Indie Writer Code Words: Platform

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In this series of posts, I’ll be talking about top secret code words used by me as a writer. Some may be used by other writers, too, in which case I picked them up from elsewhere. Some are the terms I am using for my own creative process. And I figured, if they’re worth me churning in my brain, they might be worth sharing online with other indie writers as well.

Which brings me to my first word: PLATFORM.

This isn’t really a secret code word. This concept is an industry standard.

A “platform” is kind of like… well, literally, visually, it’s having a platform on which to stand so you’re up where everyone can see and hear you. It’s having an established audience via channels like a blog, pod cast, TV or radio show, loyal book following, a million Twitter followers, etc. If you already have a platform, you are more likely to move books. Or at least, you’re more likely to land an agent or big publishing deal. (Which most wise indies don’t want anyway—those folks aren’t much help anymore.)

For example, if you’re Snookie and you write a book, the publisher figures people already know your name and watched you get drunk on TV, so, sure, we’ll publish your book. You may or may not have anything worthwhile to write 200 pages about, but it’ll sell, so who cares? You already have an in-built audience. If we take a chance on you, someone is going to buy that book.

If you don’t have much of a platform, then few people know your name. You’re not a guaranteed sales machine. And when you publish your own book, aside from your mom, very few people are automatically going to be aware of its existence.

Part of the reason an indie writer may have a blog is to have such a platform. To perhaps attract a regular readership who may then translate into book buyers. If they like reading your blog, they may take a chance on your books, too.

I’ve also heard some more successful indie writers say that they gave up on the blogging and social media because they saw no correlation to actual book sales. Trying to build such a platform from which to shout from the rooftops was a waste of time. That time, they decided, was better spent writing fiction than whispering nonsense into the ether, assuming anyone was going to follow that trail back to Amazon or Kobo.

And for me, I have to say, that makes more sense.

If I spend my very limited time blogging and hanging out on Instagram or “liking” cat pictures on Facebook, is that really going to draw the masses to reading my fiction? And the question that would then follow would be, “What fiction?” Because if I’m wasting time posting pictures of my dinner or saying how disappointing I was in the last season on Netflix, who’s writing my novels? Not me.

It takes years to build an effective platform, and “effective” is a relative term. And results are not guaranteed. You might decide to forego penning your beloved novel series and force yourself to blog about TV shows instead. Everyone loves bingeing those shows nowadays, right? What better way to build a following?

So you spend all your spare time between your job and family and trying to get 6 hours of sleep every night, watching TV and bombing the internet with your opinions on it. And your books don’t get written. And while you’re talking about Game of Thrones, so are 100,000 other blogger and facebookers, and no one really notices you anyway.

So how effective is that platform you’re building to sell your books (that aren’t getting written)?

I say, Screw it.

Of course the platform works for some people. It probably worked better a few years ago than it does now. The indie writing landscape changes constantly, after all. The bandwagon that worked last year now has so many people riding on it that the tires have gone bald and it doesn’t run anymore.

But unless your voice or expertise in your chosen field on your chosen platform is different and more attractive than most of the others, who’s going to know you’re there? You’ll blend into the crowd. Just like your fiction writing. If it doesn’t stand out amongst the millions, who’s going to know it’s there?

So, for me, I’d rather be putting that effort into the fiction than the pre-fiction. If I get a platform built, I’ll build it on a stack of my books, not my opinions on… whatever.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of this situation: I’m metablogging. I’m saying blogging may be a waste of my time, while at the same time perhaps hoping my writing about that attracts people to my blog. It’s like putting a mirror up to a mirror. Weird, huh?

I hope this doesn’t come out sounding too dismal or pessimistic. I’m just thinking through the reality of the situation. And for me, my choice, is to write the fiction, not the blogs. Or the Facebooks or Twitters or Goodreads or whatever.

That’s not to say I won’t interact with you. Contact me directly and I’m all in. I’d love to hear from you. But if you’re commenting on a Facebook post and hoping I’ll notice… You might be waiting a while.

In fact, I’d love to get rid of FB altogether. I say that a lot and I really mean it, but I’m also afraid that if I sever all ties to social media, then literally no one will know I’m here. But I do plan to downsize. Downsizing is good. Simplify. Consolidate web sites. Stop spending time and money and stuff that no one really sees, etc.

In the meantime, I apologize if my website and facebook seem to always be about what new story or novel I have coming out. It’s just that I have spent my constructive time writing those things instead of watching Netflix. And maybe someday I’ll build a following for my fiction instead of my unsolicited opinions about… whatever. 🙂

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Supercriminals, the Walking Dead, and Space Pirates!

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Cirsova #8 is out now! This Hugo-nominated magazine features fun and fantastic fiction in a great range, from Conan-style sword and sorcery, to weird tales of horror and the occult, to space opera on a galactic scale!

I’ve only read a couple of stories so far in this issue, but I have to honestly say I’m impressed. It’s good to see the editor–Mr. P. Alexander–taking the risks that he has. There are two tales that kind of surprise me, both stories I’d expect to also find in the more mainstream spec fic mags. The reason they probably aren’t in those mags? Because they have action, excitement, and fun, along with being written from less common SF perspectives.

Which stories am I talking about? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out. There’s something for everyone in the pages of Cirsova, and issue 8 keeps pace with (and possibly exceeds) all those before it.

And did I mention space pirates?!

Yes, another installment of the adventures of Captain Leonidas Hawksblood appears here too, the first of a two-part story. I plan to write whole books featuring the crew of The Lion’s Share someday soon. In fact, as I was mowing the lawn last night, I came up with yet another episode for these misfit anti-heroes. But I have a few other projects to finish and holes to fill before I get to them.

In the meantime, check out Leonidas and all the other heroic adventurers in Cirsova #8! Click here to find it on Amazon. 

Here’s a list of this issue’s contents:

Novelettes

  • Slavers of Venus, by Nathan Dabney
  • Promontory, by Jon Zaremba

Short Stories

  • Littermates (Part 1 of 2), by J.D. Brink
  • Brandy and Dye, by Jim Breyfogle
  • Breaking the Accords, by Amy Power Jansen
  • The Dream Lords, by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
  • Only a Coward, by Jennifer Povey
  • Party Smashers, by Ken McGrath
  • Going Native, by J. Manfred Weichsel

Werewolves, Witches, and Gumshoes

Detective man and dangerous woman with a gun

Just a quick note about the latest short story up for sale, only $0.99 and on pre-sale now.

A rare item of great value. A beautiful woman shrouded in mystery. And a hard-boiled private eye with supernatural instincts and a nose for trouble.

No, this isn’t The Maltese Falcon.

But if detective Larry Talbot is tracking you on a full moon night, you’ll wish you had wings.

Classic noir, urban fantasy, and a howling good time.

Click here for the universal link, and select your favorite retailer (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks, etc) from there. 

 

Just 1 Day Left for 13 Fantasy Worlds!

Best-seller Kevin J. Anderson and award-winner Cat Rambo headline the Myths & Legends Fantasy Bundle on StoryBundle.com, a huge bundle of 13 fantasy books!

bundle

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there’s only one day left!

Go there NOW and grab this incredible deal before it’s gone! Get a summer’s worth of reading, give to charity, and support indie authors all with one small purchase.

NOW IS YOUR LAST CHANCE. 

Warhammer 40K, neXt edition: Overwatch

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I’ve decided to throw all my radical 40K ideas under “neXt edition” with an emphasis on the “X”. Sounds good for now, right? Might change again by the time I brainstorm more rules; you know, when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting on the throne or something like that.

Today I was waiting at the VA medical clinic and thinking about my previous idea on overwatch revamping. My latest development, then, is this:

OVERWATCH

When a unit declares a charge on yours, you can elect to fire overwatch. You don’t have to, as you only get one overwatch attempt/shot per turn. If you don’t think those guys are going to make it, you might want to save it for another potential charger. You might also decide you’d rather prepare for combat than take pot shots (see below).

In order to muster your troops for a last second volley of shots against a unit charging your position, your squad/models must make a successful Leadership roll. If the unit is influenced by a squad leader or sergeant, HQ model aura, whatever, use that Leadership/modifier, as well as any negative buffs that might reduce their Ld.

If they succeed on their Ld roll, they may fire on the chargers at their normal BS and at the same range as they are when the charge is declared. Weapons out of this range may not fire. Rapid fire, assault, and pistols may fire. Heavy weapons, artillery, and vehicle weapons may not. Once shots are fired, the chargers make their charge roll and move forward to engage. They may or may not fail this charge due to a bad roll or possibly being out of range now due to now-dead models.

If the Ld roll is failed, the overwatch squad attempts to get it together but fails. They’ve spent their overwatch attempt this turn and still are “unready for combat.”

Units that attempt and/or succeed at Overwatch shots are considered “Unready for Combat” when they receive the chargers. This means that for the remainder of this combat round, they count as Initiative 1 no matter their normal Init value. Even if this charge fails and someone else charges them, they still have Init 1 because of their firing actions.

Basically, you need discipline to muster your troops to fire in time. And whether they quite make it or not, they are trying to shoot rather than preparing to fight, so they’ll fight last if any of the chargers make it.

Therefore:

  1. Unit A (assault) declares a charge again Unit S (shooters).
  2. S weighs their options. They decide to attempt Overwatch and are now dedicated to the results. (Just as A is now dedicated to the charge, whether it works or not.) 
  3. S makes a Leadership check. If successful, models with appropriate weapons fire at A where they stand, using normal BS and shooting rules. If they fail the Leadership check, they cannot fire. Either way, they only get one Overwatch attempt per turn.
  4. After resolving Overwatch shots, any remaining A models roll their 2D6 charge range and resolve the charge.
  5. For the remaining Combat phase, all models in S have Initiative 1, against A and any other combatants (even if they couldn’t fire their weapon).  

How’s that sound?!

I like it!

Warhammer 40K: 5th Edition

Guess what I found?!

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It’s been about two weeks now that we finally got all our stuff that was stored in California (coming from Japan) and Texas (left there in 2014). Holy poop do I have a lot of boxes! And books! And Warhammer guys! Finally see it all accumulated in one place honestly makes me feel a little ashamed of myself…

But I’ve learned that if you ever get rid of any of your Warhammer models, you later wish you hadn’t, and maybe even go so far as to buy more to replace the ones you sold! So I won’t get rid of any. But the books, I can do without some of those.

But back to the topic at hand: 5thEdition Warhammer 40K.

I miss this edition! This was the game I came back to in 2008 when I also came back to the Navy and, as a single ensign finally making a decent income, I could actually afford to buy the toys I always wanted. And, boy, did I! Way too many. I can now easily field forces of chaos marines, daemons, eldar, loyalist marines (mostly crimson fists), and space wolves, plus some allied orks, dark angels, whatever!

Flipping through this book makes me really want to go back to it. (No shit, I intend to find someone who wants to play. I probably still have all the codices too!) Some of the things I miss:

  • The Universal Special Rules only take up 3 pages of this mini-sized book, and one-half a page is a picture!
  • Vehicles don’t have hull points. Tanks and dreadnoughts take a beating like they should!
  • A power weapon cuts armor, period. No APs, just make your save or don’t.
  • Only three turns: Move, Shoot, Fight.
  • There’s offensive and defensive grenades, just general classifications. I like that. Offensive grenades allowed you to charge through cover without losing your Initiative (do they still have Initiative at all anymore?!). Defensive grenades denied assaulters the +1 attack for charging. (Okay, maybe the grenade rules weren’t the best ever… What fun are they if you can’t throw them at people and blow them up?)
  • I always liked that there were model types, like infantry, bikes, etc, that all functioned the same way for the most part. So you know the move rate, special rules, etc.
  • You can charge out of reserve and assault vehicles! 6thed, I believe, took away the main function of units like striking scorpions and genestealers by having them walk onto the board and then pause to be shot at. 5thed knew better!

Today we kind of praise 8thedition (which I still haven’t played, but would like to try it) for it being “simplified.” But 5thedition was much more simplified than anything after it. It was easy to play, uncomplicated, and a hell of a lot of fun!

Don’t get me wrong, I like some aspects of the further incarnations, but it sure seems like the adage of “If a little is good, a lot must be great!” was applied over and over again.

Now that I have my toys, I’ll (eventually) try to get me some 8thed games to try it out. But I’d go back to 5thedition in a heartbeat!

A few more of my unsolicited opinions:

FORCE ORG

I do like the new puzzle-piece 8thforce org system. You can basically take whatever you want, but there’s a logic to it, a way to fit pieces together that make it more legit. I always enjoyed that aspect of list-building: that there is some structure you must follow, minimums to meet that keep everyone on an even keel.

But those formations or whatever they were… Basically, the more money you spend the more special powers you get. That crap was unfair. Too much.

For a hybrid version of 40K, maybe you start with the original FO chart, but can purchase extra slots for points. So you can have that 4thHeavy or 3rdHQ choice, but it costs a little extra. (Personally, I think there should be a 3rdHQ slot anyway—those guys are the superheroes of the war, after all!)

OVERWATCH

I don’t think there was Overwatch in 5thed. I both like it and don’t. I think in 8thyou can fire it at EVERY unit that charges you, can’t you? That’s way too much.

I’d almost like to make Overwatch kind of like this:

You get one use per turn of it. If you don’t think the first unit charging is going to make it, hold your fire, save it for that other, closer unit that you think it coming.

Also, you need to make an Initiative test in order to pull it off. If you’re not quick enough, you don’t get your weapons up in time. The trade-off to that could be that you get to fire at your regular BS rather than only hitting on 6s.

And I can already hear Tau players hating this idea! Especially since they generally have Inits of 2. Tau could then have an army special rule like “Disciplined Firing Line” or something to that effect, that gives them a +1 to Init for Overwatch checks.

PSYKERS:

I believe in 5thpsykers can only use one power per turn too. (I don’t have the rule book in front of me right now.) I’d say that can be expanded by the psyker’s level.

I did kind of like the Warhammer Fantasy “Winds of Magic” rules that came over to 40K (was that 6thed?). A random number of dice where you have to use some resource management.

But no, I’d say psyker tests are back to Leadership tests and that they can use a number of powers equal to their level: elite or unit-based models would be level 1, HQ psykers level 2, special characters level 3. They can use that many powers per turn, once each (no repeating powers in the same turn). And they would know that number of powers as well, unless otherwise stated in their special rules (like superhero characters who know all in their discipline.)

“Deny the Witch” I think was a newer development…  We could keep that, but maybe like this: Only a psyker can attempt a Deny the Witch. The “spell” would have to either originate or target a model within 18” of the Denier for them to be in range. They would make their own Leadership test. If it beats (is lower than) the caster’s roll, they deny it. A power that went off on double 1s can’t be denied.

Psychic Hoods extend that range to 24” and give them a +1 (well, -1 really) to their Deny roll.

Okay, that’s enough nostalgia and day dreaming for me for now. Just know that discovering that little lost rule book deep inside a box stored away for 4 years really brought me back.

And speaking of bringing back, BRING BACK 5THEDITION!

Or, as I tell my friend Josh all the time, you can play any damn version you want if you and your buds agree on doing so. So, who wants to play some 5th…?

Deadpool 2 and Why Do EBooks Cost So Much?

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Let me tell you up front, this isn’t going to go the way you think it is.

I’ve been meaning to rewrite a post like this for a long time. I wrote one on my old blog years ago and, in fact, am going to cannibalize some of it here, ‘cuz I wrote it in a better mood then. I’ve been meaning to redo it for this blog and finally, Memorial Day, today is the day. I guess I’m honoring a veteran blog post, as well as our real veterans today.

But first, I mentioned Deadpool 2. My wife and I went and saw it last night, having heard, “It’s everything the first movie was, but more so!”

My official review then: “Meh.”

Not as good as the first one. Still funny, unnecessarily violent, meta-fictional in that he talked about it being a movie while it was a movie. There was some deeper character stuff in the afterlife and emotional stuff, but for the most part… Kinda disappointing. The best part of the whole thing was the extra ending after the initial credits play.

I also went into the theatre last night thinking that I was going to write my ebook pricing rant today, so I was doing research. Keeping receipts. For my wife and I to have a night out at the movies cost 8 bucks per ticket (that’s with the military discount). Our medium popcorn and single large drink to share cost 12 bucks, for a total of $28 for a movie that was fun, entertaining, but did not meet my expectations. (Should have seen Solo…)  Luckily the babysitter (my mom) was free.

We also went out for Vietnamese pho for dinner, at about the same price. So $28 x 2 = $56 for a (let’s face it) rather forgettable evening out. Kinda stings the ole pocket book.

Now we get to the meat of this rant: Ebook prices.

Most of you are probably thinking, Yeah, why do they cost so damn much? 

Well, that’s not exactly the angle I’m going with here.

Although, if you’re talking about the Big Five publishers and their best-selling mega-hit fiction from household name authors, Yes, I agree, they do cost probably more than they should. They charge the same for an ebook as they do a paperback, or sometimes even a hardback, even though there’s no material and no physical shipping costs or warehousing to speak of. Yeah, they probably could charge less for the electronic version, given actual costs on their part.

But guess what? Most of you guys are paying it. Over and over again. 

When I check the top five “Most Sold” ebooks right now on Amazon, four of them cost $14.99 and one costs $13.99.

Now, jump to the opposite side of the spectrum and the source of my angst.

The big trend of independent ebook authors right now (and since the dawn of ebooks and indie publishing several years ago) is to charge next to nothing for your books. Most indie novels are going for $2.99.

Does anyone see a problem with that? Most of you as readers are saying, Nope, no problem here!  You’re buying the cheap indie books at 3, 4 or 5 bucks, enjoying them almost as much, or as much, and sometimes even more than the $15 books. And then many are turning around and buying the $15 books too. Because the reading experience is actually worth that 15 bucks to you. Otherwise you wouldn’t pay it.

So why are those books worth $15 and these other ones worth a third or a fifth or even a fifteenth as much?

The truth is, many of those indie reading experiences are worth just as much as the pricy, household name, mega-corp books.

And some of them are not, let’s face it. But you don’t know until you read it. And some of those $15 super-author books aren’t worth $3. It’s all up to the reader to decide. I know I’ve read some “bestsellers” and wondered, Who keeps paying that guy or gal to do that job? 

The truth is, it’s mostly the indie authors’ faults. They have low expectations of their own work so they set low prices. And therefore set low expectations for their readers too. They’ve brought the market price too low, and dragged the readers down with them.

So the general price of indie (read low expectation) ebooks is generally $2.99 to $4.99. And some go as low as $0.99. For a novel. Hundreds of pages that will equate to a week or two or more of entertainment, depending on your reading habits.

Let’s a do quick comparison to other things we spend our money on…

  • I already mentioned going out to the movies. $8 to $12 per ticket, as much for 50 cents worth of popped corn and just as much for a large cup of diabetes-inducing sugar water. Lasts about 2 hours (longer if you actually develop the diabetes).
  • A movie rented at home via fancy digital services. Almost as much as going out! About 6 bucks for a 2 hour movie, which again, you may or may not enjoy. And once you start the damn thing, you only have 24 hours to watch the rest. You pay 6 bucks to sit on your couch and they slap a time limit on it. An ebook? Take your time. In fact, if you consume the whole thing in 24 hours, you probably didn’t chew well enough.
  • ATM fees. This one really burns my buns to think about. It costs $3, even $4, for the “convenience” of using an ATM machine that isn’t specifically for your bank. So people pay as much or more just to get money out than they want to pay for a week’s worth of entertainment in an ebook!
  • Fast food. Knowing I had a ways to go until dinner yesterday, I went through the drive through just for a snack to hold me over. One Wendy’s junior cheeseburger: $1.49. Add some crappy white lettuce and a slice of tomato: $1.99. A whole meal: about $6. Not too bad. But certainly not as satisfying or nourishing as a full-length novel.
  • Starbucks premium coffee. I’ll hold on this because I reblog it below, but for me, it’s sometimes the cost of renting table space for a couple hours so I can find a quiet escape to write the actual book that I will eventually turn around and sell. At this rate, the cost of renting table space is about the same for half a chapter as readers have been trained to pay for the whole damn book.
  • Pack of smokes. For those who just don’t believe yet that they cause a slow, painful, and expensive death. It depends on the state, but my research shows a minimum of $6 per pack to as much as $15 per pack in New York! (Chemotherapy, hospital stays, and funeral: hundreds of thousands, maybe millions.)

So that’s two unhealthy addictions (caffeine and nicotine) that you pay for daily without thought, but perhaps flinch at when you see a book priced at the same amount. (Hey, I’m also a nurse, it’s my job to talk to you like this!)

Yes, I’m ranting. It’s a pet peeve of mine, this pricing thing. I bounce around a lot, looking for that “sweet spot” that will encourage people to try my stuff. Low expectations drag the prices down for everyone (and set low expectations of what’s inside the book, too), while the big publishers go the other way and people follow them there.

The truth is, the prices should probably be somewhere in the middle. And if we expect more from ourselves and our work, and set the prices just a little bit higher, that confidence will probably equate to more sales and higher expectations from readers. But not everyone follows that logic. And we, as indies struggling to follow our dreams and do what we love while still being stuck in a day job to pay the bills, have to meander around trying to see what readers will tolerate from us.

Okay, I’ve exhausted myself now. I’ll stop.

Below this point are a few more examples, copied, pasted, and updated from my original blog post way back in 2014: http://brinkschaostheory.blogspot.com/2014/07/ebook-prices-comparative-shopping.html

Enjoy your Memorial Day. And thank you to my fellow veterans

* * *

Some people say that an ebook isn’t worth spending more than three or four dollars on.  So let’s expand our comparison beyond books.  What about other things we buy in our day-to-day lives?  How much do they cost, how much enjoyment do we get from them, and how long to they stick with us?

  • A gallon of gas.  Right now, about $3 per gallon.  Do I enjoy it?  Enjoy gasoline?  No.  Does it have staying power?  Does my experience with that gallon of gasoline stick with me in my memories or bring new ideas or horizons into my life?  Well, I guess if I’m traveling to new exotic places with it, then it might, but for the most part I don’t even notice that it’s been spent and is now gone.  Unless it was the last one in the tank; at that point, I’m definitely not enjoying the experience.
  • A cup of Starbucks premium coffee.  Shall we say about $4.00, give or take?  Did you enjoy it?  Sure.  By now, for many people, it’s a requirement to get their day started.  Takes you maybe twenty minutes to drink it if you take the time to savor it.  Caffeine buzz sticks with you for a while, depending on your tolerance.  But sooner or later, you pee it all back out and it’s gone.  (In fact, the caffeine tells your kidneys to open the flood gates.)
  • Cheap fast food meal.  Big mac, fries, and a coke: $5.69.  I might enjoy the first few bites, then start to feel guilty, then disgusted.  I don’t finish it but still feel sick for the next hour.  About a year later, I forget how crappy I felt and think, I haven’t had one of those for a while…  Repeat nauseating experience annually.
  • Inexpensive, decent meal out.  Ten to twelve bucks a person.  Tastes good, gets me and the family out of the house, relatively healthy, worth the price.  Does it stick with me?  Well, I remember I like to eat there, but the meal itself gets introduced to the Tidy Bowl Man sooner or later.  Flush and it’s gone, along with the money.  Took me an hour to eat it, if I really enjoyed it, and fifteen to twenty minutes to excrete it, if I took my time and enjoyed that too.
  • Moderately expensive meal out.  Let’s say at Olive Garden, where I was recently shocked to see what it really did cost for my wife and I to have a night out.  Just you by yourself, an entree, drink, and appetizer: about $25.00, probably more.  Was it good?  Sure, pretty tasty, but nothing to write home about.  Gets flushed eventually, but maybe I carry an extra inch around my waist for a while.  Not really the kind of lingering effect I’m looking for though.

How about a good book?  Costs you, say, five to eight bucks in electronic form.  (Or should, anyway.) Takes you a week or two to read, maybe more.  Sticks with you forever.  And even if it doesn’t, you can always go back and read it again.  For free this time.  As many times as you want.  What’s that you say?  It wasn’t as good as you expected?  Neither was that fancy meal you ate, and that cost more and gave you the runs for two days.

Maybe paying more than 3 bucks for an ebook is a pretty fair deal after all.