Skip to content

Category: self-publishing

Gotta Love A Laugh

Who doesn’t love a good laugh? I’m sure there are people out there like that, but I sure wouldn’t want to spend any time with them. I’ve always loved a laugh, and the best way to get my chucks was through stand-up comedy.

My parents had a lot of comedy LPs in the house. Their tastes ran to 60s hipster/Laugh-In stuff: Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Smothers Brothers, Vaughn Meader (anyone remember him?). And Bill Cosby. I really loved Bill Cosby when I was a kid. The very first comedy show I ever went to was Bill Cosby playing at the local fairgrounds(!). We had front-row center seats too, which was great except for the opening act, which was the odious and terrifying Up With People. It was great to see my childhood comedy idol up close; shame he turned out to be such a scumbag. (It was almost as if he’d shot me in the face with pepper spray!*)

Laughingstock is my love-letter to standup comedy. There are a lot of stand-up comedy references in the book, some obvious, some pretty obscure. I’m sure some comedy fans will notice the parallel between the teen comedy duo of Chuck Marshall and Duckie Dunne to the careers of comedians Bill Hicks and Dwight Slade . Chuck, like Bill, made the big-time; Duckie, like Dwight, wound up in Portland. There’s lots more standup references for the hard-core comedy nerds out there.

To prepare for writing Laughingstock, I actually tried my hand at doing some standup. It’s hard! It takes a lot of time and effort to perfect that craft, and a lot of time hanging out at divey open-mics, swilling cheap beer and waiting for my turn to go on. I found myself regretting that I hadn’t tried it when I was in my 20s, since I spent a lot of time hanging out in divey bars swilling cheap beer then, anyway.

I managed to dredge up a video of one of the performances I did at a comedy club here in Portland. Not exactly A-list material, for sure – but I had a lot of fun doing it. Ironically, almost all of the content in Laughingstock that was based on my first-hand experience got cut for the sake of brevity. Most of this was in the form of Chuck and Duckie’s early stage experiences at a rickets telethon and the open mic for “Night Yuks.”

While I may not have wound up with a Netflix comedy special, and most likely won’t have a bestseller on my hands, I sure had a lot of fun researching and writing it; I hope you will enjoy reading it!


Laughingstock

*Read this to get the reference

Countdown to Publication

Counting down now – just seven days until the release of Laughingstock. For once, I’m not spending the weekend re-reading a hard-copy proof, so I thought I’d give a quick update/preview.

For the last four weeks, I’d been following pretty much the same routine: receive a copy of the proof from KDP on Friday, spend Friday night, all of Saturday and Sunday morning reviewing the MS for issues, and entering the changes on Sunday afternoon. This would allow just enough time to order a new proof in time for it to arrive the following Friday.

Most of the changes were for clarity: avoiding repeated words or finding more elegant ways of expressing ideas. However, I did (and continue to) find plenty of typos. This chafed my ass worse than snowpants with the seat cut out, since I paid both an editor and a proofreader to review the text. They both totally phoned it in, and I will not be working with either again. The kicker is that the editor I’d really wanted to work with originally contacted me several weeks ago to let me know that she was freelancing again. So it goes…

I’ve been trying to front-load my promotional efforts more than I have in the past. I’ve been trying to get some advance readers to generate early reviews. I’ve used the traditional method of pestering friends, family members and my not-particularly-extensive email list to read and review Advance Reader Copies (ARCs).

I’ve also been using a service called BookSirens. This is a service that provides ARCs to readers for free, with the notion that they will leave reviews for the books they have read. It’s free for the readers, and fairly reasonable for authors. Setup fee is $10, and for each reader who downloads a copy, the author is charged $2. So, for $20 you could end up getting 10 reviews. Compare that to sending out hard copies and badgering your friends and family to actually read it and provide a review. So, far, I’ve gotten three four-star or higher reviews. A pretty good deal, overall.

I’m also getting ready for an Amazon advertising blitz – provided I have any money left over after the tax bill is due. I’m brushing off the painfully-won knowledge of this incredibly complex advertising platform to boost sales as soon as it’s available. Which, by the way, it will be on

Sunday, March 31 – Laughingstock Release Date!

I’m also thinking about a promotional “launch” a few weeks after the official publication date. I’ll be running promos on BookBub at least, and maybe one or two other platforms. (PRO TIP: I’ll be dropping the price of the Laughingstock ebook to $0.99 for about a week starting ~April 15.)

I’m sure there will be other frantic, last-minute, chicken-with-its-head-cut-off activity in the next week as well. I’ll be sure to let you know all about it soon! In the meantime, I’ve still tried to keep producing words with my serial Dungeon & Dragon – be sure to check it out.


Goin’ APE Over a New Title Release

Getting closer to the publication date for Laughingstock – March 31, so mark your calendars! At this point, I figured I had it knocked – the manuscript had been edited and proofread, the cover design approved, all the big pieces. I figured that by now, everything would be hunky-dory.

Nope.

For starters, I keep finding issues in the text. The photo above are the corrections for the seventh proof version. Granted that most of those post-its and flags are for minor “this could read better” tweaks, but there are typos as well. Some of them might have gone in after the proofreader had finished reviewing – but then again, they might not. As for the “this could read better” items, well, isn’t that what an editor is supposed to do?

Ah well, so be it. I guess there’s a vein of perfectionism in anyone who is creative. Even if they’re really lazy like me.

Another reason for my crabbiness is that (picayune edits aside), I am done with the fun part of being an APE, and now have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of self-publishing.

“APE” describes the three main roles that a self-published author has: author, publisher and entrepreneur. The author part is what it’s all about. It’s fun. It’s why we’re in it in the first place. The magic of world-creation, the joy of creating a character and seeing them do things you had no idea they were capable of – that’s cool. You write something that you think is cool and that you want to share with other people, in the hope that they can find enjoyment in it, too.

But before that can happen, you have to engage in the P and the E parts of the APE.

The publishing bit is complicated but formulaic. Once you’ve figured out the mechanics of the process, it’s relatively straightforward. At least I think so, but I have a technical education and so complicated (but repeatable) mechanisms aren’t too difficult for me. I can see how this would drive other people bonkers, though.

What really grabs me by the boo-boo is the E – entrepreneurship. In other words, SALES. I’ve bitched about this before, and will undoubtedly do so at great length after the 31st. I’m certain that there are people who despise the publishing aspect who are relatively OK with the sales schmoozing. (Note I don’t say they like it. I’ve never met a self-published author who really likes the sales part.)

As far as sales schmoozing goes, I’m terrible at it. I’m a self-important jerk with no patience. Here’s how a typical exchange goes (at least in my mind):

ME: I think you would benefit from this product or service, and should consider purchasing it.

POTENTIAL CUSTOMER: Well, I don’t know…

ME: Well screw you, ya blithering idiot!

So, no, not really good at sales – my SubGenius forbears would be disappointed. So be it. I’m going to have to suck it up and try it again. I’ve already started greasing the skids with advertising to be ready to roll when the 31st rolls around.

But enough of that for now – I have Proof #8 to review!


Now For the Real Fun!

I’ve gotten to the real fun part of Laughingstock – the one where someone else gets to do the work, and I can simply criticize and/or suggest improvements. I’m talking, or course, about COVER DESIGN.

Sure, it’s fun creating worlds out of my fevered imagination and bringing them to life. Not quite so fun revising and revising and REVISING, so that by this time, I’m glad to unwind at least a little. Of course, still apprehensive that the cover will not adequately pique potential readers’ interest, regardless of what I think. Then there’s the possibility of running into issues with Amazon Ads, as happened with Fester.

I’m going with the cover artist who bailed me out with the Fester problem – Stuart Bache. Stuart’s a consummate professional and a lot of fun to work with, so this is always a fun part of producing a book. We’re still in the preliminary stages, but I’ve already got some concepts to share. Here we go!

Concept 1

I like this concept, as it definitely hits the stand-up trope with the stool and the mic stand. At first, I was a little put off by the way the title is broken onto two lines, but the longer I’ve thought about it, the more it works with the content of the book.

Concept 2

Currently not as enthused with this concept, although that could change. The tragedy/comedy masks are compelling. It’s good comedy is dominant, but the tragedy mask is kind f a downer. Of course, there is tragedy in the story – I’m just not sure if I want to give it equal time on the cover. Bonus points for having the title on one line, though.

I’m looking forward to developing the design with Stuart. Right now, I’m leaning towards Concept 1, as it better conveys the stand-up comedy theme better than the masks.


Literary Limbo & A New Story

As this challenging year draws to a close, I’ve found myself in a sort of literary limbo. I completed five (count ’em – FIVE!) drafts of the new novel Laughingstock. However, due to a variety of personal reasons, both good and bad, I was a little late out of the gate arranging for some pre-publication services: cover design and editing.

For the cover design, I wanted to go with Stuart Bache’s Books Covered, who did a good job on the redesign of the cover of Fester after I started having trouble with Amazon Ads’ protectors of morality and righteousness. However, I should have reached out earlier, since Stuart’s shop is backlogged and won’t be able to start on the cover design until January.

Then there was the matter of editing. I really wanted to go with the editor I’d worked with on Fester, as she was a pro – and a hardcase, who twisted my arm to make changes that I originally didn’t want to make, but ultimately made the book better. Unfortunately, she is no longer doing freelance editing, as it wasn’t paying the bills (at least that’s what she told ne – maybe she just didn’t want to deal with me again). I reached out to the editor who had done Jackrabbit and Powwows, but she basically ghosted me.

I ended up going back on Reedsy and casting about for a new editor. I ultimately decided on a UK-based editor, after making it clear that I did not spell “color” with “u.” I sent her the manuscript nearly three weeks ago now, and haven’t heard a peep from her since. Perhaps it’s because that the MS has been polished to exquisite perfection over the course of five drafts and needs little work and is totally self-explanatory (I’d sure like to think so.) More likely, British editors perhaps don’t do as much hand-holding as American ones, and will just edit the bejesus out of the MS, and return it in bestseller-list shape (I’d sure like to think so). Anyway, the final payment is due next week, so I imagine I’ll hear something by then.

In the meantime, I’ve got some time on my hands now that I’m in literary limbo with Laughingstock. If I was really motivated and forward -thinking, I would be planning my sales campaign for the new book. However, as we’ve already established, I’m no good at sales and hate it.

I’m not a salesentity, that’s for sure – I style myself a writer. So I’m taking this time to work on a fun project that I’ve been wanting to do for a bit, and not worry about making it marketable or commercial. Writing for self-amusement, in other words.

Ever since I wrote the “short” story Reset, I’d thought there were possibilities for a sequel – or perhaps several. Reset was based on a very strange dream in which I was back in junior high school, but with all of my adult experiences and memories. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this one was so freaky that it stuck with me for days, and persisted in my memory until I actually started writing it down. It ended on a cliff-hanger, which basically provided me with an open door to do something else fun with it.

So I did. In the new story, called Dungeon & Dragon, the protagonist, Scott Gray, wakes up (or comes to) in an entirely different and even weirder place. As the title implies, it is a swords and sorcery fantasy world. And that’s just the start! Next story, Scott could wind up on a spaceship, or in the Wild West, or the Golden Age of Rome. Sky’s the limit, y’all!

Since the point of this is to have fun, I’ve decided to post the sections as a write and revise them. Of course, reader input is welcome. Might as well make this a group effort. So check out Dungeon & Dragon, and have fun!


Fester
Fester – makes a great holiday gift!https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733269940

The Brick

Second draft of LAUGHINGSTOCK

I’m not a fast writer. I have a full-time job, and I’m also pretty lazy. I’d love to be able to crank out two or three full-length novels a year, but that may not be in the offing anytime soon. Consequently, it’s always an amazing feeling when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for a project I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve finally reached that point with my latest novel.

The novel is called Laughingstock. It’s about two comedians who grew up together and began doing standup as a duo while in high school. The family of one of the teens moves out of state (to Fester!), but they continue to pursue their comedy careers. Chuck Marshall ends up as a successful standup in L.A., who manages to grab the brass ring and gets his own network TV show. His pal, Wilbert “Duckie” Dunne, manages to escape from Fester, but languishes in a comedy backwater, working crummy jobs and appearing at small venues in the Pacific Northwest. When Chuck disappears at the height of his success, Duckie goes out in search of his childhood friend. Along the way, he encounters a secret comedians’ retreat, a deceased comedy legend who isn’t as dead as everyone thinks, and the sinister machinations of the head of the Wolff TV Network.

I was about three-quarters of the way through the second draft when I realized, “Hey, this might actually be a story that people would enjoy reading.” It was a good feeling. That feeling was tempered somewhat by the final word count: 165,000 words, which was about a 50% increase from the first draft.

I nominally like to aim for a word count of 90,000 words for a completed novel MS. For Fester, I settled for 110,000 – I’ll probably end up landing around there for Laughingstock as well. That’s the problem with “pantsing,” which is my preferred method of writing. Since I usually start with a premise, a handful of characters and a very general notion of the direction I want the story to go, I always end up with huge manuscripts that then need to be brutally pruned to something readable. It’s fun, however, to kind of wind up the characters and just observe what they do. A lot of the time they end up doing or saying things that I had no notion of them doing or saying. It can be kind of spooky, honestly – but also fun, like a Jaycees haunted house.

Now I have a 592-page brick of a manuscript that I need to cut nearly in half to be workable. I thought about just removing all of the even-numbered chapters, and pushing it as an “experimental” story form, but that would probably only appeal to MFA students who do a lot of hippie drugs. Instead, I will now break out a red pen and proceed to “murder my darlings.” The best approach is to treat the whole project like I’m having to pay by the word for having the thing printed. Given that Amazon is my primary sales conduit, this isn’t that far from the truth.

So off I go with a brand new red pen and a ruthless gleam in my eye to get this next novel out in the world. Wish me luck.


Some Simple Rhymes

Cover of Great-Grandad’s self-published book

Happy New Year to you all! Hope you survived the holidays intact, and that you may have even come away from the experience with some pleasant experiences and memories.

Family gatherings over the holidays can always be fraught, and there’s always the risk of having some difficult family memories come to the surface. Sometimes, good things come to the surface. This happened to me, and I’m pleased to share it with you now in the spirit of promoting a beneficial 2023.

I had written before about how the urge to self-express through self-publishing runs in my family, with both my brother and my uncle self-publishing books, and an aunt who is still working on a romance novel. As I visited with my family earlier in November, I received a copy of a book of poetry that had been self-published by my great-grandfather. I remembered hearing about this book when I was young, and thinking that it was very cool that I was related to someone who had written and published a book. So I was thrilled to get a copy of that book.

Titled Some Simple Rhymes, it was written by Great-Granddad, James Crawford Smith, sometime in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, not much more is known about it. Great-Granddad passed away in 1915, over twenty years before my father was born. I pestered Dad about the book, but he didn’t know much more about it that what I’ve already described. The title page doesn’t reveal much more:

Title page of Some Simple Rhymes

The pseudonym “Jay Cee” was doubtless related to Great-Granddad’s work as a minister. A lot of the poetry in the book is of a religious nature as well, but not all of it. Here’s a good example:

GOOD-BY AND FORGET

‘Tis easy to say forget,

‘Tis easy to say good-by;

But the scenes we love, they are with us yet,

And the faces bright with the friends we’ve met

Are ever before the eye.

‘Tis easy to turn away

From the home we used to know;

But its form and outlines with us stay,

And its memories haunt us day by day

As the seasons come and go.

‘Tis easy to say farewell

To the joys of olden time;

But their pleasant echoes with us dwell,

And in oft recall still they tell

Their story most sublime.

‘Tis easy to cease to prize

Old friendships true and pure;

But the good they have done us never dies

And the thoughts of our loved ones ever rise,

And will while our lives endure.

‘Tis easy to be engrossed

With the busy scenes of life;

But we ne’er forget the peace we’ve lost,

And saddened hearts we count the cost

Of the weary toil and strife.

‘Tis easy to say good-by,

‘Tis easy to say forget;

But the past with its teachings cannot die,

And the years that have vanished still seem nigh

With the forms of the friends we’ve met.

Is it good poetry? I’m not in a position to judge, not having studied much in the way of poetry. I mean, it’s got a good meter and you can dance to it, but other than that, I’m not sure. The topics of the poems certainly a reflection of the time and place, and there are sentiments expressed that would certainly seem archaic and perhaps even offensive to some now.

Still, I believe that even the dated attitudes are intended with a spirit of love and hope. Great-Granddad was a minister in Port Townsend, Washington in the early twentieth century. At the time, Seattle was gaining its place as the main hub of shipping and industry in the Puget Sound area, while Port Townsend was slowly losing out. Nevertheless, it was still a thriving port city in the early 1900’s, with all of the vice and skullduggery that went along with it. Great-Granddad railed against that vice, as would be expected of a preacher of that era. However, he still managed to retain his hope for redemption and love for his neighbors. When he passed away, those he’d railed against – the brothel madams and gamblers and ne’er-do-wells of Port Townsend – all showed up to pay their respects to the man.

Would that I could write with the love and conviction that James Crawford Smith did. I appreciate that he left this legacy that can inspire me even now. Thanks, Great Granddad!


LoNoWriMo

I’m sitting here enjoying watching an early December snowfall in Portland – and fervently hoping that it ends and melts by tomorrow!

As I mentioned in my last post, I sorta punted on November’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50K words of a novel during the 30 days of November. This works out to 1,667 words per day. This is not an easy task, at least not for me. I know some professional writers who can crank out three or four thousand words a day without breaking a sweat, but for me this sort of output is aspirational.

Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo in a limited fashion, with a goal of 15K words for the month, or 500 a day. This wasn’t too odious, so I wanted to double the goal for this year. However, my schedule (and inherent laziness) didn’t allow me to participate last month, which was disappointing. I had really wanted to get 30,000 words further down the road in the second draft of my new MS, a novel called Laughingstock.

In order to make up for this deficit, I’m declaring December to be Local Novel Writing Month, or LoNoWriMo. In this case, the locality is limited to my writing space upstairs, or – if it’s snowing – the kitchen table, so I can look out over the backyard. The goal is to have 30K words by the New Year.

So far, so good. In fact, it’s only the 4th, but I’ve got 5,000 words down, so I’m slightly ahead of the game. If I can keep up this pace, I might be in a position to do the full monty of 50,000 words for next November’s NaNoWriMo. First things, first, though – onward to the New Year!


Take A Penny, Leave A Penny

You know how it works…

Hola amigos, I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, so I’m going to do so right now, even though I have nothing much to say. To make it more interesting, I’m going to post in the style of the “Bullpen Bulletins” pages from early 80’s Marvel Comics, which I read assiduously right up until I got my learner’s permit.

ITEM! – The work on the second draft of Laughingstock has finally gathered a head of steam. I’ve collated and rewritten some of the chapters that will remain intact, which are of the comedian-protagonists early days of standup whilst in high school. I’m now on to material that will have to be heavily rewritten or composed for the first time. I’ve been doing a lot of research on how TV series are made for the second act of the novel.

ITEM! – I’m seriously considering reworking the cover of Fester to make it more marketable. Ken Huey’s original cover was fabulous, and he provided exactly what I asked for. However, at that point, I really didn’t know what I should be asking for. After a multi-pronged battle with Amazon’s advertising department over whether the cover image is “violent,” I finally gave up on advertising. Since then, I’ve decided to experiment to see if a different cover will make it easier to sell and keep those creeps from Amazon Ads off my back.

ITEM! – One of the reasons for this move towards a new cover was the fact that last month, I received a royalty payment from Amazon of one U.S. penny ($0.01). Of course, this is terribly embarrassing to admit, but since I figure that just about the same number of people read this blog as buy my books, I’m not in any danger om embarrassing myself in front of anyone who doesn’t already know how embarrassing I already am. Or something.

ITEM!NaNoWriMo starts next month, and I couldn’t be more confused as to what I am going to do with it. A while back, I thought I could try the full 50,000 words in a month challenge. I had a decent outline for a sequel to Fester, and I thought I could use that as a springboard for the 1,667 words a day that would be needed to get the Full Meal Deal for the event. That is not going to happen, at least this year. I intend to plow on with Laughingstock, and perhaps try to write or edit 1,000 words a day for the month of November.

As for the full NaNoWriMo challenge – well, maybe next year.

Adventures in Modern Book Advertising

The SFD

First Draft Completed at Last

Before I get on to the main whinging, some good news: I finally finished the first draft of a new novel, tentatively titled Laughingstock. I started writing it in February 2020 (before Covid – remember that?) I’m pretty happy with what I got out of the “shitty first draft,” primarily since I pantsed the whole thing. With some sage advice, I managed to put together a pretty decent ending, which can sometimes be a challenge. As part of my pantsing strategy, I typically drive all of the characters to some oddball locale and see what they do. It worked (kinda) for Fester, and seemed to work pretty well for this story, too.

Now I just have to convert the SFD into a decent manuscript. The problem is that with pantsing, the first draft pretty much amounts to a super-detailed outline. There are major timeline issues and new characters that emerged during the latter part of the SFD that will need to be addressed. So for the second draft, I will essentially re-write the whole MS, occasionally adding pithy sentences or paragraphs from the SFD.

Book Advertising for Dummies Named Crawford

Now on to my main grouse-fest: advertising woes. At the beginning of the year, I decided I really wanted to go all-in on advertising for Fester. I had dabbled with Amazon Advertising in the past, and it seemed like the most likely way to get the book into readers’ hands. To that end, I coughed up big bucks for an “advertising for authors” course by a bloke named Mark Dawson.

Dawson is a successful author, with 20 titles published and sales of more than 2 million. In the course of his career, he figured out the best way to navigate the arcane system of self-service advertising on such platforms such as Amazon Ads and Facebook. I’d tried to work with these platforms before, and had limited success. They are very complicated and confusing.

So I ponied up the money and began diligently working through the modules. The course is very well-constructed, and Dawson continually updates the material, so it is always current with the vagaries of the advertising platforms. The lessons are clear and well-explained, and there are a lot of supplemental materials like checklists and cheat sheets. It’s really quite impressive. (Between his books, the courses and his podcasts, I have to wonder when Mr. Dawson finds time to sleep.) The course is solid.

The problem is, it didn’t work – at least not for Fester.

The main issue is that the course works best for authors who write book series and in very well-defined genres with avid readerships, e.g. romance or thriller. I am 0 for 2 in that regard. (To be fair, Dawson is upfront about these limitations.)

First, Fester doesn’t really fit into a neat genre: is it dark humor? Mystery? Paranormal? Young adult? Detective? Suspense? It really has elements of all of these, so it’s not easy to slot into a single genre, which makes identifying a cohesive target market exceedingly difficult.

Also, I can’t really produce a series in the normal sense of the term. I write really slowly (remember: over two years for the SFD of Laughingstock). Granted, there was a prequel to Fester of sorts in Powwows, and I have notes for a sequel but that doesn’t really qualify it as a series, per se.

The Cover of Doom

Then there was the cover. I had all manner of problems with the cover. This is not the fault of the artist; he gave me exactly what I asked for, and made it look awesome. The problem was that I had no idea what I really needed as a cover to help potential readers understand the myriad goofy aspects of the story.

Also, Amazon Advertising had issues with the book cover (see below), which they said was too violent. I’ve been over this in a previous post, so I won’t flog that horse but so much longer. One of the issues may have been that the people who review ads for conformance to advertising standards are in India, so there may have been a cultural issue at play. They may also have interpreted the shadows around the cops and the guy on the ground as pools of blood – although it sure doesn’t look that way to me. After repeated attempts to get someone at Amazon Ads to explain to me exactly what part of the cover constituted “excessive violence or gore, including, characters that have open wounds, are in the act of being attacked with weapons, dismemberment, [or] depictions of cadavers,” I got no response. After five attempts and no clarification, I decided to quit while I was behind and pulled the ads.

At that point, I had spent over $200 on advertising and sold exactly one (1) book. I probably would have been better off just using that money to buy copies of my own book and boosting the sales rank, which may have boosted other sales, via Amazon’s voodooesque algorithms.

All in all, it was an expensive lesson learned. I’ve got enough faith in Dawson’s system to give it a try with Jackrabbit – but not until I’ve retooled the cover. I guess the takeaway is Let the Buyer Beware. There are a lot of scams out there that prey on self-published authors. Mark Dawson’s course is definitely not one of these, but do your homework and make sure the system is right for what you write.