New Beginnings

It’s the first of January, 2014!

It’s hard to believe, but for a person like me who grew up in the late 60’s and 70’s, THIS is the future. And as a writer of science fiction, I’m a little disappointed that there aren’t permanent settlements on the moon and that we haven’t already landed people on the Mars. In other areas of science and technology, we’re right on schedule, with regards to computers and medicine. In other areas, we’re way behind the vision of the future we all had back then. I really can’t blame society that much, since we’ve already invented the airplane, the automobile and other major leaps in technology, and cellphones are pretty well on the way to Dick Tracy-type devices. Advances today are more subtle and they seem to creep up on us when we least expect them.

Even then, opportunity can reveal itself in the most unexpected manner. Here are a few examples:

In the mid-80’s I owned a print shop and one of my regular customers told me about this opportunity he had to invest in a thing called a ‘facsimile machine.’ I often wonder where he is today and whether or not he went through with it.

Also, in the mid-70’s I was in Washington DC and saw a table-top pong game. I was blown away. I was in the Navy at the time, but a buddy and I applied for an SBA-loan to buy some units and put them in the bars in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia. Unfortunately we didn’t qualify because we didn’t have enough minority employees at the time. (We didn’t have any, just two pasty white guys trying to get in on the ground-floor of a new technology.) Where would I be today if the loan had gone through? That, too, was a missed opportunity.

There was another moment I remember vividly back in the year 2000. I was thinking about ebooks, and realized that the only thing holding back that advancement from proceeding was the lack of a good reading device. With the internet and PDF’s, producing electronic books was easy, even back then, yet there wasn’t an economical way to read these books, and also in a format where the authors wouldn’t have their work reproduced and passed around without compensation. Needless to say, I wasn’t the one who came up with the Kindle or the Nook, yet I was proved right when these devices began to gain popularity — and changed the publishing industry forever. Now ebooks are the wave of the future, and there’s no turning back, even if the purists want to. There will always be paper books, but in the future they will become the novelty, and not their electronic versions.

It seems popular today for bloggers/authors to come out with their predictions for 2014, so I’ll give it a go myself.

1) Ebooks are here to stay and will dominate sales once again, gaining an ever-growing market share.

2) Traditional publishers will seek consolidation to survive and will change their business models to be more followers of trends rather that creators of trends. What I mean by this is that major publishers will pursue more of the successful indie authors, those who already have a proven audience, and will publish very few first-timers who do not already have a track record in the ebook market. So if you’re an aspiring author, forgo the traditional route and get your book up on Amazon as soon as possible. You’ll not only start making money right away, but you’ll begin to build the audience that the trade publishers will insist upon.

3) Publishing rights will become more fragmented, with successful authors successfully negotiating to retain the ebook rights for most of their books. And even if they do allow the trades to have a piece of the ebook royalties, the splits will be overwhelmingly in favor of the author and not the publisher.

4) More big-name authors will go the indie route, at least for their ebooks (see #3 above). This will put more pressure on the Big Six publishers to adapt or die in this new paradigm. Since paper books will not die completely, there will be survivors in the world of traditional publishing. How they’ll make it economically is still the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

5) Indie’s will become more professional in every way. The days of producing crap and making money off of it are gone. Readers are becoming more savvy and more demanding. However, there is a new sub-industry emerging to help us with regards to editing, formatting, cover design and even submissions to all the ebook outlets available. Soon, there will be no difference between a trade-published book and an indie-published book — except for who keeps the lion’s share of the royalties. And when indie authors have only pay-for-service expenses, rather than an on-going split of the royalties taken by the trades, then it will become easier to make a living as a writer.

6) More books will continue to be bought by readers. With the relatively low price of ebooks, readers appear to be buying more books than ever before, and this trend will continue. When two to three ebooks can be purchased for the price of one paperback, or four to five for the price of a hardcover, it comes as no surprise that readers are loading up their ereaders with more books than ever. Whether or not they’ll ever get around to reading them all is another question.

7) 2014 will be year of the author. Everything is trending in this direction. We’re making more money, selling more books and gaining more control over our destinies than ever before. But remember, you still need to produce a quality product. Ebooks are not the novelty item anymore. They are the accepted format for readers these days, and so your books must stand against all the big-names from the trades, as well as the every-growing ranks of very professional indies. The time for ground-floor entry into this business has passed. Opportunity and access has expanded because of technology and acceptance, yet just as every kid can’t grow up to be a pro basketball player, not everyone who aspires to write a novel will find success. Just do the best you can and accept the fact that there are no shortcuts. Learn your craft and accept the reality that successful authors are not lucky, they are skilled, just as in any profession. Acquire the skill, release your imagination, and then give it a go. There has never been a better time to be an author than right now … in 2014.

T.R. (Tom) Harris

Update on The Apex Predator … Book 7 of The Human Chronicles Saga

ApexCover5I’m about to play poker with my next novel. Let me explain.

I wrote this book a little differently that my others; essentially in sections that now must be shuffled together. I have three major plot lines running throughout the book, one with Adam Cain and Sherri Valentine, one with Riyad Tarazi and another with Nigel McCarthy. These are almost complete stories in their own right, yet related to the overall novel. I’ve completed these three storylines, and now I have to shuffle them together to make one complete story.

In nearly all novels, the perspective shifts between characters, either through chapter changes or within the chapters themselves, and as the storyline moves along, the author switches from character to character and from locale to locale. We normally do this within the writing process, so one moment you may be writing from the perspective of Character A, and then the next Character C. And then you may go to Characters B and D before returning to Character A. With this book I decided just to stick with one character throughout and entire section of my master Word document and tell the entire story from that perspective. And then, with the miracle of Microsoft Word, I can cut and paste all the various perspectives together. This will involve some segue writing to tie everything together and then a careful examination of timelines. Yet it has allowed me to blast through one character’s (or set of character’) complete story without the constant switching of personalities and perspective during the writing process. Now it just needs to be all tied together and mingled so that the story flows and makes sense.

I’m planning on releasing the new book on December 15, 2013 … after the editing and proofreading process is complete. I know fifteen to twenty days doesn’t sound like enough time to edit and proof an entire book, but in the world of ebook publishing things can move very quickly. I have a number of beta readers already lined up who will receive advance copies and check for typos and other issues, while my editor and professional proofreader are on standby as soon as I do my last run-through of the book and email it to them. The Apex Predator should be my best-edited and proofed book. At least that’s my goal. (Of course, some things will fall through the cracks, and when this happens I hope my readers will email me with the corrections. Again with ebooks, I can make changes and upload a new version of the book in about five hours.)

Galaxy Cover60With The Apex Predator being book 2 of part two of The Human Chronicles, it will end up being the middle book of a trilogy. As such, it picks up where Cain’s Crusaders left off and sets up the reader for all the wild climax stuff that happens in the final book of the trilogy — A Galaxy to Conquer. I had the opportunity this time to essentially plot out two books at once, so the day after I send The Apex Predator to my editor, I’ll be starting to work on A Galaxy to Conquer, with the projected release date around the end of January 2014. This will the soonest I’ve released a follow-up book, so hopefully my continuing fans — plus all the new ones who come onboard during the holiday season — will find gratification sooner than others have in the past.

It appears — at least for now — that The Human Chronicles Saga will run for a total of eight books. But don’t worry, I’m sure Adam Cain will surface again in the not too distant future — he always does. However, as an author, I have a number of other projects rumbling around in my brain that I’d like to get to first. I’m not quite ready to announce these yet, since I still have two more Adam Cain novels to release. But rest assured, if you like my writing style, you will find the same in every book I complete. And no matter what the subject, they will always contain their fair share of humor, along with unfiltered realism. One thing I will never be accused of is bowing to politically-correctness!

Now, back to my poker game. I’ve got some shuffling to do!

T.R. (Tom) Harris

As always, I will be sending out broadcast emails to my registered fans announcing the release of all my books, so if you haven’t been put on the list yet, go to Contact Me at the top of this page and send me an email. Thanks.

What’s In A Name?

Alien Talking“So you come from the planet Dirt?”

That’s one of the questions the aliens ask Adam Cain, the main character of The Human Chronicles Saga, when they learn he comes from a planet called ‘Earth.’ Just as the auto-correct on your phone tends to screw up what you’re typing, the alien translation device in this instance saw the word ‘earth’ as dirt, soil, ground, etc. You can see how this could happen.

Which is the subject of this post: Lack of context when communicating with aliens. Which is something I do all the time (communicate with aliens). What about you?

Yes, to others, we’ve named our home world dirt. Simple, basic and to the point; however, I have to admit we were NOT very creative with the name. Sure, Gia, Terra and a few others may sound more exotic, but that’s only to modern English-speaking ears. In Latin, Terra is Earth. So the impression a name conveys is often in the eye — and the ear — of the beholder. Still, why not Solar-3 … or even Fantasia?

And a little off subject, I have another gripe: The common house Fly. We went and named something a FLY! We take an insect with a couple of wings that buzzes around in the air … and we call it a ‘fly.’ Well, duh! So using this logic, a fish should be called a ‘swim,’ a cheetah a ‘run,’ and a grasshopper a ‘jump.’ C’mon, people, we can do better than this! The aliens are expecting a little more creativity out of us.

I mention the above because as a science fiction writer, I get to have fun with things like this. In my stories, I often examine some of the absurdities of language and how outsiders (aliens) would interpret certain words and phrases we take for granted. For instance, the common word ‘bullshit,’ when translated literally has absolutely no correlation to the colloquial use of the phrase. In my books, this really throws the aliens for a loop, especially since we Humans tend to use the word quite often. And not to be too vulgar, but one of my Human characters responds to some new information he’s just received by saying, “No shit?” Just let that roll around in your brain for a moment, with you in the place of the alien. This is really fun stuff for an author!

And I can also bring this subject back down to Earth — literally. As an English-speaking American from California, I’ve often wondered what goes through  the minds of my Spanish-speaking friends when they hear or read words such as Los Gatos — which is the name of a city in Northern California. Do they see this as The Cats, as in “I’m going to The Cats today to visit some friends?” Here’s another: Buena Vista (Beautiful View). Or Vista del Lago (Lake View). They each sound much more exotic in Spanish than they do in translation, and there are literally tens of thousands of other examples, in all languages.

So one person’s dirt is another’s home planet. It all depends on your point of view.

How we communicate with alien races, and how our common objects and points-of-reference can vary, is a big part of my stories, and something which I hope makes them more interesting  — and humorous — to read. I wish more sci-fi writers took these things into account. Common references such as these tend to Humanize the story.

And a few other quick notes.

I always capitalize ‘Human’ in my books, just as you capitalize Vulcans, Klingons and Martians. Why shouldn’t we also received the prestige of a capital letter? Also, some of my alien species are named for the planets they come from (Juireans, Sileans), yet in many cases they have names other than a variation of their planet-of-origin. For instance, one of the main enemies of the Humans are the Kracori … who just happen to come from the planet Elision. I would re-think this if we went around calling ourselves Earthlings, but we don’t. So there.

This reveals some of the crazy thought process that goes into creating my fictional worlds….

T.R. (Tom) Harris

Some Come Easier Than Others….

ApexCover5Book Seven of The Human Chronicles Saga is coming along nicely. It should be completed by November 23-25 and then sent off for editing and proofreading.

The issue I’m having now is with the title.

It has evolved from Starlight Falls to A Galaxy to Conquer … and now to The Apex Predator. Since the story revolves around mankind being the supermen in the galaxy — and therefore the greatest predator around — the new (or proposed) title seems appropriate and strong. I’ve put together a mockup of the cover, and I really like it. Any comments would be welcome, of course.

Since the final book in the series is already plotted and planned for release in late January, the title of A Galaxy to Conquer appears to fit that one better. That cover will probably be kept and used for that book. But for now, I’m adding The Apex Predator to my inventory of cover art.

Acquiring a Taste for Elephant

eating elephantSo I start a blog so I can keep my fans informed about my life as an author, as well as give tips to aspiring writers young and old.

But then I get bogged down eating elephants.

Yes, writing a novel is not something that can be done over a weekend, or even a week or two. Sometimes it takes months to finish the darn elephant, even taking one bite at a time. Elephants are big … and so are novels. That’s probably the reason most people who aspire to write books (estimated at 73% of the population) never do. It’s a daunting task.

Through the six books I’ve completed, I’ve found that starting the next book/elephant is the hardest part. Not because I don’t have the idea, or the story bores me, or any other such excuse. It’s simply because I know what a major undertaking it is. Once you commit to a book, it NEEDS to become all-consuming, otherwise you’ll never finish. (Or it will take you a Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle to complete. That’s eleven years if you didn’t already know.)

To help cut the elephant in the room down to size, some authors outline meticulously so they will know what each bite will consist of. Others just jump right in and start munching away. I’m kind of in the middle. I have a pretty good idea where the story’s headed, but mainly I let the characters lead me through the details.

Yet one of the most-important things I’ve learned is that you need to give yourself a lot of little victories throughout the writing process. What I mean by this is that you need to be aware of your progress as you go along, encouraged each day that you are getting ever-closer to your goal. Otherwise you’ll start believing that the task is just too big to complete.

For the most part, I accomplish this by writing most of the book out of sequence. Just as a movie is filmed as a series of out-of-sequence scenes and then edited together at the end, I take certain parts of the book that I already have worked out in my mind and just blast through these in quick order. Even though I may have to do extensive editing at the end to make everything mesh, at least I keep knocking out bite after bite of the elephant, eventually scaling the thing down the size of a small calf.

Here’s an example … sort of.

Suppose you have three main characters all doing different things throughout the book. I may write the complete story of one of the characters, even though in the finished the book we’ll be jumping back and forth between what each character is doing. If I find what this person is doing the most interesting at the time, then I write about that person. At other times, I may have a barroom fight outlined in my mind, even though it doesn’t happen for another 100 pages. But I’ll sit down and write it, and next thing you know, another 5,000 words have been chopped off the elephant. It sure beats having writer’s block. (A lot of writer’s block is a result of not knowing what comes next. Screw that! Write what you already know comes next, even if it’s the last scene in the book. Most people already have THAT worked out before they even write the first word.)

The key is to always be completing some part of the book, be it a scene, an important dialog or a chapter. Let’s face it, if you have 75% of a difficult task already done, the remaining 25% is all on the downhill slide. This remaining quarter may be the hardest part to figure out, but now we’re talking about only 25,000 words instead of 100,000. And the impetus is there to solve whatever plot issues you may be having. The book is almost done and the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

You will be amazed at how slowly a book begins … but how quickly it can get done once you reach this 75%/25% point. So if that’s the case, then get the 75% of the book done as quickly as possible. The rest will come naturally at the end.

The moral of the story is don’t get bogged down with writing in sequence. Write what you already have worked out. After all, these are usually the parts of the book that interest YOU the most. You might as well keep yourself interested in the story as you go along, because you’re going to be sitting at this dinner table for a very long time.

Now … back to work.

Write-on, my friends!

T.R. (Tom) Harris  

Misconceptions of Self-Publishing

50 dollars rooled upI golfed yesterday at a near-by country club and struck up a conversation with a nice young lady who ran the beverage cart. A recent college grad, she’s now contemplating which direction to take her working career.

The thing that really impressed me about her was that she was like a twenty-something — and female — version of myself! She was thinking about either a career in real estate (I spent twenty-five years as a real estate and mortgage broker) … or what she really wants to do is WRITE!

Of course this immediately got my attention, since writing is how I make my living these days. So I spent as much time as was possible while waiting to tee-off talking with this young lady, and I was surprised that for a young, tech-savvy person, she was woefully uninformed about the revolution in publishing that’s taken place over the past five or six years.

Since I don’t have a lot of time to post today — I do have another book to get out soon — let me just do a brief summary of what is possible today in the realm of self-publishing. (I’m sure I’ll expand on this subject when I have more time.)

1) Anyone can self-publish.

At this time, I’m exclusively using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP) to publish and market all my books. Amazon does not screen authors, and they do very little screening of content. Since I don’t write erotica, I do understand they are cracking down on some of the racy covers, which is understandable. But as far as content, not so much. And for authors, you don’t need to submit a resume or tear-sheets or … well, anything. Just your book, novella, short story or article. That’s right, they have all these things on their site.

2) You don’t have to be an expert at marketing.

Some of us have been fortunate to have found success with very little marketing. However, if you consider that Amazon is the largest marketer of books (ebooks and traditional) in the world, just making your book available on their site is like getting your retail product into Walmart. As I’ve noticed, all the outside marketing you can do to gain exposure for your book — outside of Amazon — is just playing around on the edges. If your product can’t make it on Amazon, then no amount of outside promotion is going to make much of a difference.

3) I’ll cover this in more detail in future posts, but let me tell you now what the four most-important elements of your book’s early success are in respect to Amazon.

A) The Title. Every genre has its group of specific buzzwords which attract readers. Whether it’s science fiction, romance, action/adventure or erotica, fans of these genres react to certain words or phrases. It’s important that you know what these are and that your title contains as many of these as possible — without having a ten-word title, of course!

B) The Cover Design. With readers on Amazon normally browsing through the genre bestsellers — which are displayed as twenty-book thumbnails per page — it’s important that your cover and title are prominent and READABLE! Too often I see flowery, italicized titles that can barely be read on the full-size image of the cover, let alone as a thumbnail. They may be pretty and cute, but they’re going to get lost in thumbnail size, and therefore possibly skipped over by the shopping browser. Make your cover brilliant, clean and with titles that can be seen across the room on a computer screen, even in thumbnail size.

C) The Blurb. This is the description of your book that’s on your Amazon product page. Don’t skimp here. I see too many one- or two-paragraph descriptions, when this is your first opportunity to interact with potential readers … your first chance to sell them on your book. There are ways to put boldface and italic type in your blurb, as well as larger type, even in Amazon-orange. (This involves some tricky HTML coding which Amazon doesn’t really want a lot of people to know about, but I’ll show you in future posts!) For the blurb, put in a bold, teaser headline, do the most intriguing copy you can (not, “This is the story of young love gone bad. And in the end, they all live happily ever-after.” Give me a break!) Put in excepts, synopsis … even how the story is unique from everything else on the market. Just look at what’s on Amazon today, and then analyze why you’re attracted to some and not to others. And then copy the format of the ones you like.

D) The Look Inside Feature (LIF). This is the sample amount of your book that readers get when they click on the cover of your book on the product page. Here’s the little secret: the LIF contains the first ten-percent of your book. Why is this important? Because, like every other kind of trailer (which this is), you try to leave the previewer wanting more. If your LIF ends with some downer or boring exposition, then the potential reader is going to likely sigh deeply … and move on to something else. Yet if you start your LIF with a real story-hook and then end it with a cliffhanger or in the middle of some exciting action, then the reader is going to want to see what happens next — and they’ll buy your book. So if you have a 90,000-word novel, see where 9,000 words carries you. This isn’t completely accurate by the way because the ten-percent includes the title, legal blurb, testimonials, as well as other things you put in before the actual first word of your novel, so take that into consideration.

So there are the four-basic elements of marketing ON AMAZON. If you do this right — and your story is interesting and well-written — this should give you a really good start at selling your book and building your fan base.

4) Editing & Cover Design.

The lady I was speaking with said she didn’t have an editor or very much money to pay for one. Honestly, I have a very good editor, and depending on the length of my books, he charges between $250 to $350. That’s not bad. You may also need a proofreader and a cover designer. Proofreaders should run a little less than editors, and you can get  covers designed for less than a hundred bucks. And by the way, the total cost of producing your book and getting it ready for publication shouldn’t run you more than between $500 to $1,000.

Here’s a sample breakdown: Editor: $300; Proofreader: $150; Cover Designer (with image included): $200; Cost to upload to Amazon: FREE!; Cost for Amazon exposing your book to all their millions of visitors worldwide: FREE.* Total Cost: $650.00. (Could be less if you design your own cover and use free beta-readers to do your proofreading.)

*Amazon makes their money by taking a split of the royalties. For books priced below $2.99, it’s 65% and you get 35% of the cover price. If the book is priced $2.99 to $9.99, you get 70% (minus a few cents for file size) and Amazon gets 30% of the selling price. Not bad at all. Example: My books sell for $4.98 and I net out about $3.20 in royalities. I know, this isn’t 70%, but with some Amazon foreign markets, I only get 35%. When this is factored into the total, it’s still about 64% to me.

You only make $3.20 per book, you say? Man, you have to sell a lot of books to make any money. That’s right, but like I said earlier, you have your book listed through the equivalent of the Walmart of book selling. In my first two years of self-publishing, I’ve sold close to 150,000 copies of my books (starting with one book, until now I have six). With the variations in pricing I’ve done through the years — they haven’t always been at $4.98 — this still has me close to $400,000 in paid royalties in twenty-four months.

Having disclosed this (da money!), my advice to the young beverage-cart lady would be this: Keep your day job, but in your spare time crank out your first book. (By the way, it’s always best to do a series. This way you can build an ever-growing fan-base while having readers always anxiously awaiting the next installment.).

I write fun, light-hearted science fiction novels, and you can see what I’ve made. Even if my cart-lady realized even a fraction of what I’ve done, this is way more than she could make selling real estate as a rookie agent. Believe me … I know!

And one last thing: How does Amazon pay royalties?

Amazon pays every sixty days after the completed month of sales. For example, for October, you will receive a royalty check (or direct deposit) at the end of December. This is incredible, not only for the speed in which they pay — as compared to traditional publishing — but also because you will always know to the penny how much you’ll be receiving two months in advance. This does wonders for your financial planning — as well as your piece of mind!

So … WRITE-ON!

T.R. (Tom) Harris