My Books as Gifts: Monitor

And now, the final day of plugging my books as holiday gifts. Today it's Monitor, which you can get (in ebook format only) from:

Whiskey Creek Press

And Monitor also has a Facebook Page for updates.

Finally, unless I put up a new post: have a Happy & Safe Holiday Season!  See you in 2011!


My Books as Gifts: The Sagas of Surgard

Today is the second day of my holiday book plugging effort, featuring The Sagas of Surgard.  Here's where you can get it:

Smashwords (ebook only)

Amazon (print & Kindle ebook)

And don't forget the Facebook Page with event info and the occasional giveaway.


My Books as Gifts: Lisa's Way

Every year at this time authors ask you nicely to buy their books and give them as gifts for the holiday season. Well, I don't intend to be any different. For the next three days I'll provide links to where you can get print editions or ebook versions of the three SF/F books I have out now. Today it's Lisa's Way. Here's where you can get it:

And don't forget the Facebook Page with updates, events notices, and the occasional giveaway.


Thoughts on Publishing: Self-Publishing; is it Legit? Does it Pay?

Ten years ago, no author of any stature would consider self-publishing. That’s starting to change. J. A. Konrath is a thriller author who’s fully embraced self-publishing and the ebook. Wil Wheaton chose to self-publish his book Star Trek, Memories of the Future. However, "starting to" isn’t the same as “already happened.”

Many review websites won’t even consider self-published books; some won’t even bother with small-press books. If you can get a self-published book into a bookstore, inevitably it will be placed in the "local author" section, even if it’s a genre book. There seem to be few ways to get self-published books noticed unless you’re already an author with some sort of a fan base.

What can change this situation?

Some self-published authors take what they’re doing seriously. They make certain their books are edited properly. They pay attention to having an attractive cover and a good interior layout.  I believe they should go further and take the concept of self-publishing seriously.

Those authors could take time to review other self-published books. If such authors reviewed a book favorably, the book would stand a better chance of getting noticed.  It would also help if those authors would band together to form associations. Such associations, both general and genre-specific, could promote standards for self-published books. They could publicize reviews and hand out awards to quality books. There would also be the mutual support and encouragement such writer’s groups offer.

Those two steps, reviews and associations, would go a long way towards making self-publishing a legitimate option for authors. They would show that a self-published book isn’t necessarily a crappy vanity project. They would promote good reasons for self-publishing, and prove that good works can come out of this process. These would also address the other question about self-publishing: can you make money from it?

There’s something to be said about the artistic freedom that self-publishing offers. It’s also true that some authors are making money putting out their own work. But right now there is the question of whether or not it pays financially to self-publish.

The answer to that question for the moment is, “Not unless you’re already an established author with a decent-sized fan base.” As was stated above, it’s hard for self-published books to get reviewed or placed in bookstores. Advertising is risky; there’s no guarantee that money spent will result in books being sold. It’s a Catch-22: you have to be known to make money, but you can’t make money until you become known.

The two ideas presented earlier to make self-publishing more legitimate would also help to make it more profitable. Lesser-known authors would get a boost in sales from reviews by better-known authors. Associations not only offer mutual support, but there’s the good publicity that can result from awards.

Offering more legitimacy to self-publishing would in turn make it a more viable choice for the author who also wants to make a living from writing. There are things that can be done now to get to that point in the future. I’m not certain if I’m ready to self-publish all of my fiction. I would like to know that, if I come to that point, I’ll be able to find readers and to earn good money. If these ideas are pursued, I might get to that point sooner rather than later.


Thoughts on Publishing: The Ebook and the Bookstore

The ebook is a real threat to the bricks-and-mortar bookstore in more ways than one. First is the impact of the technology itself. Ebooks can be bought anywhere at any time. That’s a direct challenge to the idea of going someplace to buy physical product, like going to a store to buy a book.

There’s also the effect the ebook might have on major publishers. The ebook makes it easy to self-publish, and puts small presses on the same level cost-wise as the majors. This could cause the majors to make less revenue, and thus publish fewer print books. Fewer print books published means fewer books on the bookstore shelves. Fewer books on the shelves means less income for the stores.

But this suggests one option the stores could choose to fill their shelves. They could be more open to self-published and small-press books. They could even move those books out of the usual (and sometimes hard-to-find) “local author” section and place them in the genre sections where they ought to be.

There’s another option the stores could try. As mentioned last time, one interesting result of a 2008 survey on the book business suggested that bookstores were becoming as much of a place to socialize as to shop.  If stores are places for readers to socialize, then presumably among the topics readers would discuss would be books they’ve read. Right now, such an in-person recommendation means a search of the shelves, or a note to download the book later.

Enter the ebook kiosk. Instead of searching shelves, a customer goes to a kiosk. Ideally, each section would have its own kiosk.  The customer enters an author name or book title. The screen shows the best matches.  All the customer needs is a valid credit card and an e-reader. Choose the ebook, swipe the card, then connect the e-reader wirelessly to the kiosk (or have a file emailed). Once the transaction clears the ebook is sent.

Question is, will the stores embrace these ideas and ones like them?

Increasing small-press and self-published books will require bookstore employees to be more savvy about such books. Stores will also have to step up their own efforts to promote books and rely less on publishers. For the chains, it means profiting by selling fewer copies of more books.

For independents, it means being more genre-friendly, something that literary-centric independents have shunned. As for the ebook kiosk, that will decrease the space stores need to have. Can the chains survive with stores that are smaller in size?

This is the problem the stores are facing in this new publishing enviornment. Dealing with these new problems will require some outside-the-box thinking. Will bookstores be willing to find creative solutions and embrace them fast enough to stay open?

What do you think? Post a comment and let me know.


Thoughts on Publishing: The Future of the Ebook

I’ve written before about the ebook and where it might be headed. I’d like to go into a little more detail this time. The ebook is the future of publishing, of that I have no doubt. When is that future going to arrive? Is it here now, or are those that say it’s here overhyping the situation?

It’s true that in the last couple of years the ebook has boomed after years of broken promises. Amazon’s Kindle has a lot to do with it. Amazon has produced an e-reader that’s attractive and functional. It doesn’t hurt that they did so after becoming the dominant online book retailer. Right now the ebook accounts for just over 5% of all books sold; within a year that number could be 10%.

Sounds like the print book is in real danger, right?

In 2008 Kelly Gallagher of Bowker conducted a survey on book buying. There are a few aspects of that survey that stand out for me on the topic of ebooks. The report stated that the average age of readers was 44; the average age of the buyers that purchase the most books was 50; and that two-thirds of the books bought that year were purchased by those over the age of 42. This says to me that Baby Boomers are still the dominant readers and book buyers.

What does this mean for the ebook? There does appear to be growth in the adoption of ebooks among Boomers. But this is a generation that laughed with comedians who joked about not being able to program VCRs or understand computers. This is also a generation that’s starting to reach retirement age. One of the faculties that diminishes as one ages is eyesight.

This says to me that as long as Boomers are the main book buyers, they’re likely to prefer print to the ebook. Sure, e-readers can increase font sizes. I’m just not certain that a generation that wasn’t raised with technology, and that has been slower to embrace tech than their kids, will drive a boom in ebooks.

That same survey suggests that while Generations X and Y are more tech-savvy, they read a lot less. They also buy fewer books than the Boomers, print or ebook. They have more entertainment options than their parents and grandparents. Reading is one choice, but it’s one that not as many choose as before.

There will be fast growth in ebook sales over the next few years. I suspect that this will slow down in five years, going from a couple of percent increase a year to one percent or less. It’s likely that the next boom in ebooks will come when Boomers begin dying off in large numbers. As that happens print books sales will plummet and ebooks sales will come to dominate the publishing industry.

But there is one odd aspect to that survey that’s worth pondering. It stated that young people preferred physical bookstores while older people preferred online shopping. What does that mean?

I think that means that among those of Generations X and Y who are readers, they view reading as partly a social activity. They go to the bookstore to read, to talk about books, and perhaps to meet authors at signings. If that’s true, how does the ebook fit into this notion?

In a way, it doesn’t. You don’t buy ebooks at physical stores; you buy them alone and online. Buying ebooks isn’t a social but a solitary activity. So if younger readers do view reading as partly socializing, how eager will they be to abandon the print book and the socializing that goes with it?

Perhaps very eager, perhaps not so much. That question does lead to the next consideration in this discussion: how will the stores fare?

In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about where the ebook is going, so please post a comment.  Stay tuned...


Thoughts on Publishing: Small Press Publishers

Right now there’s lots of talk about whether you should publish with one of the majors or whether you should self-publish. There is another option for the author with a book to sell: the small press.

Small press publishers are defined by how many books they put out a year and how many copies of those books they print. Some small presses release only a few books a year; others release a few every month. Small press books generally have print runs of a few thousand copies or less.

One of the traditional advantages small presses have had is that their shorter runs mean they need to print fewer books to make a profit. This has allowed them to fill niches that the majors usually ignore. This is an even bigger advantage today. The majors are more willing to follow trends and more willing to only publish bestsellers than they used to be. This gives small presses wide latitude to publish anything that the majors aren’t accepting. If you want proof, look at what types of genre fiction the majors put out, then compare that with what the small presses are releasing in those same genres.

Print-on-Demand (POD) is the great boon to the small press. With POD these presses have the ability to print as many or as few books as they need when they need them. The prices their books sell at might be higher than the prices mass-market paperbacks are sold at. The good news for the small press is that the majors keep raising the price of paperbacks. Right now a small press novel sells anywhere from $4 more to double what a mass-market paperback does. That margin is likely to decrease as time goes on.

The ebook is another positive development for small presses. The ebook allows a small press to release a book at the exact same cost as a major publisher spends. The ebook gives the small press a reach beyond bookstores. The only problem is there’s no consistency on pricing. I know one small press who sells their ebooks at prices only a few dollars less than what the majors are charging.

The internet is a bit of a mixed blessing for the small press. One important plus is global reach. Before the internet a small press had the problem of how to get word out about their books. Now a truly good website with the right meta tags, perhaps augmented by pages at social network sites like Facebook, can give a small press the same access to the world that the majors have.

The pairing of the ebook with the internet is also a positive. One problem the small press has had to face is how to get books to readers if the press had trouble getting into bookstores. This is especially true of chain stores which sometimes make difficult demands regarding returns and discounts. The internet allows direct access to readers; the ebook gives instant access. Together they offer the small press the opportunity to avoid the chains and their unfriendly policies.

On the other hand, there’s the problem of getting noticed. Small press books, novels in particular, can have a hard time getting access to review sites. Small presses don’t have the money to buy banners or other ads. This leaves book marketing up to the authors themselves, with or without help from their small press publisher.

Authors (published and otherwise) should pay more attention to the small press. While they face some of the same pressures the major publishers do, I think they’re in a better position to survive those pressures. Small presses are often run by one person or a few people. They can decide how profitable they want their press to be. This frees them from the demand to produce bestsellers, and to produce more while spending less than last year.

That’s the real danger the majors are looking at. Their corporate owners want more revenue at less cost. That could mean fewer print books from the majors, as well as overpriced ebooks. The former would result in fewer books on store shelves. However, that provides an opening for the small press, assuming the stores are willing to deal. If the stores have the will to be flexible with the small press, their shelves could be filled with product. That scenario could end up shifting publishing in a very dramatic way.

It’s all speculation right now. But it does suggest that authors ought not assume that their only choice is the majors or self-publishing. They ought to consider their third choice, the small press publishers. They could be just what the author needs.


Thoughts on Publishing: Pro Author Pitfalls

It’s still the dream of most authors to get an agent, have the agent sell their book to a big publisher, and have a bestselling book. The major publishers are still the only game in town when it comes to that dream. But you might want to think before you decide to play that game. There are potential pitfalls, and not just getting lots of rejections.

Trend Trouble: Right now in the SF/F genre "paranormal fantasy," usually featuring female leads, is the hot property. What if that’s not what you write? Unless your work shows promise of big sales, you are plain out of luck. You may find it hard to get an agent, much less get a contract with a big publisher.

This isn’t something new, either. Ten years ago fantasy with female leads would have been a tough sell. Twenty years ago any fantasy would have been the tough sell. Who knows; maybe in a few years paranormal fantasy will fade and steampunk will be the hot property?

This points to another problem with selling to the majors. What happens when the trend you’re a part of falls out of favor?

In the past the answer was "not much unless your sales dip below 10,000 copies." As long as you didn’t get below that number of copies sold you’d still have a contract. We’re in a much different enviornment now. The majors are owned by larger corporations with less of a tolerance for lower profits, much less losing money. What no one knows, until that shift in sub-genre hits, is how high that threshold number has risen. Which leads to...

The Sales Peak: The vast majority of genre novels being published today are parts of series. Since the phenomenon of the "novel series" took off about 30 years ago, it seems that every series hits a peak point. The peak is where interest in the series reaches its height. After that growth in sales is minimal, or sales start to shrink.

Again, in the past sales had to really plummet before an author was shown the door. Now the majors have those new owners. How many books past the peak will the publishers tolerate before cutting an author loose? Will they even wait past the peak? Where does that leave the author, who has invested years in their series, and might still have thousands of fans?

Deadline Drought: One other aspect of the series phenomenon is that bestselling series authors are now expected to come out with a new novel in their series about once a year. This sometimes results in the author producing a novel in the series that just isn’t as good as the ones before. The pressure of meeting the release deadline can lead to some sort of artistic compromise. As it happens, it can sometimes be at this point that the series hits the sales peak.

I’ve already mentioned how this might affect the author-publisher relationship. There’s also a creative dimension to this that authors often don’t consider. Can you stand being under pressure to write a new novel every year without fail for five, six, eight, ten years or more? Do you understand the sacrifices you might have to make to fufill your contract? Can you create on a deadline? Can you keep at it for years?

Everyone talks about getting the big book contract, the advance, and the ability to be a bestselling author. No one mentions any downsides, but they do exist. Consider them before looking for an agent or a major publisher. Several books in is no time to find out that you can't cope with them.


Thoughts on Publishing: Where We Stand

Right now the publishing industry is in flux. Ebooks are a growing share of the book market. Writers like J. A. Konrath are working to make self-publishing respectable. Some publishers are cutting paperbacks, some are dropping authors, yet the money is still rolling in. Here’s what I think the situation is right now.

Ebooks: the ebook is gaining momentum thanks to the Kindle. Ebooks are already over 5% of the market share; they could reach 10% in six months to a year. On the other hand, there’s still resistance to the concept, especially from older readers. Then there’s the iPad, an e-reader that actually lets you do more than read. Will the e-reader of the future be more like the Kindle or the iPad? The answer will have some bearing on the future of the ebook.

Self-publishing: Print-on-Demand (POD) and the ebook now make it possible for everyone to be a published author. Even better, they allow the author access to national and international markets thanks to Amazon and Lulu.com. But in spite of the best efforts of writers like Konrath, self-publishing still has a huge stigma attached to it. Unless you’re a known author, it’s still difficult to persuade readers you don’t know to buy your self-published novel.

The Major Publishers: you still have to go to them if you want to be a best-selling author. They have the money to dominate store shelves, and their authors have an advantage in obtaining reviews. However, the majors aren’t exactly racing to put out as many books as they used to. They aren’t pricing ebooks competitively. Will they continue to dominate the publishing industry? Everyone has an answer to that, and no one seems to agree.

The Small Press: they often get left out of these discussions on the future of publishing. POD and the ebook make their task of putting out product much cheaper and easier than it used to be. There are many niches that small presses can fill, especially with the majors giving up on marginal genres and sub-genres. But small presses also have the problem of getting their names out and, in the case of fiction, getting their authors reviewed.

Over the next several weeks I'm going to voice more detailed opinions about the publishing business.  I hope you'll leave some comments so we can pursue a dialog about this subject.  As a writer it's obviously very important; I hope it's the same for you.



For some reason I’ve had “Supertrain” on the brain. You probably know that some of my nonfiction deals with railroads and railroad history. That work sometimes leads me to ponder other things about railroads. In this case, Supertrain, an NBC series about a passenger train that became legendary, and not in a good way.

Here’s the premise of the show: the dying CEO of the “Trans-Allied Corporation” is asked by the “Federal Department of Transportation” to improve America’s passenger rail service. So what does the CEO come up with? An atomic-powered luxury passenger train running on rails three times wider than standard gauge that would run from New York to Los Angeles in 36 hours.

Right here I have to pause. According to information at various websites, the two-hour pilot doesn’t make it at all clear what “Trans-Allied” actually does or makes. Since one of the corporate board detractors claimed the CEO has a “psychotic fascination with trains,” I guess we can assume that the company isn’t in the transportation business. Which begs the question, why would anyone in the Federal government ask them to improve passenger rail service?

Then there’s the notion of a train with a nuclear power plant racing across the country. It sounds insane, but you have to understand a few important facts. Supertrain started production in the fall of 1978, with a planned premiere in the 1979-1980 season. It was rushed on the air as a mid-season replacement on February 7, 1979. The movie The China Syndrome was released about six weeks later on March 16; just under two weeks after that was the Three Mile Island accident. When the show went on the air, only fringe environmentalists worried about nuclear power; come April everyone was worried.

Anyway. During the opening of the pilot the CEO reveals that he’s probably going to die before the project even gets started. Yet somehow his company is going to be obliged to build and complete it after he’s gone. Either this man is blessed with the wimpiest board of directors in corporate history, or there are some seriously dark contracts floating around Trans-Allied.

Flash forward several years, and the Supertrain is on its way. The concept of this series appears to have been this: it’s like The Love Boat, only it’s on land, and it’s a drama instead of a romantic comedy. At the time it went on the air, a two-hour pilot movie and nine episodes had been completed. There weren’t any stars in the starting cast but some familiar faces: Robert Alda, Edward Andrews, and Harrison Page. You’d recognize them if you saw them.

According to accounts, the pilot movie did decently in the ratings. As the show went on the numbers sank. Around the second week of March the show was yanked for emergency retooling. The show was moved from Wednesday night to Saturday night on April 7, and the show remained on the air until the first week of May. Episodes two through nine were re-aired through June and July. By then the series was already doomed; early in May NBC had announced it’s fall lineup, and Supertrain wasn’t on it.

“What’s the big deal?” you might be asking. Well, it turns out that Supertrain was about as expensive to make at the time as was the original Battlestar Galactica. The show was about as model-heavy as the old Galactica, and required entirely new interiors. There was a regular cast, the train crew, but each episode needed lots of guest stars to carry the story. Poking around the internet, about the only figure I found suggested that Supertrain cost about $1 million an episode.

That’s in 1979 dollars.

That’s not the only problem with the show. As I said, the premise was: It’s Love Boat, but on land, and it’s a drama instead of a romantic comedy. I suppose a premise like that might work if it was thought out properly. Clearly it wasn’t; the idea of the Supertrain was silly. I would like to have been at the pitch meeting. I get the sense that the room smelled of fear, desperation, flop sweat, and occasionally echoed with nervous laughter.

This leads to the other reason why Supertrain was such a disaster: it was on NBC. The late 1970s was a dark time for the Peacock Network. ABC had all the huge hits: Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and so on. Heck, ABC could take a chance with the expensive Galactica, have it be a disappointment, and shrug it off. CBS was in second: it’s Norman Lear comedies were in decline, but it still had MASH and The Waltons.

NBC was a distant third. It had only three programs in the 1978-79 season that were true hits: Little House on the Prairie, ChiPS, and Diff’rent Strokes. Quincy and The Rockford Files did well enough but weren’t quite hits. Almost every other show on NBC during the late 1970s barely made it one season. One of the few that did that premiered in mid-season along with Supertrain was BJ and the Bear, a series about a trucker and his pet chimp. No, I am not making that up.

Supertrain has over the years come to exemplify the sorry shape NBC was in at the time. It was a high-concept idea that the network couldn’t pull off. Crazy amounts of time and money were spent in building models and sets, and little effort was put into stories. Even worse was this: when it went on the air, Supertrain had only a pilot and eight episodes finished. Starting during the first week of February, the show needed between 12 and 18 episodes to air continuously to May sweeps. It doesn’t seem to me that the show had any chance at all, even if it didn’t suck.

Now, here’s the personal kick to the shins.

At the time I was into model trains. I’d fall out of the hobby during most of the 1980s, but I’d be back starting in the 1990s. I liked trains as much then as I do now. I’d also gotten into sci-fi with Star Wars in 1977. I tried to watch every SF show that came on, no matter how mediocre it was.

So, here was Supertrain, a series about a futuristic train. This ought to be something I’d leap on, right? Well, I don’t think I watched so much as a few minutes of this series! If even me, the young ideal viewer, couldn’t bother to tune in, what chance did Supertrain really have?

Which is why I’m glad I had to look up stuff to write this piece. Over the years I’d remember a picture from Starlog or Model Railroader that showed the Supertrain model, and I’d wonder if I had missed something. I guess all I missed was a whole lot of 1970s TV crap.

I feel so much better now.


Too Many Cooks

There's an old expression: "Too many cooks spoil the broth." I had an experience like that recently when a story of mine was rejected.

The first problem with the rejection was that I found out the periodical in question had a word limit; this was not at their website when I found them and submitted the story. Next was the rejection itself. It wasn't from the editor, but from a "team" of editors. One thought there was too much backstory; another was confused about the setting. These are contradictory comments. Either you can figure out the setting and don't need backstory, or you don't and need the information. Even stranger, a comment presumably from the editor who wanted less backstory suggested that this same editor wanted to know more backstory on the main character.

(BTW, there was a third editor who thought the story was boring and didn't finish it. Just to add one more opinion to the mix.)

Were I the person in charge of this publication, and I saw a rejection with such contradictions, I might wonder about my processes for dealing with submissions. If my "team" rejected a story for the same or similar reasons, fine. If the reasons contradict each other, or appear to contradict, I would hope that I'd wonder about the story. Two conflicting opinions can't both be right.

I'd also wonder what the writer would gain from such a messy rejection. Which opinion should the writer heed and which to disregard? The only thing I could conclude from the comments was that, which the story might need some cutting, it needed material added to make the setting more clear.

There was one other conclusion I drew from the rejection: this wasn't a place where I wanted to send any more of my work.

It's this very sort of issue that makes me nervous about critique groups. Feedback is nice, but what do you do if the opinions differ? How do you sort out which advice to take and which to ignore? And what happens if you follow one person's advice, and thus rejection someone else's suggestions?

If I'm going to be rejected, I'd rather it be from a single editor. That way I have no problem figuring out whether the rejection means something about the story, or if it just means the editor and I aren't on the same wavelength. Getting published is complicated enough as it is. Must more complications be added to the process?


Interview with T. M. Hunter

Today is something special at the blog. Below is an interview with Todd Hunter, author of two "Aston West" sci-fi novels and several short stories. Todd asked me questions at his blog; find 'em here.

RC: What is your latest novel?

TH: My latest published novel is Friends in Deed, a playful little romp through the universe of space pirate Aston West, where he discovers sometimes friends aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be.

RC: What else have you published featuring Aston West?

TH: My first novel Heroes Die Young came out in September 2008. In addition, I’ve had several short stories featuring Aston published in online magazines such as Ray Gun Revival, Residential Aliens and Golden Visions Magazine.

RC: How did the character come about?

TH: Aston actually came from the remnants of a novel I started many years prior. In that book, the main character discovered his cargo was a container full of slaves, and he made it his mission to save them. The novel never really panned out, but in retrospect, it probably served as the basis for one of my more popular short stories, “Redemption” (seen in Residential Aliens, November 2009). When I had the dream that started me down the path of creating Heroes Die Young, I just knew that character would fit.

RC: What are your plans for Aston?

TH: Aston’s the primary focus of most of my writing. Within the in-work queue, I have several short stories, a little novella featuring a mind-reading psychic, as well as the third novel in the Aston West series. The last two short stories I had on contract were just published through Ray Gun Revival and Residential Aliens, so I plan to get more out there soon. The only other item I have on the way is a ten-story collection which Residential Aliens will be publishing soon, entitled Dead or Alive. There’s plenty of material left to write with Aston, so I don’t see an end in sight.

RC: Have you thought about writing outside of Aston and his universe?

TH: I’m actually editing a novel entitled The Cure which is not related to Aston (yet). Fans of the series will likely see some similarities in the world it’s set in, but other than that, it’s a completely separate story. Not to say I won’t use this novel to generate a plot line for a future Aston novel...

RC: What inspires you to write?

TH: I love to tell stories, because some just beg to be told

RC: When and where do you write?

I generally write anywhere I can, before I go to work in the morning and between the time I get home and bedtime (so in other words, every waking moment I can). Things have been much improved since I was convinced to get a netbook which I can take almost everywhere. Before that, I used to handwrite material and then transcribe it into the computer. As you can imagine, that was a very time-consuming process. Honestly, the netbook has truly been the best writing purchase I’ve ever made.

Thanks for having me, Robert! And if anyone is interested in learning more about my novels or short stories, stop on by Aston West.com.

One last thing: if you post a comment, you'll have a chance to win a copy of one of Todd's novels! I'll choose a post at random, and you pick which novel.



Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I strained my left wrist on the drive back from the Pittsburg train show some weeks back. It's been slow to heal.

This past week, my third novel, Monitor, was "Book of the Week" over at Book Town. This was a surprise because I wasn't doing much to plug the novel there. I had only just given them information about my second novel, Lisa's Way. I hope the honor led to some sales.

In the last few weeks I've posted book trailers for both novels at Book Town, at Face Book, and on You Tube. If you haven't checked them out yet, please do and let me know what you think of them. Creating book trailers is a new thing for me. I hope I'm doing it right. I'm considering doing one for The Sagas of Surgard short story collection as well.

Monitor is available as an ebook from Whiskey Creek Press. It's a bit darker than what you might think I'd write. It might be a while before it gets into print book form; do consider buying it as an ebook now. That could get it into print faster.

In the coming weeks I'll be doing some promotion for all my novels around the internet. I'll let you know when and where as soon as I can. Also, the Andover Library will have a "Trains, Planes & Autos Day" on August 7. There will be speakers, train layouts, a car show, and a couple of aircraft on display. I won't be speaking, but I will be there with my books.

Stay tuned...



I was going to post about ConQuest, but thanks to a few bothersome muscles in my ankle, I wasn't able to go. So I'll move along with this new post, "Boodle."

"Boodle" - what the Heck is that? According to Wikipedia, the word boodle arose in mid-1880s New York as a term for bribes paid to local politicians by a company building a street railway. It came to be another word for graft. The term even pops up in James Joyce's Ulysses.

I came across boodle while working on my book about county-seat conflicts in Kansas. It was used to to attack an opponent during these fights. The newspaper editors who used it also added letters to invent more words. Tthe leading men of a rival town or the men running the town company could be called "boodlers." Opposing communities could be dismissed as "boodle towns." These terms were added to "schemers," "swindlers," "frauds," and others as a lexicon of insults to puff up one town over the rest.

Although boodle is a nice word, it's completely fallen out of usage. I hadn't even heard of it until last year, when I began hitting the fights that took place in the late 1880s. And yet, it's got a nice ring to it. It sounds funny, which might make it all the better an insult. After all, how else to diminish your rivals than to use silly words that make them seem silly.

This is one reason why I like researching history. I come across words and terms no longer in use. Finding out their meaning takes me back in some small way to the past. A word like "boodle" reminds me that the past can be interesting.

However, the past is still the past. It might be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. I'm not giving up air conditioning just so I can hear "boodle" used a lot. Maybe I can have it both ways; maybe boodle will come back into style.

I'm not holding my breath for that. But if it does, remember, you heard it here first.


Review: Bewitched & Betrayed

I didn't think I'd be posting an entry so soon, but I wanted to get my review up of Lisa Shearin's new book, Bewitched and Betrayed. It's the fourth installment in the "Raine Benares" series. I hope this will not only be the first of many reviews, but that it'll lead to some of my books being reviewed elsewhere too.

B&B takes off with Raine Benares, an elf and "finder of things lost," still attached magically to a soul-sucking rock known as the Saghred. The evil goblin Sarad Nukpana had wanted to get his hands on the Saghred, but was sucked inside thanks to Raine. At the end of the third book he got out, and now he's taking the bodies of important people to stay alive. What's worse, he still wants the Saghred so he can go on his own little spree of mass destruction and world domination, and Raine's bond is in his way.

Raine isn't alone in her quest to stop Nukpana. Continuing to help her are her two love interests: elf paladin Mychael Eiliesor and goblin mage Tam Nathrach. Also assisting are a variety of powerful humans, elves, and goblins. Then there's her extended family of "seafaring businessmen" (aka pirates).

There's a lot to like about the series in general and B&B in particular. Raine is attractive and witty, the sort of female character that ought to appeal to both sexes. The world Shearin has created has plenty of strong magic, yet the ships have cannons and the heroes get grenades. B&B has a few more twists in its plot that previous books have had.

The one aspect I like about B&B is that Raine is more in command of events than in the previous three books. A couple of times things go awry, but they're due to the actions of characters rather than any mistakes Raine makes. I don't get why authors (and editors and publishers) have their "capable" heroes and heroines making errors or not noticing things just to add some drama. It annoys the crap out of me. Anyway, I'm glad it didn't happen here.

My one concern about B&B is that, unlike in the last three books, the problem raised at the beginning isn't quite solved at the end. (I'd say more but I'd give way too much away.) There's more of a "To Be Continued" feel at the end than in the other three. This doesn't quite mean the reader is left hanging; I felt a genuine sense of hope in the last scene. While the first three books in the series have a stand-alone quality to them, I get the sense that B&B and the fifth novel are going to be closely tied together.

That said, I must repeat that I enjoyed the Hell out of Bewitched & Betrayed. It's has a great appeal to fantasy readers. SF/F readers who like smart characters with a sense of humor will like this book (and the series). I understand Raine's making inroads among the romance crowd; I can see why, and as a guy, I don't really mind. I'm glad I found this series, and I urge you to seek it out. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Writing for "free"

There might be some changes to Scoopfire, the online newspaper I'm a columnist for. The editor and I were talking about this, and he said he wasn't sure he could pay me during the transition. I replied that I'd be happy to let him publish my columns for no payment. I don't usually write for "free," but I thought in this case I could make an exception. That got me thinking.

Many years ago a certain well-known science fiction author wrote somewhere that authors should never sell their works for "free." According to that author, even getting paid less than the pro rate was about the same as giving your work away. I don't quite agree with this, even though when I send out my short stories I only do so to publications that pay.

For one thing, getting paid in contributors' copies is still getting paid. Those copies have value; otherwise the publisher would be giving them away. For another thing, I've always believed that it's better to sell your work and get the credit rather than wait to sell to a market that pays pro rates. Some markets that pay token payments have been around for a good long time; selling to them can pay off in ways other than a check or PayPal deposit.

Something else occurred to me about this subject. Unless you have a contract, you're writing for free anyway. You're writing your book, short story, or article with no expectation of getting paid, but in the hope that your work will sell to a paying market.

What about blogging? Unless you're charging readers to see your blog, that's writing for free. Of course, most writers blog in part to promote their writing. In that way blogging isn't free, but a promotional tool like a press release that you write to get other things to sell.

While it's good to write with the idea that you'd like to be paid, you need to have something to say first. You need the passion to write, and the passion to be heard. The one will get you working; the other is what motivates you to sell what you write. Where you sell, and how much you're paid, are your own decisions. As long as you're comfortable, you shouldn't worry about what others think.

Write what you can and sell where you can. After all, you can choose where you submit your work to, but someone else decides whether or not to publish it.


Conestoga 14

It's been a few days since I got back from Conestoga 14 in Tulsa. Now seems like a good time to put down my impressions of what I did and saw.

For some reason, I didn't get to as many other panels as I might have wanted. I missed one because I was taking a late afternoon nap Saturday. Looking over the list of panels from the pocket program, I think I just didn't find enough panels that I was passionate about getting to this year. Maybe it was me, or maybe the con just didn't have enough panels this year.

On the upside, I got to see several authors who I hadn't talked to since last year. It was nice that most recognized me. I tried to catch up with as many as I could. Oddly, even though I only had two panels to be at and a workshop class to run, I seemed to be pressed for time this year.

One thing that struck me was that this year the opening ceremonies at Conestoga were at 6 PM on Friday, instead of the usual 7 PM. The main programming room at opening ceremonies seemed to be half to two-thirds full; it seemed more packed the last two years I've gone. I don't know if this meant that attendance was down, or that more people can make the later time. I hope it's the latter.

On a personal writing note, I did get some work done at Conestoga. I edited down one story; did a little pondering about another; and decided to give up on a third. I also tinkered around with a potential third Lisa Herbert book. I actually spent an hour in the hotel business room, poking around Google Maps, trying to invent worlds for her to visit. That was fun; reminded me how much I still like maps.

The one downside for me was that I only sold one book the whole weekend. I think partly that was because I didn't have a signing and I didn't take part in "Speed-Date the Author." I missed out on those because I didn't have any new books out. Still, it would have been nice to have had a table in the dealers room to see how sales would have been.

Overall I had a good time. I look forward to going next year. My next con should be ConQuest 41 in Kansas City over Memorial Day weekend. Hope to see you there!


Making Time to Write

A few weeks ago I held a writers' workshop at the Andover library. Even though the weather was awful, 8 women braved the cold and showed up. I covered my planned topics and answered lots of questions. I hope I was helpful.

One question that came up, or maybe it was a topic on my list, was how to find time to write. It's a question that published authors get asked a lot.

I think if you want to write something and finish it, you have to be able to write every day. Five days a week is good. Six days a week is better. Seven is probably a day too much; you need time to recharge your creative batteries.

You don't need to write all day. I don't know many writers who do. Those that do either write slowly, in longhand or by two-finger typing, or they write part of the day and edit the rest of the day.

In fact, I write about an hour to an hour and a half six days a week. In that time I can write three to four pages a day. It might not sound like much, but it does add up.

If you want to write, find half an hour to an hour in your daily schedule. It should be a time when you can physically write. It needs to be at a time of the day when you have the energy to be creative. Most importantly, it needs to be the same time every day.

I've found that if I write at the same time every day, I get into the habit of writing. I can get ideas at any time, and often do. I might make notes on one project or another at any time. But I write at the same time every day (the morning, after showering, shaving, and so on). Because that's when I work, I'm able to get work done at that time.

In the course of an hour, you could get a few pages written. That might not seem like much. But at that pace, you'd have a short story written in a week or two. At that pace, you might finish a chapter of a book in a few weeks. Nonfiction might work differently; it does for me. Still, a few pages a day gets you closer to finishing whatever you're working on.

That is the key to the set time to write. You get a little more done each day. You make progress. Page by page your project gets completed. That is how you become a writer.


Chronicles: Risen wrap-up

So, this past weekend "Chronicles:Risen," the second installment in Wichita's sci-fi/gaming/anime con, was held at the La Qunita Inn on the east side of the city. Now that a few days have passed, I'd like to let you know how it was for me.

First off, yes, there was some behind-the-scenes drama at the con. I won't go into details; I'm a nice guy, and I don't want to get into trouble. Let me say this: it seems the hotel wasn't prepared for the con; but instead of adapting and trying to make everyone's experience as good as possible, it feels like they went the other way, causing problems for the staff and some attendees.

I spent most of the con in the vendors' room, just as last year. I'm pleased to say that I doubled my sales from last year; from 4 books sold to 9! It may not be my best sales day ever, but it's nothing to sneeze at.

Which leads me to the observation that attendance was way up from last year. I know the goal was to get 200-300 people to come. Though I didn't see that many where I was, the two days I spent last weekend were much busier than the three days I spent last August at the first Chronicles con. I hope that a good chunk of this year's crowd had fun, whatever the final numbers were.

One thing that Chronicles had that I hope other cons pick up on was the "Achievement List." On the back two pages of the program book were a list of things to do during the con. If someone did them, a staffer or guest was to stamp the box next to the listing. The idea was that the person who got the most achievements would win prizes.

Sadly, I was so beat by late Sunday afternoon that I couldn't stay to see who won or how much they did. (Note for next year, guys: don't go so late, especially Sunday.) To me the idea of the achievement list, and rewards for completing the list, is a really good one. It encourages the fans not to camp out in one place and spend the whole con there. Instead it encourages circulation and taking in as much going on as you can. This is something I want to see Chronicles keep doing (maybe with a slightly shorter list), and that I hope other cons will try as well.

I was also happy that a couple people showed for the writing panel Todd Hunter and I did; we weren't sure if anyone would. I think the staff did a pretty good job, from where I was and what I could see. I got to see some people I hadn't seen in a while. Overall I enjoyed myself.

That leads me to a bit of advice for any fans reading this who were there, too. If you had a good time at Chronicles, talk it up! The best thing you can do to make certain there are more Chronicles is to spread the word about it. Yeah, I know there's going to be more publicity next year. Word of mouth is still the best for of advertising anyone or anything can get. So make your plans and tell your friends, and support your local con!


When Was It Fun To Be Sick?

To those few who follow this, sorry it's been so long since posts. I caught a cold at the Wichita Train Show (I think) and though it's mostly over, the cough still lingers. I don't enjoy being sick, and I especially don't like this cold, since its distinguishing feature has been the cough. That got me thinking: when was it even fun to be sick?

I thought it was fun when I was in school; I suppose we all do. Then I pondered that some more. For any of you younger followers, that would have been in the 1970s and early 1980s. There was no internet. Cable came in during the latter part of that period, and at most you'd have 12 to 20 channels. Video games came in around that same time, but were low-tech, sometimes cheesy, and were usually better with friends. VCRs also came in at the end of that time period, but there really hadn't been enough time to build much of a library. Pre-recorded tapes at that time were $50 or more ($75 or more in today's dollars).

So, what was there to do while you were home sick? Read, but that wasn't always fun (homework, remember). Listen to the radio or watch TV (what little was on). Mainly, though, I recall sitting around and resting or sleeping.

Rarely did you get to see your friends. If you had something catching, their parents would keep them away from you because they didn't want their kids to catch what you had. If you didn't have something catching, well, you wouldn't see them for long anyway, because you had to rest and they wanted to play.

You couldn't even go outside if you were sick. Not because someone might see you and you'd get in trouble. No, you were stuck inside because it was easier to stay in and suffer than get up and do much.

So, having had colds, knee troubles, and even a kidney stone, I can make the startling revelation here at my blog that it wasn't fun to be sick then, and it still isn't all that much fun to be sick now.

Till next time (when I hope this cough is gone)...


New Events!

I have some readings for "Lisa's Way" set for late February and early March. Both places are in Wichita.

Poetic Justice, 550 N. Webb Road:
Saturday, February 27, 2-3 PM
Tuesday, March 2, 8-9 PM

Mead's Corner, 430 E. Douglas:
Saturday, March 6, 2-3 PM
Tuesday, March 9, 8-9 PM

I'll also be doing a writers' workshop at the Andover Public Library on Saturday, March 20, from 10 AM to Noon. For my full schedule, check my website.


Happy Winter?

I recently got to wondering why there are so few upbeat winter songs. Two things got me on this track. One was Jay Price's blog entry about Advent songs (check the blog links to the right). The other was a car commercial running using "Let It Snow."

Now, I'm not a huge fan of winter. I really don't like the cold or driving in snow. I also don't like being able to get out and sell books; the holidays mess up December, and winter weather makes January and February dicey travel months. But it's not as though winter has nothing to argue for it. It's a great time for hobbies, for catching up with friends, and for staying in and writing.

Yet how many upbeat winter tunes are there? "Let It Snow" is about it. In fact, the other two winter tunes that are coming to me off the top of my head aren't exactly cheery. "Winter Song," the duet featuring Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, seems wistful to my ears. Then there's "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas & the Papas; I mean, check the title!

Contrast that with the sheer volume of songs praising summer. Summer has its faults: heat & humidity; dry heat; sweat; and everyone's on vacation so it's hard to get ahold of people or have events. But none of those stops just about everyone from singing about how wonderful the season is, how it last forever, or how sad they are that it's over.

Can't someone find something nice to say about winter? It would make the season more bearable.


Clearing out the junk

Saturday I decided to clear out some of the clippings files I have, mainly the folders marked "News," "Humor," "Movies/TV/Music," and a couple of others. I was stunned at how much stuff I'd acquired, and how many clippings I hadn't read since I first saved them (Buffy's changing networks! MST3K is going off the air!). I threw out everything I no longer wanted or couldn't use.

I suppose if you're a person who collects clippings, you could amass quite few folders' worth. As I writer I have to do this; clippings can mean story ideas. Writing nonfiction, clippings are even more important because that's your research material. The more you write, the more clippings you end up with. That's why I cleared away what I did. I needed to get rid of the stuff I wasn't using for the stuff that I had to keep.

Which, it turns out, isn't such a bad philosophy for life.

I used to have lots of CDs. I'm down to about three dozen, and I may get that pared down to less than 20. I wanted to have DVDs of most of the movies and TV shows I had on videotape. Now I'm happy to have the most meaningful things on DVD, and the rest can be files on a drive. (A larger hard drive that what I have, but still.) I'm not sure I can pare down my library all that much, but that's in part 'cause I did so a couple years ago.

I don't know about you, but as I get older, I want less junk cluttering up my life.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to choose between writing fiction and nonfiction. That sort of mess I can live with.


An Introduction

For those few that may have stumbled here by accident or referral, I'm Robert Collins, I'm an author living in Kansas, and this is my blog. If you want to learn more about me, check my profile, or visit my website. I can wait.

Okay, so now that's done, you're probably wondering what I intend to blog about. Well, there will be some shameless self-promotion here. I'll blog about my books, my events, and my shorter works, all in the hope that you'll want to spend your hard-earned money on them. There will even be times when, while I blog about something else, I'll drop references to my works.

I will try to blog about other things. Writing, for instance; I've written many columns about writing. I could devote space to Kansas history. I might do what other bloggers do and ramble off the top of my head. Heck, I might blog about something worthwhile.

As to when I'll blog, it will depend on how busy I am. Don't expect entries while I'm on the road. When I do post, it will probably be in the latter part of the day, as I write in the mornings.

To wrap this up, here's something substantial; my basic advice to aspiring writers:

1. Write at least five days a week. Six would be better. All you need is an hour each day. But you have to write, otherwise you're not a writer.

2. Don't work seven days a week. Don't work all day. Creativity, even in nonfiction, can't be forced. Give yourself time to live your life, so you'll have something you can draw from when you write.

3. Finish what you start.

4. Write what makes you happy, but remember that if you take the time to write, you ought to submit your work to publishers.

5. Unless you only have one book or short piece in you, think about the next project. Having something else to work on is especially useful if you're blocked on the current project.

There you have it. Stay tuned for more useful and useless posts.


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