Back in the Saddle

With The Witches’ Covenant released and briefly hitting number 1 on Amazon’s Myths and Legends bestseller list, I decided to take a break from writing and blogging to recharge my batteries. Thus, the hiatus in newsletters and blog posts.

Though it’s been quiet here the past month or so, I’m now working on three different novels: The sequel to Vector, which I’m tentatively calling Magnitude; a new dark erotica thriller called Chinese Vengeance (no, this is not the same story I published on Ruthie’s Club; it’s a new one inspired by that work); and, of course, Book 3 in the Twin Magic series, The Knights’ Folly.

The latter one is likely to slip a bit from my promised mid-2015 release date, both because I need to do more research and because I have larger ambitions for this one than the first two. The only teaser I can provide at this point is that it’s going to center around the Knights’ Revolt that took place in central Germany in 1522.

Chinese Vengeance will be the first one out, hopefully early this summer. I’m really likely how it’s coming along, and it’s most definitely not your typical piece of dark erotica with the dangerous-but-sexy male protagonist and the innocent-and-vulnerable woman who falls under his spell. I hope to be able to say more about this one over the next few weeks, but for now, I’ll give you only one teaser: Stare Kiejkuty.

Dealing with eBook Piracy

So, it’s been a bit quiet here lately, a fact I will attribute to some post-release burnout and a new book I started last week. (Not Twin Magic 3—I’m letting that percolate in my head for a bit). But I wanted to relate something I’ve been dealing with for the past couple of months.

If you’ve published any ebooks, especially if they’ve sold well, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve been pirated somehow. If they’ve sold well enough to get on a bestseller list, they’ve almost certainly been pirated.

Pirating ebooks is not difficult, since it’s a matter of pulling the .mobi or .epub file off your reader, something that is easy if you know what you’re doing. The various forms of ebook DRM that exist are basically worthless and can be removed easily with the right software.

What happens then depends, but most often the files get uploaded and shared much like pirated movie and song files. In my experience, the worst offender is a site called Mobilism, where people can share pretty much any kinds of files: videos, songs, apps, books, and so forth. The quirk of Mobilism is that it doesn’t actually host the files. Instead, people upload them to various file sites and post links. This, you might guess, is supposed to get Mobilism off the hook when it comes to accusations of piracy.

The ebook section claims to host somewhere around 2 million ebook files. Just glance at the front page, and you’ll see a long list of obviously pirated content. What happens is usually that people will post requests for one book or another, and someone else will post it. There is a mechanism by which you need credits to download things, but we don’t really need to go into it.

I first came across The Wizard’s Daughters on Mobilism in February. I wasn’t terribly surprised, but it was still annoying to see that more than 300 people had downloaded it. I’ve been in the publishing/copyright field long enough to know that 90% of these people (at least) likely would not have bought the book anyway, but still.

What can you do when this happens? Well, fortunately, the download sites that host these files are used for hosting all sorts of things, many of them legitimate. The people who own them are in the business of making money from banner ads and such things, not to get sued. So every one I’ve come across has a straightforward DMCA takedown process. If you follow their instructions, the file will get yanked, sometimes in minutes.

The bad news, however, is that as easy as it is to get your files removed, it’s even easier to put them back up again. In my case, I’ve been playing a game of whack-a-mole with the person who uploaded TWD to Mobilism. The links in the post are currently dead, but they’ve been changed twice so far and I suspect will be replaced again. I check every day or so to see what’s going on.

If you’re wondering about sending a DMCA notice to Mobilism, I’ve tried, twice. They seem to have ignored them even though they claim to accept such requests.

There are plenty of other places that host ebooks, often as torrents. I’ve been successful getting them removed from everywhere I’ve found them except The Pirate Bay, which, if you’re familiar with it, you’re aware is a lost cause in that respect. But you’ve got to find these files, and Google is not always the best approach because some of the worst offenders (like Pirate Bay) have been removed from Google’s search results.

Still, unless you’re prepared to give up and let people steal your books, you’ve got to do the grunt work to protect them.

[Update 4/9/15] I finally heard from one of the mods at Mobilism and that post is now gone. But in true whack-a-mole fashion, I found that someone has posted a request for The Witches’ Covenant. I asked for that to be taken down as well; we will see.

Release Day for The Witches’ Covenant

 

After two months in pre-order, I’m happy to say that The Witches’ Covenant, Book 2 in the Twin Magic series, is finally live on Amazon and ready for download. As I type this, its #1 in Greek & Roman Myths & Legends (why Greco-Roman? I have no idea) and #5 also #1 in the overall Myths & Legends category. If you’re one of the many people who pre-ordered it, thanks for the support and I hope you enjoy this installment.

You can also read the first posted review on Feedmeinbooks.

The Witches’ Covenant Launch Tour Starts Today

Between now and April 6, I’m going to be promoting The Witches’ Covenant with guest posts, interviews, excerpts, and more across the book blogosphere. The tour is being organized by Enchanted Book Promotions, and you can find the schedule here.

The book will be released March 20, and I’ll have a special promotion running March 15 through March 21. More on that later.

Who the Hell Is Roland?

If you’re the sort of person who pays attention to front and back matter, you may have noticed a book in my “Other Books By” list that does not seem to appear anywhere else. This book, Roland: The Choice, is an alternate history/erotica novel that I wrote as part of my first batch of books in the late 1990s.

Roland was meant as a trilogy, of which The Choice is Book 1. In it, I envisioned a chivalric religious order of dragonriders operating much like the Knights Templar, based in Rome but with a fractious relationship with the Church. Rome is also the location for its seminary of sorts, known simply as the Academy, where prospective knights come to learn about dragonriding and hope to be selected.

Much of becoming a dragonrider involves capturing your dragon. This is a problem because the dragons have been cursed by an ancient spell that makes them dumb beasts and hostile to humans. Claiming a dragon requires lifting this curse through a religious ceremony. Roland, the titular character, has just completed his tenure as a squire for new dragonrider, and the book chronicles the three-month period at the Academy when he must prove his worth to seek a dragon and select a squire of his own.

The book is set in 1491, and much of the backstory, and most of the complications Roland encounters, involve convoluted papal and Italian politics, among them both the Medicis and the Borgias.

Oh, and the order is co-ed. Joan of Arc’s fault, as it happens. That allowed me to make this erotica as well. If you’re wondering how I managed to mix erotica and a medieval religious order, well, that’s another element of the conflict.

More than one old reader of mine has asked about Roland and when—or even if—it’s coming. I’ve been sitting on it rather than releasing it for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. It just doesn’t seem “ready” despite the fact that it’s finished and I released it already 15 years ago. Part of my reluctance stems from the challenge of (re)starting another series when I’ve got Twin Magic humming along nicely.

All this being said, it is coming eventually. I’m going to take another stab at it once The Witches’ Covenant is final and released. Look for it later this spring.

Should You Join KDP Select?

Like most indie authors, I had to make a decision when signing up with Amazon whether or not to enroll my books in KDP Select. Not knowing what to do, I did some searching and reading to see what other authors thought. The consensus I seemed to get was that it may not be worth it. Quite a few authors feel that getting your stuff out on as many platforms as possible is the best bet.

So I took that route initially. I put my stuff on Smashwords and Google Play, and sat back to see what happened. The difference has been rather striking.

Now, before I get into any of this, let me stress, as I’ve done with my posts on Twitter, that I don’t pretend to know everything on this subject nor that my experiences are definitive. They’re just that—my experiences. And, to preface all this, understand that I promote only my Amazon book pages on Twitter. I have links elsewhere on my blog, but I don’t tweet to SW or GP.

It’s probably no great revelation that 95% of my sales are on Amazon. I sell no more than a few books a week on Smashwords, maybe one or two elsewhere, and I’ve sold exactly one on GP.

So when I got ready to launch The Witches’ Covenant, I began thinking that having access to Amazon’s promotional tools might be worth giving up those few extra sales. The Wizard’s Daughters had been trending downward anyway, and had finally starting slipping off the Historical Fantasy bestseller list. I figured it would be worth seeing if enrolling those two in KDP Select was worth the exclusivity.

I pulled TWD down from everywhere but Amazon, and began working on my promotional strategy for TWC. But a funny thing happened when TWD went live in Kindle Unlimited: A whole bunch of people began downloading it, to the point that it shot back up the bestseller list, settling in around 5,000 overall, a point it hasn’t been at since January. And, interestingly enough, the sales haven’t appeared to change—the KU downloads don’t seem to be cannibalizing them.

What this suggests to me is that there are an awful lot of KU folks who just don’t buy books anymore. They only read things that they can download as part of their KU subscription. And if your book isn’t in KU, you’re cut off from that readership. Not fair, perhaps, but there it is.

That being said, I suspect this doesn’t apply for all books. It could well be that the previous prominence of TWD gave it some built-in visibility in KU when I signed it up. Still, the boost has been enough that I’m contemplating putting some of my other books in KU to see what happens.

I’m not ready to call myself a KDP Select convert, but this has definitely changed my thinking.

The Witches are on Tour Starting March 6

witchescovenantbanner

I have—appropriately enough—engaged Enchanted Book Promotions to help me launch The Witches’ Covenant. The promotional tour will begin March 6, leading up to the book’s release on March 20. I’ll be doing some promotional specials to support the tour as it progresses—more on that later.

If you’re interested in being a tour host or reviewer, please contact Enchanted Book Promotions on their web site via the tour page.

Writing Better Erotica, Part 3: The Revision Process

Last time we talked about the dangers of listening to other writers’ advice on the creative process. I noted then that you have to find your own way when it comes to writing, but that revising your draft is a different matter with more well-defined best practices. Today, we’ll get into that.

There’s certainly no shortage of advice to be found on this subject as well, and I don’t for a moment suggest that any of this is the last word. It is, however drawn not just from my own writing experiences but from my two-decade career as an editor and journalist. That being said, just as with writing itself, you have to experiment to find the methods that work best for you.

The key thing, however, is that you must have a method. You can afford to lose yourself in the writing process, but for revision, you must remain focused. Writing is a creative process; revision is a deliberate one. You cannot revise effectively unless you approach it in an organized, disciplined fashion.

For me, the revision process has three main elements, each of which is not just critical but a prerequisite of the next: Wait, Read, Fix. That may sound awfully basic, but there are good reasons to break it down like that.

First, wait. Why? Because, however excited and proud you may be to have finished your draft, you’re too close to it to start revising right away. I explained a while back about the conflict between the inner text (the one in your head) and the outer text (the one on the screen) and how this interferes with good editing. When you’ve just finished your first draft, that inner text is in control. You need to give yourself some time to forget it.

Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to is replace it with something else. Go read another book or story, or, better yet, write one. This latter approach is something I’ve done many times myself. I wrote both The Hunt and The eGirl after I finished the first draft of The Wizard’s Daughters but before doing any real revision on it. When I came back, I found myself much more able to look at it objectively. I finished The Witches’ Covenant last week, and, thanks to a comment from Connie Cliff, began work on a sequel to Vector. I got about 10,000 words of that done before turning back to TWC.

Now, the read part might seem obvious, but it’s not. You aren’t just re-reading your book. You must read with purpose. You aren’t doing it for your enjoyment; you’re on a search-and-destroy mission for things that need fixing. But with so many things to think about, you can’t look for them all at once without missing things.

This is why seasoned editors employ the approach of editing at different levels, which is to say, editing only certain things at a time so as not to divide their attention. Editing for style and plot is a very different thing from editing for spelling and grammatical errors. You’re going to need to do multiple passes with different targets.

Further, the order that you do this matters. You can’t do your copy-editing first, then go back and make major changes in the plot, because you’re just going to be introducing more errors with the new things you’re writing. That’s why it’s best to go from large to small: Do a read as if you’re a reader: Does the overall plot work? Are there holes and inconsistencies? Is it engaging? Then, when you start to be satisfied with the structure, look at smaller stuff: Is the dialogue realistic? Does the prose flow? Are there uneven sections that need smoothing out? Then, and only then, should you get into serious copy-editing. (Note: This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix obvious errors when you come across them, just don’t let them bog you down.)

Finally, the fix part is not as straightforward as it might seem either. I’ve often come across statements that a draft should shrink by 10% (or some other arbitrary figure) with each revision. This is fine, if your writing tends to be wordy and bloated. If you keep feeling that things are moving too slowly and your characters are doing and saying things that don’t advance the plot, and that your prose seems larded with throat-clearing and other useless words, keeping an eye on your word count and aiming to bring it down can be very useful.

But not all writers suffer from this problem. My prose, by contrast, tends to be pretty sparse, and I’m constantly finding spots that seem to move too fast or need more fleshing out. My drafts almost always expand during the revision process.

This leads us to the main point here: You need to have a good feel for the problems in your writing. All writers have these sorts of hiccups: expressions you use too often, bad habits with grammar and syntax, words you habitually misspell, plot devices you fall back on too many times, and so on. Some writers like to revise with a list of these things at hand, though I’ve found that to be overkill in my case (which isn’t to say I don’t have a list; it’s just in my head). Things like this are often susceptible to rapid fixes with find-and-replace, which should be a part of your revision process.

All of this needs to happen at least once before you send your book to your editors or beta readers. (This why they’re called beta readers, not alpha readers.) Then, depending on the feedback you get, you’ll need to do it at least once more.

Revision is rarely much fun, but having a disciplined approach to it will ensure you’re not wasting your time and that your book will be improved by it.