Thursday, November 8, 2018

Cover reveal: ALIEN SKIES

I'm still working on the final draft of Alien Skies, book 3 in the Wakanreo trilogy. but I went ahead and commissioned the cover because I wanted to catch the artist when she had a free slot in her schedule.

Tada! Here's the cover for book 3!

I really like that you can tell from the covers that book 1 is about Kuaron and Dina and books 2 and 3 are about Yulayan and Kamuhi. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

You can reach the world via Google Books

To be frank, I don't sell very many ebooks via Google Books. I give away about 6-10 copies of The Sixth Discipline (free almost everywhere) every month, through Google Books, but it has been a while since I broke double digits on annual sales.

But what's amazing is, where the books go. Through Google Books I have found readers in the US and the UK, but also in Poland, Lesotho, Indonesia, India, Myanmar, the Philippines, New Zealand, Colombia, South Africa, and  Romania. That's amazing!  My words have traveled a lot farther than I ever did.

Monday, October 8, 2018

ALIEN BONDS Price Reduction!

Now that my second Wakanreo book ALIEN VOWS is out, I have reduced the price of ALIEN BONDS to $2.99!  The paperback version has not changed price and is still .$12.99.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

An Update on Moving Books to KDP Print

So, Amazon appears to have finally worked things out. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had moved three of my print titles over to KDP Print from CreateSpace. I moved them one at a time, using the Create Paperback link on KDP, and I was able to keep the same ISBNs (I own the ISBNs for all my books; I purchased them from Bowker). The reason I could keep the ISBNs is that the interface asked me if they were published on CS and gave me a chance to enter the ISBN. Amazon has changed that protocol so that the KDP Create Paperback button didn't allow using an existing ISBN.

Amazon was working on a way to move all a writer/publisher's CS titles to KDP in a single step. They had a link for it on the KDP bookshelf weeks ago, but it didn't work! Apparently, they unplugged one way to move titles before making sure the new way worked. After a while, they took that link away, but it returned a couple of days ago, and I was able to use it successfully, if not seamlessly.

At the point in time I clicked the link, I had five titles in CS. One was in draft because I am having problems with that cover and I cannot fix them myself. One of the five I had approved for sale recently, even though the cover needs work because they are things I can fix, and I wasn't sure it would move to KDP if it was still in draft. The other three had all been for sale for sometime and were properly linked to their Kindle versions on their Amazon product pages.

So, once I clicked the "Move my titles" link on the KDP bookshelf, I got the page with the three buttons: validate my CS account, validate my KDP account, and move the books. This time all three buttons seemed to work!  When it was done, everything disappeared from CS. The account was still there, but there were NO books listed.

In KDP, results were less uniform. One of the titles moved over perfectly, and was already linked to the Kindle version. The other titles have moved over but had not linked automatically.  When a book exists in KDP in two formats, if they are properly linked, there is only one entry on the bookshelf, like this:

Each format has its own menu to edit content, details, etc., but they are one title.  If there is only one format, the entry on the bookshelf looks like this:

If the book is a Kindle book, the links are for creating or linking a paperback, and if it's a paperback, the links are for creating or linking a Kindle version. For four of the five books I moved over in one step, KDP created a second entry on the bookshelf instead of linking them. When I tried to link them myself, using the Link to Existing Paperback on the Kindle bookshelf entry, it did not work, but when I used the Link to Existing Kindle version on the newly-created paperback entries, it worked fine. I was very pleased that the draft CS title with the problematic cover came over just fine, as a draft entry in KDP. And for the one that's in better shape, but isn't really ready for prime time, I was able to pull it off sale by using the Unpublish option on the paperback menu.

My books are all now moved over. Goodbye, CreateSpace. It was nice knowing you,

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Alien Vows has launched!

Alien Vows, the sequel to Alien Bonds, and Book 2 of the 3 book Wakanreo trilogy, is now for sale on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.

It took more than nine months, but I still feel like a should offer you a cigar! 

UPDATE: Alien Vows already has its first review!  It's short, but very good. Five stars, in fact! 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Celebrating a 2-star review

The review of Alien Bonds above is interesting because it's actually an excellent review but the reviewer opted to give only 2 stars. This is certainly his or her prerogative. I have taken away stars in reviews for an ebook that was badly converted and full of typos (although never for a living author). And in this instance the reviewer made it clear the problem was not bad writing or a dull story, but simply the point of view from which the story was written. 

As someone who cannot read a present tense novel, I can empathize. Some writers like present tense because they think it's more immediate.  It's supposed to make the reader feel like the story is happening now. I can tolerate present tense when it's used intermittently, to show different timelines, for example; but after a while, present tense is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I just want it to be over. If the whole novel is present tense, I simply don't try to read it.

I will say that while the entire narrative of  Alien Bonds is certainly third person, I don't know that I would call it omniscient. I try to be sure every scene is in someone's point of view. There are at least three POV characters; I would have to read the book again to guarantee there aren't more. In the sequel. Alien Vows, there are five. I know some readers don't like "head hopping" from character to character, but the longer the Wakanro saga goes on, the more complicated it gets. I prefer to change the POV character and not have that person relate what happened later, in the main character's presence. To minimize the sense of head-hopping, I tend to write in a not-that-close third person, which may be why the reviewer saw it as omniscient. 

Anyway, kudos to Pygmy Amazon Reviews for sticking with my book! It's the best review I ever got from someone who didn't enjoy reading the book.

Monday, August 27, 2018

I made the jump to KDP print! (well, halfway, anyway)

UPDATE, Sept. 9, 2018: Amazon has changed things. They have cut off being able to input the ISBN and move the files from CreateSpace, so at present, if you have your own paperback ISBN, you cannot move your books from CS to KDP.  There was a link at the top of the KDP bookshelf to move all your books from CS to KDP, but it did not seem to work (at least not for me) and now it's gone. Hopefully, Amazon will restore it once it works properly.
So, I keep hearing that Amazon will shutter CreateSpace, their separate self-publishing arm for physical "printing" (they do CDs and DVDs as well as paperback books) and make everyone use KDP, which now has an option to "Create Paperback."

In the past I stuck with CreateSpace because it had some functions not offered in KDP Print but it looks like those are pretty well accounted for now.  In additon, if the book already exists in CreateSpace, Amazon has made it very easy to move the book over to KDP. When you click the link in the KDP database (illustrated here with a title I have not yet published in print) to create a paperback, you get a form to fill out that's partly filled in from the Kindle version.

If you answer yes to the question "Have you published this book on CreateSpace?" it gives you a place to enter the ISBN (whether it's an ISBN CreateSpace assigned or one you own). Once you do that, KDP retrieves the PDFs of the interior and the cover so you don't even have to load them again. One quirk I found was that if you had loaded your book to CreateSpace but didn't actually publish it, this process won't work; you need to complete publication on CS, and then move the book over to KDP Print. You still have an option to get a draft copy from KDP if you want to be sure. I notice that instead of merely marking "proof" on an inside page, KDP puts a Not for Resale banner on the draft copy's cover,

Once the paperback version exists in KDP, the entry for that book includes a separate set of options for that version. The menu there is where you can order author copies and make changes, if needed. 

So far I have moved over three out of my six print titles. One thing I thought was better is, KDP let me price the books a couple of bucks cheaper than CreateSpace did. Now, this could have been because CS lowered their prices, too, but didn't notify authors they could change prices on existing  books, but I thought it was positive. It's much harder to compete with traditional publishing in print because you can't undercut them on cost like you can with ebooks.

Anther advantage is, your print sales (once they are shipped) show up in the same Sales Dashboard bar graph as your Kindle sales. Free ebooks "sales" are blue, regular ebook sales are gold, and print sales are gray. The Month to Date spreadsheet-style chart has a button to select paperback or ebook format.

The final advantage is, the paperback version of Alien Vows was linked to the Kindle version within 24 hours, without my doing anything to request it.

At present, I have three titles in KDP Print and three still in CreateSpace. When I get ready to publish my other five ebooks in print, I will start with KDP.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

eBooks can be corrected and Kindle books often are!

Any book can have errors, but one book that's almost bound to have errors is an old, out-of-print (or even out-of-copyright) title that is published as an ebook by scanning the printed pages and then converting the resulting file into epub or Kindle format without carefully proofing every word. It might be because the pages weren't in great shape or it might be because the scanner wasn't the latest and greatest, but those kinds of books almost always have some errors. Sometimes they have many errors.

A lot of readers probably pay no attention, but in fact Kindle books are often updated after publication. This could be for reasons other than errors; the publisher might have added content, or enabled a new feature like X-Ray. But since the  Kindle interface provides a way for the user to report content errors, I'm guessing the most common reason is fixing a typo or several typos.  [Note: This only works on an actual Kindle. The Kindle app on my Android phone, my PC, and my tablet do not have this function. I don't know about the iPhone and/or iPad versions. If you know, please leave me a comment.]

If you feel like it, you can send Amazon info about errors using the menu that pops up when you highlight text.  The example below is highly typical of the kind of errors you'll see in scanned books. "For two pins" was a common expression, but the scanner made it into "Pot two pins."

Once you tap the three dots to get the menu, you see an option to report a content error. 

Amazon now asks you to identify the error.

In this case, I tapped Typo.

This gave me a screen where I could input the correction. In a way, Amazon is making readers into proofreaders. 

Once you click submit, you get a screen telling you the error will be submitted. But assuming that the publisher acts on these notices, how do you get a corrected file? Well, corrections and changes happen all the time, but Amazon doesn't automatically reload the book because doing so with no warning could wipe out a reader's notes and highlights and lose his place in the book. If a publisher has uploaded a corrected ebook that you bought from Amazon, that shows in your list of  Kindle books, accessible in your browser when you're on The list appears under the heading  "Content and Devices"  and updates are obvious. 

If you click the update button, Amazon first sends a warning. 

And there you have it. Good luck trying that with a printed book on your shelves! 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Taking Inventory

I'm doing final corrections on Alien Vows, getting it ready for launch, but I stopped to take stock of my "stack" of manuscripts.  I put the word in quotes because the stack is digital; the books exist only as files on my hard drive.

I have been writing seriously since 1992, but I didn't start self-publishing until 2011. Since then I have published nine (soon to be ten) novels and one novella.

The unpublished novels list looks like this:

Bag of Tricks
The Return of Magic

Science Fiction
This Nameless World
Child of the Sand (very rough draft)

Science Fiction Romance
Alien Skies (Book 3 of the Wakanreo series)
Worlds Apart
Ice and Fire

YA Science Fiction
Nomads (or possibly Nomads of Menkar 7)
Playing with Fire -- partial m.s.  

The next one in line to publish will undoubtedly be Alien Skies because I want to finish the Wakanreo series. After that I need to decide which direction I want to go. I might alternate, and do a fantasy next and then a science fiction romance, and then repeat. This Nameless World will probably go to the bottom of the list because it's currently at 240,000 words, the longest book I ever wrote.  That's about twice as long as most of my novels, but I don't think I can split it into two books because there's no resolution point in the middle of the book.

In contrast, I have also written six short stories. It's not that I was trying to write mostly novels;it's that the stories that started in my head were mostly novels. Go figure!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

ALIEN VOWS is now available for pre-order!

The Kindle version of Alien Vows is now available for pre-order! The paperback version will be along soon, but I have to make some corrections to it. I've ordered a proof copy to be sure I want the matte cover. Delivery is set for September 5.

I've finally figured out how to handle the X-Ray feature. It's not available in the KDP author dashboard until the book is loaded and ready, so you have to make it available for sale or pre-order if you want to be able to run the X-Ray tool. At the same time, you are locked out of making changes several days before the delivery date, so you need to set that far enough ahead that you can do all your corrections and reload the file well before that date. With all the alien words in this series, X-Ray is crucial!

I always give my proofreader a copy of the formatted print pages as she finds that much easier to proof from than a Kindle copy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another guest blog post

Today my blog post on when and why I write a book in a series instead of a standalone book is up on  the SFR Brigade blog. The members of the SFRB write science fiction romance (or sometimes science fiction with a strong element of romance). I fit right in!

Here's a list of my books, arranged by series/genre. The titles in red are science fiction romance. Also, keep in mind that the ThreeCon books share a universe but no overlapping characters so they can be read in any order.

Friday, June 29, 2018

ALIEN BONDS got another excellent review!

So far, my reviewers love this book! Yesterday a reader whose Amazon handle is FangFan posted this lovely 5-star review:

So far no reviewer as given Alien Bonds fewer than 4 stars and more than half of them gave it 5 stars! 

In other news, my copy editor is almost done with the edits to Alien Vows. I will have to get cracking!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Writing in a series

Recently I sent my finished draft of Alien Vows off to my copy editor. Having finished a stage in the process of creating a book, I realized that wrestling with that story had made me reflect on how writing in a series is intrinsically different from writing a standalone story.

I have several book in my Three Con series, but that's a series only in the sense that the universe is shared. All the ThreeCon books assume a universe with the same history and level of technology, and there are some shared events but no shared characters. It doesn't matter what order you read them in.

The thing is, with a standalone story, clearly every reader is a new reader, With a true series where the same characters age throughout the books, you have to allow, at least to some extent, for three categories of readers:
  1. Those who recently read the previous book
  2. Those who never read the previous book
  3. Those who read the previous book, but it has been a good while
My two Haven books, The Sixth Discipline and No Safe Haven, are a true series with the same characters, and one is a sequel to the other. But with those books, trying to accommodate the second category of readers was less of an issue because there were no aliens with different biology. There was nothing about the cultures on Haven that needed elaborate description to make things clear to the reader. In Alien Bonds, Wakanrean biology has some fundamental differences from human biology, and those differences are crucial to the story. I have to balance how much I need to repeat a) how things work and b) what, specifically, happened in the first book when I narrate the second one. I don't want to annoy Category 1 readers or even Category 3 readers by trying to not lose Category 2.

And of course, this is Book 2 of a trilogy. I already have a very rough draft for Book 3, Alien Skies, and this is one thing that I'll have to consider all over again after I get Book 2 published and go back to working on Book 3. I'll have even more places where I need to evaluate how much info can and should be repeated.

I've never put the two covers side by side before; I rather like how different they are because the second book covers a new generation. There are, in fact, two new protagonists, even though the original two make an appearance in the second story.

It's always exciting giving birth to a book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Is Amazon killing the product giveaway for Kindle books?

UPDATE:  The links are back! It must have been a glitch.

A useful marketing  took for authors is Amazon's product giveaway. Anyone with an Amazon account in good standing can give away one or more print books (or non-digital other products). Some time ago they added that functionality for Kindle books, too, but now it looks like they plan to take it away because the buttons have gone from the product pages for Kindle books.

This is what I see immediately below the "Write a review" button (which always appears  after the last visible review) for the paperback version of Alien Bonds:

This is what I see below the "Write a Review" button for the Kindle version of the same title:

It just goes right into "what else did customers look at" list!  No button for hosting a giveaway!

On the other hand, I just successfully hosted a giveaway of a Kindle book by using the "Copy This Giveaway" button that appears on my Completed Giveaways page. Ergo, the functionally still works for Kindle books, but the buttons are gone. There's no mention of this that I can see on Amazon's Giveaway FAQ. In fact it still lists Kindle books as being eligible, so who knows if Amazon is really killing it or somehow the buttons just got deleted.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Can you judge a book by its cover? (Cover reveal for ALIEN VOWS)

Well, of course you can! There's no guarantee that your judgement will be accurate, but we judge  books by their covers all the time. The overall look of the cover can tell you a lot about the book. Where (and when) is it set,? What it is about? Does it fall into a specific genre?

In some romance sub-genres (historical, paranormal, and science fiction) there's a real trend to put a man's naked torso on the cover. The man's head might not even be visible but his abs certainty are. This is a signal to the reader, It says "This book contains hot sex scenes." It works well as a signal, but of course, it doesn't distinguish one such book from another.

Recently, a post on Lit Hub had fun with the concept by taking classic novels and creating pulp-style covers for them.  Some of them aren't all that different (although I doubt there was a shirtless guy on the original Great Gatsby cover), but some are amusingly pulpy. I loved the Madam Bovary one.  Moll Flanders, on the other hand, looked like a cover the author might have selected.

So, with that in mind, how does the cover for my upcoming book Alien Vows (sequel to Alien Bonds) strike you?  This is an animated version, obviously, but except or the stars turning, it's what the ebook will look like. You will notice the guy is hot but he has his his clothes on. I don't want anyone to be disappointed and I don't write steamy; it's all happening in the book, but it's not in detail on the page.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ta-Da! I finished the first draft of ALIEN VOWS!

I feel like a need a cigarette and I have never smoked in my life. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to Alien Bonds. In honor of that, here's the beginning of Chapter One:

“Yulayan!” Her father’s voice coming from the wall speaker make Yulayan jump. “Will you join your mother and me in the zagathuan?”

“Certainly, Ayzanai,” Yulayan said, closing her terminal.
Her parents were waiting for her in the zagathuan? This far into autumn, her mother wasn’t comfortable out of doors for any length of time unless she wore heated clothing. On the other hand, it was her father’s favorite space in all but the coldest winter months. Yulayan stood up and took a deep breath to compose herself. This might well be the moment for which she had been waiting and planning with growing impatience. She glanced at herself in the mirror, to be sure her clothes looked tidy, and none of her agitation showed on her face.

The person staring back at her looked obviously Wakanrean at first glance. Her face, covered in dense golden fur, was triangular in shape, with a curving arc of a nose and a wide mouth. Above her face, the longer crop of silver-white hair that made up her headcrest was distinct from Terran hair in that it never grew longer.

Yulayan closed her eyes as a childhood memory overwhelmed her without warning. When she was small, her mother had tucked her into bed every night. Yulayan could recall the sensory experience with aching clarity—the silky feel of her mother’s long black hair brushing her own small furred face; the sweetish scent of the perfume her mother sometimes wore; a smooth, naked Terran face looming over her, brown eyes smiling fondly.

Yulayan opened her eyes and frowned at her own image. Her eyes betrayed her Terran mother’s contribution to her genetic makeup more than any other feature. Her irises were not only an odd mix of amber and brown flecks in a murky greenish matrix, but they were too small. The whites of Wakanrean eyes showed only at the extreme corners, and Yulayan could clearly see white on either side of and even beneath her irises.

Her parents were waiting. Yulayan turned towards the door but paused as she noticed her profile in the mirror. Above her tightly fitted red trousers, not even the lose lines of her black tunic-style shirt could completely hide the round swell of her breasts. Modest they might be, but in a world where only nursing mothers had noticeable mammary characteristics, the recent flowering of her breasts had left a bitter taste in Yulayan’s mouth. This was too much to bear.

Yulayan felt a twinge of envy that Kifarao would never have to suffer this indignity, and then chastised herself for her own callousness. Her twin brother might have Wakanrean eyes, but his other features revealed his heritage to even the most casual observer.

Conscious that she owed her parents the courtesy of promptness, Yulayan walked rapidly through the short corridor that connected her room to the main room, then exited the house through the sun room.

Yulayan found the chill autumn air bracing as she crossed the lawn to the zagathuan. Located near the house and at some distance from the high boundary wall that enclosed the entire property, the outdoor room was defined by a stone foundation covered by a carpet of deep purple streaked with green and blue. The furniture was similar to that of the main room—two large sofas, a handful of chairs, each with a hassock, and assorted tables and appliances. Yulayan noted that the sound system was off and counted this as another indication of her father’s state of mind. Her father was a qatraharai, and almost always had music playing when he relaxed in the zagathuan.

“Thank you for coming, Yulayan,” her father said, rising to his feet. He stood next to the sofa where her mother still sat, and Yulayan looked at him with pride.

Kuaron Du was a true Wakanrean. He was average height for his species, but if the Terran woman beside him had stood up, the top of her head would only have come up to his chin. His silver-white headcrest gleamed in the bright sunshine, and the pupils of his amber eyes had narrowed to tiny dots. He was barefoot, too, even in the autumn chill; the claws of his toes left tiny scuff marks in the carpet. If his blue tunic and gray trousers were less uniquely Wakanrean than his features, at least they weren’t blatantly Terran, either.

“Certainly, Ayzanai,” Yulayan said, casting an appraising glance at her mother. It seemed to her that her mother looked a trifle subdued. She wore her black hair much shorter than she had in the past, barely long enough to touch her collar, which made her look older to Yulayan. Today her brown eyes were almost solemn. Even the dull red color of the fitted shirt and trousers she wore emphasized her gloom—not quite mourning clothes, but close enough to convey a somber mood.

“Kifarao will be here in a moment,” Kuaron said.

The kitchen servoid approached, but Yulayan waved it away. She was too excited to eat or drink anything.

“Here’s Farao,” her mother said, as the sun room door opened again. “Sit down, Yulayan.”

Yulayan sank into a chair and watched her brother walk across the lawn to join them. She knew from his movements that he was as anxious as she was about this family meeting. The way he ran one hand over the black hair of his headcrest was a sure sign that he was nervous. Yulayan had an epiphany as she studied her brother’s face.

It wasn’t any one feature that damned him as half Terran; it was the combination of subtle differences in the shape of his face, his mouth, his nose, his ears. There was just too much variation from the Wakanrean norm for him to pass as truly native to the planet. Not even the pure Wakanreaness of his amber eyes could save him.

Ayzanai,” Kifarao said, with a nod to their father, “Elazanai,” another nod to their mother. “I’m here as you asked.”

“Sit down, please,” their father said.

He waited until Kifarao was comfortable to speak again, and when he did, he looked first to Dina.

She nodded, and Yulayan saw that she held something in her hands. She was twisting whatever is was back and forth as if she wanted to break it apart, but it was too strong for her.

“I’m sure you both have some idea of why we’ve called you here,” Kuaron said. It hadn’t been phrased as a question, but he waited, as if he expected a reply.

Yulayan gave Kifarao a moment, but when he said nothing, she spoke up. “One of us—Farao or I—must become yarunai—so that we don’t risk becoming shahgunrahai with each other.” She added the explanation in a tone that mimicked politeness, but the tiny frown on her father’s face told her that he had interpreted her condescension correctly.

Her mother wasn’t so forbearing as to remain silent at borderline insolence. “We know how shahgunrah works, thank you, Yulayan,” she said.

Yulayan felt her face grow hot. She knew it was a Terran trait, and she was thankful blushes weren’t visible on a Wakanrean face. It always made her blush to be reminded that, Terran as she was, her mother had experienced shahgunrah within minutes of meeting her father.

“As you said,” her father said, “one of you must become yarunai. We waited as long as we could because your mother wanted you both to finish basic school here in Wisuta, but your doctors have confirmed that you’re both on the cusp of maturity. To wait any longer is to court disaster. One of you must leave immediately—within a day or two.”

Her father added the qualification when her mother started in alarm. Her mother was obviously unhappy about complying with this universal custom of her adopted world.

“We’ve called you here together for two reasons,” her father went on. “The first is because of yarun, and the second is because tradition dictates that today is the day that you finally assume the responsibility that destiny has allotted you.”

He nodded to his shahgunrahai, and Dina held out what she had twisted in her hands.

Yulayan caught the glint of silver and felt a surge of excitement. She glanced at the base of her father’s throat where a silver heicha was clipped onto his chest fur. Engraved on the oval surface was a lopsided polygon, the mark of Paruian, and a smaller glyph, in ancient Wisutan script, that represented ancestry.

Her father looked grave. “I know you both have always understood that this day would come, but I know from my own experience how different your life will be after today. It is no insignificant thing to wear this heicha. Everyone will look at you differently once they see Paruian’s mark. You may even find that you look at yourself differently.”

If they’re looking at the heicha, Yulayan thought to herself, they won’t notice my eyes.

“I know you’ve heard many times how much consternation and dissension your birth caused here on Wakanreo,” her father was saying. Yulayan had heard it all before, but she made herself listen respectfully. “Aside from the unprecedented phenomenon of a natural hybrid birth, there were those who expressed shock at the idea that the blood of Paruian had mingled with the blood of a Terran. You were almost to your second birthday before the Disciples of Paruian decided that you were indeed true descendants of Paruian. Your mother and I have kept these for you since that day.”

He held out his hand, and Yulayan saw two silver heichas, exactly like his own.

She drew in a breath as her father stepped nearer.

“And now I give them to you,” he said, bending down to clip one of the heichas to the fur at the base of Yulayan’s throat.

Friday, April 20, 2018

My books are like my babies

I was the third of four children, and when my mom got stressed and wanted to yell at one of us, she would often yell all our names instead of just the one who was about to do something bad or dangerous. Sometimes she even threw in the dog's name.

I thought of this the other day when I recalled writing a specific situation, and then I couldn't remember which of my books had that scene in it. All my titles repeated in my head, one after the other, and it came to me that in some ways, they are my children.

If you think about it, a story idea formed in my head and was made fertile by something in my life, either personal experience, or something I had read, or even just my imagination. The idea developed and took form, much like a fetus, until it had a life of its own. I could send it out into the world without me. But unlike people, books don't always have the same gestation period. Some might take nine months, but some might take nine years. 

About 25 years ago, I started writing seriously. Before that, I had dabbled in writing. I had started a book, which I later called Child of the Sand (still not published) but I hadn't finished it. Then somehow the beginning scene for The Sixth Discipline popped into my head. A man with a bow and arrow was walking through a forest. He had a premonition of danger and then he was shot (not fatally) and kidnapped. That was it, to start with. I sat down and started writing (I have never been an outliner; I am a classic pantser) and six week later I had a first draft. In actual fact, that first draft became two books, since it was too long for one. The working title had been Haven but that became the series name for the two-book series, The Sixth Discipline and No Safe Haven. It was the fastest I ever wrote a first draft.

But in the way of things, both books sat there and germinated a while. I always wrote whatever floated to the top of my brain, to take advantage of the energy that a story has when it's newly formed. I had a day job, a helpful husband and two wonderful kids, but I always made time to write in the evenings. I eventually joined a writers' critique group, and I took a writing class, both of which I found helpful. But in writing, I have found nothing more helpful than the actual doing of it. Getting feedback is 100% essential, but it's not how you start. You start by doing it.

And if you're lucky, you give birth to one or more stories. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Microsoft eBooks is a thing?

I own a laptop with Windows 10 and a tablet with Android. I have the Kindle app on both, but I almost never use it unless I want to look at a picture book or other book with color illustrations. For actual reading I much prefer the e-ink experience on my Kindle Voyage.

However, when I clicked the Start button on my laptop the other day, on the list of apps, right after Most Used and before the alphabetical list of all apps, a little rectangle appeared labeled "Suggested" and it said "Explore ebooks, Save on popular titles."

I had totally forgotten Microsoft sold ebooks!

I clicked the link, which took me to the MS Store and a display of books on sale, mostly for under $4. In fact, $1.99 seemed like the most popular price. Lots of them were nonfiction. I didn't really want to read an ebook on my laptop or even on my tablet, but I wanted to see how ebooks worked in Windows, so I bought The Maple Syrup Cookbook for $1.80. It took me a moment to remember my password to the Microsoft store, but I completed the purchase and got it downloaded. It said the file was epub and it would have DRM and could be read on 6 devices. 

Microsoft has no dedicated app to read ebooks; they simply tacked ebook functionality on to their Edge browser. The cookbook loaded in Edge just fine. I could flip pages and use the ebook menus, which look like this: 

On left: Table of contents, bookmarks,  find/search/   
On right: Options (font, display), read aloud, create bookmark,

The tricky part was going back and reading the book later, after I had closed out Edge and then reloaded it. I could not find where Microsoft had put the book!  I could access it by finding it in my browser history, but that didn't seem like a good way to rely on reading a book, because eventually it would move out of history. I did notice when the book was displayed in Edge that the URL was shown as: microsoft-edge:books:FGQPF3H08GQW

By searching for FGQPF3H08GQW as a filename, I found this location, but it didn't seem to have the book when I listed the files there:

Eventually, by hunting around in Edge, (MS Help was NO help!) I discovered that clicking the Star/Hub icon in Edge displayed some other menus, including one that looked like a bookshelf. Clicking that menu lists your MS books. Mystery solved!  Just to be sure the book was actually downloaded, I tried accessing it while I was offline and it worked fine. 

But seriously, why was this so damn hard! And why the mystery about where the file is on your PC? No wonder Microsoft eBooks haven't caught on! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Another guest blog post!

I'm guest blogging again on the SFR Brigade Page. My post is all about genre labels, especially as they apply in science fiction romance. Check it out if you're interested.

The SFR Brigade is a group of writers who all write science fiction romance. Their blog is a good one to follow if you like to read SFR.

Monday, March 12, 2018

How my recent promotion illustrates ebook market share

The Sixth Discipline, the first book of my two-book Haven series is always free, thanks to price-matching. Smashwords lets authors make ebooks available for free, and since that platform can also be used to push the book to iBooks, Nook, and Kobo, as well as smaller vendors (but not Kindle or Google Play), that means self-publishers can make books free on those platforms (and Nook now allows free books to be published on their platform, too). When an ebook is free elsewhere, Amazon will price-match the Kindle version. As you can see by the results below, the Kindle version matters a lot!

The Sixth Discipline was published in 2011, and had its big run in 2013 when I got a BookBub promotion for it and gave away 20,000 copies. Since then, its distrbution numbers (you can't call them sales figures when the book is free) have slowly dwindled. There are a lot of free books, many of them newer, and in a good month, I had been giving away maybe 20-30 Kindle copies, and 10-20 on all other platforms, combined. 

Update:  B&N reporting was very slow and just came in, so I changed the numbers from the original post to reflect those "sales."

The promotion consisted of paying for an entry in The Fussy Librarian daily "free books" email. That email lists links for up to five vendors. The results are in, and for the day of the promotion and the day after, I gave away this many copies:

Kindle =  377
Nook = 8
iBooks = 32
Kobo = 0
Google = 19

A few things jumped out at me. The most obvious is the dominance of the Kindle market. I gave away six times more Kindle copies than all the others combined. The lack of Kobo copies wasn't really surprising since  have never had big numbers on Kobo, but only 8 copies for Nook was telling. I do't think B&N is doing at all well with the Nook.  Also interesting is that Google Books' total was more than double Nook's, while iBooks beat out Google and Nook combined.

And of course, the whole point of paying money to give away a book is that I hope to sell the sequel, No Safe Haven.  Time will tell how that goes.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

SFR Brigade Showcase!

The Science Fiction Romance Brigade is a group of writers who write (no surprise!) science fiction romance (sometimes called futuristic romance). Periodically, they feature a showcase where writers can talk about their work.

I'm participating in the current showcase  showcase with this post, and I'm talking about my new release Alien Bonds. You can visit the showcase to see what other writers are featured this week.

Alien Bonds illustrates why I love writing science fiction combined with romance. When I want to create difficult, dangerous, or just plain awkward situations to put couples into, I don't have to settle for what's currently possible. I can go all out!

Alien Bonds: Marriage versus mating

This basic idea behind this book was inspired by my parents' divorce. My parents were married late in World War II. My dad was a career officer in the US Navy. Mom had a college degree, but she never worked after she married, because for one thing, she had to move every two or three years when Dad got new orders.  So, after 28 years, Dad found out that a woman he had always admired was now a widow, and he left Mom and asked for a divorce. 

My mom's situation was not great. She had married under one set of rules that said that marriage was pretty much forever, short of adultery or cruelty.  She got left under a different set of rules that said marriage was only a good thing if you both still wanted to be married. So, is it better not to be married if the other person no longer wants you?

This got me thinking about what it would be like not to have a choice. What would it be like to be unable to up and leave if you wanted, not because of social or financial constraints, but because of biology. If this were true, if you were tied to one person for life, would it be terrible or would—could this be a good thing? 

I created the planet Wakareno to find out the answer (BTW, I had never heard of Wakanda, the fictional African country in Black Panther, when I created Wakanreo. I'm so happy there's no d in my planet's name!). 

Wakanreans are humanoid, but they mate for life. And I do mean life. If a Wakanrean's mate dies, he or she might find companionship and even love with someone else, but the biological process happens only once in each lifetime. 

So, having predicated this biological process as being something that happens spontaneously, once two (or, rarely, more than two) pheromone-compatible Wakanreans come into contact with each other, I had to deal with a basic question: How would this kind of immutable, uncontrollable version of "marriage" affect Wakarenan societies?

One thing that seemed obvious to me is that society would be less stratified. Any kind of caste or class system is dependent on people choosing a spouse from their own order. If that can't be enforced then it would mean that a princess could mate with the boot boy or a king with a milkmaid, and no one could stop it. Also, being pretty or handsome would count for a lot less. If physical attraction is solely driven by pheromones, then a pretty face or a hunky build buys you nothing. 

As for whether mating for life is a good thing or a bad thing, it all comes down to the individuals involved. If someone is a bad person—cruel or selfish—it's difficult to see being tied to them for life as a good thing. On the other hand, if someone is kind, having an unbreakable bond with them would provide both comfort and security. So, biological mating (it's called shahgunrah in the book) is not inherently good or bad, but it is very, very different.

And then to mix it up but good, I tossed in a human woman who knows very little about the world or the people, but she finds herself experiencing shahgunrah.

For a brief visit to Wakanreo, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Alien Bonds. Dina, the protagonist, is still very new to the world, and is on a blind date.

“That’s one of her local stars she’s sucking up to,” Erik went on. “That one is a singer, I think. God, I hope she doesn’t ask him to sing. Wakanrean music sounds like someone torturing small animals.”

“Really?” Was it just her, or was Erik rather wearing?

“I think the two in blue are wrestlers. That’s one thing I’ll give the Wakanreans. Their wrestling is superb entertainment.”

“That’s what Jared said.”

Dina had the satisfaction of seeing her date look dumbfounded. “Jared Harlingen? You know Jared?”

“Only slightly. Actually, I was wondering if he was invited tonight.”

Erik let out a breath of explosive displeasure. “Not bloody likely. The Ambassador can’t stand him.”

“He said that,” Dina said, wondering if she was being indiscreet.

“You seem pretty chummy with Jared.”

It wasn’t said as a question, but Dina detected a speculative note in Erik’s voice. “Is that bad? Is there something wrong with Jared Harlingen?”

“Nothing except he’s always beating my time.” He put down his glass and turned to face her. “Arliana said I should wait until later to ask you, but what the heck—Do you want to go to my place for a more intimate get together? I’ve got better food and booze than the Ambassador is providing, and I’m sure the two of us could have more fun alone.”

Dina felt her face flush red. She hated that she couldn’t control her tendency to blush. Ever since she had left the comfortable familiarity of her native world, she had found herself in such situations. No longer shocked, she still couldn’t stop herself from reacting as a Fantaran.

“I’m sorry.” She fought to keep disapproval out of her voice. “I have to be at work very early tomorrow morning.”

Erik’s eyes opened wide. “Oh, come on! You can’t possibly be offended. Arliana said you were married on Croyzan.”

Her mortification faded, and annoyance replaced it. “I fail to see that my life or my reactions are any business of yours.”

Erik’s jaw went slack. “What?”

Dina put her glass down on a nearby table. “It seems Arliana miscalculated in thinking we would hit it off. I think I’d better go.”

He blinked. “What century do you all live in back on Fantar? Arliana isn’t a prude about sex. How was I to know you are?”

Annoyance morphed into anger. She was trying not to judge him, but he had no qualms about judging her. “Well, it looks like Arliana’s miscalculation is now a certainty. Will you say good night to her for me?”

“You’re really leaving?”

“Certainly.” She nodded instead of offering her hand. “Have a pleasant evening. Although if that takes finding a woman who’s liberal-minded enough to go home with you after two minutes of conversation, I have my doubts. Good night.”

She turned on her heel and stalked off, not looking back until she was almost to the stairs.
By then all she could see of Erik was his retreating back. Dina felt a qualm of remorse. Obviously, his idea of polite behavior would never be acceptable on Fantar, but did she have any right to apply Fantaran standards here on Wakanreo? In any event, she had to explain her premature departure to Arliana.

She turned to survey the crowd again, looking for any sign of iridescent blue and silver. She didn’t see Arliana, but she noticed the silver-headed Wakanrean had left the Ambassador’s circle and was standing by himself in the middle of the room.

Dina wasn’t sure, but she thought he was staring at her. She took a few steps toward the stairs, and his eyes followed her so closely there was no doubt that she was the object of his scrutiny.

No, his animosity. He looked angry—furious, in fact. She had never seen a Wakanrean show so much emotion. His eyes gleamed with rage, and his nostrils flared wide. She took another step toward the stairs, and the Wakanrean began to walk rapidly toward her.

Dina fought panic. What could she have done to make him so angry? She hadn’t come close enough to any Wakanreans to offend anyone. She clasped her hands together to reassure herself that her gloves were on.

The silver-haired Wakanrean came closer still. Under his cape he wore a long, blue robe instead of the trousers and loose, tunic-style shirt favored by Wakanreans of both sexes. He was very close now. His golden facial and body fur combined with the creamy white of his crest reminded her of some Terran animal, but she couldn’t remember which one. Other than the dark blue trim on his robe and the diamond-shaped pattern that decorated his sandals, his only adornment was a piece of silver jewelry fastened at the base of his throat; she couldn’t tell if it was pinned to his robe or his chest fur.

Dina could feel herself breathing faster, her heart pounding hard. She should walk away. Why couldn’t she move her feet? She stood waiting by the mezzanine railing, as still as if she had taken root in the floor.

The Wakanrean stood in front of her. He glared down at her, his face contorted into a scowl, his amber eyes glowing with contempt.

“I beg your pardon.” Dina tried to keep the quaver out of her voice. “Do I know you?”

He was so close, she could feel the heat from his body. Either that, or the room had gotten suddenly warmer. Dina felt herself flush from head to foot.

He didn’t answer, but all at once it was as if his anger was a physical thing, an invisible mass, pushing against her. She stepped backward, stumbled, and almost fell.

She reached for the mezzanine railing behind her, and in the same instant, the Wakanrean grabbed her arm.

Dina froze, utterly baffled. The orientation had said clearly that Wakanreans would always avoid touching a Terran, and yet here was one not only touching her, but holding her firmly by the arm and helping her to stand.

The orientation had also failed to warn her that a Wakanrean’s touch was so warm it almost burned. Dina could feel a flush of heat on her arm where his hand still gripped it. She stood straighter and looked into his face. He had typical Wakanrean features—an arched nose, large round eyes, a wide mouth.

His expression changed as she watched. His anger faded to confusion. He looked almost stunned. His nostrils still flared, but from the way his eyes had opened wide, Dina knew he was surprised rather than angry.

Neither of them had taken a step since he took hold of her arm. Dina swallowed once, conscious of discreet glances and overt stares from those around them.

“I’m all right,” she said finally, wondering if she was speaking the truth. The dizziness had passed, but she still felt lightheaded. “Thank you, but you can let go now.”

He loosened his grip but didn’t release her for a few seconds. When he did, he brushed her bare arm with the back of his hand. Dina was amazed when it sent shivers of anticipation up her spine.

“This is unexpected.” His wonderfully resonant voice had a rich, warm timbre to it that made Dina’s shivers change from anticipation to yearning.

“Yes,” she said, unsure of what he meant, but afraid to give offense.

“Where do you live?”

“I have an apartment in the off-world sector,” she said, wondering why she was answering him. She fought the urge to close her eyes and just listen to that wonderful voice.

“My house is in the cliffs outside the city. Let’s go there instead.”

“All right.”

It took Dina a moment to realize that she had agreed to go home with him.

Get the book: 

Alien Bonds is for sale as a paperback.and as a Kindle book (it's free to borrow, as of now, if you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber).

And don't forget to check out the current SFRB showcase! (Click on a writer's name to see their post) 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Amazon Exclusivity: What does it buy you?

The answer is, it depends. Mostly, in my experience it depends on your book. If you're self-publishing in the US, your biggest single market will almost certainly be the Kindle store. This is not to say that other markets should be ignored. Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple  iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, and Smashwords sell plenty of ebooks.

Pricing and Countdown Deals

However, selling a book is not always as simple as slapping a price on it and saying "For Sale." Amazon limits the minimum price for a Kindle book sold via KDP to 99¢. It encourages you to price the book between $2.99 and $9.99 by offering the maximum royalty percentage for books in that range. If you enroll your book in the KDP Select program, it means you cannot sell it in ebook form anywhere except the Kindle store (This doesn't apply to print sales). It also means Amazon offers incentives not otherwise available.  Specifically, you can run Kindle Countdown Deals where for the limited number of days specified, the book is available at a sale price (US or UK only). As opposed to you simply lowering the price yourself (which you could do at any time) the regular price still shows up, but it will be crossed out to show the book is on a limited time sale.

Kindle Unlimited (KU)*

The other big benefit is that your book is available in the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. KU subscribers are Amazon customers who pay a monthly flat fee. This allows them to read any book they want in the KU program. There's a limit to how many they can have at once, but not how many they can read. Amazon pays the author not a flat royalty per book, but a per-page-read fee. The amount is not guaranteed, but lately for the US KU market it has been running about 0.0048¢ per "Kindle edition normalized page"**. It is usually less in the foreign KU markets, but the US is usually the biggest one anyway. 

Genre, length, and readability will affect how much money your book can make in the KU program. My experience is limited since I have had only three books in this program. The enrollment is not a marriage; you don't have to keep the book exclusive forever. When you sign up, it's for a 3-month period and then you can renew again every 3 months, if you wish. If you don't renew, your book is no longer in KU and you can't run price promotions. With Saronna's Gift, which is a science fiction romance, I made enough with KU borrows to make it worthwhile to say in for two full periods, that is, 6 months. With Turnabout, a YA science fiction novel that is in no way a romance, I never made much in the KU program so I let it expire after the first 3-month period. Note that Turnabout is also considerably shorter-- only about 80,000 words, which meant less money per KU reader.

To sum up, I would expect a book that was a page turner, a romance, and fairly long would do very well in KU. And, for what it's worth, here's my advice:

  • Always start in KDP Select to see how the book does
  • Set a goal for KU borrows (say a third or maybe half of what the royalties are) and drop out when you go below your goal.
  • Once you're out of KDP Select, go for every market you can! 

* I am aware that KDP Select also gets your book into the Kindle Owners Lending Library, but frankly, I don't think this is nearly as big a deal as KU so I didn't spend any time talking about it.
** Amazon calculates pages in its own way, but Alien Bonds was 128,000 words and Amazon said it had 658 KENP pages. That's approximately 195 words per KENP page.