“Doing” Magic

Is it just me, or does the above phrase turn anybody else’s stomach?  Anybody who knows me will already be well-aware of my utter disdain for the concept of “doing” magic, but I feel it’s time I tried to actually open a dialogue about it.

There are plenty of other phrasing choices to get angry about, of course.  I still have trouble believing that the entertainment industry is incapable of correcting its use of “lie” vs “lay”, for example.  I also get a bit annoyed about people saying “poisonous” when they mean “venomous” (though I’ll admit, that one’s a bit more about a desperate need to feel superior).  These, however, are words with clearly defined rules which prescribe their use.  Thousands and thousands of books and websites have arisen in recent times to teach people how to use these words, and one can easily point to those as evidence when positing their perfectly valid arguments.

There are those phrases, though, which are bothersome, yet which violate no particular rule.  They make you want to scratch your own eyes out (or eardrums, I suppose), but when it comes time to put the user of such offense in his or her place, there’s no evidence, no cardinal rule you can point to which is evidence of a mistake.  It just “sounds” wrong.

I hear it all the time in movies, read it all the time in books.  

“Her ability for doing magic was second-to-none.

“We’re not allowed to magic outside of Hogwarts.”

Scratch, scratch, bleed.

It’s perfectly valid, of course.  “To do” is a wonderfully useful verb, which allows one to partake in just about any activity and be able to refer to it with minimal fuss.  I would argue, however, that nobody “does” magic.  You “perform” magic.  You “create” magic.  You can “invoke” magic.  “Doing” it?  Yech!  It’s like a little boy, referring to himself, and saying “Johnny wants a cookie,” instead of “I want a cookie.”

Does it bother you?  If so, then thank you.  Thank you, thank you, I am finally not alone.  If not, then consider this sentence:  “Yeah, I went do the Elton John concert last week.  He still really knows how to do the piano!”

I’m finishing a draft of chapter 5 this week.  Things got a little bit muddy over the last month, and I’ve been a little unsure what to do about them.  Then, over the holiday weekend in England, I put the dog in his harness and took him for a long walk in the rain, which is my usual prescribed cure for “I don’t know what’s wrong with my story.”  Result?  A bit of rewriting and the moving around of a few chapter elements, and suddenly what amounts to the first act of SotRS is suddenly really working well.  This is exciting stuff, and I’ll be able to start on chapter 6 next week!

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How Important Is Paper, Anyway?

Today, while pulling into Paddington Station, I finished up the second draft of chapter 2 of “Sect of the Rounded Stone”.  So, that leaves me with a prologue plus two full chapters I’ve finished now, and I’m more mixed in my feelings about it all than I thought was even possible.

I don’t know what it is that’s changed in my view of the world since I put together KotF, but the chapters of the second book are a lot longer than I’d expected them to be when I was plotting them out.  I’ve raised concerns about this before, I know, but it seems to have gotten worse today, which is kind of freaking me out, so I’m going to raise them again.

See, what happened was that I took the three sections I’ve written so far and glued them together into a single document.  Fine.  Good.  That went as well as one might expect.  But then I made the mistake of looking at the word count.

Two-and-a-half chapters, and I’m up to about 45 thousand words.

It’s actually kind of wonderful in a way.  I’ve been feeling a whole lot like I’m not getting anything done on this book lately, despite managing to put a good couple of hours in every day.  What the 45K number tells me, though, is that I’ve already both written and second-drafted about a sixth of the total word count of book one.  Just do that five more times, and I’ve got myself a book.  

Of course, that doesn’t help with the bigger problem, which is largely concerned with the fact that I don’t actually expect these chapters to get any shorter, and I still an awful lot of them to write.  

This leaves me with two options.  The first is the one where I go over the outline again and start looking for ways to end the story sooner.  This wouldn’t be impossible, as I can see a way of taking a small climax that occurs around the middle of the outline in and turning that into the larger, book-ending variety.  I’m not sure that makes sense, though, as it would mean leaving out a lot of really fun stuff.  It would also mean that, when book 3 comes around, I’ve got to do all this “sequel re-introduction” stuff all over again.

The other option, of course, is the one where I give up on any sense of traditional publishing and just make the story as long as I damn well please.  My sales of KotF have been almost exclusively in digital version, after all, and there’s no such thing as book thickness on a Kindle.  So, why not just write it like I want to write it and put it out, word count be damned?

I’ll tell you why.  The paper version of the book would be too long to print.  Fact is, I have to have a printed version.  One thing I’ve learned from my experiences in selling KotF is that a printed copy of your book is the best possible marketing tool you can have.  Give away two physical copies of your book, and it will lead to 50 sales of the digital version.  Tell someone you wrote a book, and they’ll be interested; hand them a copy of it, and they’ll actually be impressed.  It’s simply a tool I don’t believe I can do without.

So, where does that leave me?  Well, I’m considering making the physical version a two-parter, though I don’t know if I have such ambition within me (I have to make two covers now!?).  It’s going to take some time to figure out, though I think it’s going to be a fun sort of process.  The nice thing, though, is that I feel like I crossed a threshold today.  Having three sections of a book stitched together into a single piece…it’s evidence that all this typing away at a keyboard has actually led to the creation of something substantial.  For the first time, I’m looking forward to the high-intensity work-a-holism that is sure, now, to follow.

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Nature vs. Editing

The “Law of of Finding More To Say” dictates that, for every new section of text an author write, be that a paragraph, a chapter, or even a whole novel, that section is likely to be longer than the section that preceded it. You see it all the time in fantasy: the first book is a short, spindly thing that you could actually roll up and use to swat a spider, but each successive sequel gets longer and longer until, by the end, even the people making the movie find they need to split the last book up into two parts. It’s a fact. It’s natural law, like gravity. It takes a lot of effort to break natural law. With gravity, you need to design and engineer the space program; with fiction, you need to spend the rest of you life editing.

Remember how I told you last week that I expected to be working on chapter 2 by now? Yeah, that didn’t quite happen. Turns out, there was a lot I needed to get straight in chapter 1 before I could consider the first draft of it to be good and finished. Chapter 1 is so very important in a sequel. You need to spend time reminding everyone what happened in book 1, give people who didn’t read book 1 a chance to get caught up, and then, on top of all that re-hashing, you need to hook people into chapter 2. It’s a bit of a challenge, and it’s taken time to get the various pieces in an order that makes them look like they belong together.

Anyway, I feel I met the challenge yesterday, and I finished off the first full draft of chapter 1. I know I’m finished because, for the first time, I got that buzz. You know, the one that only shows its face after you’ve writen a paragraph or two that really makes you feel something. It was great.

Then, with all that elation hanging over me, I took a look at the word count.

Crap.

So, here’s the breakdown of the first book. You can see that, even here, the Law of Finding More To Say was in full effect; the chapters toward the end are longer than the chapters at the beginning. It all led up to a book that was actually quite long, but just reasonable enough to put into print form without creating a new paper-based singularity. It went something like this:

  • Chapter 1: 7,511 words
  • Chapter 2: 11,228 words
  • Chapter 3: 7,476 words
  • Chapter 4: 5,451 words
  • Chapter 5: 6,843 words
  • Chapter 6: 12,759 words
  • Chapter 7: 6,930 words
  • Chapter 8: 8,015 words
  • Chapter 9: 12,220 words
  • Chapter 10: 2,449 words
  • Chapter 11: 6,444 words
  • Chapter 12: 17,027 words
  • Chapter 13: 17,087 words
  • Chapter 14: 12,540 words
  • Chapter 15: 14,416 words
  • Chapter 16: 9,468 words
  • Chapter 17: 14,495 words
  • Chapter 18: 7,904 words
  • Chapter 19: 9,863 words
  • Chapter 20: 11,109 words
  • Chapter 21: 19,366 words
  • Epilogue: 4,841 words

Now, for the word count of my newest chapter. You ready?
You sure?

  • Chapter 1: 19,090 words

It’s almost as long as the lengthiest chapter of the first book, and it’s only the first chapter!

Needless to say, this has led to the revisiting of a few basic concepts concerning the plot outline of book 2. Is it too long? Is it structured properly? Maybe I need to split it into two books? If I split it, would the resulting books be long enough?

Et cetera.

It might all end up being a bunch of navel-gazing in the end, but it’s something that needs to be looked at closely and severely before I can move forward. In either case, I expect chapter 2 (which might end up being chapter 3 if I end up deciding 19 thousand words is just too long for a first chapter) to be well on its way, come Monday.

Oh, and users of Goodreads should find another giveaway happening this weekend. Enjoy!

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Second Drafts

I’d forgotten how amusing, how frustrating, and how incredibly surprising a second draft can be.  

The plan for book 2 had, at first, been to write the whole of draft 1 in a single pass, then to follow up with the usual draft, after draft, after draft, ad nauseam.  It didn’t turn out that way, though.  Instead, I’ve found myself writing book 2 in much the same was as I wrote book 1: write a chapter, go over that chapter again a couple of times to bang it into shape, then move onto the next.  It turns out that this is how my brain likes to write.

It’s only chapter 1 at this point, though I’m on my second pass.  It’s such a mixed bag, this process.  One moment, you’re trawling through a paragraph, changing nearly every word to one that seems a bit more appropriate, fixing tenses, capitalizing proper nouns, and generally wondering just how bad a case of carbon monoxide poisoning you must have while you writing this crap down the first time.  Then, there will be this one paragraph, this concept outlined in this single block of text, that will hit you right in your center, will really grab you.  “What?  Did I write that?” you might say.  “I don’t think I’m good enough to have written that.”

I’ve just found my first significant need for a rewrite, in fact.  Turns out, I have this radical change in tone about three-quarters through the chapter that gives the impression that two different people wrote them on two different days.  It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this, to be honest.  One of the dangers of doing almost all of your writing on your train commutes to and from work is that you very often are two different people on two different days.  I largely suspect that this tonal change occurred somewhere between the Circle Line and Platform 14 at Paddington Station.  I’ll need to change out about 1/8th of the text in the chapter to make it work.  The good news, though, is that I know exactly how to do it, and it’s going to make the story better.

I’ve also identified the first area where I’m going to have to do some actual research!  How cool is that?!

So, that’ll be the second draft of chapter 1 all nice and wrapped up by the end of the week.  Chapter 2, here I come!

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The Day I “Made It”

Of all the days that have come and gone since I released “Knight of the Flame”, this one has easily been the most unexpected, the most surreal.  I’ve been thrilled about how the world has been treating my book for the past month or so; I’m actually having trouble believing what I learned today.

It started a couple of days ago when I noticed that my sales had gone up, unexpectedly.  They weren’t in a slump or anything, but there had been a slight dip in the number of book I’ve been selling over the last week or so, and the day before yesterday, this slowdown suddenly corrected itself.

It wasn’t a big difference, but I’m one of those annoyingly curious people that always wants to know why such-and-such an event happened or didn’t happen.  Even a small rise in sales requires investigation.

I haven’t put a giveaway up on Goodreads in awhile, and I’ve been busy enough with getting the details of book 2 together that I’ve been neglecting my blog, so why did sales increase by 50% over the course of two days?

This morning, I had the audacity to wonder if somebody had perhaps blogged about it, or if maybe it had gotten mentioned on a book review site or something.  I hadn’t gotten any Google alerts recently, but I thought I should do a quick search, just to be on the safe side.

To my surprise, I found that “Knight of the Flame” has made its way on to a handful of torrenting sites!

Let me be clear about this from the start:  I am not upset in any way that my book is being downloaded for free by the kind of people who know how to do that kind of thing.  In fact, I’m ecstatic about it.  I was having a bit of trouble trying to get this concept across to a couple of incredulous co-workers this morning, so I recognize that my opinion in this matter is not the one held by the majority.  “You’re happy that people are stealing your book?!  What’s wrong with you?!”

After a fair amount of discussion, I’ve realized it comes down to two major points.

First, is a generalisation that I’m willing to accept as part of my worldview.  The two kinds of people who use torrents to download copyrighted content are: the ones who want to get a feel for whether they like something or not before they spend money on it, and the ones who don’t have any money to spend on luxuries, but want luxuries all the same.  

The first group is going to eventually buy the book if they like it, if they come to see it has having value.  They’re not out to harm anybody, they just know that good things cost money, and torrenting is a good way to get a really good feel for a product or service before deciding to spend x amount of dollars on it.  I’ve been a member of the first group a time or two; the fact that I own several seasons of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is an indicator of the kind of thing I’m talking about.

The second group?  Seriously, they were never going to buy the book anyway, under any circumstances.  If they read the book and didn’t pay for it, then I literally haven’t lost anything.  I have, however, gained at least one more reader who just might like the story enough to tell his or her friends about it.  It’s like a discounted marketing campaign, or one where you can be very selective about the campaign’s target audience, then pay for the service after its already run.  I’m very, very excited to have that going for me now.

I mentioned there were two reasons I was okay with the torrenting, right?  The second one is…well, I’ve kind of “made it” now, haven’t I?  Seriously, how much more legitimate can a piece of creative content get than showing up on uTorrent?  It’s like my little book has effectively entered the zeitgeist now.  It’s proof-positive that I’m doing something right:  if people are willing to break the law to get hold of my book, then it must be pretty darned good.

That’s how I feel about my particular book, anyway.  I would totally understand any other author being hurt and dismayed at making a similar discovery so I am not, repeat, NOT, condoning piracy.   …I just think the peg leg looks good on some people is all…

I spent a good, long time trying to sort out a big issue I was having with the plot of book 2.  When I’m having trouble like that, I find the best thing to do is go back to the characters and the settings and start filling in details about them, so that’s what I’ve been up to for the past week and a half, and things are looking great.  By Monday, I should have the first draft of the first chapter on a hard drive somewhere.  How cool is that?

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The Questions A New Author Gets All The Time

There are two of them. Two questions which I get asked almost daily these days. Can you guess what they are? Yeah, I’ll bet you’re way ahead of me, likely because they’re the first two questions which immediately pop into your head when you hear of some schlub that just self-published his first book, right? Go ahead, what do you think? Be as impertinent as you like. Got them in your mind? Okay, without further ado, the questions are:

“How are the the sales of your book going?”

and

“How’s the sequel coming along?”

I shall endeavor to answer both questions, and in that order.

First, is the sales of “Knight of the Flame”. That one’s actually really easy because I have a handy little graph to show you:

Image

This graph represents international the international Kindle sales. These represent the bulk of the activity of the book-buying public. Most of them come from the US, though I’ve flogged a few books to places like France, India, and Australia, too. The more observant of you will notice that there seem to be more points on the graph then there have been actual days since the release on May 12th. Well, that’s basically due to the bad planning of an inexperienced author. In an attempt to make sure the book was available on every platform I wanted to see it on by the 12th, I hit the “publish” button on Amazon waaay too soon. May 12th is right about in the middle of the graph, in fact, which was a major boost to my self-esteem. You see, every single sale in the first half of the graph was made with no advertising, no marketing, no announcement of any kind; sales were slowly, steadily rising, and the only possible reason for it was word-of-mouth. That’s pretty damned cool.

Speaking of the other platforms, when I say that Kindle makes up the majority of my sales, I mean I’ve sold a total of 4 books on other platforms. Two of them came directly from the Smashwords.com site in the first three days of availability. The other two came from Scribd. If you don’t know about Scribd, it’s a “pay a low, monthly fee and get access to all the books on our system” kind of thing. I was a bit worried, in fact, that I might have trouble seeing actual royalties out of a system that doesn’t actually charge per book delivered, but I gotta say, it seems to work. I think I like Scribd. I may even become a member.

The second question, the one that makes me squirm a little, is a bit harder to put a definitive answer to, but it comes down to this: I’m having a little trouble making a couple of the details in the third act work out properly. It’s a question of knowing the characters are at “place A” at one stage, “place B” at another stage, and not quite being sure how they got from “A” to “B”. It makes for a very interesting little puzzle, and I’d say I’m probably about three good, long walks away from solving it. Once that’s done, I’ll be in business, and the first draft can commence in earnest. I’m comfortable saying that book 2 of the “Children of the Old War” series will be coming out by summer of next year.

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The Joy of Coming in at 10,000th Place

You know, I’ve always considered myself a pretty even-tempered, non-obsessive, level-headed, stay-home-on-a-Friday-night kinda fella. I’m the one that’s listening to the conversation about <insert political/sport discussion> and wondering how it is everyone’s so excited/elated/foaming-at-the-mouth about it.

Then, I published a book. Now, all of a sudden, my entire feeling of self-worth is tied up in my book’s Amazon.com sales rank. I check it about a hundred times a day. I’m absolutely, completely obsessed with it.

I don’t even know me anymore.

See, I’m never going to be the type that’s good at marketing, mostly because I simply can’t stand the idea of bothering somebody I don’t know just because I’ve got a thing I’d like to transfer ownership of. I did enough research on how to sell a self-published book to feel like I had a basic grasp on the basic elements, and that was about it. Based on that research, I knew I’d get most of my sales on Amazon.com Kindle, and I determined that, for somebody like me—first-time author; no established brand; really, really long book—finding a spot anywhere above the #100,000 sales rank on Amazon Kindle would be a decent measure of relative success. If “Knight of the Flame” actually managed to get to #50,000, that would be the sign that I might actually have a future in this little self-publishing business.

Today, my little book crossed the #10,000 rank, coming in at 9,313!

Amazon Ranking

I’m flummoxed. I’m aghast. How in the world did this happen?
Seriously, to anyone who’s bought a copy, anyone who’s mentioned it to their friends or family, anyone who’s written a review or put a rating up on Goodreads: Thank you. Thank you so very much. When I decided I was actually going to buckle down and finish this novel, I decided that I was going to write it for me. I wasn’t going to tailor it to make it “marketable” and I wasn’t going to try to make a literary masterpiece; I was just going to tell a story that I would personally enjoy reading. There’s this wonderful sense of inclusion you get when you find out that a lot of other people seem to like the same things you do.

I had a particularly nice “aha” moment while walking the dog this week (I really need to walk the dog without headphones on more often), which means I’m doing a bit of backtracking on book 2, so I’m still working out some details on chapter 10. It’s going well, though, and I’m starting to get really excited about getting the next volume out on the market.

Thanks again. Really. Thank you.

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