Monday, September 1, 2014

Good News and Other News


It has rained off and on for the last week in Tokyo, and I feel so much better for it. The summer heat has, for the most part, dissipated, though the screaming cicadas don’t seem to notice. Oh well, their time is almost up anyway.
 
Just dropping in some bits of personal news, both good and... not-so-good, though I won’t go as far as to say “bad.”
 
Let’s see... September 1st is the day the Kindle Book Review announces its category finalists for their 2014 Best KindleBook Awards contest. I’m sorry to report that no, Wild-born didn’t make the list two years running. 
 
 
 
Though I’ll admit that I’m disappointed, it’s not all that bad, really: I can still keep the badge from the 2013 contest, and I look forward to reading some of the winning titles on the 2014 list.
 
Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that I’ve finalized my contract with Popcorn Press for the creation of the Psionic Pentalogy chapter setting to be included in Lester Smith’s D6XD6 game book, to be published later this year. My only current worry is that the chapter settings are limited to 2500 words including a sample adventure, and that doesn’t sound like very many words to me. But I’m sure it’ll be fun to write, and perhaps working within the confines of a small word count will help me further refine my writing.
 
And one more piece of good news: I recently got my second acceptance from Bookbub for promoting my permafree Wild-born.
 
At the present, Bookbub is arguably the hardest promotion to get, and hands down the most effective. A single Bookbub ad can easily net 20 times the number of downloads on a freebie than other promotional sites, but their selection process is highly... selective.
 

Many writers have to apply multiple times before their books are accepted, and I was no different in this regard: I was rejected repeatedly during 2013, and I only landed my first Bookbub placement on March 18th of this year. It took a fair number of good reviews as well as my new custom-made book covers to convince Bookbub to take a chance with me, and thanks to their ad, my book sales picked up very nicely over the next two months as readers worked their way through my series.
 
But Bookbub will only feature the same book once every six months. My first ad with them was on March 18th, so I was counting the days to September 18th when Wild-born would be eligible again. Getting restless, I applied a few days ago, asking Bookbub to put my ad any-when they liked after the 18th.
 
But the thing about Bookbub is that having a book accepted once is no guarantee that they’ll take it again. I had been bracing for the rejection email, which, in accordance with their reapplication policy, would mean I’d have to wait another four weeks before trying again. But lo and behold! I was accepted on my first try this time.
 
The new ad is scheduled to be included in Bookbub’s September 26th email, which is only one week over their once-every-six-months policy. For this I count myself exceptionally lucky, as this puts my book right at the start of the winter reading season.
 
Between Bookbub and the cross-promotional effects of Lester Smith’s upcoming game book, I have a feeling my works will reach a fair number of new readers. Of course, in my world, a “fair number” is whatever number I get. Though sales have picked up this year compared to last, I’ve yet to confirm 1000 sales on Guardian Angel, meaning that perhaps fewer than 1000 people have read through my entire series. But I’m getting pretty close to that number now, so hopefully sometime this year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Returning to Japan


Just got back to Tokyo yesterday. Wow, what a week!
 
Through some connections at the English school where I used to teach, I was asked to accompany a medical doctor and his wife to the UK as a Japanese-English translator. The doctor wished to visit several important locations in and around Belfast and London to do research on... well, I’m not sure it’s okay for me to talk about that on the internet before the doctor writes and releases his own research paper. But without going into details about his work, I can say that our trip included a visit to the Ulster Museum in Belfast, the Armagh Observatory, the British Museum and Natural HistoryMuseum in London, and Stonehenge. Additionally, in our free time we visited a number of art museums and tourist spots.
 
Talk about a dream job!
 
Hour-wise, I only worked about two days worth. For this, I was paid the equivalent of 150USD a day for eight days, and all travel expenses fully paid, including some very nice restaurants and four-star hotels, and even a chauffeured Mercedes for our day-trip to Stonehenge.
 
The airplane seats were economy, but I’m used to that. In fact, the economy-class seats were the only part of this trip that felt normal for me. Everything else was a dream. This was my very first trip to the UK, and it was everything I imagined and much, much more. I wasn’t exactly culture-shocked, but there were some things that took a little getting used to, such as the self-service cash registers.
 
A couple of random pictures I took:
 
Something was wrong with the display on the flight in, but I didn’t call the flight attendant over it.
 

The first day was a near-full day of translation at the Armagh Observatory. Though I had a number of shorter translation jobs throughout the trip, my work at this observatory was the primary reason I was asked to go on this trip, so despite my jetlag, I gave it my very best efforts. My employers later assured me that they were happy with my performance, which greatly eased my mind considering how much they paid to have me here.
 
 
Later, in London and off-duty, I finally got to see this one up close.


And this one too.


And Stonehenge. Still can’t believe I got paid to come here.


Or to see this. Wait, is that me in the reflection?


Never mind the lions. What’s with this chicken in Trafalgar Square? One mystery I never solved.

 
The weather was apparently warm by UK standards for this season, but a couple of notches down from Tokyo’s temperature, which was a most welcome respite. On our last day in London, I had a full day off and was free to explore at my leisure. And that was the first day of the Prudential RideLondon event that turned the whole of the city into a massive cycling course.

 Wish I had brought my recumbent...

 
And then, the next day, after 11 straight hours jammed into another economy seat, the hot, humid blast of air on my face at Narita International Airport reminded me that summer in Japan is far from over.
 
I will truly miss the UK. The people are friendly, the cities and towns as clean and safe as any human-populated place can get, the country scenery and cityscapes truly breathtaking.
 
But in the end, Dorothy was right. There really is no place like it. As long as I have air-conditioning.
 
I’m also very happy to finally report some slightly older news: My plane didn’t have WiFi capabilities so unfortuntately I couldn’t join Lester Smith’s kickstarter countdown party, but nevertheless the project ended with an amazing 11,456USD in pledges for the creation of Lester’s D6XD6 CORE RPG game book. I am now in the process of working with Lester to set up the chapter setting of my Psionic Pentalogy to be included in this project. More about that in weeks to come.
 
...
 
And finally, on a much sadder note, I read today that one of my all-time favorite actors, Robin Williams, died in an apparent suicide. There’s not one performance of his in drama or comedy that I didn’t love. I could write a separate and very long blog post just about Robin Williams, but the internet is churning today with people doing just that, and I believe everything that needs to be said is being said, so I will keep it short. His passing is a painful reminder of how deep the trenches of depression can run. I can only wish him peace and his family the strength to overcome.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Counting Down (from 30,000 feet)



It’s hard to believe that it has already been 26 days since Lester Smith’s Kickstarter began, but here we are on the last 24 hours to the project deadline. I was somewhat skeptical about the goals when this project started, but I’ve got to hand it to him. The total amount of pledges was pretty much exactly what his original projection prophesized: 10,000 dollars in 26 days. At the time of this writing, it’s at $9301, but I’m pretty confident it’ll break the 10K milestone before the deadline, and hopefully hit a few more milestones beyond that.

And so I’m tickled pink to prematurely announce that my Psionic Pentalogy world will be joining many other talented authors’ worlds in this D6 game book which will be released sometime later this year. (As to the milestones that unfortunately won’t be reached by tomorrow’s deadline, it appears that many or all of these worlds will still be released as separate packages at a later time.)

This was my first time to watch a Kickstarter campaign run, and one of the things that really caught my attention was the geographical locations of the backers. Not all participants reveal their locations, and the majority of those that do are in the USA, but pledges have come from just about everywhere, from Chile to Slovakia to Taiwan and everywhere in between and not in between. The list even shows at least one backer right here in Tokyo (besides myself).

And with the funding campaign drawing to a close, I look forward to the next step of this journey: writing up my world for the game book and awaiting its publication.

Will Lester’s book look something like this?
 

Probably much better, actually, especially the hardbound version.
 
Normally, I would wait until AFTER the project ended and the final numbers were in before posting this victory dance, but I won’t be able to post anything on this blog immediately after tomorrow’s deadline because I’m currently on another almost-as-exciting countdown...
 
I am now also less than 24 hours away from a flight to the UK: my very first trip to Belfast and London.
 
Last-minute summer plans have me working one week as a traveling translator for a small team of Japanese researchers who want to visit a number of locations in the UK. Among our scheduled stops is a place I’ve always dreamed of going: Stonehenge.
 
More about this trip when I return. Back to the Kickstarter project.
 
Lester Smith has announced that he will be hosting an online countdown party on Google Hangouts from 2 hours before his Kickstarter deadline. Though I’ll be westbound in Russian airspace, belted to a middle seat in an aged jumbo’s economy cabin, I’m still hoping to join in the text chat if I can somehow establish an internet connection.
 
And once I’m back in Japan, I hope to work out the details of my contribution to the Core RPG world settings with Lester and his team.
 
So again, a big thank you to Lester Smith and Popcorn Press for including this still largely unknown author in this project!
 
See you at the party tomorrow... very hopefully.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Limited Kindle Unlimited

Amazon recently announced their Kindle Unlimited program, in which US customers can read an unlimited number of books on Kindle for a flat $10-per-month fee. This is basically the same system as Scribd’s online library system. Authors whose books are read by Kindle Unlimited users are paid from Amazon’s global fund, much like it was with the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (which allows 2 free reads a month and is still available for all non-US locations).

For voracious readers, Kindle Unlimited will be... well, feel free to fill in the blank with something very nice. And this is potentially good for indie writers too, because by allowing readers to read books at a monthly rate instead of making purchases, largely unknown writers (such as me) would get more readers willing to try out their books, which could lead to greater visibility and much better sales.

There’s a catch, however: For books to be included in Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, they must be titles exclusive to the Amazon store. This is where Kindle Unlimited differs from Scribd, which does not require exclusivity to join.

This means that if I wanted to enroll my books in this program, I would have to pull out of all other sales channels first. Of course, this is exactly what Amazon wants: to utterly dominate the book market even more than they do now. But if I were to pull my books from other stores, readers who are currently in the middle of my series would suddenly be unable to get the rest of my books without switching platforms to Amazon. Again, this is what Amazon wants.

And the current reality is that Amazon already dominates the ebook market. From a royalties perspective, I make far more from Amazon sales than I do from all my other sales channels combined. Thus, pulling out of other stores and going all-in with Amazon could be a very profitable move for me too. Yes, Amazon and I could be very good buddies in this program.

Alas, sorry, but no. At least for the present time, my books won’t be a part of this deliberately limited program. Few though they may be, as long as I have people buying my books on other reading devices, I feel it would be an insult to my readers to coerce them into a different sales channel.

I am absolutely grateful to Amazon for its KDP program, which has allowed me to directly reach my readers in a way that was impossible during the not-so-long-ago days of traditional publishing. Nevertheless, I don’t owe Amazon any favors, and they’ve never done me any. We are not buddies. It’s a business relationship, nothing more.

Someday, if Amazon really does succeed in taking total control of the ebook market to the point were I’m not making any sales on other stores, then that’s when I’ll join.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Concerning LinkedIn Invites

Recently, I’m getting a number of invitations from members of LinkedIn. If it was just random email spam, I’d ignore it, but I’m pretty sure that the people who are sending me these invitations are my readers.

So... 


 
* A General Apology to People Sending Me LinkedIn Invites *

I’m very sorry to ignore your invites, but I’m not actually on LinkedIn. In fact, I’m not even sure exactly what LinkedIn is. So please don’t take me ignoring these invites personally. I’m not even on Facebook or Twitter at the moment. Thanks again for your consideration, though.

If you want to contact me directly, just send me an email at adrianhowellbooks@gmail.com.

I absolutely always love hearing from my readers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

CORE RPG Kickstarter Project Begins


Back in February, I was contacted by Lester Smith, a writer and game designer wanting to put together a D6 game book featuring worlds from a variety of fiction writers, including (to my great surprise) me. I happily agreed to join the fun, and over the months I watched his website bulge from the many writers’ worlds that also joined this project.
 
Now, finally, Lester Smith’s CORE RPG Kickstarter project has begun!
 
Naturally very excited about this:
 

 
 
Now, I am not very familiar with the Kickstarter system, but as I understand it, Lester’s campaign has 26 days to garner as much in pledges as possible, and the size of the final product will depend on how much is raised. With each stretch goal of $2500 reached, an extra set of worlds will be added to the game book. My Psionic Pentalogy world is listed in the Urban Fantasy Pack, which is four stretch goals in at $10,000.
 
That’s a lot of money.
 
Or is it?
 
I’ve never actually seen a Kickstarter campaign run before, so I honestly don’t know what to expect. Can a $10,000 stretch goal really be reached? Or perhaps that’s just par for the course. There appear to be more stretch goals beyond the $10,000 mark, and I doubt Lester would have set these goals if he didn’t believe them theoretically reachable.
 
I would, of course, love to see my world included in Lester’s game book, but beyond that, I would love even more to see as many worlds included as possible, meaning stretch goals reached above and beyond the fifth tier. Even though I am not a regular D6 gamer, I think this is pretty darn cool for any fiction writer to get their world featured in a game book like this.
 
Can all these stretch goals be reached? Only time will tell, but even if my book’s level isn’t reached, I’m still going to have a lot of fun watching this project develop.
 
 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Side With Amazon?

A few years ago, I had appendicitis. I was taken to the hospital where I was cut open and cured of a common but oft-fatal illness.

Funny thing is, I don’t even remember my doctor’s name.

The man saved my life. Every breath I take now and for the rest of my life is in part owed to this doctor’s skill.

But let’s face it: He wasn’t doing me any real favors. It wasn’t some selfless act of charity on his part.

Operating on people is his job. It’s how he pays his rent, puts food on his table, and sends his kids to medical school.

Sure, he didn’t have to pursue a life of saving people. If all he was interested in was money, there are a number of less noble professions he might have taken. But just because he chose a medical career doesn’t automatically mean that he is some kind of saint. In saving my life that day, he was undoubtedly serving his own self-interests.

It so happened that him serving his self-interests also served mine. For that, I am grateful.

Fast forward to present day. I’m currently not worried about my physical health. 

But I do worry a bit over the future of publishing.

As the Amazon-Hachette standoff intensifies, so escalates the campaign of misinformation by the big publishers trying to paint Amazon as some evil empire that is hurting the book industry, when nothing could be further from the truth.

And as a smalltime, mostly unknown self-published writer, I am exceptionally grateful to Amazon’s KDP platform, without which I couldn’t have connected with my readers to the degree I can today. I think the majority of self-published writers today feel the same way.

But certainly not all. There are those who argue that since both Amazon and Hachette are working primarily in their own interests, there’s really no “good guy” in this war. Profit-oriented Amazon is no more a champion of self-publishing than Hachette.

And they’re right, of course.

Both companies are for-profit. This is not a David and Goliath battle. It is not a conflict between good and evil, or ethical and unethical. It is a conflict between opposing business models where both systems are designed first and foremost to increase the company’s profit margins.

But consider this:
Hachette makes its profits on its very selective (and hence limited) number of titles by overcharging readers and underpaying writers. Amazon makes its profits in the opposite way: they charge readers less and pay writers more in order to entice more readers to buy from them and more writers to publish through them, which greatly expands their selection of titles and, by extension, their own profits.

So while it could easily be argued that there is no “good guy” in this conflict, I side with the company which, regardless of their self-interests, benefits me and my readers far more than the other.

Amazon’s true purpose behind their willingness to pay writers a ton more than traditional publishers, this so-called “evil plot” in which they strongarm publishers into selling their books at reasonable prices... this is no more important to me than the real reason why that doctor cut me open and saved my life.

I side with Amazon because whatever the reason they’re doing it, Amazon is changing the world of publishing for the far, far, far better. For that, I am grateful.


So then what happens if and when Amazon’s interests no longer synch with mine?

I’m human. I’m alive. I’ll adapt.