A Year in this Crazy Adventure We Call Publishing

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One year ago, I hit publish on a short story, thereby earning myself the title, “Published Author.”

Perfect Game cover (1548x2400)That short story, Perfect Game, has had very impressive staying power, especially considering I don’t promote it at all. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to share the ups and downs of the past year and the experiences I’ve had. This may get a bit lengthy — I’m forewarning you.

May 24, 2013 — Perfect Game is published. It was originally intended to be an experiment before I published Dead Sleep just weeks later. It was one of those stories that gets written when you are stalling other projects and was written and edited in just three days’ time. I worked up my own cover, using a picture I took, and tinkering with it in Picasa. In just a week, it sold remarkably well, but I had a bevy of family and friends who wanted to show a little support on Facebook, so that’s what I chalk those initial numbers to.

July 1, 2013 — Dead Sleep is published. As much as Perfect Game was just an experiment, this was a life-long ambition to finally write and publish my own novel. It was really a perfect storm of conditions that set this up: I finally had just one 40-hour-a-week job, I was reading and following Hugh Howey’s journey, and an idea came to me at just the right time. This first edition of Dead Sleep was riddled with problems, some of which I didn’t find out about for months. It really taught me a lot — to really be meticulous when it comes to your novel. Double, triple, quadruple check everything before you publish. I was thrilled to just have it for sale, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn from the experience.

Veil_Part1July 20, 2013 — The Veil is published. A Silo Saga story, I believe it was one of the first few Silo stories in Kindle Worlds that hadn’t already been published in the Kindle store. After drawing inspiration from Hugh Howey, I really wanted to pay homage to the author who showed me I could become a published author on my own terms. To this day, The Veil is my best-selling title on Kindle.

From there, it was a little while until I published anything else. I worked on a few things and then school started back up in early August, pushing any new titles back until I got the new semester under my belt. One of the stories I worked on was The Sheriff’s Son, which was recently published in WOOL Gathering. The charity anthology was over a half-year in the waiting from when I wrote my story to its publication, but well-worth it. More on this later…

AntApoc_EbookCover (640x1024)September 15, 2013 — Ant Apocalypse is released. Over the summer, I saw a humorous tweet from fellow author Lyn Perry where he wondered about the effectiveness of ant spray that killed them for “up to 7 days,” or something like that. On a whim, I replied “ANT APOCALYPSE,” and he told me to write it. I know he was joking, but I took it as a personal challenge. Horror isn’t really my thing, so I tried to take it on in B-movie fashion and think it paid off. Recently, AA became my first audiobook when narrator Sean Lenhart recorded the book. I’ll tell you — the book really takes the creepiness to another level when you hear it voiced.

Veil_Part2October 29, 2013 — Behind The Veil is published in the Kindle Worlds store. A sequel to The Veil, it is told from the perspective of the villain from The Veil. I also set another small challenge for myself in the process. I knew the story I wanted to tell wasn’t really long, so I made it a goal to tell the story of BTV in less than 10,000 words (thereby making it 99 cents in the Kindle Worlds store). As of this blog posting, I still have plans to write the third and last part of the series, Beyond The Veil. It will be on my summer writing list, I promise.

November through February — Nothing published, but that doesn’t mean nothing gained. I knew heading into November that it was also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I planned and made it my goal to write Dead Sight during the month. I did complete over 50,000 words of the novel in November, but didn’t quite finish. December brought first semester exams, so I put off finishing until later and the final 20 percent of the novel was completed in January. Then came revising and editing, until…

Dead Sight ebookFebruary 23, 2014 — Dead Sight is published. Book 2 in my planned trilogy, it picks up a couple weeks after Dead Sleep leaves off. If Dead Sleep was a personal story for me, Dead Sight was a family story. Not sure what that means for the third book in the series, but these books will always have a lot of meaning for me. I know I’m doing something right because the sales for Dead Sight in the first month and a half equaled the sales for its predecessor in about four months’ time. The sales for the first book in the series have continued to sell better since I published the sequel as well and it has really given me incentive to complete the series. (Another summer project!)

Woolgathering_Cover-3 (1)March 13, 2014 — Finally, WOOL Gathering is published. I actually got involved with the anthology a couple months after its inception, but it took a while before we got all our ducks in a row. I wrote The Sheriff’s Son set in Hugh Howey’s Silo Universe back in August 2013, but it didn’t see the light of day for about seven months. But I am super-proud of this project, being next to stories from my fellow WOOL authors W.J. Davies, Ann Christy, Carol Davis, Lyn Perry, Fred Shernoff, Thomas Robins, Logan Thomas Snyder, and Dave Adams. A lot of great stuff in there and all the proceeds are going to the NaNoWriMo Young Author program. I guess I lied earlier — this is my best-selling work, but since so many other authors are involved, I don’t chalk it all up to me.

So what’s next? 

Concept 3Within a few days, my next project, Baking With Swords should be complete and for sale in the Kindle store. I’ll have a lot more to write about this in other blog posts, but this is a collaboration between me, my brother Paul, and my sister Betsy. After everything I’ve done over the past year, they each unearthed their long-dormant writing abilities and we decided to pool our talents for this collection. The cover is terrific and I’m really looking forward to people reading all the stories, not just mine (A Whimper, which I previewed earlier this year.)

I’ve also written my next short story, tentatively titled True Confessions of a Professional Sidekick, which may go in another anthology with my WOOL friends, and may not. We’ll just have to see. I had a lot of fun writing the story, but once again, it’ll be a few months before most people get a chance to read it.

Then — Dead Search, the final installment in the adventures of Jack and Kristina. I’ve written the first chapter, approximately 3% of the book. Just 97% to go.

This past year has been a trip. Writing and putting myself out there was scary. Hitting publish and waiting for people to read it is like hitting the top of a hill on a roller coaster. The seat is gone for a moment and you aren’t sure how bad or good it’s going to be.

My sales haven’t been life-changing. I’m still going to keep my job as a high school social studies teacher, but this is pretty cool:

  • I’ve sold over 1,200 copies of my books on Kindle in the last year.
  • I’ve sold about 100 copies of my two novels in paperback form as well.
  • Just over 50 people have checked out my books through the Kindle Lending Library Program.
  • I’ve also given away just over 6,500 copies of my books during the same time period.
  • Over 1,000 copies of WOOL Gathering have been sold since its launch.

That means that by now, over 9,000 copies of books that include words I actually wrote are out there on someone’s Kindle, Kindle app, or bookshelf. For that, I’m honored. Even more incredibly, my books have a 4.5 combined average with 113 total reviews on Amazon.com.

I’ve met some great authors and readers throughout the past year and have been encouraged throughout the way. It hasn’t all been an upwards trajectory (you can’t help but think you are doing something wrong when your sales go from 250 one month to about 100 the next and you’ve released a new story.) Staying focused on the next book has helped, as well as the supportive authors I’ve encountered along the way (you know who you are!)

Along the way I also started this blog back in August and have loved entertaining you and providing reviews of my favorite books as well. Thanks for everything and stay tuned — the best is yet to come!

 

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A Few Items…

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Just a few things to let you know about today: 

— The audiobook of Ant Apocalypse is done! My narrator, Sean Lenhart, did a fantastic job evoking the comedic horror of my short story. I really enjoyed listening to it (when I wasn’t utterly creeped out by the words I, myself, wrote). It is on sale at Amazon.com with a link for iTunes coming later. To celebrate, I’ve marked the Kindle version of the story down to FREE today only. That’s right — FREEEEEE!! ANTS!!! Then download the audiobook and enjoy it together!

— My book Dead Sleep has been a Countdown Deal this week. Still just 99 cents through the weekend for U.S. Amazon customers. (I’ll take care of the UK readers later — I promise!) If you never picked this up, now would be a great time. A total of 19 reviews on Amazon and 16 of those are 5-star. 

— The next book in the trilogy, Dead Sight, is now a Countdown Deal, beginning today! You can pick up both full-length novels for less than 2 bucks for a couple days! I wrote the bulk of this book in November, 2013 (NaNoWriMo) and it has 10 reviews — all with a five-star rating. People are loving it and you can get it super-cheap right now!

— I’m done bragging on myself, but I can’t leave this without mentioning my buddy Logan Thomas Snyder also has a Countdown Deal of his WOOL series The Disappeared right now for just 99 cents. Great stuff. 

 

Desperate to Escape, Part 3

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DESPERATE_Part3Thomas Robins published the first entry into his Desperate to Escape series in September of last year and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s exciting, really — getting to read some great science fiction, all while seeing a brand-new author develop and bloom right before you. (Full Disclosure: Thomas and I are both in the WOOL fanfic charity anthology WOOL Gathering and his story “Eight” is my favorite of the bunch.)

Today we are blessed with Part 3 in Robins’ ambitious tale, ready for download on Kindle. I was lucky enough to be an early reader of DTE3, and I have to say: Robins steps up the story to another level I didn’t know he had in him.

So what’s the story with DTE?

Basically, DTE tells the story of a young woman named Ineeka from inner-city Chicago. As a reader, we see two stories told in parallel tracks — one is Ineeka’s quest to escape from Chicago, from her past, from her nature, from what could have been her destiny. The alternate story is of Ineeka as an astronaut, taking a passenger to the International Space Station and the unexpected adventure that follows in orbit of Earth. Ineeka was so desperate to escape her life on Earth, that she wound up leaving the planet entirely.

From there Robins does an exceptional job following Ineeka as she battles her figurative demons back on Earth and the literal enemies she has once she reaches the ISS. With each new addition to the story, Robins amps up the drama and the action as his skill as a writer continues to improve.

I think a lot of people can really relate to Ineeka’s situation. Her mistakes from her adolescence threaten to ground her from NASA before she even has a chance. She dreams of flying…away from Chicago and her life there. It would be easy for her to stay. It would be the well-worn path taken by so many young women, not just in the inner city, but all over this country. I see it myself in rural Illinois. Girls latch on to a guy. They don’t work as hard in school because they think they can just depend on Mr. Good Ol’ Boy the rest of their lives. (Maybe they can, maybe they can’t — that isn’t the point.) They mentally hit stop on their education and any dreams they may have had and slide into a sense of apathy. They stay within 15 miles of their high school most of their lives and by the time they reach middle age, they wonder what happened to their childhood hopes and dreams.

Ineeka is not that girl. She is strong and confident. Even with every obstacle and hurdle in her way, she manages to make her dreams come true. It may not come in the traditional way, but just as her name suggests, Ineeka is not the traditional girl. As Robins takes us from the peril the entire world is in at the end of Part 3, it will take that tenaciousness for Ineeka and the rest of the human race to survive Part 4.

Robins has gotten a lot of compliments on his portrayal of the Earthside story through Parts 1 and 2, but his spaceside story in Part 3 holds its own. I kept rushing through Ineeka’s Earth struggles to get back to her issues in space.

If you haven’t yet checked out Thomas Robins’ Desperate to Escape, here is Part 1, and Part 2, and finally, Part 3. All just 99 cents with Part 4 destined for your Kindle this summer. Get this book — you won’t regret it.

 

Dead Sight Unboxing & WOOL Gathering

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I got my shipment of paperback copies of Dead Sleep from CreateSpace today. I unboxing them, showing off the amazing cover and dedication to my daughter.
I also talk about some other amazing indie books out there, including John Hancock’s ROOF and Peter Cameron’s Feedback. Also talked about WOOL Gathering, featuring my story “The Sheriff’s Son.”

WOOL GATHERING Out Now

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WOOL GATHERING Out Now

WOOL Gathering is now available for Kindle. For less than $3 (that will go towards charity), you get nine fantastic silo stories from around the world. Hugh Howey wrote an introduction and story after story takes you inside the twists and turns of the silo. From the beginnings before SHIFT to the cleanings detailed in WOOL and even hints at the events of DUST, this collection has something for everyone. My original short story, “The Sheriff’s Son,” is included in this anthology. Click on the cover and you can get a copy for yourself.

What does WOOL mean to you?

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We are really close to the release of WOOL GATHERING, an anthology of WOOL-related stories from nine authors who have each explored Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe on their own. I’ve gotta say: I’m ridiculously honored to be included in a collection with these authors. Some of the best and brightest from the WOOL authors and I get to be a part of it.

ImageWith the release so close, I wanted to ask each of them just ONE question. I’ve collected the responses here. I find them all fascinating and intriguing. I didn’t place any restrictions on their answers and what I got frankly amazed me. I count myself privileged to be among this group of writers for this short story collection.

The question: What does WOOL mean to you?

David Adams:

Wool means having a breakdown every time I find myself liking a character in that universe, knowing that they live in the Woolniverse and therefore something terrible is bound to happen to them. And that’s the core of good writing. If you can make your reader unable to stop turning the page because they want to make sure that their favourite character’s going to be okay, even if deep down they know they’re almost certainly screwed, you are doing it exactly right.

Ann Christy:

For me, WOOL is the world writ small. Everything in it is intensified and magnified but it represents the choices we make in real life, right now. The ones who crave power, the ones who want to believe in something no one else believes in, the ones who take great risks to make things right are all in there. And the ones who would destroy anything and everything to achieve their own singular goals are in there, too. To me that short little book back in 2011 was an interesting take on belief and doubt and the harsh realities behind the curtains of our lives. What it became as it was expanded and refined was the path of a world with powerful lessons in it about who and what we can choose to be.

Fredric Shernoff:

WOOL represents a milestone in the history of publishing. It showed that someone could become a success and publish a successful story without going through all the traditional gatekeepers. It inspired me to believe that I could maybe do it too and is the reason I started writing and publishing. It also happens to be a great story!

Thomas Robins:

WOOL sparked a reawakening of the short form in my life. Amazon relentlessly promoted WOOL to me as something I would enjoy. I dismissed it out of hand for several months before giving it a read. I was reminded of my long-past high school literature classes when we were assigned mountains of short story reading. The freedom of spending an hour or two reading a short story and then moving on to a completely different story was liberating in and of itself. However, what WOOL reminded me of the most was that, in short form, stories did not have to have satisfying endings with all loose ends explained. Those qualities spark my imagination and engage me as a reader long after I have finished a story.

silosagaLogan Thomas Snyder:

To me, WOOL is a repudiation of the notion that indie authors are somehow a lesser or sub-species of writer. Not that long ago I thought more or less along the same lines. I only read authors who published through traditional avenues, the kind whose works I could find on bookstore or library shelves. Then, in January 2013, I caved and bought my Kindle. The first book I downloaded to it? WOOL, of course. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so utterly captivated by a story, and of course I certainly couldn’t ignore the fact that Hugh had done it his way, without the aid (or hindrance) of the mainstream publishing establishment. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, especially as someone who to that point had mostly been writing to an audience of about half a dozen close family and friends with the patience and good cheer to wade through pages and pages of stories on my poorly designed website. That’s when I knew I had to reevaluate not just what I was doing, but the way I thought about indie authors and publishing all together. Since then, I’ve read some absolutely amazing stories I never would have been exposed to had I not taken a chance on an indie phenom. Even better, I now consider some of those very authors to be good friends and among my favorite people. (Oh, and of course, I’m an indie author now, too; way to bury the lead, I know). That’s what WOOL means to me.

Carol Davis:

What is WOOL to me?

It was something small. One among many. Nothing you’d pay particular attention to, if you were just passing by. But it held within it a myriad of possibilities that began to capture the interest and imagination of first one person, then another, and another, and another.

It was something small that grew exponentially.

Like each of us. Small and insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) on the day we’re born, but capable of growing into something wonderful — something that will rock the world back on its heels.

It’s an example of possibilities, and growth, and success.

Lyndon Perry:

WOOL has meaning for me on multiple levels. As a story, it speaks to me of the human condition and our lack of clarity as to what is actual and what is perceived. Great SF engages and wrestles with such universal themes and WOOL is a wonderful example of how literature asks questions and prompts profound pondering. As a publishing phenomenon, it’s a symbol of the new age of publishing. A single story gains grass roots support sparking the author to write more, engage the audience more, and create – in symbiotic fashion – a story that is both true to the writer and accommodating of the fans. It’s fan interaction at its best. And finally, WOOL is a reflection of Hugh Howey himself and his open source philosophy and crowd-sourcing trust. The fact that the world of WOOL is an open playground for writers to dive into begets not only great new stories but ultimately promotes and elevates the original in ways that would not be possible if it weren’t for the author’s vision of entrusting the story into the hands of fans. In all these ways, WOOL plays a significant role in my journey as a writer and I’m grateful to be a part of this culturally pivotal phenomena.

W.J. Davies:

Besides being one of the best Science Fiction tales I’ve read in the last decade, WOOL represents the indie author’s dream come true. The idea is that a story can be so powerful in itself, that it doesn’t need extensive marketing campaigns or the might of a big publisher for it to find an audience. If a story is good enough, resonates enough with readers, is written well enough, a kind of magic happens where the book takes off on its own and insists that it be widely read. WOOL is the perfect example of this phenomenon, and its success gives hope to so many indie writers. Quality stories will always find a way to rise to the top.

Of course, I had the ability to see all these answers before my response was full formulated. With that in mind, I can definitely say their answers informed mine. My answer wouldn’t be complete without them.

Will Swardstrom:

What WOOL means to me is that I’m not alone.

It showed me that someone that was my age could launch a writing career. It showed me that authors are not just grumpy old men who write in a drafty attic space. I discovered that there were others out there, just like me. With the beginnings of fanfic in the WOOL universe, I found a community. I discovered that authors weren’t just self-interested, but that they cared – about writing and the story, yes, but also about each other and seeing others do well.

WOOL means community. The gift we were given by Hugh has tied us together and made us stronger. As a single writer, I can only do so much, but with the amazing fellowship of the other writers I’ve met and discovered through WOOL, I can get better and do more than I ever thought possible.

WOOL Gathering will be released digitally and in paperback in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for exact release dates.

Creativity Breeds Creativity

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The days where authors sequestered themselves in an isolated cottage in upstate New York may not be over for good. A lot of authors – myself included – love moments of quiet and solitude, but for me, those moments are rare. Instead, I’m actualy finding that the time I am out in the “real world” can provide inspiration for the ongoing plotlines winding and twisting through my head. And instead of shutting myself off from the world, I find myself reaching for other pockets of creativity.

As I write this post, my daughter is a few feet away, emptying the dishwasher and signing the entire “Frozen” soundtrack. In her elementary years, she discovers her creative side every day and is even prodded to do so in her schooling. As adults, we can’t always do that. In fact, there are many people who stop seeing the “possible” once real life has set in. They’ve convinced themselves they are no longer capable of painting a surreal landscape, of learning to play a musical instrument, of writing a novel.

When I was fresh out of college and writing at the local newspaper, I made a goal in my head to write a book by the time I was 25. My early 20’s went by way faster than I anticipated and soon that goal was to write one by age 30. I had a lot of life changes between 25 and 30, but writing a book was not one of them. Then the years just started ticking by. 31. 32. 33. Still no book.

But I had purchased a Kindle for myself in November of 2011. Then I started exploring the books and stumbled upon Hugh Howey’s WOOL. I’d love to say I read it and my life was transformed. But I didn’t even read it for months after downloading it. MONTHS.

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*Note: Not Hugh Howey

By the time I finally read it, I also had discovered Hugh’s blog and began discovering that he was JUST LIKE ME. Just a few years older and he had begun his writing career a few years before. He talked to his readers and even danced for them. Way different than I imagined a successful author. I always pictured them cooped up in some dark and dusty loft, plinking away on some ancient typewriter. Hugh was not that type, for sure.

And so, in January of 2013, I began to write again. I’d written the beginnings to books before…only to fail after 30-40 pages. This time I didn’t tell anyone – even my wife – for over a month after I’d started. I was scared to death I wouldn’t finish. That the book manuscript would simply get forgotten and curl up and die. It nearly did a few times when life got too much last spring, but once I’d reached a certain point – probably 20,000 words or so – I knew I HAD to finish.

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Proof: My first novel.

And I did. My first book. A life goal, accomplished before I reached age 34.

But, I wasn’t done.

Once I started, I found new ideas. Ones I didn’t know I had. I have more than a few Word files with just a paragraph explaining a plot that I didn’t want to fade into mental obscurity.

Then, I started to meet other authors. To be fair, I haven’t met a single one in person – or even talked to any on the phone, but I lucked into a remarkable group of authors who were all writing WOOL fanfiction last year. (I decided to write The Veil as a tribute to the man who finally got me off my duff; I published it last July.)

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Soon to be released Charity Anthology. Super excited for you guys to read these stories.

This group of writers has been amazing and we’ve all inspired each other. I read their work and they’ve read mine. Many of us have teamed up for a charity Silo Anthology to be released soon. (Announcement here.) Their creativity astounds me and inspires me. When I read my friends’ books, I find myself itching to get back to my laptop to add a chapter or four to my current manuscript. Their creativity sparks my creativity…and I think that is an amazing thing.

In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I decided to write the sequel to my first novel and successfully completed the month by putting over 50,000 words towards my book. But a strange thing happened that month. I read more books than I had in a few months. You wouldn’t have thought I would have wanted to expose my mind to all the new and different ideas found in other people’s books, but I found the opposite to be true. The strange, new, and wonderful ideas that sprang out of the pages of these books pushed me and motivated me to get my own words down on paper.

And I hope that my words will do that for you as well. Don’t just sit there – do something. Be creative. Take the energy you would put into a few rounds of Candy Crush or the next episode of Game of Thrones and put your thoughts down. They may be great, they may be terrible…but they’ll be yours.

That book I started writing in November? I had been a little stalled on it, but my friend WJ Davies challenged me to finish. I in turn challenged him to finish his book Binary Cycle 2 and we both aimed for February 8. (Here’s Binary Cycle 1, btw…) I just finished the rough draft two days ago and now it’s in the hands of five people who are (hopefully) critiquing the heck out of it. If all goes well and there aren’t any black holes (metaphorically speaking) in my plot, I should be publishing within a month or so. It may not be Feb. 8, but it’ll be pretty stinking close.

Maybe you won’t write a novel, maybe you won’t paint the Mona Lisa and maybe you won’t be the next Justin Bieber (we can all hope), but whatever you do, it’ll improve and enrich the world and your creativity will touch someone else. I can just about guarantee it.