Whoa! Two Years of Selling Ebooks!

What? Where did those two years go? Back in February 5th of 2011 I launched my novel DUST as an ebook (for sale in the US and UK, because those are the countries where I owned the rights myself).

Those were heady days! But I've blogged about them on previous occasions, so I won't retread that ground. Just start reading from the  beginning or skip ahead to the amazing 1 1/2 year report.

Well not much has changed in the last six months. Overall I've sold 8406 copies of my ebooks. Last year that grossed me  around $6000. That's like sixty iPods! I could wear them as an iPod suit. Anyway, I expect my ebook income to drop this year. Why? Because as I've noted before there has been a downward trend in my sales since my last report. Here's an amazing graphic to show that...

Hey, that number in the bottom keeps going down each month. 249 copies seven months ago. 53 copies sold last month. I do think there is much more competition out there now and that there was a big blitz on sales while everyone and their pet got an eReader then filled it up. And the drop in sales is also because of the algorithmic changes Amazon made to how they weight the price of books on the sales chart (if you sell a 9.99 book, it'll jump higher up the sales chart than a .99 cent book). It became harder for my books to climb the charts and get noticed by buyers.

Yet, I'm happy with the sales.  It's still passive income for me that will go on as long as there are eReaders in the world. I really don't do much extra work to earn that income. And I'm very much a less work for more money kind of guy!  Art As a public service I'll attach these clickable links to my books, including the two "grown up" books I've published under the name Stephen Shea. If a book isn't available in your area as an ebook, it's because I'm still negotiating the erights for that book. So sorry for any confusion.

Let the Reader Finish the Painting

Mona Lisa There is a relationship that develops between the reader and the writer, or more specifically, the reader and the writer's words. How you treat the reader and this relationship is one of the most important decisions you can make as a writer. Do you trust in your own work? In how it will be received and interpreted? Or do you feel that you have to lay out every single detail. Often if you don't trust in your words you'll end up writing dialogue like this:

He gently ran his fingers across the marble tabletop. "That's a gorgeous table," he said, happily.

What this sort of adverbial description shows is that you don't quite trust the reader to receive the message so you tell them exactly what is happening. But it's important to remember that this is a give and take relationship and that the reader is paying very close attention to what you're writing. So instead you could create the scene this way:

He gently ran his fingers across the marble tabletop. "That's a gorgeous table," he said.

Only the word happily has been dropped from the scene. But because of that, the reader does the work. They assume that the "gorgeous" statement is made in a positive manner. They know this because he gently ran his fingers across the table. It indicates what his feelings are about the table.

As the writer one aspect of your job is to get the reader to do much of the work. It's the perfect relationship that way. Yeah, you might have some heavy lifting to do, but they should be lifting along with you. Or, for that matter, if you're painting a beautiful portrait of a scene with words, let them finish the painting. Don't give them every single detail, slowing down the story. Pick the pertinent details. They will automatically create the rest of the scene.

Everyone was gone, but Robert sensed a presence. At the landing he peered around the corner, saw nothing but the kitchen table, the tall, red vase by the window, and a cloth flour bag on the counter.  The De Laval cream separator, with all its bowls and pipes, loomed on the cupboard like a Martian instrument of torture.

Notice that this doesn't describe the floor. But you likely pictured it because...well...kitchens have floors. Nor is the colour of the cupboard mentioned. Though you likely filled that little detail in. And by reading about a cloth flour bag on the counter your brain may have been twigged to the fact that this is written in the past.

This could have easily been:

Everyone was gone, but Robert sensed a presence. At the landing he peered around the corner, saw nothing but the old, tired-looking kitchen table with its four spindly legs, the wooden floor,  the tall, red vase by the dirty window, and a grey and torn cloth flour bag on the green counter. The massive De Laval cream separator, with its three bowls and seven pipes, loomed on the cupboard like a giant and frightening Martian instrument of torture.

The reader doesn't need all that extra info. Our job is to get ride of the distractions in the scene. And then we let the reader finish the painting. It's their job, really.


Remembering the Dead

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 10.58.29 AMOne of the curious things about writing is that we often get to write about dead people.

By that I don't mean the living dead, or vampires (though they take up a lot of fictional space on the shelf), but real human beings who once existed. Who walked in the real world. Who were loved or hated, held or rejected. Our interactions, our love, our frustrations with the people who once breathed the same air as us cannot help but have an influence on our writing. And that influence, that presence, allows us to draw inspiration from them and to honour them (or, if they were not the most pleasant of souls,  at least recreate how they walked in the world).

When a friend or a family member has lost someone dear one of the kindest gifts we can give is to say the names of the dead. Often something simple will suffice. "I remember how much Tim enjoyed laughing." Or "Shelly had a real knack for finding the right word and the right time." Why is it important to say their names? Because for those few moments for the listener it will feel as if that person is still alive. By saying a name we essentially say, "Yes, he existed--yes, she was here on this earth." It is a way of paying honour. That's why we put names on gravestones. As long as the person is named and not forgotten, in some small way that person still exists.

Writing can be another way of naming the dead. I could not have written Megiddo's Shadow, a world war one novel, without being moved by all the deaths I'd read about in my research. But I drew most of the inspiration from the death of my own great uncle Percy, who was killed a short time before the end of the war. His death still ripples across the shared memories of my family. His photograph is on the wall in my parent's home, beside the letter that was written by his sergeant to say that Percy had been killed in action. We name Percy every Remembrance day. We honour who he was. Obviously I never knew Percy since he died a long time before I was born. But we have spoken his name enough times that he is alive in my family's shared memory. It is that loss, both the imagined and real, that helped compel me to write the novel.

David, my eldest brother, was killed in a car accident in 1980. Though I never want to draw direct lines between real life and my fiction, I do know that the loss that Robert feels when his brother Matthew disappears in Dust is echoed in my experience of loss. As is the loss Edward feels when his brother Hector is killed in Megiddo's Shadow. All of that is echoed. My daughter, Tori, who died in 2008 due to complications from Leukaemia, had Down Syndrome. Her presence in my life had been one of several things that inspired me to create The Hunchback Assignments, a book with a hero who had a handicap. I don't know that I would have been able to approach that story without knowing what her world was like and how the outside world often reacts to those who have a disability. Of course, the book itself is not about her. But as writers we can't help but draw on the knowledge and experience we gain from the real world. And by this I don't mean we have to recreate the person we loved (though I did, for my own purposes, place my own version of my grandfather briefly in Megiddo's Shadow).

Of course, you never want your writing to become a rote story, a lesson to the world.  We should always be loyal to the story first. Instead use that knowledge and emotion you've experienced in your loss to make the world of your writing a deeper and richer place. Take that emotion and let it be the engine of the new worlds, new characters you want to create.

We should never be afraid to name the dead.


Doomsday Correction

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 1.16.41 PMIt turns out the doomsday theorists were right. The world will end. Not today. Or tomorrow. They just had the timing a little bit off. In 4 to 7.9 billion years the sun will become a red giant. No, this is not a character from D&D with a thousand hit points (though that would be awesome). It means the sun will blush, turn red and slowly expand outwards as if it had just consumed 10 trillion turkeys. Speaking of consuming things, this giant red star will either consume the Earth or the Earth will be knocked to a more distant orbit. No, the Earth won't go flying around the galaxy like the moon did in Space 1999. That was a TV show.

Anyway, The good news is that we (as in humanity) won't be around on the planet to see the red giant effect. We will likely have died off long before that. Maybe in as little as 600 million to a billion years from far too much heat on the surface of our planet (unless someone invents a really great sunblock lotion).

But don't worry about that. Before any of that happens ET will phone home and call in the flying saucer cavalry and save us all.

Meanwhile, wear a hat on sunny days.


Shapechanging Authors

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 10.19.35 AM Ideas come from odd places. And the idea of having a shapeshifting hunchback as a main character was a doozy (that’s an official writing term, btw). I had been wanting to write a series inspired by the Victorian age and had been toying with a Sherlock Holmes-type character. Since I happened to be reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the same time, I thought, “Why not combine the two by turning the hunchback into a Victorian detective?” There was something fun and intriguing about mashing those stories together. And so Modo was born. But, I soon realized that I had a big problem. If the hunchback was a detective then any time he walked into a room people would recognize him. Murderers and thieves would run away, never to be caught. So I had to find a way around this problem. Disguises would work, except it would be hard for him to disguise his body. So then the idea dropped into my head, “Why not give him the ability to shift his shape?”

This solved several problems at once. No one would recognize him because he could take any shape that he wanted. I decided that there would be time limits on how long he could be in that shape, thus creating more drama. I could explain it all as an evolutionary trait, a very Victorian idea. And, of course, there would be that Beauty and the Beast thing...except he would be able to become the beauty for a short time before returning to his hunchbacked state. This created one very important question for me to explore: would he someday be able to stay in a more pleasing shape or would he learn to accept who he was and not care about how the world saw him? It is the overarching question of the series.

This shapechanging ability meant that I could insert Modo into a variety of situations and his own friends and, more importantly, the reader wouldn’t recognize him until he was revealed. So it added an extra sense of intrigue. That was the fun part. The difficult part was always finding a new thing for him to do with these abilities. After all if he kept imitating the same people over and over again, that would become boring. I also soon realized that it would be best to turn him into a secret agent. There would be far more interesting situations for him to explore.

My research was mostly in my own head. But I was concerned about having a plausible scientific reason for his ability and so researched the variety of fish, chameleons, and insects that easily change their colour or even their shape to fool predators. It was a much longer list than I’d realized.

In the end it has been a grand adventure. I’m so thankful that the idea came to me out of the ether or out of the blue or from within the pages of Sherlock and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now that I think of it, ideas are the real shapechangers--always changing their shape until they take a form that an author can use to create a story.


This post was previously posted on http://mochalattereads.blogspot.com/

Shades: the reboot of an Ebook

Over a year and a half ago I released my collection of short stories as an ebook under the title SHADES: Sixteen Startling Stories Here's the original cover:

I designed the cover myself and thought it was serviceable, but not really eye catching. After all this time, I decided I'd revamp the book with a brand new look. Here's the cover by artist Carl Graves:
It's a far more powerful cover. The character on the front reminds me of the woman in the short story titled Fairytale. And, as you can see, I've changed the subtitle to: Tales of Fear and Wonder. I find that a more interesting subtitle.
So this is the official reboot of the book! Let's see if it grows new wings, or legs, or...whatever it is that books grow.
It's available now on Amazon, Amazon UK, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.