Europe, without UK: 46
Europe, with UK: 119
Rest of World (RoW): 14

Predictably, Germany is the biggest market for me in Continental Europe. The US globally by a huge margin, but I'm quite heartened that, together with the UK, it's about 60% of the US sales. It does confirm my suspicion that I have a strong base in Europe overall, possibly because of the more European flavour, which is based on what countries and mentalities I know reasonably well and can write about with some authority. 

In terms of UK sales, ROI has occupied the #1 Financial Thriller bestseller spot for about 3 weeks out of 4 (possibly more, I didn't track it exactly) in the UK Amazon shop, holding its own against an Amazon-published title and a whole raft of much cheaper titles of decent length. That shows Financial Thrillers in the UK is a tiny category where few sales (=> 73 in that month) can get you to the top spot. I found that pretty fascinating. I'm also not convinced I sold more than a few copies to thriller readers, though I gratefully noted that lots of people with financial backgrounds of some description who also read romances seem to have enjoyed it.

It's important to note that 60 of those 358 copies were sold on launch date. As predicted, I'm currently selling 5-10 copies a day, but there's a slight downwards trend. There are days when I only sell 2 copies. If Return on Investment performs as other books of mine, it'll keep going at that level for a few more weeks, and then taper off to maybe a copy a day or less - the good news is that those sales are possibly forever, or "money nobody has to work for anymore". Long tail. It's all long tail for me. One copy a day is still about $120/month for me, minus fees and taxes. Every little helps to push the mortgage down or fund some travelling.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Zero productivity

I've been back in an office for weeks now, and it's pretty clear that writing isn't happening. Everything else has slowed to a crawl as well. Edits I would have turned around in a couple days now take weeks. I'm doing a bit of research (aka, reading on my commute), but otherwise not a great deal is happening towards getting something finished. Wrapping those two short stories by month end didn't happen; the "easy victory" doctrine has failed in that regard - instead of scoring an easy victory as a morale booster, I got myself mired in research and rewriting.

I'm hoping I'll finish them this month, then produce them during September.

Meanwhile, my intrepid layouter is working on the print version of Return on Investment, so that should get published this month. I'm also toying with the idea of translations and an audio version, depending on sales/profits. That's the nice thing about self-publishing - I can push for my own translations/print versions/audios instead of hoping that some publisher is willing to burn money for the benefit of a midlister.

If the translation stuff works out, I'll be pushing to get my translation rights for my whole backlist over time, but that's going to take many, many years. The big challenge is low sales - paying somebody a decent amount of money for the translation and the edits of that translation costs about as much as I'd expect a book to make in a year. So I'm starting very small.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Adventures in self-publishing, day 20

I bring a few numbers after 20 days of selling Return on Investment - nothing terribly unexpected here, but I thought it might be interesting.

While people kept 275 copies, 22 people refunded - a refund rate of 7% is pretty much standard, so, nothing exciting here.

Sales vs Loans:
298 sales (out of which some were refunds) contrast with 158 loans via Kindle Unlimited/Lending Library - so 65% sales versus 35% loans.

Geographic breakdown:
US: 65%
UK: 20%
Germany: 10%
Italy: 3%
Rest of World (RoW): 2% (Canada, Mexiko, Brazil, Australia, Spain)

So Europe is about 35% of my sales, which I found interesting. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The 1999 short story

I'm finding it hard to adjust to a full-time job - above all, and with the heat and non-air conditioned office, I'm exhausted when I come home. And it's not easy to be in an office with other people, either. The team is perfectly lovely, and the geek, military and history quotient is high, but I'm not used to being around around people for 9hrs a day, plus 2hrs of commute on packed London trains.

Anyway. Cleaned the library, put up the massage table and got everything ready for my "body" to  show up - researched diabetes and massage (diabetes being a contra-indication, so did some research what to keep in mind to keep my client safe) and chiseling away at that short story I wrote in 1999. I've already lined up a cover artist and an editor, but it'll need work before I can even think of putting it into production.

There's a scene that's a flashback to Afghanistan and it's pretty clear I wrote this without having the foggiest about either the Red Army or Afghanistan, so I corralled all my research books I bought for Special Forces back in the days and am doing some reading. (So much for lining up an "easy victory" to boost my motivation - I don't think this will be quite as fast as I'd hoped.) All for a scene that's less than 250 words. I don't want to cut it, so I must get this just right, but for that, I need to know. So yeah, I'm the kind of writer who reads five books to get one scene right. What a colossally inefficient way to work. My German DNA is shriveling in disgust.

So, yeah, that's what I'm doing. Research the hell out of Afghanistan/Red Army, and try to fix that story by doing a simultaneous re-write/translation. It's fascinating to see how far I've come in the last 15 years. I'm definitely less clunky these days - more controlled and measured overall. Also less given to melodrama and cliche. I know some people think I'm a "cold" writer (somebody even called me "robotic") and somebody told me I'm "very proficient craft-wise, but soul-less", and that's fine. I'm aiming for understatement generally, which is not everybody's cuppa, and if there's one thing I've learned from painting is that the absence of something is just as powerful (if not more so) than its presence. Some people prefer for everything to be on the page, but having everything spelled out bored me witless as a reader.

It appears editing that story is almost like writing it from scratch, which wasn't what I intended, but oh well. It's still worthwhile to resurrect an old story I've always loved and thus excavate another piece of my creative past.

Also, Return on Investment has sold almost 250 copies at this stage. Sell-through rate is way down to about 8-10 per day, but that's as expected. I'll use some of those profits to acquire some copyrights and finance editing and covers of other books, so thanks everybody for buying a copy - you're helping me keep this going.