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


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.

Is Social Media Overrated for Authors?

Seth Godin thinks so:

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is.

As have a great many others.

But does it really work? From a talk at the Digital Book World 2015 conference this morning:

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

I’ve previously offered my thoughts in this vein.

I’m not sure I agree author platforms are unnecessary or pointless, but I think Godin is 100% right that they’re not an end in themselves. Bottom line, you’ve still got to write good stuff.

FWIW: Godin has a pretty impressive platform.

FWIW2: I came across the DBW piece in my Twitter feed.

Writing Better Erotica, Part 2: Other People’s Advice is Worthless

The dirty little secret of being a writer is that none of really feels like we know what we’re doing.

We’re insecure. We worry about our work. No matter how much praise you get, how well your book sells, how much you may like it yourself, you can always find another author (and usually droves of them) who are selling far better than you, who garner far more glowing accolades, and whose writing you like better than your own.

This makes us susceptible to what I like to think of as The Advice Trap.

What is the Advice Trap? It’s thinking that how other writers do things is how you should do them. That’s a problem because, besides writing, a favorite activity of most writers is talking about writing. It’s fulfilling and makes us feel like writers. Plus, it’s an excellent work avoidance technique. Writing blog posts about writing is a very easy way to avoid going back to that unfinished book you really need to finish. (Yes, yes, I know.)

The result of this is that there is a crap-ton of writing advice out there if you’re inclined to look for it. (Go on, Google “how to write a novel”; I dare you.) You can easily waste days reading posts and random bloviating from other writers on how they write and how wonderfully their methods work for them.

If you’re just getting started and haven’t done much of anything yet, doing this kind of research probably can’t hurt. But if you’ve already got some work under your belt and you’re looking to improve, it can be very dangerous to your productivity.

After 20-plus years in this business, I am continually amazed at how many different approaches to writing I’ve come across. And the one common denominator is that none of them do things exactly like I do. I still occasionally read these “how I do it” posts, but I can’t remember the last time I really came away with anything useful. They’re an interesting look into other writers’ heads, but I find them of little value in polishing my craft.

If you’ve got good habits down, by which I mean you’ve been able to complete works you feel are ready for other people to read, worrying about how other writers do it is more likely to tie you up in knots than improve your writing.

This is the main reason I’ve tried to stay away from instruction lists in this series, instead trying to discuss things writers need to think about when they’re writing. How you translate that into good prose is something you have to figure out for yourself.

(One important aside here: I’m talking about the act of creation, not the task of polishing your first draft into something publishable. That’s an entirely different process that does in fact have some best practices that are worth following. But we’ll cover that another day.)

Here, the opening to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is applicable. He was talking about families, but he could have just as easily been talking about writers:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

You’re going to spend a lot of time being unhappy with your writing. For the most part, you’ll be going it alone.

More on Tweeting Links to Amazon

As I mentioned last week, I decided to rethink (again) how I used Twitter to promote my books. I found the first day that I was getting a lot more clicks on book links than when I first started doing it. Tracking things through the weekend suggests that wasn’t a fluke.

The last few days, I’ve been getting around 50 to 70 link clicks on my Tweets, of which around 20 are going to Amazon. That’s not as much as that first day, but it’s a significant trend. It suggests that, in fact, you can drive traffic to your book pages on Amazon through Twitter.

What’s the difference? I think, as with all social media, an awful lot depends on how you do it. Initially, I was doing nothing but book link tweets, and doing it as often as three times in an hour. For this latest project, I was mixing them with tweets to my blog, and tweeting no more than one link per hour.

Going forward this week, I’m going to be spacing them out even further, since it’s also clear that tweeting more often is not generating more clicks. My clicks, retweets, and favorites did not change appreciably even though I was tweeting three times an hour (two blog links and one book link). So I’m going back to no more than two per hour, with a generally equal mix of blog and Amazon links. I’ll report again if I see any meaningful changes.

What’s harder to say is if this is affecting my sales. I haven’t seen any major changes, but it appears the downward trend since New Year’s has leveled off. Still, more traffic to Amazon can’t hurt.

Tweeting Links to Amazon, Day 2

As I noted yesterday, I’ve begun tweeting links to Amazon again, despite railing about them in the past. I made this decision mainly to gather some more data and see if my December sales boost was related or an anomaly.

It’s too soon after 36 hours or so to gauge the effect on sales (yesterday was weak and I’ve already beaten it so far today, but my midweek sales are usually erratic so that doesn’t mean anything). I can, however, report the effects on Twitter.

Checking my stats in my ads.twitter.com/user section, I can report that adding book link tweets to my regular blog and review tweets seems to have caused an interesting spike in engagement. As I’m typing this, I’ve gotten 60k impressions today, which is not only an all-time high but is also almost 50% higher than my previous record (~43k). I also doubled my previous record for retweets and favorites. That’s good, but also partly attributable to the fact that I’m now tweeting 72 times a day instead of 48.

Total link clicks—the most important stat, as far as I’m concerned—are high but not a record. So, key data point here: Tweeting more often does not appear to be getting me more clicks. (This is actually no surprise if you have a background in social media marketing.) However, the real key is where those clicks are going. And here is where I see a big change from the last time I tested this.

Today, I got 65 link clicks from my 72 tweets, but WP tells me I got only 33 inbound clicks from Twitter. That’s a significant difference. While I also tweet to my reviews on Christina Harding’s blog, checking the data for those tweets shows me they got only two clicks today. That means the other 30 clicks went to Amazon.

If you’ve been following this series, you may recall that the last time I tried this, almost all of my clicks were coming here. Now, half of the traffic is going to Amazon.

I’m definitely going to track this in the next few days to see if the trend continues—then we’ll talk about why.