Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Print Copies

December 10th marks my second anniversary of hitting that publish button on Amazon KDP for the very first time so many moons ago. I’m not really one for anniversaries, but thanks to my series selling (comparatively) better this year, I finally decided to do something that most authors do at the very beginning of their careers: get my hands on print editions of my books.
Just to see what they’re like.
Much like I’m not very into anniversaries, I’m also not really a I-Need-a-Physical-Copy-of-My-Book kind of guy. My primary sales come from eBooks. Only a handful of paperbacks have sold since I set them up through Createspace in early 2013.
And they’re expensive too, because it’s not just the printing, it’s the shipping all the way to Japan. That’s one of the reasons I have put off getting print editions in the past.
But hey, it’s been two years now, so why not? I’ll more than make it up in what I’m saving by not having wireless service on my smartphone anymore.
So today, they arrived, fresh from Createspace’s POD line, and here they are:
And I have to admit, it does feel good to finally feel the weight of the paper in my hands. To think I wrote all that, too. It’s also a relief, since until today, I had no choice but to blindly trust Createspace’s quality control. Now I know they do a good job making print editions for my very few paperback purchasers. The cover graphics (especially the spines) were just a bit off perfection, but the inside print was clear and very readable.
And putting these books side by side, it was also interesting to actually see how much thicker my third book is in comparison to the rest.
Just by the word count I knew, of course, that the third book is longer than the others, but here I can actually see (and feel the weight of ) the difference.
But once the novelty of holding them in my hands and flipping through the pages has worn off, I am left with the question I always asked myself when I put off ordering print editions: now what the heck do I do with them?
Oh, they’ll make nice doorstops, but beyond that, I’m really not sure...
On a separate note, I have again been asked by a reader if I will continue this series or perhaps write a spin-off series, but for now, my situation remains unchanged. I have made a number of starts this year, both in the Psionic universe as well as in other worlds, but so far I am unable to lightbulb a plot that I really want to keep writing. If I had, believe me, I would be writing it rather than this blog post. But it takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and junk food to write a full-length novel, and since I am primarily a hobby writer, I cannot bring myself to write something that I’m not 120% into. 
Besides, it turns out that self-publishing isn’t all about writing: it’s a lot about (gasp!) publishing, which isn’t just uploading content to the vendors. Not by a mile. I’ve spent a fair bit of time these last two years promoting my series and essentially being my own literary agent, without which my current books would no doubt be dead in the water. It takes up a fair bit of my time. No, it’s not a full time job, but I have one of those too.
When will I write my next book? If only I knew.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My First Interview

December 8th, 4am Japan time, or around noon-ish in California of the previous day. Swigging water to keep my winter cough under control, sitting still to keep my swivel chair from squeaking, and breathing slowly to keep my heart rate several notches below light speed, I sat through my very first interview as “writer Adrian Howell.” It was a Skype interview for a podcast called Bitter Without You, run by Patrick McInnis and Will Norman: not exactly national TV, but close enough as far as I’m concerned.

Bitter Without You is a podcast that focuses on musicians and authors. I had been contacted by Will Norman via email in late November. He had read the opening of Wild-born and liked it enough to reach out. Small-time self-pubbers like me, in order to promote our books, often have to ask bloggers and such to interview us, not the other way around. But here I get an interview request out of the blue: very flattering indeed for a no-name author like me, and indies know better than to pass up a free promo opportunity, so there was no way that I’d turn this down despite my interview-phobia.

As an English teacher, I spend five days a week at the center of attention, so I’m used to that. But an interview is something very different, because unlike in a classroom, I’m nowhere near as in control of the situation. (Being in control is very important to me, as otherwise I’d have an editor.)

So it was exciting, nerve-wracking, and absolutely fun. The questions ranged from relevant to absurd, and hopefully my answers did too, though I hardly remember them now. I’m a pretty regular foot-in-mouth sort of person even on my best days, so my tension might have caused me to say some things I’ll later come to regret, but hopefully listeners will be forgiving.

I’m told the podcast containing my interview will go live on the Bitter Without You site sometime this month or in January, and I won’t put any spoilers here.

Thanks again to Will and Patrick for this opportunity.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Value of Hard-Earned Money

I just canceled my smartphone’s wireless internet package. I’ll still be able to connect through my home wifi, but no longer will I be able to browse the net and buy and download eBooks while on the road. My phone’s GPS is also gone, meaning I’ll have to rely on paper maps again. Undeniable inconveniences, but I lived the first quarter century of my life without these technologies, so I’m sure I’ll survive it.
Financially, it means 65 dollars less per month on my phone bill. That, I finally came to the conclusion, was worth the inconvenience.
What made me see this light was, strangely enough, the mild increase in my book sales this year.
My series isn’t selling at any rate good enough to quit my day job even if I wanted to (which I don’t), but nevertheless it is selling much better compared to last year. And I think that watching these sales have made me much more tuned in to the value of money.
Even after I quit my previous job and went into self-employment, running my own EFL school, I was nevertheless getting a single salary at the end of each month. A lump sum of money from which I would pay my utility bills and mortgage, save a bit and squander a lot.
I’m not the most mathematically oriented person around, so as long as I stayed in the black, I was never too aware of how much money I was really spending on entertainment and conveniences. 
Entertainment and conveniences are important parts of modern life too, and I don’t feel particularly guilty about spending money on myself. But still, 65 dollars a month for wireless internet begins to feel a little too far on the extravagant side when you break that down into numbers of books. Considering that eBook novels these days cost an average of something like 6.50 dollars or so, that’s 10 books worth of money. And looking from the royalty receiving point of view, I’d have to sell more than that since Amazon and other stores take a (justified) cut of my sales.
Maybe I’m just getting stingy in my old age, but that’s not such a bad thing in the modern world’s increasingly unstable economy. I live in Japan, arguably one of the richest countries in the world, but that doesn’t make me personally a rich person. Living costs here are pretty steep.
I just never expected my self-pubbing side business to open my eyes to my personal finances in a way that, in all these years, my main day job couldn’t.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween in Tokyo

Nearly two years into this publishing-under-a-penname thing, I’ve decided that it’s finally time for me to come out of hiding and post a picture of myself on this blog.
So here it is:
Yeah. That’s me in the gorilla suit.
Some kids kept their distance, but most came up to me and shook my hand, while a few even gave me (or rather, the gorilla) big bear hugs. Yes, it’s all cuddly, fluffy fur on the outside, but in the suit I’m a sweaty, sticky, yucky mess.
But hey, it’s Halloween.
No, it’s not the 31st. Not yet. But here in Japan, we don’t have any trick-or-treating like I enjoyed back when I was a kid growing up in rural California. There are plenty of Halloween costume parties for teenagers and above, but younger kids can’t go candy hunting on Halloween night. 
Therefore, in order to allow our students, their friends, and the local community to get a mild feel for the American Halloween culture, every year my EFL school hosts a kids’ Halloween event on the last Sunday of October. The teachers all dress up for a day. We block traffic out of the main shopping street nearest our school and ask the owners of the various little shops to let the kids trick-or-treat at their doors. In addition, we run Halloween-themed crafts, story-telling, a short parade, and even a very small haunted house.
This year the event fell on the 26th, a cloudy but nevertheless warm, windless day, not at all conducive to wearing a fur jumpsuit, thick gloves and a stuffy plastic mask. But last year I wore a giant banana suit, so this year I was determined to play the gorilla. (First-world problems, I know...)
Our Halloween event has gotten progressively bigger each year, and this year, though I wasn’t counting heads through the slits in my mask, I would guess that more than 300 kids took part. Aside from a few tears in the haunted house, everyone looked like they had a great time. And despite spending four hours in a sauna suit, I did too. So a few more pictures from the event:
There are so many writers out there hoping to someday quit their day jobs and make a living writing full-time. While I fully sympathize with this sentiment (some of these people have absolutely horrid day jobs), nevertheless I am not one of them. I enjoy my day job too much for that. Not just events like this, but my day-to-day as an English teacher is lots of fun too. Anything can and does happen.
So will I ever start writing again? Well, that’s a post for another time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two Fantasy Series

I was cleaning out the attic the other day when I came across a box containing two sets of Japanese novels that I had read in my teen years. Two series of books, both set in fantasy worlds.

The first was the Record of the Lodoss War by Ryo Mizuno. It was a fairly serious-minded sword-and-sorcery tale of warring nations featuring everything one could ask for in the genre, from high-elves to dragon riders.

I had originally seen the animated series, and that led me to the books, which I enjoyed far more, not only because of its greater depth, but because it was one of the first fantasy stories I read that truly sympathized with the “evil side.” There were a number of related graphic novels, video games and table-top RPG replays, though I never read/played any of these. Actually, I think the games and RPG replays might have come before the novelizations, but I’m not sure. In any case, the novels were enough for me, and I feared that reading this story in other formats would hurt my internal images.

The second set of novels in my old attic box, though also from the fantasy genre, was a far more light-hearted series: Mishio Fukazawa’s Fortune Quest, which is the story of a band of misfit adventurers who consistently fail to seek out danger while traversing their fantasy world on a rundown mechanized hippopotamus with a toddler elf and puppy-size baby dragon in tow. No, really.

In many ways parodying the high-fantasy setting, nevertheless this series had its special moments among the oft-comical plots. I had read this series after Record of the Lodoss War, and compared to Ryo Mizuno’s somewhat darker tale, Fortune Quest was a breath of fresh, fun air.

Two series of books that had inspired me to write my very first novel.

A high-fantasy novel.

In Japanese.

Japanese isn’t exactly my first language when it comes to writing. Oh, I can speak it well enough to hide my American side on the phone, but writing is a different matter entirely.

But at that age (I believe I was 16 when I started writing), it didn’t matter what I was good at. It only mattered what I wanted to do, and I wanted to write it in Japanese. It wasn’t like I was planning on getting it published or anything. I just wanted to write the story for myself.

The result was a mish-mash of Ryo Mizuno and Mishio Fukazawa’s worlds: part serious, part light-hearted high fantasy. This might have been a nice mix if only I was a more experienced writer. Alas, I was right: the story would never be published. It was an unoriginal good versus evil tale that read like it was written by a teenager who didn’t have mastery of the language.

But writing that story, which in length would have been about 200 pages, taught me something very special. It taught me that stories are written. This may seem like a fairly obvious revalation, as everyone knows that stories are written. But to experience that firsthand was something entirely different.

Writing that novella prepared me for the day, more than a decade and a half later, that I would start writing my first novel in English.

And so I owe a fair bit to these two authors whose fine works helped pave my path.

Yet, as I look up Record of the Lodoss War online today, I see that while the graphic novels have been translated into English, the actual word-novels are nowhere to be found. Most mentions of Record of the Lodoss War in English center around the anime series and manga. And of Fortune Quest, almost nothing. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry in English mentioning its existence.

Kind of sad, really, because I think a western audience would have enjoyed them very much.

I certainly did.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Steven Whibley’s Impact

According to Amazon, the latest installment of Steven Whibley’s Dean Curse Chronicles, Impact, was released at the end of May of this year. The only reason I hadn’t read it until now is because I was unaware that it was already out. After reading and enjoying the first two books immensely, I had been eagerly awaiting this third book, and I ended up reading it in one sitting.

It’s not often that I write about another author’s book here. I haven’t posted anything about the first two Dean Curse books. After all, this is my writer’s blog, not a reader’s blog.

But Steven Whibley’s Impact has a special place in my heart, and not just because I’m a fan of Whibley’s writing. The book covers of The Dean Curse Chronicles and my Psionic Pentalogy actually share the same cover designer, Pintado. And this is no mere coincidence: Back in 2013 when I was looking for a professional designer to remake my book covers, I had come across Whibley’s Dean Curse series, and seeing the amazing artwork on those books, I instantly knew that I had to get the same designer for mine.

Back then, only the first two books of Whibley’s Dean Curse Chronicles had been published, but Whibley already had Pintado create the covers for his third and fourth books, Impact and Plunge (not pictured above because it’s still prerelease). I loved how Pintado handled the silhouettes and lighting effects on all of the Dean Curse covers, but particularly Impact. When I contacted Pintado about making my covers, we discussed the Impact cover at length because I was looking for a similar feel for the cover of Wild-born.

I wasn’t looking for a carbon copy, though. Far from it.

To me, the cover for Impact has a strong “hero” feel to it, which is certainly right for Whibley’s book, but for my Wild-born, I wanted a more desperate look, so I asked Pintado to draw the children running away from the camera, not toward it. I also asked for a redder hue instead of Impact’s orange, but this was mainly because my mind was already set on red for the Wild-born cover. And, of course, the background was a forest as opposed to an exploding fighter jet.

The end result was so different from Impact that probably no one would see these covers as related in any way:

Though my Wild-born cover went live first (as Impact hadn’t been published yet), nevertheless Impact was the starting point for Pintado’s Wild-born design, and looking closely, you might see some mild similarities remaining in the lighting effects and placement of the elements.

As to the actual content of Impact (which I just finished reading) I can honestly say that I enjoyed this third book at least as much as the first two. At a print length of just 140 pages, Impact is a short read, action-packed and unrelenting. You know it’s a good book when your only upset is that there aren’t more pages.

Unlike many paranormal books (including mine) that feature many different psychic powers, the entire Dean Curse series revolves around a single power, if it can even be called that: the ability to see - and possibly prevent - impending death. Those with this gift have no other special abilities, paranormal or otherwise, to help them save lives. This is in no small part what makes this series so special. And Whibley pulls no punches in his storytelling. For Dean, who is still new to his unpredictable power, failure is as frequent as success, and with each potentially savable life lost, he and his friends are faced with that most agonizing question: what if?

But amidst the tragedies, they also have their successes: lives saved that would, without their intervention, have no doubt been lost. And Whibley manages to put a fair bit of mild humor into his teenage characters without letting their antics become annoying, adding just enough comic relief to balance the oft-desperate action sequences. This is probably what I find most enjoyable about Whibley’s writing: that most delicate balance that makes for an exciting, serious yet wholly enjoyable ride.

I tend not to sign up for mailing lists, so I’m going to have to be more attentive to Amazon next time and get Plunge as soon as it comes out.

Find all of Steven Whibley’s books on his Amazon author page here.
And Whibley’s blog here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Two Years Ago, This Month

Give or take a month, it was around this time in 2012 that I finished writing Guardian Angel, and in doing so brought to a close the Psionic Pentalogy nearly five years after I first began writing Wild-born.
I still remember how utterly fulfilling it felt writing those very last lines of the final, final chapter. And how devastatingly empty. For something in me had ended along with the series.
Or so I thought until I began the next journey: that of proofreading, editing, and publishing this series. Weeks of rewriting lines and paragraphs to deal with inconsistencies between the books, closing plot holes and weeding out typos were then followed by learning e-book formatting and designing covers (yes, those horrible self-made ones that my series began with). 
And then, in December 2012, with little fanfare, I began releasing the books on Amazon.
From then until now, I have been much more a publisher than a writer, scouring the internet for free sites to advertise my books and working to gather those all-important first reviews which would allow me to get featured in larger book advertising sites. Being an indie doesn’t mean you’re a writer without an agent. It means you are the agent, and you have to be willing to learn that side of the business as well.
Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), I had time to be my own agent because after all those years writing the Psionic Pentalogy, I was (and still am, to some extent) all written-out. 
Oh, I absolutely enjoyed writing those books, no question about that. But at the same time, my writing years were both physically and emotionally draining. Physically because I lacked sleep and frequently overate, emotionally because the darned story often stayed stuck in my mind when my mind should have been elsewhere, namely focused on my EFL students.

A real professional writer could no doubt deal with these things a lot better than I did. But I’m no professional. I’m just a hobby writer, and incapable of separating my writing from the rest of my life. For me, it was the psychological equivalent of being stuck on a roller-coaster ride 24-7.
So after that experience, I was in no hurry to start writing again, and so I had the time to take on the agent-side work, which, though not as fun, was easier on the heart.
But now, two years after Guardian Angel, I find myself feeling another story bubbling up inside me. 
Alas, it is not another “psionic” novel. Though some readers have expressed their hopes that I will write another book in this world setting, for my part, the story has ended where it should. While I can’t promise that I’ll never expand on the Psionic Pentalogy world, if ever I do, it will probably be with an all-new cast, with perhaps a few minor appearances by the previous characters. Those that are still alive, anyway.
Instead, this new story that has been bugging my mind for the last few weeks is more of a fantasy, not urban or paranormal. It’s still generally YA, but for the moment, it feels lighter and freer than the Psionic series. More episodic, far less desperate. I really can’t say any more than that at the moment. I can’t even promise (assuming I actually write it) that I’ll publish it under this pen name, which, after all, is inexorably tied to the Pentalogy.
For me, writing is a bit like falling in love. You can neither choose to nor choose not to. It happens, and when it does, you have to be willing to go with it and possibly suffer some heartache. Because if you don’t, you’ll definitely suffer even more.
So if and when this new story bugs me enough, I’ll have no choice but to write it. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much as (and hopefully more than) the last one.