Archive for 2013

After Ending A 15-Year-Old Website

OUAA Last Blog PostA year-and-a-half ago I made the decision not to renew the *.ws domain name for my website, Once Upon An Albatross… (OUAA), that I got a decade earlier for five bucks a year when *.com domain names were way too expensive. With a $25 USD renewal fee due, and a domain name that didn’t reflect my identity as a writer, it was time for it to go. OUAA got moved to a subdomain on my author website.

That prompted another decision six months later to stop updating the blog, bringing a storied 15-year-old website to an end. I’ve gotten burnt out from blogging three days a week, felt like I was grasping at straws most of the time. When I surveyed the website to put together the first volume of the blog compilation ebooks, the website has taken so many twisty turns over the years that it had no unifying theme.

In short, my 15-year-old website reflected my somewhat messy life.

1995 – 1996

The namesake, OUAA, started life in 1995 as a dial-up Wildcat! Bulletin Board System (BBS), running on an ancient IBM AT computer with a 2400-baud modem. The beginnings of an online empire that got wiped out by something called the Internet in 1996. I also got kicked out of the university staying up in the wee hours playing Magic: The Gathering card games with my equally irresponsible roommates.

1997 – 2001

The website started life on a free website hosting service to show off my non-existent video game design talent after I got a testing job at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis). Being a tester sucked the life out of being a designer at home, but I did learn enough HTML and CSS to put together web pages.

2002 – 2007

Becoming a lead video game tester in 2001 prompted me to go back to school to learn computer programming in 2002. I ordered the *.ws domain name that became the website home for a decade. The website became an ongoing programming LAMP project for the five years that it took to get my second associate degree on a part-time basis. I also became serious about writing.

2008 – 2009

No longer going to school and working as a help desk support technician in 2008, I switched out my programming project for the Joomla! CMS. I also used Joomla for my author website. Although I written posts on the website from time to time, I started blogging on a semi-irregular basis.

2010 – 2012

When I started this writing blog in 2010, I switched to WordPress. Joomla didn’t have a native blogging component, and the blogging component I paid for was chunky at best. I switched the website to WordPress, reorganizing all the content as blog posts and renaming the website after my old Wildcat! BBS.

A year later, I haven’t done much with OUAA except poke at it. Setting up the ebook publication schedule for next year, I’m coming out with the five volumes of blog posting compilation ebooks. That’s 300+ blog posts and 120,000+ words. I’ll clean up the website, apply some spit polish and let it be the spam magnet that it always has been.

Five months after I stopped blogging for OUAA, I got a new *.com domain name and started a new WordPress blog, Kicking The Bit Bucket (KTBB), with the tag line, “One blog post at a time!” The wordplay between title and tag line suggests kicking a bad habit by doing less of it. I started blogging with multiple posts every Wednesday, if I had more than one item to blog about. Now it’s a single blog post every week. Like OUAA before it, KTBB will probably become a reflection of my somewhat messy life.

SPECIAL NOTE: You can now pre-order the annual blog compilation ebooks for A Silicon Valley Writer (01/11/2014) and Kicking The Bit Bucket (01/25/2014).

Throwing The Book At Stephen King On Twitter

The Real Stephen King On TwitterStephen King made his first appearance on Twitter this week. I found out when another writer re-tweeted his initial tweet: “My first tweet. No longer a virgin. Be gentle!”

(Uh, huh. Where’s my cattle prod?)

Since I haven’t been to a Stephen King book signing (yet), I haven’t had an opportunity to complain to him about killing off my favorite character in “Cell” that made me throw the paperback against the wall.

My first tweet to him was just that: “I threw ‘Cell’ against the wall & let sit on floor for week after girl got killed at NH/Maine border. WTF, @StephenKingAuth? :P”

“Cell” came out as a premium-format paperback in late 2006. The new paperback format was taller with a larger font size and a higher $9.99 USD sticker price than the typical mass market paperback. As a teenager in the early 1980’s, I could get ten paperbacks for $30 USD (which was my weekly allowance from my indulgent mother). I can barely buy three paperbacks for $30 USD, although it’s possible to get ten ebooks for $30 USD.

The book begins with a mysterious signal going out over the cellphone network that turns everyone into a zombie. That’s not an original idea. Having seen both the Japanese (2001) and American (2006) versions of “Pulse,” where a mysterious signal over the TV causes college students to commit suicide, the overall theme was quite familiar. When reading a Stephen King novel, you’re catching a wild ride through Stephen King country.

And Stephen King country was where I had trouble with this novel.

If you read enough Stephen King over the years, you know right away that the three characters coming around the bend on the road to cross from New Hampshire into Maine will result in one of them being killed. The main character was safe. The other two characters, a man and a teenaged girl, weren’t safe. Since I didn’t care for the man at all, I wanted the girl to survive the encounter. Who got killed in a senseless act of violence?

The girl.

I was so angry that I threw the paperback across the room to hit the wall and land on a floor. I’ve never thrown a book like that before. The worst thing I’ve ever done to a book was close the cover and forget about it. This time I had a vicarious reaction to the story. I let the book sit on the floor for a week before I picked it up again to finish reading.

Although “Cell” was a good story, I didn’t like it and haven’t read it again. Stephen King redeemed himself with “Lisey’s Story,” about a widowed wife dealing with the death of her famous writer husband. When the hardback came out also in late 2006, I was seeing a counselor to deal with my grief over my mother’s death from breast cancer. Both my counselor and I were reading the book at home, where it became a touchstone in our conversations. I cried through the ending of that book.

Bibliocracy The eBook Retailer Bites The Dust

Bibliocracy LogoEarlier this year I mentioned Bibliocracy, a small ebook retailer, in passing when adding multiple sales links to increase ebook sales. After I submitted three ebooks for sale, the submission page shut down. I periodically checked to see if the submission page re-opened (nada) and any sales were made (nada). An email arrived yesterday that ebook retailer has closed for business to transform itself into a social media darling called Bibliocracy Nation.

That saves me the trouble of sending a withdrawal notice for my ebooks.

After I halted my ebook publication for another summer break, I made a series of decisions to simplify my life as a writer and ebook publisher. One of those decisions was to withdraw from smaller ebook retailers like Bibliocracy and eBookPlus, especially if they can’t carry my entire ebook catalog, and focus on publishing ebooks for the big three: Amazon, Scribd and Smashwords.

As much as I want to see my ebooks break into new markets, I don’t want to deal with the hassle that comes from formatting the ebooks for each particular market. With my catalog at 50 titles this year, adding another 25 titles next year and perhaps 25 titles every year after that, I need to streamline this process as much as possible.

Focusing the top three ebook retailers has advantages and disadvantages.

Amazon

Since Amazon introduced their exclusive KDP Select program in 2011, sales for all indie authors have fallen off the cliff. Those who left other ebook retailers to join Amazon at the hip are hurting the most by relying on a single shrinking income stream. Whereas Amazon was 20% of my sales for the last few years, it’s 10% or less this year. If Amazon sales keep sliding into the abyss, I may abandon the world’s largest market by the end of 2014.

Scribd

Making money on Scribd remains something of a mystery. I never had a direct sale in the three years that I published my ebooks there. That may change with the new “all you can read” subscription plan. The reading engagement time on my ebooks have gone up across my available titles (the remainder of my catalog will become available next month), suggesting I might have an audience on Scribd. But… I’m still waiting to see the money. If that doesn’t change by the end of 2014, I’ll abandon this market as well.

Smashwords

Besides being 90% of my sales, Smashwords ranked as the number one producer of indie ebooks, continues to expand into new third-party markets (i.e., the Oyster subscription service and Flipkart in India) and added new features (i.e., author interviews, pre-order distribution and series manager). If Smashwords ever has a third-party distribution agreement with Amazon and Scribd, that would streamline my process significantly.

If I do return to smaller ebook retailers, it’ll be after I published my first 80,000-word short story collection next year. A single full-length ebook will sell better than a flood of short ebooks in a smaller market.

Boycott The Movie Because The Author Is An Anti-Gay Bigot?

Ender's Game Movie PosterI’ve never read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I read one short story that I found in an anthology, and “The Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoints” from Writer’s Digest Books, as a teenager in the 1980’s. He never caught my attention as a “must read” author since I preferred horror over science fiction. The trailer for Ender’s Game: The Movie surprised me, as was learning that Card supported the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California.

Not surprisingly, a gay rights group wants people to boycott the movie.

As a moderate conservative and a Christian kicked out of a nondenominational church over eight years ago, I have no interest in re-fighting the culture wars that dominates the political discourse of the United State. If gays want to embrace marriage—and the consequences of marriage, say, a messy divorce when things don’t work out—I don’t have a problem with that. Politicians, especially those god-fearing politicians who keep their homosexuality in a locked closet, need to focus on the economy and not where people stick their yank at bedtime.

My friend and I debated whether or not to see the movie. While we’re both sympathetic in not wanting to support an anti-gay bigot, this was a Harrison Ford movie. While Card wasn’t a “must read” author, Ford was a “must see” actor. We watched Ford make his rounds on the late night shows, explaining how the 1985 novel predicted the Internet, how warfare would become a video game, and his role in the featured clip from the movie. The boycott got mentioned only briefly.

We saw the movie last week. No protesters stood in front of the theater. We got there early to watch the theater fill up. If there was a boycott, these people haven’t heard about it. As for the movie itself, it was okay. I really didn’t want to like the movie at first. The idea of training young children to become military leaders in a far-flung war should offend the sensibilities of people. That’s a war crime in today’s world.

My perception didn’t change until Ender tried to avoid a confrontation with his bullying superior officer, who ends up with an accidental head injury that sends him home from the war, and showed remorse because that wasn’t the outcome he wanted. Caught between the desires to have his fellow students like him, doing his best despite what other people may think of him, and being pushed to become harden soldier without compassion for the alien enemy, he must navigate this obstacle course while keeping his humanity intact.

I later read that Ender’s Game was the beginning of a new young adult movie franchise like The Hunger Games, if the movie does well. Ender’s Game did well for the opening weekend, but dropped 60% this weekend as Thor: The Dark World dominated the weekend. Another Ender’s movie is unlikely, but a TV series might happen. With or without a boycott, I’m not sure if I’ll watch that.

The Stephen King Playboy Interview eBook

My father kept his porno magazines underneath the bathroom sink, which wasn’t the most ideal hiding spot from an angry wife and a hormone-raging teenager in the late 1980’s. The June 1983 issue of Playboy caught my attention with the Stephen King interview, joining my collection of pilfered porno magazines in my closet. I read the interview from beginning to end, backwards and sideways to divine the secrets of being a successful writer. Something I desperately wanted as a teenager but it didn’t happen until 25 years later.

After I became a Christian and moved into a five-bedroom Victorian in downtown San Jose with a dozen campus brothers in 1992, several brothers helped move my stuff out of my parents’ place. When I opened the bedroom closet door, a three-foot stack of Playboy magazines fell forward in slow motion on to the hardwood floor before our feet. Needless to say, my sin was quite obvious. We tossed all those magazines away as they weren’t part of my new life.

The Stephen King interview has never appeared in the hardback collections of “The Playboy Interviews,” or even online after the Internet became popular with the masses. Familiar passages from the interview got quoted directly or indirectly by various biographers. As a published writer, I’ve always wanted a copy for my own personal collection.

Six months ago I bought a mint copy of Playboy, June 1983, for five bucks on eBay. This satisfied my quarter-century desire to re-read the Stephen King interview in its entirety.

While browsing for new releases on Amazon, I discovered “Stephen King: The Playboy Interview” as a 99-cent ebook. One of many interviews published as standalone ebooks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Playboy magazine. An ebook is a more convenient format than reading than a 30-year-old magazine with a slight “under the bathroom sink” smell.

The Mobile Office v2.0 Is Evermore

Car Being Towed AwayAfter I went up to the Mountain Winery to watch Joan Jett play the classic songs of her youth and the new songs from her next album, the coolant system in my 1999 Ford Taurus boiled over from the twists and turns of going up the mountain. The car ran slightly hotter than usual for a month. As I waited for the light to change at Bascom and Moorpark Avenues in San Jose, the engine dropped dead and refused to turn over.

Stranded in the middle of the evening commute for 15 minutes while waiting for the tow truck to arrive, someone at the Mini Gourmet restaurant on the corner saw my plight and sent out the servers to push my car into the parking lot. I thanked the woman and the servers who came over afterward

I told the tow truck driver that I thought the head gasket blew. As the car got loaded up the ramp of the tow truck, the chocolate milk shake—coolant and oil mixed in a frothy mix—dribbled out from the engine block on to the ramp. The driver sprinkled cat litter on and underneath the spill to contain the mess. He dropped me off at my apartment complex before taking my wounded car to John’s Bascom Automotive down the street.

The phone call from Mike the mechanic confirmed that the engine was unrepairable without spending a substantial amount of money that I don’t have. He recommended that I put the non-existent money towards another used car. Although they spent several hours to diagnose my car, he charged me only for a half-hour of time. I took the next day off from my non-writing job to tow my car home, made arrangements with AAA to have a non-car auto insurance policy, and for Pick-N-Pull to pick up my car. After all that, unwinding from the stress of being without car for the next few months.

The bad news didn’t stop there. My boss gave me my two-week notice that my contract wasn’t being renewed as part of a company-wide layoff. The timing wasn’t great. Looking for a job without a car was difficult but not impossible. (I didn’t get my driver license until my middle thirties.) With the government shutdown in full swing, the recruiters were ominously silent after I sent out my resume to the job search websites.

Yesterday, before the tow truck for Pick-N-Pull came for my car, I tried to turn over the engine and got a loud clunk! Something broke inside the engine block, maybe a cam shaft or something else.

The tow truck driver looked familiar. “Didn’t I pick up a car from this parking spot last year?”

Yes, he did. We went through the paperwork to transfer ownership and he gave me a check for $274 USD, which was slightly more than my previous old car. According to a co-worker, Pick-N-Pull will probably make $5,000 USD off the car. That would include $1,200 USD in new brakes and tires from earlier this summer.

The Mobile Office v2.0 is evermore.

Have You Written Your Best Work Years Ago?

The Present Sign PostWhile watching Joan Jett at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga three weeks ago, she announced that she will play songs from her new album, “Unvarnished,” and, with some hesitation, the classic songs we all know and love. I saw the bittersweet moment on her face that she knew that her fans will always remember her for the songs she wrote years ago. A dilemma many creative people will face sooner or later.

Jett could have joined many other classic bands in touring around the nation to play the hit songs from her early career without ever writing a new song or recording another album. That’s not her style. After 37 record labels rejected her first solo album in 1980, she created her own record label and pushed the boundaries for what a female musician can do. She writes new songs and makes new albums that may never ever earn the same level of fan appreciation as her earlier hits.

So many fans regarded Stephen King’s “The Stand” as his magnun opus that he could have died after its publication in 1978 and be content with that, ignoring his many other novels and “The Dark Tower” series and that came afterward. J.K. Rowlings may never write anything that surpasses the Harry Potter novels, but she keeps writing new novels under her name and a pen name. The easy way out would be to pull a JD Salinger by not publishing anything more and cashing in the royalty checks.

If my ebook sales are any indication, I’ve written my best work years ago.

Okay, maybe not. I haven’t written a magnun opus for my fans to declare their undying devotion. My earliest short story ebooks sell better than my recent short story ebooks, leaving my “mid-list” ebooks to sag in the middle. I’ve had nagging doubts about the quality of my writing over the last few years, a constant tug of war between double checking the old stuff and writing the new stuff. The only way to side-step the doubts is to plunge myself into writing something new, get into the creative moment and go with the flow. The mobile office has been a great help in writing a handful of new flash stories for the summer. With renewed confidence, my best work is yet to come.

On a related musical note, Victor Willis, the original police officer in the 1970’s Village People disco band (which played at the Mountain Winery the following week after Joan Jett), regains the copyrights to his classic songs like “YMCA” and “In The Navy” after signing them away years ago by invoking an obscure provision of the 1978 copyright law. That’s heartening. Since I’m signing away my copyrights into an intellectual properties holding company (IPHC) to keep them separate from my publishing business and myself as an individual, I might run into this situation if I ever lose control of the IPHC.

The Zombie Hunters Book Two

The Zombie Hunters Kickstarter ProjectMy favorite web comic, “The Zombie Hunters,” has a Kickstarter project to fund the production of the second print book. Kickstarter has become a popular way for web comic artists to publish their content into a print book and offering fans little extras for their support. I selected the Books One and Book Two combo for $55 USD, as I didn’t get Book One when it first came out several years ago.

After exceeding the minimum funding goal of $16,000 with a week to spare, Jenny, the artist, explains how she and her husband, Greg, are putting the book together. All the web comic pages are printed out and placed into a binder to find various errors, especially the balloon dialog font with an inconsistent capital “l” that requires attention. Two passes have used three toner cartridges to print out the pages. A third pass will go to the copy editor to find more errors. Meanwhile, she will touch up the artwork before placing them into the InDesign file that will go to the printer.

This is a similar process I’m going through to assemble my speculative short story collection for publication as a full-length ebook next year.

I bought a new Brother HL-5470DW printer that was on sale during the Labor Day weekend to replace my seven-year-old Brother HL-5250DN printer with less than 1,500 pages left on the drum. With the cost of a replacement drum being more than a new printer, buying a new printer with updated features (i.e., faster printing, more memory and AirPrint to print directly from the iPad) during a holiday sale was a no brainer. I’m printing on the old printer until the drum fails so I can dump it into the recycling bin.

I’ve printed, stapled or butterfly clipped, and hole punched each story before placing into a binder. I’ll be reviewing, removing/adding and revising 40 stories in the next six months. The hardest part will be deciding what order to arrange the stories in, as flash stories, short stories and a novella each takes up one-third of the collection. Assembling a collection is no easy task, which I’ve done several times for contests in the past.

There will be no Kickstarter project to turn my first short story collection into a printed book. A successful Kickstarter project requires an established fan base to achieve the minimum funding goal. Web comic artists who spent years building up their archives and fan base can sometimes exceed their minimum funding goals by unbelievable multiples. Based on my web traffic and ebook sales numbers, I don’t have much of a fan base. I’ll be implementing many changes over the next year to turn that around.

Are You Interviewing Yourself At Smashwords?

Interview In Progress Sign

A new marketing feature available to Smashwords authors is creating your own ten question interview that will appear on the interviews page, your author profile page and cross linked to your ebook pages. Log into your Smashwords account, click on Account in the navigation bar, and click on “Create or edit your interview” to start the guided process. You can answer any of the pre-written questions or write your own.

Having gone through the growing pains and technical glitches since signing up with Smashwords in 2010, I was quite surprised by how polished the whole interface was for creating the interview. As a writer, I tend to jump around and come back to difficult passages later. The interface accommodated me as I went back and forth in writing, revising and polishing each answer, and then rearranging each question into a logical order. I spent three days putting my interview together.

Here are the pre-written questions that I answered for my interview.

  • What motivated you to become an indie author?
  • Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
  • When did you first start writing?
  • When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
  • Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
  • What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
  • What do you read for pleasure?
  • Describe your desk?
  • What are you working on next?

I’m planning to republish my interview on my author website in the near future and include it as an appendix to the annual blog posting ebook. (I specifically asked Mark Coker at Smashwords about republishing the interview and he said it was okay.) Over time I’ll remove old questions and add new questions on Smashwords, while keeping old questions and adding new questions to my republished interview.

I’m hoping that the interview will help spur ebook sales on the Smashwords website. All my ebooks sales on Smashwords come from the distribution catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, etc.). Unless I make my ebooks available for FREE during the Read-An-eBook week in March and the Smashwords July Summer/Winter sale promotions, I rarely get any direct sales through the website.

If you have any questions you would like me to answer, please ask in the comments.

Have Typewriter, Will Travel

Portable TypewriterAfter I finished packing my suitcase for a week-long trip to Las Vegas, I noticed that I had enough room left over for my portable typewriter and a ream of paper. My roommate gave me a funny look when I mentioned that. If the TSA didn’t flag me as a terrorist, having a typewriter in checked luggage would. I ended up taking a notebook, my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my carry-on bag.

The funny thing is that I stopped using a typewriter for writing several years ago. With the mobile office back in action this year, I’m using a clipboard to write rough drafts on notepads in black ink at lunch, enter those pages into the computer at night, and edit the printouts in red ink the next day. The idea of pecking away a typewriter and using whiteout ink seems antiquated.

The moment I walked into the hotel room and saw the desk sitting sideways to the floor-to-ceiling window, I wished I have brought my portable typewriter with me. Sitting at the desk, I would have blank pages to my left, the typewriter in the middle, and finished pages to my right. The next morning I woke up before dawn to see the sun rising over Sunrise Mountain as a beautiful yellow orb through the silt of the curtains before a beam of sunlight stabbed my eyeballs with a fiery pitchfork. I had a gorgeous view of the eastern mountains outside of Las Vegas in the afternoon. That was so perfect for writing.

My roommate took out his iPad on the first night, connected to cellular to found the speed rate lousy and the wifi connection was no better. He had a bazillion Facebook friends who were attending the Star Trek convention that he needed to stay in touch with and keep up with all the updates. (He met only two of his Facebook friends in person.) Since he registered his iPad to the hotel room, and I didn’t want to pay $13 USD per day to register my wifi-only iPad as a second device, I went without Internet access and left my iPad in the carry-on bag.

For the first time in my life, I was on a real vacation.

The desk was also perfect for writing in the notebook. I wrote about getting through airport security without incident, flying on an airplane for the first time, attending four days of Star Trek panels, signings and parties, the various restaurants and hotels we visited, going out to Hoover dam and seeing a David Copperfield show. I even started a new short story about my albino demoness who protects the prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip, using the Voodoo Rooftop night club as a backdrop. A very busy week filled one-third of the notebook.

Someday I’ll get on an airplane with my manual typewriter, lock myself in a hotel room for a month and write the rough draft of the Great American novel. I would have breakfast, read the newspaper and gamble in the mornings (the best time to avoid the crowds, semi-naked cocktail waitresses and second-hand cigarette smoke). Have lunch in my hotel room, re-read the previous day’s work, and bang away at the typewriter for the rest of the day. After having dinner I would attend an evening show or conk out early.

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