I once spied a box in my friend Tony's garage that said "READIN' 'EM BOOKS" in black marker across its side. Those books were for reading he explained. As in, reading for pleasure, not school books.
It's stuck with me. :)
Sadly, I find that I don’t finish all that many novels. When I do, though, I feel a great sense of satisfaction. Since I read slowly and generally only snatch a few pages when I go to bed at night, it takes me a long time to get through.
One aspect of my not getting through that many is just being so damn busy. But I also start a lot of books that I don’t finish. Being so busy, and so picky, I often get to a certain point in a book where I feel like I have to force myself to go on, or I’m taking weeks between chapters. In those cases, the book obviously hasn’t held my interest and is probably not worth it for me to continue. If I have to force myself to be interested… what’s the point?
That was not the case with William Gibson’s classic pillar of cyberpunk, Neuromancer.
I read this book about 10 years ago and really enjoyed. Although recently, I couldn’t really remember much about it. I remembered the principal characters, and that the AIs (artificial intelligences) were these huge, mythic beings (not physically huge, but mythically huge), and I remembered that there were Rastafarians in space.
Yes, that’s what I remembered most, that one strange fact: Rastafarians in space.
Other than that, I couldn’t remember much about the story.
So I read it again, finishing up this week.
I have been carrying a used paperback copy from place to place for probably a decade. The same one I read originally, I assume. The stamp on the first page is from a used book store in Carlsbad, CA, where I lived from late 2008 to late 2011. It was kind of cool to be able to date a time-place where I first acquired and read the book.
I’m not going to give up any spoilers, but I will offer the following facts and opinions about the book:
1. First novel to win the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K. Dick Awards—all three in one year.
2. Published in 1984. 1984 proves over and over again to be, quite possibly, the best year in human history for a myriad of reasons. (Pop-culture-wise, anyway.) I feel sorry for all of you who weren’t yet born in 1984.
3. It is considered a foundational book of the Cyberpunk genre. And with good reason!
4. I can’t seem to find a single cool-looking book cover for this damn thing. The best I could locate is above. It is pretty cool, but it's not the novel. I found it on Wikipedia stating that it comes from a graphic novel adaptation in 1989. Seems like publishers are going out of their way to produce crappy covers for this book. (Why don’t they hire me to do one? I couldn't do any worse!)
5.Established a lot of the cyberpunk norms we have today and predicted a lot of tech. Before there was cyberspace or the Matrix, there was Neuromancer. As far as I can tell, these terms are Gibson’s terms.
6. Also the basis of the Shadowrun RPG, which my friends and I played in high school.
7. Cool aspects: A gritty, dark future. Cyberspace and the matrix, hackable by deck-wielding cowboys. Cyborg-like combat augmentations, lending modified toughs to be called street samurai. Artificial intelligences exist and are powerful, even godlike. Never sure who to trust. Characters don’t always behave “the way they’re supposed to.” The AIs are like captured omnipotent gods, held in check by the human beings that created them.
8. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything. This is a badass, genre-defining book. But I still wouldn’t give it 5/5 stars. More like 4 or 4.5. The main reason being that Gibson’s prose, descriptions, and events are sometime hard to follow. And the story seems a little stretched out past where it needs to be. I was surprised to find that part of the reason I didn’t remember what happened beyond the mission in the orbital Las Vegas setting, was because the vast majority of the book happens there. There’s Case’s recruitment, a cool smaller mission that sets things up, some snooping to see if they can trust their own employer, and then… a good two-thirds of the book is the mission itself. It just seems to take a long time in telling that story.
9. I’ve also read the Sprawl sequels (thanks to gifts from my buddy Nate), which I enjoyed but not as much as Neuromancer. Their stories were a bit less coherent for me and harder to get into. But they were still good.
Next on my reading agenda, which I’ve already started, are Marvel’s Civil War 2 graphic novel/TPB and Save the Cat, a so-far very helpful book on screenwriting.
I’m also continuing to write Book 3 of the Identity Crisis series. So far, our heroes have spent much of their time as prisoners of a Nazi-controlled asylum in Belgium, 1941.
And now it's time for bed. Good night.
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Codewords: SPHYNX and HIBERNATION
Almost the next day after I initiated the publication of my new “how to be an indie writer” book Top Secret Codewords for Indie Writers: Update 2019/2020 (one of two books in a series, now), I opened an Excel spreadsheet and sat down to analyze and reorganize my inventory to give myself a new perspective for the coming year.
“Inventory” is a good word for this. That’s basically what I was doing: taking an inventory.
But that’s not the word that came to mind. When I stuck my hand into the swirling, amorphic cloud of inspiration, the terms sphynx and riddle of the sphynx kept bumping into my fingers. Thus the codeword here is SPHYNX.
And the next day, still processing all this in my head, a more appropriate codeword came to mind: HIBERNATION. This one more directly relates to codeword TIME CAPSULE, but it definitely applies here and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
So back to the inventory that was helpful to me…
I discovered some interesting, inspiring things. Things that made me feel better about where I am and what I’m doing, for the most part. (Despite the nagging voice of the evil little imp that sits on my shoulder, whispering that I’m not getting enough writing done. Who invited that little bastard anyway?)
Let’s take a look at that last one for a minute…
For 6 of those 8 years I was fulltime active duty military. (Talk about not having control over your own life!) And, for all of those 8 years, I’ve been a husband and father.
Am I writing as quickly as I want to? Definitely not. That damn shoulder imp criticizes me constantly.
And if I keep my nose too close to what I’m doing, I’ll always feel behind. But stepping back…
This is a damn fine revelation. That despite my terribly busy life in which I feel I have so little time and control, with persistence and even doing only a little work at a time—whatever I can manage while maneuvering around the bigger asteroids drifting haphazardly through my life—I have gotten all this accomplished.
Perhaps this is the true answer to the Riddle of the Sphynx? Is that what my subconscious was trying to tell me when it picked that codeword? Hmmm…
Okay, back to the freebies and short stories.
In the book, I talk about another codeword, which I call BEST-SELLERS. It has to do with research I did, including the price of ebooks. By capturing these numbers in my inventory, I was able to tell myself something: “I have plenty of samples available.”
Meaning, I should not feel guilted into offering any more of them. All of my universes have sample stories for cheap. If someone isn’t sure they want to “break the bank” by spending as much money on a book as they do coffee every day (that’s sarcasm, by the way, if you didn’t pick up on that), then there are plenty of inexpensive options available so they can get a feel for what and how I write. So I need not criticize myself or fall into the common indie trap that says, “Don’t price your books too high. Certainly don’t price them equal to other books of high quality!” (Also, sarcasm… But not really. Because most indies actually think this way!)
Basically, I’m saying that by getting this bigger, overhead view of just how many one-dollar-or-less sample stories I have out there, I have liberated myself from that kind of defeatist thinking.
This may even spark another pricing revolution for me that could upend PURPLE LOTUS in the not-too-distant future…
As for the free stuff… As I said, I have one freebie that I’m going to convert back to a 99-cent story. There are two reasons for that:
First, free samples will get downloaded 10 to 100 times more often than even the 99-cent books. Why? Because they’re free, obviously! The purpose of these should be to capture interest and lead readers to your other (paying) books.
In the case of this story, it is literally the oldest story I have written that’s still around. And while I do believe it is still a good story (and the reviews show I’m not alone), I don’t think it is a great sample of the universe it represents. The several books in that universe are of a different nature than this 17-year-old tale that came about long before there even was a universe for it to fit into. Therefore, it probably shouldn’t be the story that 100-times more readers are sampling in order to figure out if they want to explore that particular universe (and pay to do so).
Secondly, the vast majority of readers who download the free stuff have no intention of paying for anything anyway. That may seem like an unfair blanket statement, but I think it’s largely true.
Case in point: My most popular freebie story gets a lot of downloads and the occasional nice comment (either to me or online), almost all of which say, “Great story, but too short. I wish there was more.”
So, in response, do those people go to the book and/or series specifically referenced as the place to find more? Almost none of them do. They like the story and they want more, they just don’t want to pay for it, even if “more” costs less than a Big Mac sandwich. (Ebooks, by the way, are a lot less likely to give you diarrhea or a heart attack than the sandwich.)
Therefore, my thinking is, Don’t give away too much for free. Whatever advantage you think you’re getting from it, you probably aren’t.
Okay, we’re sliding dangerously close to the downer cliff here. I honestly didn’t get a downer feeling from SPHYNX and I don’t want to convey one, either. So let’s move on and wrap this up.
Back to the SPHYNX spreadsheet. On the left, the books are blocked together by series. The other aspects (columns) are:
These inventory aspects lead to the final codeword for today, which is HIBERNATION.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear this word?
Is it a bear? That’s what I thought of.
The point of this comes back to another codeword, TIME CAPSULE, and basically refers to my general operations plan going forward for the year 2020. That being: Streamline your operation, stop playing around with all these other side events and distractions, and get a lot of damn writing done!
Some of the biggest distractions that draw me away from writing during my writing time are updates, rewriting blurbs, redoing covers, and messing with advertising.
Codeword HIBERNATION, then, means that I plan to get the checklist completed on all the stuff currently published in the next week—done and ready to roll for the whole damn year—so that after this week, there’s nothing left for me to do but write all year! Basically, I’m frontloading all my calories now, pigging out real good, so I can retire to my cave for the winter without having to come out for a snack until I’m done doing what needs to be done.
Of course, there’s still some occasional blogging, newsletters, and ad tweaking that will need to get done here and there, but those should be minor and quick. I don’t want to leave anything that nags at me to come back and “finish it right.” Let’s get all this done and move on, eyes front and no looking back!
And with that, I conclude this introspective bonus chapter (so it’s no longer distracting me, either).
Thanks for reading and hope I wasn’t the only person to benefit from this! I’ll see you again deep on the inside of 2020!
A grammar note: I used the numerical form of numbers almost exclusively here to illustrate certain points. Normally, in formal writing, I’d spell out most of them. (Just in case that was bothering some of you. You know who you are.)
A couple weeks ago, I started writing what I thought was going to be a few paragraphs looking back on what I did in writing and publishing over 2019, and then what I therefore plan to do in 2020.
I ended up with 11,000 words. Which is now 11 chapters, plus an introduction and an afterword and is now in pre-order status on Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo. (The book lands on January 6; the pre-order set-up was mostly for my own logistical purposes.)
If you’re an indie author or even dabbling in becoming one, it might be something you’d be interested in reading.
So instead of finishing part-one of the next novel over the holiday break, I did that. Which is okay! It helped me organize my thoughts, realize all the valuable new publishing stuff I learned over the past year, and get myself ready for a running charge at the year to come.
For blogging purposes, I figured I’d go ahead and post one chapter of it here, which is the material I thought I was writing about in the first place! The following is only about what I managed to get published in 2019, despite huge adversities and having spent two-thirds of the year taking marketing classes and learning about the business of writing, rather than writing new words:
CODEWORDS: MON-STAR, WITCH DOTOR, and SUN TZU
Okay, after the gloomy talk comes the good stuff. The celebration. The pat on the back.
MON-STAR is the name of one page in my MS Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of all my writing stuff. I took the name from the bad guy on an 80’s cartoon that I never really cared for called SilverHawks. It was the red-headed step-brother to ThunderCats, which was my show at the time. SilverHawks sucked in comparison.
Why did I name this codeword after the villain in an old cartoon I never liked? I have no idea! Sometimes the randomness of codewords is what makes them effective cryptology!
Anyway, the MON-STAR spreadsheet shows my publications for each year and keeps a running tally. It starts with my first short story score in Tales of the Talisman Magazine in 2007, all the way up to today.
Somehow, even though I have done almost no new writing this year (as I’ll discuss under BLACK TEA), I had more words published this year than any previous one! MON-STAR reports 322,000 words published this year! Woo-hoo!
Now, not all of these words were brand new, never seen before words. Many of them were republished from previous appearances and are now collected in anthologies. But counting each publication separately, about 322,000 words came out this year. That’s a friggin’ accomplishment for me! My general goal is to publish at least 80,000 per year. That’s one big novel or two short ones. This, again, is not enough by some writers’ or gurus’ standards. But like 99% of us, I have a day job, family, etc. So 80K words a year, I can live with for now.
When I get to BAR GRAPH, I’ll talk more about goals, like monthly word counts. Personally, I think counting the end result is more important. For example, you can start fifteen short stories this year, but if you never finish a one of them, who cares? If no one can read a finished book or story, they didn’t do you much good. So, one of the things I count is yearly publications. Then I tally the finished word counts for those.
Here’s how some of it broke down. You may or may not be super-interested in hearing about my books, but... Hey, this is my end-of-the-year discussion, remember? I’m doing it as much for myself as for you, so please bear with me. I’ll keep it brief and then move into the next two codewords.
Deus Ex Machina was the only actual novel I published this year. I worked on that off and on over the course of a few years, starting and stopping due to life issues and poor decision making on my part, and finally got it done in 2018. It seems like a lot of the work that gets done one year gets published the next. Much like Big Five publishing. DXM hit the shelves in January.
The other major book I put out was Green-Eyed Monster, a collection of thirteen stories and novelettes. Some of the stories in there appear only in it, while many appear in other books of mine and were previously published in magazines and other online publications.
The other important items from the year include my short story “The Proposal” appearing in Weirdbook #41 and republishing Kiss of the Maiden. Kiss was originally a free standalone short story (and was a “chapter one” for a book that I started many years ago that has yet to be finished). I re-pubbed the book this year to include four more stories, all of a similar shady mood. I then took the collection Kiss, shuffled it in with A Long Walk Down a Dark Alley and One-Eyed Jacks, recovered them all, and made them a “trilogy” based on the similar theme and feel of the stories.
There were some other, small publishing accomplishments, but we’ll move on. The important thing is that MON-STAR proves to me that 2019 was a damn good year, no matter what my evil, doubtful, bad-mouthing shoulder imp might whisper into my ear!
The other codewords worth mentioning here are WITCH DOCTOR and SUN TZU, both of which also spurred on work done this year.
WICTH DOCTOR is the document that I keep all of my sales blurbs in. The original codeword was BLURB DOCTOR, which then became WITCH DOCTOR in the next stage of its evolution.
Writing these back cover descriptions is the single hardest thing about writing! And I’ve written and rewritten quite a few of them this year. I’ll probably rewrite some more in the future, too, but for now... I’ve got to keep moving forward.
Two of the most important things about selling books are the “blurb” (the description that tells you what the book is about) and the cover. So I have spent quite a bit of time this year tweaking and retweaking those on multiple titles.
Which is where SUN TZU comes in. Sun Tzu, as you probably know, is the ancient Asian tactician credited with writing The Art of War. The basic idea is, don’t fight unless you know you can win. If you know you’re doing something wrong or there’s a weak point in the plan—meaning, you know there’s a damn good chance you will lose and die—why the hell would you go forward and do that?
I use it to remind myself that, if there’s a problem and I know it, then I need to get off my lazy ass and fix it.
Case in point, I improved some covers this year and (as I said) tweaked some bad blurbs. I knew they weren’t helping me as-is, so I forced myself to do something about them, even when I didn’t want to.
And that’s what we have to do: SUN TZU that shit.