Friday, March 28, 2014

Bookbub and Reader Reviews

It’s been a week since my very first Bookbub listing for my loss leader, Wild-born, and I’m happy to say that all the rumors about the wonderful effectiveness of Bookbub were indeed true. Wild-born briefly climbed to 10th place in all free books, and stayed in 1st place for my genre chart for several days. The rest of the series is moving nicely too, and The Tower even briefly entered the genre top 100 list for paid books on, something none of my books have ever done until now. It got up to 89th place before dropping off the list a few hours later, so it’s nothing to shout from rooftops about, but nice nonetheless.
But what has really been nice so far in this promotion are the reviews. Reader reviews are generally few and far between (sometimes months can elapse), but I’ve gotten more than ten just in the last week. And what’s more, they have been generally very kind in their comments. No book is universally appealing: what some readers find enjoyable, others will find utterly boring, what some find mildly violent, others will find excessively so. There’s really no way to please everyone, but even so, just about everyone who had something critical to say in their review of Wild-born so far also had a compliment or two to add. For this I consider myself very fortunate.
Many veteran and professional writers insist that authors should never read their reviews. Sure enough, reviews are, first and foremost, for future potential readers. I’m well aware of that, and I’m professional enough not to go agreeing with or arguing against my reviews on Amazon or anywhere. Commenting on specific reviews is an absolute no-no because reviews are readers’ honest opinions, and they have every right to them.
But as for not even reading reviews, no, I’m not quite that professional. I have thick enough skin to handle criticism, and indeed I welcome it just as much as I welcome praise. People are not only spending their time reading my works, but then taking extra time to leave feedback. Honestly, what more could an author ask for?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

D6, Anyone?

A very belated Happy New Year! Or a not-so-belated Happy Chinese New Year, but of course I’m not actually Chinese.

Thanks to Pintado’s new covers and a number of shout-outs on various book blogs back in late December, sales have noticeably increased compared to last year. Oh, I’m not breaking any bestseller charts, but as always, I’m happy for whatever I can get.

I wouldn’t brag about my sales even if I had them, but right now something else very exciting has happened. So here it is:

Two days ago, I received an email from one Lester Smith, an experienced multi-genre artist (fiction writer, poet, game designer, etc.) who works as an editor and runs a small publishing house called Popcorn Press. It was an invitation to join a “cross-promotional project” as he put it that would cost me nothing and would add exposure to my series.

Needless to say, I was instantly on guard. Unfortunately, indie writers are often the target of “opportunities” that are just too good to be true (or free).

But carefully reading Lester’s email three times over, checking out his online profile and company page, I came to the happy conclusion that this man was the real deal. (It also helped a lot that Lester had not only recently left a review for Wild-born, but that his email and review convinced me that he had actually read the book, something that a scam artist would never have done.)

So what is this Lester Smith’s cross-promotional project?

Lester is currently preparing to launch a kickstarter campaign to create his own “d6•d6 CORE Role-Playing Game Rules” book, to be released in paperback and eBook. Assuming that funding is successful, he plans to add a variety of “world settings” to this book through stretch goals, and if the stretch goal for the Psionic Pentalogy is reached, then my world will join many others for D6 gamers to adventure in.

This is a small dream come true for me. Or it will be if Lester’s kickstarter campaign is successful.

In my youth, I enjoyed the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone dice game books very much. (My personal favorite was Scorpion Swamp, which is the only one I know in which you can choose to serve an evil master.) But I have never actually played a D6 game with a group of people including a live game master/host. I really would like to sometime, but unfortunately I’ve yet to come across that kind of crowd living in Japan. I imagine there is a fun-factor to this style of face-to-face gaming that can’t be experienced in a solo-game or even with live players in an online RPG.

Thus while I am already very grateful for the immediate exposure of having my pentalogy listed on Lester’s project site, I am hoping with all my heart that Lester’s kickstarter funding ends in success, with enough stretch goals reached to include the Psionic Pentalogy. It would be an absolute thrill to be featured as a D6 game world setting.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year-End Post: A Trip to Temple Town

Running a private English school means that I usually teach classes seven days a week: Months can elapse without a single full day off. But in return I get two solid weeks of summer and winter vacation. And in those days, I often just end up crashing. I stop shaving, I order out for pizza far too often... basically I regress into infantile helplessness. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy my work very much, but sometimes I just need to shut down for a few days.
But now I’m about a week into my winter crash, and I can honestly say I’ve rested enough. I wish I was in the mood for writing, but sadly I’m not. (I often end up writing between my classes instead of on long holidays like this.)
It being a wonderfully sunny day (for the end of December), I suddenly felt the urge to walk a little. So without any particular destination in mind, I started wandering.
And I eventually came across this street-side map:
Lest someone mistakes this for a map of a Nazi training camp, the symbols here denote Buddhist temples, more than 20, all clustered together in a half-mile radius. The map labels this “Tera-no-machi,” literally, Temple Town. Not all that far from home yet, I had wandered into a touristy part of Tokyo I never knew existed. Cell-phone camera in hand, I decided to play tourist for a while.
Buddhism and Shintoism are the two major religions of Japan. Shintoism, a form of nature worship, deals with the “clean,” such as marriage ceremonies as well as purification rites performed to bless a plot of land prior to construction. Buddhism deals with the “unclean,” primarily death. Together, they form what passes for spirituality in a predominately agnostic country. While many Japanese deny being at all “religious,” you will see them flock to Shinto shrines on New Years Day to pray for a good year, and later visit a Buddhist temple to attend a funeral. I am no exception.

Aside from the lack of a Shinto “Torii Gate,” the easiest way for a layman to tell the difference between a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple is that a temple has a graveyard. Each plot here is a family grave spanning multiple generations: the wooden sticks set beside the tombstones represent each occupant.
It being so close to New Years Day, the graveyards of the various temples had more than a few visitors cleaning and re-flowering the ancestral graves. Not wanting to get in the way, I carefully timed my photographs to exclude these visitors, who, unlike me, aren’t tourists after all.
Buddhist temples, like all religious structures around the world, are true works of art. They don’t have the breath-taking high ceilings and colorful stained glass of Christian cathedrals, but instead there is a quieter touch. The structures blend into the greenery, and in turn, the greenery is also carefully managed to complement the structures.
I could spend the whole day out here, but despite the sun’s best efforts, I would be quickly chilled if I didn’t keep moving. Maybe I’ll come back in the spring.
So after a lap around Temple Town, I find myself wandering home, no closer to writing my next novel, but at least I found something I can blog about that isn’t writing-related. This will be my last blog post of the year (of which there is but a day and a half remaining, anyway), and I wanted to end on something artistic outside of reading and writing books. And with just one more week of vacation before going back to full-time teaching, I want to get out and around just a bit more. Crash time is over.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What a ride!

These last few days have been truly exhilarating for me. Only one day after uploading Pintado’s new covers for my books and signing up for a few free book ads on book blogs, and my newly perma-free Wild-born shot it’s way, way up Amazon’s YA-Paranormal Top 100 Free Books Bestseller chart. It even hit #1 for half a day or so before dropping back to #2, then #3 where it stayed for the next two days. Since then, the rank has slowly fallen again, but as of this writing, Wild-born is still in the top 10, and I suspect it will stay somewhere on this Top-100 chart for days to come.
I couldn’t help but take a screenshot:

It was rather humbling (and more than a little knee-wobbling) being up there with better-rated books sporting three- and four-digit review counts. With over 2700 downloads over the last four days, this is by far the most successful free promotion I’ve ever had for my books, thanks in no small part to Pintado’s hard work making beautiful, very noticeable covers. I can only hope that my readers find the inside of Wild-born enjoyable enough to read on through the rest of my series.
I’m told that only about 10% of free books downloaded are ever actually read. This is because many readers get loads of books when they’re free, but understandably don’t have the time to read them all. Even so, 10% of my still-steadily-increasing download count is no small number for such a small-time writer like me.
And in fact, I’m already seeing the initial read-through results of this promotion, with slowly increasing sales on The Tower and latter books. According to my Amazon sales reports, six people have already read their way to Guardian Angel. And to think it’s only been four days. There are some very fast readers out there.
And two of them have contacted me.
The first was a customer complaint. Well, not exactly. Or, at least not exactly directed at me. A reader emailed me, telling me that her copy of the Wild-born file, like several others she had downloaded from Amazon, would not load on her Kindle. Technical issues like this are really Amazon’s domain, not mine, but I believed the reader when she said that Amazon has thus far failed to rectify this issue for her. Over the course of communicating with her and sending her a new copy of Wild-born, I discovered that she was a book reviewer. How utterly cool is that?! Naturally, I gifted her free review copies of the rest of my series in the hope that, if she enjoyed Wild-born enough to continue with my series, she might leave some reviews on Amazon. It’s usually the author that contacts the reviewer, not the other way around.
The second was also a customer complaint. Well, again, not exactly. This reader, Barbara, had already finished reading Wild-born and told me that she had “enjoyed it very much,” which is always great to hear. But Barbara wasn’t writing just to blow a little sunshine my way. (Not that I don’t appreciate a little sunshine from my readers. I love it, of course.) Barbara had written partly to inform me that she had spotted *GASP!* a typo in Wild-born.
You have got to be kidding me. Countless proofreads, twice on read-aloud software, 2700+ downloads in, and there’s a typo?!
There was. And it wasn’t just one.
This is the price I pay for my overconfidence. I had broken the Cardinal Rule of Proofreading: Never proof your own work because it’s far easier to miss your own mistakes than it is to miss someone else’s. I have taught English and worked in copy editing for more than twenty years so I know this rule better than many, but nevertheless I self-edited. I imprudently figured that because I was well aware of the rule I was breaking, I could be that much more careful in my proofreading, thereby successfully pulling off the impossible. I was wrong.
But Barbara is no ordinary reader herself. She is an experienced freelance editor with an exceptionally sharp eye for detail. Exactly the kind of person I should have hired to check over my works in the first place. Unfortunately, my current financial situation regarding my publications preclude any possibility of hiring a professional editor at the present time, but I figured that the least I could do to repay this kind woman for taking the time to contact me was to (yes, you guessed it) gift her the rest of my series.
It was not an attempt to get her to proofread the rest of my books for free. No, really! It wasn’t. I swear!
But Barbara, like any professional proofreader, is incapable of not noticing errors. And sure enough, she found one more in The Tower, and yet another in Lesser Gods. Minor typos, but there they were all this time. And now, thanks to this conscientious reader, they are fixed.
Barbara hasn’t yet finished reading my series, but I suspect that she’ll find at least one more typo in each of the remaining two books. I certainly hope she doesn’t, but if she does, she is doing me a great service by telling me about them. Despite my rule-breaking, I have as much tolerance for typos as I do for ringing cell phones in movie theaters.
So what were those typos in the first three books? That information is classified. But I did end up learning a new word: “florescent” which means “flowering,” not to be confused with “fluorescent” as in the light. Never trust a spell checker.
It should be more than enough that Barbara is helping improve my manuscripts free of charge, but she has also kindly left my very first reviews on Barnes & Noble. I am hopeful that B&N, along with Apple and Kobo, will start to pick up for me over the course of next year. And that first review is important: it’s the difference between having and not having, after all.
So a big thank you to both customer complaints. I love hearing from my readers. It doesn’t happen very often because of my obscurity as a writer, so whenever a reader contacts me for any reason, it’s a bit of a rush.
Another big thank you to everyone who downloaded my perma-free Wild-born, typos and all. I still can’t help smiling when I see this largely unknown writer’s first-ever book on the Top 100 chart.
And yet another big thank you to everyone who’s actually reading it, or will someday. Hope you enjoy the story.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New covers at last!

It took a little over two months of back and forth with my first-ever professional cover designer, Pintado, to get proper covers made for all five books of my series, but it was worth every minute and every penny, and now, finally, the new covers are up! (I’m still waiting on the print versions, but hopefully I’ll have them very soon.)
Pintado, who lives in the Philippines, survived a deadly earthquake and history-book-worthy typhoon while working with me via email on my covers. But even more than his tenacity, I was utterly amazed at his ability to read my mind. Using just a few notes and example images I pulled from the internet, Pintado managed to create the very covers that I myself would have magically conjured into existence had I the power to do so. Over the course of five covers, there were a few setbacks and redrafts due to minor misunderstandings, but the end results speak for themselves. A true cover artist if ever there was one, Pintado was an absolute pleasure to work with.
And here they are:

I can't really talk about the covers without giving away story spoilers, so I won't, but anyone who has read the books should recognize the images.
While waiting on the covers, I managed to give my series yet another round of edits, making the stories (at least to my mind) just a little better. I even caught two more typos. After so many proofreads, how embarrassing is that? But at least they’re fixed now.
Additionally, I have finally taken the advice of fellow series writers and made Wild-born “permafree” on Amazon. Though Amazon usually doesn’t allow authors to make their books available for free outside of the KDP Select Program, by setting Wild-born to free on Kobo and Apple and then having Amazon price-match it, the first book of my pentalogy is now free to download on Kindle indefinitely. The theory behind this curious marketing strategy is that the increased downloads of a free book will result in more readers moving on to (and purchasing) the rest of the series. Yes, authors have to eat somehow too, and giving up potential royalties on one book feels cheaper than actively paying for advertisement that may or may not result in increased exposure.
They say to never judge a book by its cover, but the reality is that just about everyone subconsciously judges books by their covers. A good cover is absolutely essential, and it’s probably even true for a Book-One-Permafree guy like me. Only time will tell how much these new covers will actually affect downloads, but in the meantime, I’m delighted to finally have covers that don’t look like they were made by... well, by me.
So again, big thank you (and a permanent link on my blog) to cover artist Pintado who brought the face of my books to life in time for the (approximate) one-year anniversary of the publication of my series.
And of course, a big thank you to all my readers who purchased my series this year, thus allowing my book royalties to pay for Pintado’s work.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Once more unto the proofing...

Earthquakes and typhoons be damned, my primary concern this week is with Halloween-related work at my English school. It’s not everyday that a grown man can dress up as a giant banana and not get put in a padded room. Given the choice, I’d rather have one of those really scary, blood-dripping horror costumes, but when you work with three-year-olds, your choices are limited. Still, it’s fun to do something entirely stupid once in a while. I’m past the try-to-be-cool years of my life, anyway.
Meanwhile, my first-ever professional designer has been grinding away at my new book covers. I love his artistic style and he’s great to work with. It’s taking longer than I originally thought it would, but I’m sure the end result will be worth the wait. So what more could an author ask for?
How about an improved manuscript? Not from my cover designer, of course! This part is my responsibility, but I figure that if I’m going to re-release my books with vastly improved covers, then I’d do well to at least slightly improve the content.
So once again to the proofreading/editing grindstone. I’m pretty confident that I’ve eradicated the last of those pesky little typos by now, though that’s something I should have done well before I ever published. As for improvements, I can’t read a page of anything without thinking of how a different word here or there might make a passage sound better.
But the definition of “better” is pretty vague. Even worse is what constitutes an “error,” especially in a first-person narrative.

Case in point:

The Oxford dictionary warns against using “alright” in place of “all right,” especially in formal writing. Fortunately, my writing ain’t (yes, you just saw an English teacher say “ain’t,” but only in irony) formal. Nevertheless, some people might take issue with such a non-word as “alright,” even in a first-person narrative.

But I am prepared to argue that in our ever-evolving modern language, even in formal writing, “alright” should be acceptable, and probably will be in the near future.

Consider this sentence: “The figures look all right.”

This can have two meanings. It can either mean that the figures are “all correct (all right)” or that they are “acceptable (alright).” After all, even if the figures are without errors, they could be horrendously unacceptable, as in the company is going bankrupt.

So no, even at the risk of irking people who insist that “alright” isn’t alright, I’m going to keep using it, alright?

Fortunately, no one has actually called me out on this so far, which I take as proof that most people have already accepted the use of “alright” to replace “all right.” It certainly can’t be as bad as “ain’t.”

But what about “psionic”?

This is a tricky one for me. I knew when I started writing my series that the countable noun form was actually “psion,” its plural, “psions.”

I just didn’t like it. I preferred to noun-ize the adjective, thus using “a psionic” and “psionics” as the singular and plural forms. It just sounded better to my ears back then, and it still does. 

I had done the same with “a telepathic” and “telepathics” for which the correct noun forms are “a telepath” and “telepaths.” This also sounded better to me back then, but goodness knows why, because unlike “psionic,” it no longer does.

Along with the many other “improvements” I’ll be making to the manuscripts as I await the final drafts of my new book covers, I will be replacing all instances of the noun use of “telepathic” to “telepath.”

Again, like my use of “alright,” none of my readers have actually called me out on these “mistakes” either in direct emails or in reviews of my books. Not yet, anyway. Nor am I particularly worried. (If I was, I’d probably have to go with “psion.”) But if what seemed right five years ago to me no longer does, how can I resist changing it?

What is it about words that make them so contradictory to my ears? Twenty years of teaching English notwithstanding, I honestly can’t say. What I’m sure of though is that gut feeling and real-life usage trump textbook rules any day of the week.

Alright, back to work.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

KBR’s 2013 Best Indie Book Awards Contest Winners Announced!

And the winner for my category is... not my book. 

Of course, that’s hardly surprising to me, since Wild-born was, after all, not only my first-ever novel in my first-ever contest, but at the time of entering the contest many moons ago, still very much incomplete (by my current standards). I honestly had never expected to make semi-finalist, to say nothing of landing in the top-5, so I wasn’t exactly biting my nails waiting for this announcement, but I’m nevertheless glad that the suspense is over.

My category winner is Earth Tones by AngelaWallace. No, I haven’t read it, but I might.

(See the full list of winners on KBR here.)

Meanwhile, making finalist in this contest was more than enough incentive for me to finally take my book covers to a professional standard. I’m in the midst of working with an excellent graphics designer to create high-quality covers for all five books, and I hope to get these completed and uploaded soon.

The days are getting shorter, the winds cooler. My kind of weather. Yes, life is pretty good right now.