Indie Life

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!

Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator

I’m trying a bit of experimenting with a novel I’ve been working on off and on for years now. Blake Byron: Paranormal Investigator is the story of a former special forces soldier who was looking for a nice quiet life as a campus cop raising his family away from the nastiness that was life in the military.

Until one night he kills a vampire on a call. The vampires in his quiet town don’t take too kindly to this, and it sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a man-on-vampire rampage with doses of humor thrown in for good measure.

I put this book up on Amazon a few months back and relied on my strategy of writing fast with an interesting cover, good blurb, and no advertising. And it flopped. Hard.

Why did it flop? I think there are a few reasons.

  1. The story is sort of in an in-between place which isn’t great if you’re looking to write to market. It’s a Paranormal/Horror/Thriller/Comedy. There is a Horror Comedy category on Amazon. There are paranormal thrillers on Amazon. I think something that falls in between all of those is a little more difficult to pigeonhole though.
  2. The cover doesn’t exactly fit with the big selling genres in paranormal. If you look at those it’s a lot of wizards and witches who are impossibly sexy wielding magic, but that didn’t really fit with what the book was so I went with something different, which is not a good idea if you’re looking to write to market.
  3. The protagonist is a badass, but again he doesn’t really fit in with the witch and wizard protagonists that are the bread and butter of paranormal categories. As such it’s going to be a more difficult sell.
  4. I didn’t put any money into traditional advertising channels. I’m typically not a huge fan of pay to play when it comes to book launches. Most of my successes have been books that were quirky with interesting covers that took off, but clearly that didn’t work here.
  5. The paranormal and urban fiction categories on Amazon are filled to the brim. it’s difficult for someone to be noticed in those categories because everyone and their mother is writing in those categories. I think the book falls more under Horror Comedy, with some overlap with Urban Fantasy, but the glut of titles makes it a more difficult sell than it would be otherwise.

Add all that stuff up and you have a book launched on hard mode. I did that intentionally though. Sure it would’ve been nice if it took off, but at the same time I knew that it was a bit of a long shot.

The thing is I already have established pen names that are making me a living, so I’m a little more comfortable with being unorthodox and experimental with some of the stuff I’m writing to release under my own name. I feel like Blake Byron is a good novel with a fun story, and so I’m going to try some unorthodox marketing strategies and see how they play out.

Right now those strategies include:

  1. Releasing chapters twice weekly in a podcasted audiobook. This lets me use some of the podcasting equipment I’ve put together in the past year with the intent of recording a podcast/audiobooks when I started releasing stuff under my name.
  2. Releasing chapters twice weekly on Royal Road Legends and Wattpad. I don’t think it will do that well at Wattpad since right now the top categories seem to be sexy vampires who fall in love with teenage girls and semi-sexy YouTubers who fall in love with teenage girls, but you never know.
  3. Launch a writing podcast that I’ve been thinking about doing since I went full time at this back in 2015. This doesn’t directly relate to publicizing fiction I’ve written, but I’m hoping that some of the traffic generated to my site might translate into people checking out my writing.

I’m going to see how much traction those options pick up. I’m also considering doing a wide release and making it a freebie to see if that gains any traction as I already have a couple of other books in the series written. I stupidly did so because I was having so much fun with it and didn’t expect it to flop as hard as it did.

You live and you learn. I’ll be sure to write updates on how it’s going. Basically I want to take a book and start from nothing. No mailing list because I don’t want my real name associated with my erotica and romance pen names that are paying the bills. No advertising because people who are starting out don’t have money to throw at advertising and I’m not a fan of the whole pay to play ecosystem that’s slowly been building up over the past few years. No Kindle Unlimited because I want to try a wide strategy that doesn’t involve Amazon pumping money into their bid for author exclusivity.

Maybe it will succeed. Maybe it’ll crash and burn. At the end of the day at least I tried something, and that’s what this business is all about!

Check it out at Royal Road!

Check it out at WattPad!

Patreon is cracking down on adult content

When I was mainly writing erotica on Amazon during the great KDP shorts boom of 2014-2015 there was the ever present threat of Amazon coming through and cleaning house. There was money to be made writing some questionable material and where there’s money there will be people who are willing to make some of that money by filling a niche no matter how questionable.

It would seem that Amazon has mostly forgotten about policing their erotica section now that their changes to KDP have made erotica way less profitable and, therefore, way less likely to show up on top 100 charts where borderline erotica doesn’t belong, but that doesn’t mean the spirit of the crackdown isn’t alive and well out there on content platforms.

The big one right now? Patreon.

They announced changes to their content policy a few days back that are going to have a huge effect on adult content creators using the platform. They’d been vague, probably purposely so, about what was and wasn’t allowed on their platform and as a result there were a lot of people creating adult content who flocked to Patreon because it’s often difficult for adult content creators to monetize their works.

A lot of people are freaking out over what this means, so I figured I’d do a quick breakdown of their new guidelines to see if it’s really the end of the world as we know it for adult content creators:

We ask creators to flag themselves as Adult Content if they create any content that has mature themes such as sexuality or graphic violence. When you are flagged as Adult Content your page is removed from our search.

This is nothing new. Pages featuring adult content have always been removed from their search and hidden from the general public.

We also require that all public content on your page be appropriate for all audiences. Content with mature themes must be marked as a patron-only post.

Some people are misreading this passage. There are some places out there that are pointing out the perceived hypocrisy that they allow adult content but want pages to be “appropriate for all audiences.” These people are either deliberately ignoring the second sentence where NSFW content is allowed as long as it’s hidden to non-patrons or they need to work on their reading comprehension.

We have zero tolerance when it comes to the glorification of sexual violence which includes bestiality, rape, and child exploitation (i.e., sexualized depiction of minors). This is true for illustrated, animated, or any other type of content.

This is perfectly reasonable. Depictions of children, real or otherwise, are both morally reprehensible and illegal in the U.S. Bestiality is illegal in a lot of places. You could make a free speech argument for depictions of rape, but freedom of speech only compels the government to let you say what you want. I can see why Patreon would want to distance themselves from that stuff.

We understand that some topics on this list such as incest or rape are a little bit more complicated because these situations are, unfortunately, part of real life. As a result, when reviewing this type of content, the Trust and Safety team will take into consideration context

This also seems reasonable. I saw some erotica authors bemoaning that books like Lolita were available on Amazon for all to see while their 5000 word short story about mind controlling a roofied borderline underage cheerleader who was “18 years of age” according to the disclaimer at the front into having carnal relations with a group of creepy older men got thrown into Amazon’s adult dungeon. Because they’re totally the same thing, you see?

Yeah, I didn’t buy that argument then and I don’t buy that argument now. I’m reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quip “I know it when I see it.” regarding hardcore pornography.

Lastly, you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. We define pornographic material as real people engaging in sexual acts such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera.

This last bit seems pretty clearly aimed at sex workers. Which sucks for them. We as a society are way to puritanical about that sort of thing, but it’s Patreon’s playground and they can decide who does and doesn’t get to play there.

Note that people writing erotica, people creating video games with erotic themes, and people creating erotic art aren’t explicitly included in any of those changes to their content guidelines. Unless those people are making their NSFW stuff public, of course, or their work contains some of the stuff that is forbidden under the new policy like children, rape, etc.

People have tried to frame this as a freedom of speech issue. It isn’t. Patreon is a company, not the U.S. government, and they can do what they please on their platform whether or not people agree with those decisions. People have tried to frame this as Patreon cracking down on fetish content. It’s not. There’s a wide world of fetish content that doesn’t involve rape, children, or sex workers that is still allowed on Patreon as long as it stays behind a paywall.

What this is? It’s a company providing a platform for people to create content, content creators pushing the boundaries, the company getting some flak for those boundaries being pushed, and a crackdown ensuing where they clarify their rules and clear out people who were pushing those boundaries.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. I’ve been through a couple of “smutpocalypses” over at Amazon and it’s always the same:

  1. A platform gains popularity among content creators and people start flocking to it.
  2. The platform has rules and guidelines about what content they allow, but people start pushing the boundaries.
  3. The platform either gets overwhelmed because of its sudden popularity and the influx of creators, or they deliberately turn a blind eye to some of the questionable content because it’s making money. You’d have to be in the board room to know which it is.
  4. The public gets wind that some questionable content is being hosted on the platform and the torches and pitchforks are passed around as all the usual media outlets and blogs sense blood in the water.
  5. A media feeding frenzy starts accompanied by the usual public outrage. The platform goes into damage control mode.
  6. A crackdown ensues. People who were pushing the boundaries, or outright stepping outside the boundaries, find themselves no longer welcome on the platform. Sometimes fortunes can be lost as the gravy train comes to a screeching halt.
  7. The creators being cracked down on make the usual arguments about the platform violating freedom of speech and giving into puritanical public sentiment.
  8. Things eventually settle down. The media moves on to the next story. The public finds some new cause celebre to be outraged about. Content creators go back to creating content because that’s what they do and chances are the money is still good.
  9. Slowly content creators creep in who decide to push at the new boundaries and see what they can get away with. Go back to number two.

I’m far from a puritanical person. I quit my day job on the back of writing some things that some would consider fetish erotica, and I still have one erotica pen name today that does decent business. I get that this stuff can be stressful, but at the end of the day if somebody is going to push the boundaries of what is allowed on the platform providing their income then they shouldn’t be surprised when the inevitable backlash comes along.

As far as I can tell this is the first time something like this has happened on Patreon so the wound is still fresh and surprising over there. It’s old hat for anyone who’s been creating sexy content on Amazon and the other ebook publishing platforms, though, and so I imagine this is going to end up playing out almost exactly to the script outlined above.

It’s not the end of the world. Content creators are going to continue creating content. People will continue making money off of NSFW content on Patreon. The people who were pushing at the guidelines are going to find themselves under the microscope with some cleaning up their act and others getting the boot. Things will settle down and life will go on with content creators who’ve lived through this always having it in the back of their mind.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.

The year of busting my ass

So I just got done reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autiobiography Total Recall that tells the story of his life from his early days until the late 2000s when it was published. I have to say I came away from the book inspired. Say what you will about the guy, but he has a work ethic. He saw a goal, decided he was going for it, and didn’t let anything like doubts or second guessing stop him once he set one of those goals.

It’s inspiring stuff, and it’s inspired me as well. I’ve had a few projects that I’ve been kicking around and I’ve decided that I’m going to try a new experiment. I call it the Year of Busting My Ass.

What does that mean? Well it’s actually pretty simple. It means I’m going to come up with some goals, and for the next year I’m going to bust my ass to make sure those goals become a reality. It won’t be the first time I’ve done something like this. Having my daughter home with me watching her and working has reminded me of the most productive time in my life back in 2014 when I was busting my ass writing, working a full time job, and helping to take care of my brand new son.

Basically it’s when I feel a time crunch that I’m at my most productive. At least that’s the idea. So here are the goals that I’d like to accomplish week to week for the next year:

  1. Write 5500 words a day every day with breaks for holidays.
  2. Set up a regular schedule of posting under my romance pen name every six weeks, alternating slightly between niches and working on two at a time so that I’m getting something out every three weeks or so.
  3. Get back into a regular schedule with my steamy romance/erotica pen name so that I’m releasing a new short/novella of around 20k-25k every three weeks.
  4. Publish a new episode of my epic fantasy comedy podcast every week.
  5. Publish two audio chapter episodes of my supernatural thriller/urban fantasy/horror comedy audiobook podcast every week as individual episodes.
  6. Publish an episode of my writing motivation podcast every week.
  7. Exercise for an hour and a half every day and get back into shape, because this tubby look isn’t working for me.
  8. Clean up my diet and start eating a more healthy and balanced diet to support my desire to get in shape, because this tubby look isn’t working for me.
  9. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a day.
  10. Make $150,000 in the next year from all of my writing and podcasting efforts.

Are all of those doable? Maybe, and maybe not. I think they’re certainly possible given past performance. It’s just a matter of buckling down and actually doing in the work.

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve been in a bit of a slump this past year and a half. It started with my grandma getting sick and ultimately passing at the end of 2015, then we moved to a new house in the middle of 2016 which took move of my time than I’d like even though it was totally worth it. My dad was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago and died at the end of September 2016 which did a number on me even if I wasn’t willing to admit it to myself at the time. Then my wife got pregnant which we were totally trying for, but having a pregnant wife and then a new baby in the house is a surefire recipe for messing up even the best planned schedule.

In short there’s been a lot that’s happened in the past year and a half and I feel like I sort of dropped the ball. I got used to coasting along with the success I’ve already achieved even though I knew that success wasn’t going to be enough for me. I still have things I want to accomplish in my indie career, and I feel like getting to the point where I have a good full time income I can use to support myself and my family is only the beginning.

It’s time to stop with excuses. It’s time to buckle down and get shit done while also maintaining a work/life balance. It’s time for the year of busting my ass.

September 2016 was a really bad time for me where I didn’t get any work done because I was dealing with a terrible loss and being there for my family. September 2017 is going to be the month I get back the old me who worked his ass off to get where I am now, and hopefully achieve things beyond anything I could’ve imagined when I was quitting the day job.

When life interrupts your indie job

It’s been a busy few months since the last time I wrote a post on here. I’d feel bad about the length of time, but at this point no one is reading this and I’m not selling anything so that assuages the guilt a bit.

I’ve been busy though! My daughter was born at the beginning of June and that’s been taking up a good chunk of my life for the past couple of weeks. She hasn’t been taking up near as much of my time as she’s been taking up my wife’s time, but one of the nice things about working for corporate America is you get paid time off for having a kid.

That’s one of the few downsides I’ve found to this self-employed writer gig. Most of the time the flexibility is a wonderful thing, but there’s another side to that I didn’t realize until my dad went into the hospital last year.

A lot of people have jobs that will continue to pay them if they need to take vacation time. If you’re an indie creative of any sort then you’re stuck in a different situation where if you don’t work you (eventually) don’t make money. Granted it takes some time, but the threat is still there.

The longest I’ve taken off without working much at all was back when my dad got sick in 2016. Even after he passed I wasn’t firing on all cylinders for a couple of months after, and the slump showed in my pocket book. The good news is it was a nice experiment that let me see how long I could go and still make a livable income.

By the end of September 2016 I hadn’t dipped below my monthly financial failsafe point despite not putting anything out for a month.

I know I don’t have much to complain about here either. There are a lot of people who are in this situation working jobs that are a lot shittier than being self-employed as a writer. I know I didn’t think about it until I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t work for an extended length.

I was fine, but it’s always good to think about. For you planning ahead might be the difference between making it or not in a given month, and you never know when the universe is going to give you a kick in the nuts.