eBooks

2020 Goals: Branch into audio including podcasts and audio books

Time to talk about my first big goal for 2020! I’m getting into audio.

This is a big one that I’ve been working towards since 2017 when I started building an audio studio to do podcasting and audiobooks. I hit a bit of a snag when my daughter was born and I focused on being with her for her first year instead of doing audio, but now that things have settled down a bit at home I’m ready to do this.

My strategy for hitting audio is also part of my strategy for going wide. Audio is the fastest growing corner of the publishing market right now, and there are a lot of people listening to books and podcasts. These are my people. I’ve been an audiobook listener since the mid ’90s when the only way you could get audio was on tape. I haven’t listened to radio or music all that much since I got an iPod in the mid ’00s and discovered podcasts.

In addition there’s still a high barrier to entry for creating audiobooks, which means that there’s less competition in the market from indie authors. It can cost thousands of dollars to produce an audiobook, but if I’m able to do the recording and editing myself in my home studio then the only investment I have to make is time. It took hours spent learning Adobe Audition and audio engineering and the investment in creating the studio, but I’m hoping it’ll pay off dividends.

I’ve also wanted to start a podcast for years but never felt like I had anything to podcast about. That’s changed, though. I have ideas, and this is the plan:

Podcasting

Nonfiction Podcasting:

Motivrite: A podcast about what goes into being an indie author. I’ve learned a lot about the market over the years and would like to give back to the community by releasing a podcast with advice for authors. There are a lot of podcasts out there that focus on marketing a book and getting it to an audience, so I’m going to hit a different niche at first and talk about tips and tricks for getting the words down, and how to navigate life as a part time or full time indie.

Stretch goal – Indie Day Job: If I manage to complete all my other goals and I still have time then I’d also like to start a podcast where I talk to other indie creators about their day to day. I’m not sure if this will be happening because I already have a lot on my plate, but we’ll see. As the year goes on and some things succeed and others don’t I might have more time to launch this project.

Fiction Podcasting:

Avallanath: This is a story that’s been rattling around my head for the past decade about an author of very fat books, the fans who love to hate him, and what happens when his creations take matters into their own hands.

I started writing it while I was in grad school a decade back, and I released it as a webcomic at one point that got to be sort of popular with a few hundred people a day hitting the site daily. The problem is I’ve never been that good at drawing and I don’t feel like webcomics are a real growth area. So I plan on releasing it as an audio fiction podcast with a chapter or two a week.

Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator: This is another story that’s been rattling around in my head for more than a decade, but I only sat down and actually wrote it in 2017. It’s the story of a former special forces soldier turned campus cop who wanted a nice quiet life. Then he came across the victim of a vampire attack, killed the vampire that killed her, and found himself in the crosshairs of the local vampires. I tried releasing this in 2017 and it didn’t meet with much success, but it’s a fun story that I enjoy and I feel like it could do well with a bit of a marketing push so I’m going to try it out in audio and see what happens.

GameLit: I have a couple of GameLit stories I’ve been working on since 2016ish when LitRPG first started taking off. The first one I plan on releasing in audio and as a wide book release is Dice Mage, which is going to be a complete rewrite of a book I released near the end of 2018 that had some moderate success, but I think it would do better being rereleased with the new longer outline I’ve worked out that tells more of a story.

Audiobooks

The plan is to release these novels wide on all ebook platforms once they’ve been finished, and then start releasing the audiobook episodes with one or two chapters being released per week to drum up interest. I’ll push people towards the finished ebooks at the end of every episode if they want to hear the whole story at once.

I also plan on releasing episodes early to backers on my Patreon which I plan on really hitting hard in 2019-2020. With a little luck I’ll be able to build an audience of readers and audiophiles who contribute for a chance to get episodes early while also adding another leg to my income table that isn’t Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

When the books are finished in podcast form I’ll eventually release them wide as paid audiobooks as well. I won’t be going exclusive with Audible, but instead going wide with services like Findaway to diversify my income base.

Daily steps to achieve this goal

Having a lofty annual goal is all well and good, but it’s also important to think about the daily steps that’ll be necessary to make it happen. There are only so many hours in a day, and if I’m going to do everything I want to do in the 2019-2020 year then I’m going to have to focus and do it one day at a time.

The daily goal for this one is easy enough though. I’ll disappear into my home studio for a couple of hours every night after the kids are in bed and work on recording stuff. I’ll probably only do this Monday through Friday, taking weekends off to relax and have a little bit of fun.

Wrapping up

And that’s the audio plan for 2019-2020! I’m in the middle of production of episodes of Blake Byron and hope to start releasing that podcast in October to tie in with the horror vibe the book gives off. I’ve worked out outlines for nine episodes of Motivrite so far as well. I have about ten episodes of Avallanath written and will start recording that soon, and I’m currently working on finishing the updated version of Dice Mage and probably won’t begin recording that until November or December.

It’s a lot on my plate, but I really enjoy sitting in the booth and doing some recording. It gives me an opportunity to explore a new market, give another polish run on the manuscript, and flex my acting muscles which I haven’t had a chance to do in years. I’m looking forward to seeing where I’ll be in audio by next year!

Star Pirate II: The Wrath of the Queen

I’m super excited to announce the second book in the Star Pirate series: Star Pirate II: The Wrath of the Queen!

Star Pirate II: The Wrath of the Queen

I had a lot of fun writing this one. It took a little while to get around to writing it because I wanted to wait until I had a story that was worth telling to continue Flynn’s adventures.

What I came up with ended up being a fun ride in addition to letting me make a really awesome Wrath of Khan pun in the title. I also had a lot of fun putting together that cover and making it reminiscent of the WoK original cover in all its Montalban manchest glory.

If you haven’t read the original Star Pirate then click here to get started on the series. If you have read the original then I think you’ll like the sequel!

2020 goals

So I’m going to be doing something a little different. I know a lot of people set their goals at the new year, but as a parent with a kid in elementary school who works from home I’ve discovered that my work year now revolves around my kid’s schedule.

My new work year is from August to May. Because one summer with the kiddo at home has taught me that there just isn’t much of anything work related that’s happening in the months of June and July. Anything I want to put out in those months has to be done well ahead of time!

So here are my goals for August 2020. I’m writing them out here in the hopes that doing it publicly will give me some accountability and keep me on track.

Big picture goals:

  1. Branch into audio including podcasts and audiobooks
  2. Release 36 books across my various pen names
  3. Diversify my income so I’m not solely reliant on Amazon for a paycheck
  4. Build and maintain this site and blog as brand building and as a central hub for all my creative projects
  5. Start hitting five figure months regularly

Five goals, and if I do the first four right then number five will come naturally. Seems easy enough, right? Only as I’m sitting here reading those goals there’s an awful lot that’s going to go into making those goals happen. Which means that there’s some detail work that needs to be done to figure out how I’m going to hit those goals!

With that in mind I’m going to be doing a series of posts over the next few days highlighting each one of my five goals for the next year, going over what needs to be done to hit those goals, and talking about what I need to do to make sure I get that done.

I believe it’s important to plan. If you have a plan then you have something to work towards. If you have something to work towards then it’s a matter of checking the boxes. I also hope that seeing a little bit of my planning process might inspire you to make a plan of your own that clearly states your goals, how you can reach them, and what you need to do to make that happen!

PSA: Vellum’s new EPUB for Kindle needs to be converted to MOBI before sending to advance readers

I’m always one for letting people know when I’ve screwed up so that you can learn from my mistakes. I ran into one this past weekend as a result of the recent changes to how Vellum generates files for upload to Amazon.

Picture it. Indiana. 2019. An author who’s never tried loading an epub file directly onto his Kindle sends out advance reader copies of a story to his Kindle readers. In epub format. Which they can’t read natively on their Kindles.

Oops.

Protip: Upload your document on KDP and download the file they provide you for preview, or use something like Calibre to convert it to a mobi before sending it out to your advance team if they’re using Kindles.

Bookfunnel has also announced that they will automatically convert a Vellum EPUB to MOBI when uploaded if you use their service, which is darn convenient.

I hope that saves someone a bit of the headache I had this past weekend when I got a bunch of annoyed emails from advance readers asking why their book files weren’t working!

Vellum is dropping KindleGen and switching from mobi to epub for Kindle

Are you tired of opening Vellum and getting the notification that KindleGen isn’t optimized for your Mac and will need to be updated? You should install the update that came out last Tuesday!

There’s a full post on the Vellum blog here, but the practical upshot is Vellum will now generate a Kindle-specific epub rather than a mobi file. If you’re a Mac user you definitely want to install this update before upgrading to Catalina next month, as KindleGen won’t work after the update.

The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard

The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard

Edited by David A. Goodman

Buy the hardcover at Amazon

Buy the Kindle edition at Amazon

I was browsing the TV and Media tie-in section at Amazon yesterday scoping out GameLit books since that’s where they live while authors wait for Amazon to come up with an appropriate LitRPG/GameLit category. While there I spied The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard which caught my interest. Then I saw it was on sale for $1.99 and decided to give it a try.

I’d call this book a page turner, but I was reading it on my Kindle so it’s more like it was a battery devourer. I couldn’t put it down. I missed an update of my ongoing serial Spellcraft over on RoyalRoad because I was so caught up in this book.

I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation. My parents were both Trekkies who grew up on the original series, and so it was a no-brainer that TNG would be a staple in our household. Some of my earliest TV memories are watching TNG. I’d regularly sneak into my parents’ bedroom well after my bedtime but before theirs so I could watch episodes when they came on at 10:30PM after the evening news on Fox 59.

This book reads like a love letter to TNG fans. Minor characters who are given a brief appearance in the series, those “I have a deep history with this character to add gravitas to their inevitable death a minute before the commercial break” characters who only ever get their due at Memory Alpha or in the old Star Trek Encyclopedia. Relationships with familiar characters are explored from new and interesting directions.

More than anything, Autobiography fills in the holes of Picard’s early life and the career trajectory that took him to the bridge of the Enterprise-D. The book is peppered with fun references for fans, such as a tongue firmly in cheek explanation of why there were so many Chief Engineers in the first season that I won’t spoil, and is a definite for anyone who considers themselves a fan of TNG.

My only quibble with the book is an issue that must’ve been a Kobayashi Maru scenario for Goodman as he was writing it. Most of the book is dedicated to Picard’s life before he became the famous Jean-Luc Picard we all know and love, and then his career about the Enterprises D and E is rushed in the last sliver of the book before moving on to talk about what he’s been up to since.

I don’t fault the book for this. The stuff we’re interested in is the before and after. We’ve all seen the series and the movie, else we wouldn’t be picking up the book. I can see where recounting episodes that already have an ending wouldn’t be as interesting as telling new stories about years of Picard’s life that haven’t been explored.

Still, for a book that hews closely to the autobiography template it does feel odd that such a substantial portion of Picard’s life is glossed over so quickly, and the few observations that we do get from his point of view in the book give us a tantalizing tease of what a retelling of TNG adventures purely from Picard’s point of view could be while not completely delivering.

I know I spent a few paragraphs on that, but it really is a minor quibble. Overall this book is excellent and worth the read. It’s very rare that I read a book that I feel is an unreserved recommend, but if you’re a Trekkie then you’ll enjoy this one.

I use affiliate marketing links. Anything you click here will kick a little money my way if you make a purchase. I strive to maintain my objectivity in the face of the tens of cents that will undoubtedly come my way as a result of those affiliate links.

Motivrite 3: Vanity Publishing vs. Self-publishing


For the longest time vanity publishing and self-publishing were one and the same. If someone couldn’t get a deal with a traditional publisher then their only other option was to go with a vanity publisher who would gladly print up anything the author wanted, for a price. This naturally led to a bunch of not-so-great stuff being vanity published, and there’s a stigma associated with vanity publishing that still lingers around all self-publishing to this day.

But vanity publishing and modern indie self-publishing are far from the same thing, and it’s time for that old stigma and snooty attitude about self-publishers to go. Today’s episode of Motivrite dives into a brief history of vanity publishing, and the differences between old school vanity publishing and modern digital self-publishing.

Show Notes:

0:30 – The distinction between vanity publishing and self-publishing. One of these things is not like the other.

Vanity publishing and self-publishing used to be the same thing. That’s not the case anymore. Good work is being done by indies now that digital self-publishing has democratized the process, and this podcast is going to delve into the history of vanity publishing and compare it to modern digital self-publishing.

1:20 “Publishing companies” that weren’t publishing companies at all. My introduction to the world of vanity publishing.

A brief story about my introduction to the world of vanity publishing. Aka how I learned to stop worrying and accept that I wasn’t actually getting a publishing contract for a short story I wrote for my high school newspaper.

2:35 What is vanity publishing?

A history of old school vanity publishing and why it has a much deserved bad reputation among writers and publishers.

4:37 Not knowing the distinction between vanity publishing and digital self-publishing held me back from my future career. Don’t let it hold you back.

For the longest time I thought that digital self-publishing was just the new version of offline vanity publishing, and this held me back from self-publishing my stuff for several years I could’ve been using to build my career. Don’t let this happen to you.

5:40 Digital self-publishing is a whole new world of indie publishing.

There’s a whole new world of opportunities for writers because of the digital publishing revolution. I go into the differences between the old and busted self-publishing and the new hotness, and why one is still a costly dead end and one is your path to a potential new career.

7:45 Sturgeon’s Law is alive and well, but digital self-publishing allows the cream to rise to the top instead of relying on gatekeepers.

I tackle one of the most common criticisms against self-publishing: that a lot of the material that’s put out there isn’t that good. Which is true. There is a lot of crap out there, but there are also plenty of new systems in place that help the good stuff rise to the top that are far better than the old gatekeeping system of agents and publishers, because it’s the readers who get to decide what’s worthwhile in this new paradigm.

8:30 Digital markets are the great equalizer that puts indies on an equal footing with trad publishers.

We’ve never lived in a better time for writers to make money from their craft. Vanity publishing was a last ditch way for writers who couldn’t cut it in the old system to get their stuff out there, and it almost never worked. Digital self-publishing is a great new level playing field where anyone writing good stuff can stand out from the crowd and make a career!

Progress update: 10/29/2018

I’m going to start a new thing where I do a quick update at the end of a work day talking about everything I accomplished that day. I figure it’s a way to keep myself accountable while also providing some encouragement to get my butt in gear and get stuff done.

Today I wrote 11,941 words across seven projects I’m currently working on. I had a bunch of outlining in there as I’m currently outlining one book for my pen name, and another that I plan on releasing under my name.

I also revised 9,086 words on a project for my main pen name that I’m putting the finishing touches on. I’m a little behind on that one, but what can you do?

I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the sprawling 200,000 word doorstopper GameLit novel I’ve been working on for almost a year now. Even when I finish that there are going to be heavy edits to be done, but simply being close to the end on a project that’s the longest book I’ve ever written feels pretty good. I’m going to have to bust my butt on revisions to get it out by the holiday season though.

I also made progress on the Dice Mage podcast audiobook experiment I’m going to try with that book. Everyone keeps talking about how audio is the new hotness, and I figure I’ll give it a try and see if it’s any good for audience building. I finished editing chapter 5, and recorded, edited, and finished chapter 6 as well. I plan on releasing that to the world now that I have six episodes banked to get those download numbers up when it goes live on various podcasting services.

I also started, but didn’t finish, a couple of blog posts. One about making dining reservations at Disney World, based on a recent experience I had dealing with that frustration, and another about my experiences with the Sega Genesis on the occasion of that system’s 30th birthday.

That’s it for today! Time to hit the sack and prepare for another full day tomorrow.

Introducing Dice Mage!

I got my start in the whole full time writing thing doing erotica and romance. I make no secret of that and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud of figuring out a way to make a full time living doing something I love, and I’ve actually come to really enjoy romance as a genre in my time writing in it!

Having said that, for the past four years I’ve always been shooting for the goal of releasing something under my own name. It’s something I was working towards way back in 2016, but then life got in the way. My dad was diagnosed with cancer so I was taking care of him, then he passed and I was taking care of his estate. I also had a string of a couple of surgeries that weren’t life threatening, but put a cramp on my writing time. Through this all my wife was pregnant, then she gave birth and I was helping around the house while she was home on leave, and after that I made the decision to keep my daughter home for her first year.

Suffice it to say my plate was full, and it was taking every bit of time and energy I could dedicate to writing simply to keep up with my existing pen names and maintain an income that kept my family in the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.

So some of the GameLit and fantasy stuff I was working on went on the back burner for awhile, but as of a couple of weeks ago I’m excited to say that I’ve finally released a GameLit adjacent book, Dice Mage!

If you’re not familiar with GameLit, it’s a genre that goes hand in hand with LitRPG. It’s a story that includes gaming elements as part of the story. In Dice Mage that translates to a normal college dude who was minding his own business when he was tapped by a goddess to be her champion in a game of the gods taking place on his college campus, and he has to try and save the world with a set of magical dice that give him the powers of a badass mage! Maybe. If he can ever figure out how they work.

I was super excited about this genre when I saw it moving up the charts in 2015-2016, and I’m excited to finally release my own entry! I’m also a little annoyed that I didn’t get a start in the genre a couple of years ago, but life happens and all you can do is move forward.

So there you have it! You can check out Dice Mage at Amazon and give it a read. It’s also in Kindle Unlimited if you’re a subscriber. I’ve been doing this writing thing full time for nearly four years, but it feels good to finally have something out there under my name!

Kindle Unlimited snafu: scammers, suspended accounts, and page read reductions

There’s a minor to major snafu going on in the Kindle Unlimited author community right now depending on who you talk to. Naturally the authors who are getting letters from Amazon about suspicious activity on their accounts, or getting their accounts suspended, are more inclined to think it’s a big deal.

Basically the issue is that the Kindle Unlimited system has a problem with scammers. There’s money in them thar hills, and like with every gold rush there are unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck. In this case the quick buck is made by uploading “books” that are stuffed to the maximum page count and then using click farming operations to page through those books to generate page reads for an account and sponge up that sweet, sweet Kindle Unlimited money.

This is causing a few problems including:

KU payout problems

Kindle Unlimited operates with a pot of money that is paid out to all participating authors at the end of a month. So Amazon will have a pot of, say $20 million and they divide that by all the authors who got page reads in a month. The rate per page read usually hovers around $0.005 per month depending on how much money Amazon pumps into the system and how many pages were read in a month.

Seeing the problem yet? Yeah, if there are a bunch of click farmers out there who are artificially inflating the page counts with their stuffed books that means they’re taking away money from other authors. It artificially depresses the payout by crowding out legitimate authors with their ill-gotten page reads.

Authors (unfairly?) targeted

There’s another more low key and potentially more insidious side effect hitting authors over the past couple of weeks. See those scammers know that it would look suspicious if the only books their click farms paged through were their overstuffed books. So what they do to make their operations look more legitimate is they target other bestselling books and page through those as well.

By targeting legitimate books it makes their click farm accounts look more legitimate. The problem for authors is if their book happens to be targeted by one of those click farm operations it suddenly makes their book look more scammy to whatever automated bot Amazon has trawling their site looking for suspicious activity.

The upshot of all this is legitimate authors have been targeted by scammers to lend scammer accounts more legitimacy, and now those author accounts are being targeted by Amazon as scammers with consequences ranging from sternly worded emails accusing them of scamming the system to outright suspensions. There are also authors who are reporting that their page reads are being retroactively revoked for previous months. Presumably these are page reads that were generated by click farm accounts.

Who to believe?

Here’s the problem. Whenever something like this happens there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of rumors that get spread around. I’ve deliberately kept the details in this post to just the facts, ma’am, but if you’re inclined to go looking at some of the rumors then it’s easy enough to find the uproar on KBoards.

The difficulty when something like this happens is all we have to go on is the word of the author on the one hand that they aren’t doing anything scammy, and the stonewall from Amazon on the other side. There are probably some authors out there who did legitimately grey hat things to generate page reads on their books and now they’re complaining along with everyone else on the bandwagon about how they’ve been unfairly targeted. There always are when there’s a smackdown targeting the KU scam du jour.

On the flip side there are enough authors complaining about these issues that it seems highly unlikely that all of them have been partaking in click farms, wittingly or unwittingly. The thought of being labeled a scammer and having your account suspended because your books were targeted by a click farm to lend their scam legitimacy, something that you absolutely cannot control, is terrifying.

With zero transparency from Amazon about exactly what is going on and conflicting reports from authors it’s difficult to say exactly what is happening, but it seems safe to assume that there are legitimate author accounts being unfairly targeted as part of a crackdown that is casting a net that’s gone a little too wide.

What to do?

It’s a difficult call. There are a lot of authors who are talking about pulling out of Kindle Unlimited entirely and going wide. The problem with this is if your whole author strategy so far has been to rely on the ease of Kindle Unlimited then you don’t have an audience on other platforms which makes it difficult to go wide.

On top of that there’s the issue that there simply are some genres that don’t do as well wide as they do in Kindle Unlimited. A lot of authors who have come to rely on KU money are going to have a difficult time and take a severe hit right in the pocketbook if they make the precipitous move of taking their books out of KU. On the other hand if an author is facing a suspension because of illicit KU activity they have no control over there’s really no choice. Better to be out of KU with no KU money and have your Amazon account intact than in KU and risk having your account suspended and you’re out KU money and royalties.

I’d advise caution for authors reading posts from other panicked authors. If Kindle Unlimited is a significant portion of your income then be smart about whether or not you want to withdraw. Especially if you’re relying on that money. Take the time to build yourself up on other stores and build up alternate revenue streams. Don’t do something precipitous that’s going to leave you unable to pay the bills and put food on the table because you’re making a decision from a place of fear.

Parting thoughts

Amazon should be more transparent about what is happening. That’s not likely to happen, but authors should take comfort in the knowledge that Amazon does tend to do the right thing by legit authors in the long run when these crackdowns hit. I think that right now there is a bot or some automated system that is inappropriately flagging some authors, but if those authors make noise and they aren’t actively participating in scams they’re going to be okay in the long run.

It always sucks when something like this happens, but crackdowns at Amazon are hardly new. There are always people who will push the extremes, and often the response swings to the opposite extreme before the dust clears and authors get on with writing. This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and come at this from a business perspective rather than from a place of panic and fear.

And maybe consider working on your wide game so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket for the next panic.