Friday, June 29, 2012

Ebb and Flow

I wish I knew why some days I'm so motivated and some days I'm so dull.

Today is a dull day. I have to do something at work I don't want to do. It's not a bad thing; it's just something I had hoped I'd put behind me ten to twelve years ago, and now I find I have to do it occasionally for the next 5 years, 6 months, and 2 days. I have it half done, but can't find someone who has to explain the other part of it to me.

Yesterday evening at home I found myself listless. The night before that I scratched my left eye and couldn't work for a while. It had healed by the time I was home from work yesterday. My main project for the evening was to write the questions for two or three more chapters in the homeschooling edition of Documenting America, as well as type the questions already written for a few other chapters.

As part of the homeschooling pages, I'm providing links to the full source documents, and maybe to a short biography of the author. I couldn't find a link to the sources for the chapter I was to type next, causing me to flounder. An hour later I had a work-around, and had completed one chapter when I'd hoped to type three or four. At that point I left The Dungeon.

Back upstairs I tried to do the other part of my goal. The first chapter proved difficult to write questions for. This was really the first (after twenty-four completed) that was difficult. Questions for the others just rolled out. I finished it, started the next, and found it as difficult. I concluded it must
be my energy level or interest level or something similar—something in me, not in the chapters. So I set it aside and quit writing work earlier than expected.

Today is a similar day. I'm getting stuff done at work, but could be doing more. My energy level is down. Possibly I'm in a sleep deficit. Or maybe it's that, due to the high temperatures (95 last week; 100+ this week) I haven't been walking and it's lack of physical activity affecting my mindset.

I think this noon hour I'll walk. Since it will be 102 out, maybe just a 10 minute walk. I'll be sweating greatly when I get in, but will have time to cool down before starting work afterwards. Maybe that will help with my outlook.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Blank Sheet of Paper

Today I'm at the blank page of the blog entry screen, basically without an idea of what to write. The blank screen is an intimidation. Remember the comic strip "Shoe", where the two birds worked for a newspaper? One was the editor the other the writer. One day the editor asks the writer if his article was finished. The writer replied, "90 percent." He then went back to his messy desk, fed a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter, and said to himself, "The white part."

That rarely affects me in my writing, but it can at times. It's more likely in my business writing than in creative writing. For that reason I have created some templates in the office that I can pull up on the screen that already have certain key information in them. So I start, not with a blank document, but with some of the basics already entered. I believe it's a help, espcially when I'm about to write a construction specification section from scratch.

I'm currently editing on all projects, not writing fresh. In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People is with an editor (day 29 now), so I'm waiting. I actually have a little editing to do on that, since I'm not sure I have days, dates, games, and travel schedule right for the Cubs during the playoffs. The Candy Store Generation is with a few beta readers. Meanwhile I received some improved graphs from the Congressional Budget Office (my tax dollars at work), which I need to work into the document. I will also do one more read-through on my own simultaneously with the beta readers. Then, hopefully, it's ready to publish.

The writing I'm doing on Documenting America: The Homeschool Edition is more like editing than writing. I read each chapter, find links to a bio for the writer of the source document and to the source document itself if possible, and write four or five questions that I think a high school student should be able to pull out of the book, sometimes with a bit of reasoning on their part. It all fits on less than a half of an 8.5x11 sheet. It feels like editing.

So I'm not faced with the blank screen right now, but I soon will. All this editing will be done in a matter of a week or two, three at the most. Then I'll go through the publishing tasks and get them listed with Amazon and Smashwords. For The Candy Store Generation I'm going to use a book designer/formatter for the interior, since the graphs are a complicating factor. The others I expect to do myself, all but the covers. I may need help with interactive Table of Contents for the e-books.

After that, sometime around mid-July, it's on to the next writing project. This will certainly be a short story, maybe two short stories in a row. Right now both are blank screens, except for pre-writing I've done in my head. For one of them, the spy one, I think I wrote out a couple of paragraphs if I can find that sheet of paper.

After those, it's on to a novel and maybe another non-fiction book project. That will be a second volume of Documenting America, probably a Civil War edition. I still haven't decided on the novel yet, so I don't know if it will be a sequel to FTSP or my China novel or the next in the church history series, following up on Doctor Luke's Assistant. Time will tell, but not a lot of time.

All of those will start with the blank sheet, except for what's in my head. I will have to act fast, before those gray cells start hemorhaging ideas.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Tribe

The professionals in the publishing industry, by which I mean editors and literary agents, keep saying that platform is of great importance for getting published. As I posted before a platform is generally defined as a ready-made audience to which the published book can be sold. This is more important for non-fiction than for fiction, but should not be ignored for novelists.

How is this measured? It used to be the number of people on your mailing list, probably for a newsletter distribution. Nowadays it's the number of Facebook or Twitter friends/followers you have. It's the number of hits on your website. Some agents want you to give these numbers along with your proposal.

This has been something bugging me. My blogs are not popular, and despite several requests sent out to Facebook friends to like my author page, 57 friends. I don't do Twitter, and don't know that I will any time soon. My platform is...slightly better than nil. And I haven't figured out how to change that.

But I have seen one change of late in how far I'm reaching people with my "writerly" presence. That's the "Reach" statistics on a Facebook page. For my writer page, my reach had been hovering around 40 to 50 for a long time. On a good couple of days I might hit 60. Finally in May it began to creep up. I hit 83 on May 31, then dropped back slowly to in the 50s and 60s. Finally my free promotion of Doctor Luke's Assistant came. My reach went into the high 80s by the end of that. Then it hovered there for a few days, then took off. Right now it stands at 221, the third straight day over 200 after zooming around June 18.

I don't really know how Facebook's "Reach" algorithm works. It says it's for a week ending on such and such a day. So I don't really know which day the numbers are for, or if it's an average of those days, or a total for all of those days. If it's an average, that means I'm now up to reaching just over 30 people per day. Small tribe.

But at least the numbers are going in the right direction. That's the main thing. It's the start of a tribe, a platform. Long may it grow.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Nice Soaking Rain

After weeks, maybe as long as two months, with very little rainfall, this morning we are in the midst of a nice, soaking rain. Last night the forecast was for 30 percent chance of rain today. Normally when it's 30 percent chance we don't get rain. When it's 40 percent chance we probably do. So I went to bed last night figuring we wouldn't get any.

This morning, after showering I turned on the weather as normal, and the radar showed a line of strong storms coming on us from the northwest, a little over one county away, and moving quickly in our direction. The radar loop showed the storms weren't dissipating or splitting. It couldn't miss. Sure enough, around 7:30 a.m. it began raining at our office, and still is. Radar shows it might rain for another hour or so.

What's that expression? "When it rains, it pours." Not so today. The first ten to twenty minutes was heavy (at the busiest part of Bentonville's rush hour, though I was already inside at my computer), but since then it's been nice and steady. The ground is so dry lots of this must be soaking in. Perhaps the County will be able to take the burn ban off—not that I have anything to burn.

Right now it's raining in my writing life. I'm working on four or five projects, all moving toward publication close together. I submitted an engineering article to, and it will be published tomorrow. The next one isn't due for a month, as they are cutting back from a bi-monthly column to a monthly. I'm in the waiting process on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. Today is the 23rd day since I submitted it to the editor. I'm resigned to self-publishing it, but we'll see.

I'm editing The Candy Store Generation for clarity and consistency. I think I have some repetition in it, and want to eliminate that. I'm two-thirds of the way through preparing the home school edition of Documenting America. That's not taking much time. I do a chapter a day.

These three book-length projects are all coming together at about the same time. Is it pouring? Not really, because I set my own schedule on them. I can determine the priorities, putting them in the order I choose. If things get too hectic, I can just delay any of them I want to. The short stories that are on tap for after these book projects will happen, but if I need a break, so be it.

I'm at least glad that the words are raining. My mind has been active enough that any time I've sat down to edit or write I've been able to. The quiet house while I'm in my temporary bachelorhood (coming to an end in a few days) has allowed me to not be distracted. I wouldn't say my production has been as much as it needs to be, but at least it's been steady. Kind of like today's rain.

And of course, during this time I've been on the wild ride with Doctor Luke's Assistant. That's pretty much ended now, as sales have slowed to a trickle. A number of writing friends have posted that they are reading and enjoying it, and that they will post reviews on Amazon when done. At least one has said she is going to promote it. I hope sales continue to trickle. One or two a day is actually a decent number for a self-published book. Soon I'll look at producing a print version.

So, on with writing. On with multiple projects. On with words raining. I can still hear the rain on the office roof, and still sense the words inside me trying to get out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sales, showing the result of the promotion

'Nuff said. That's as of 11:30 a.m. today. These are only paid sales. I think adding in the 5,039 giveways would skew the chart just a bit.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Wild Six-Day Ride

Last Wednesday I put Doctor Luke's Assistant on a 5-day free promotion at the Amazon Kindle Store. This benefit was available to me since I enrolled it in the Kindle Select program. After thinking about it for two months, I decided to go with all five days together, rather than use my allowed five days in different batches. Which is the better way? Beats me.

The first day I had what I thought was a decent number of downloads. I don't remember exactly. I could go back and check my various Facebook updates to see. On that day it rose to fifth in its genre free list, and to around 315 in the list for all free fiction. I thought that was pretty good. The next several days saw a slow reduction each day in the number of downloads, with drops in rank in the various lists. By the end of Saturday I think it was 10th in genre list and around 590 in overall list.

Then Sunday it took off. I'm not quite sure why, but as Sunday started I was was wondering if it how hit 2,000 downloads. By the end of the day it had 5,039 downloads. Wow! A friend from, Karen Berger, gave it a nice interim review on the Facebook page for Suite writers. I kept making a few posts on Facebook and on my two blogs, trying not to be a pest about it but wanting to let people know about the free promo.

What caused it to take off? Maybe Sunday is just a better day for downloads—with more people using their work-free day to look for book bargains. I did a Google search for it this morning, and found DLA on many websites, what are called aggregator sites. These look to aggregate news and hope people come to their sites for news, with the views generating ad revenue for the web site owner. It appears several sites aggregate free books available, and DLA appeared in quite a few of them. So maybe that contributed. A friend in North Carolina gave it a plug on his Facebook page, and perhaps that helped also.

The free promo was to go off at 2:00 a.m. Central Time this morning, though Amazon advises resetting back to normal price may not happen immediately. I woke up at 1:47 a.m., and decided to make a quick check. At that time it was #1 on its genre list, and I think #131 overall; my eyes were a bit blurry. When I rose for the day at 5:45 a.m. I checked it. The free promo had been off for almost four hours, but it was still listed in the "bestseller" lists: #1 in genre, #3 in Religious Fiction, and #56 in all fiction. That made my day.

The wild ride has continued today. At my check at home I had no sales of anything this month. By the time I got to work and checked at 7:15 a.m., the Kindle report showed three sales of DLA. Woohoo! That's after one sale in the 2 1/2 months it had been for sale. By 10:30 a.m., it stood at ten sales. I just checked it while writing this post, and it's now 11 sales—except it shows one return, my first return of anything. So ten net sales. I only know where two of these came from.

So what happens next? First, I need to stop compulsively checking sales! The newness of actually selling something will pass, I'm sure, and with it the compulsive checking. I'll monitor reviews on Amazon and see how they are going. At present it has four 5-star reviews. I'm sure I'll get some reviews more critical than that, which comes with the territory. Some readers have asked for background information on how I came to write the book and do the research. I've written some blog posts on that, but from a long time ago. Perhaps I'll take this week and write that information afresh.

And, perhaps I'd better get off my duff and go to work on the print version. I put that off because of the work, and because of how expensive the book will be as a POD book, due to its length. But I have some beta readers to thank by presenting them a print book, so I'll do that work. And, I suppose I should begin thinking about other books in what I'm calling my Church History Novels series. I have the sequel partly programmed, and have brainstormed two or three after that and one prequel. I don't have them in my publishing schedule right now, but need to think about it.

And, I don't plan on quitting my day job. Ten sales a day, even if it continued at that pace (which it probably won't), is not a writing career.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A review of "Doctor Luke's Assistant"

Kristi Birchfield, who is a fellow member of the Christian Authors Book Marketing Stategies page on Facebook offered to read and review Doctor Luke's Assistant. She posted it today, rating it 5-stars. Here's what she said.

As a Jew who had become accustomed to the Roman culture and ways, Augustus was just interested in doing a good job for his new employer, a medical man by the name of Luke. This man had told Augustus that he was writing a book and needed help interviewing people, researching, and compiling the data for the manuscript. How was Augustus to know that this research into the life of the Messiah Jesus Christ and the writing of the work that would bear Luke's name would have life-changing consequences?

Doctor Luke's Assistant by David Todd is a historical fiction book set in the first century as the early Christian church was just starting out and they were looking to preserve the story of Jesus for others to read and know what Jesus had done while here on earth. I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling as David Todd paints a wonderful and completely believable rendition of how events might have transpired in order to bring us the gospel of Luke. I enjoyed seeing the journey through the eyes of one who did not believe in Jesus as Augustus struggles with the information and first-hand accounts of miracles, which are discussed in detail throughout the book, that Augustus can't completely explain to himself. I found the struggles and the difficulties that Luke and Augustus faced compelling and they kept the intensity of the storyline moving, all the while allowing for the interviews and the stories about the life and works of Jesus to fill the pages of this book so that we could follow along with their research. I found this to be a unique perspective on what might have been and many thanks to David for allowing me to read through this most intriguing book. You will be blessed by reading it.

Kristi Burchfiel, Christian Devotional author and speaker
Many thanks, Kristi. That's a good review. I hope to use some of it as back cover copy when I publish the print book.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Watching Myself Watch the Promotion

Doctor Luke's Assistant is now early in the second day of the five day promotion. As of 7:00 a.m. it had been downloaded 990 times between the USA and the UK. That placed it:

- 5th on the Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Religious > Historical free list, and
- 16th on the Kindle e-books > Fiction > Religious free list, and
- 323rd Free in Kindle Store list.

We'll see how this goes. With the Amazon Kindle Select program, you can have your book free for five days in the 90 day enrollment program. While most people do one and two day promotions and spread them out, I decided to go with all five days together. As I said, we'll have to see how this goes.

Yesterday I found myself frequently checking "sales" report for my Kindle books. On first check in the morning DLA had been downloaded 46 times. That quickly went up. In fact, from the time I started writing this post until now three more downloads have been recorded.

Then I saw it begin to show up on the lists. That was kind of a good feeling. At least people are seeing the book. I'm gaining readers if not royalties. Well, maybe some of these 993 people will read it. Some may just collect free downloads with the intent of reading they but never getting to most of them. Who knows?

Soon I should be getting some reviews—from people I don't know. That's going to be interesting. Some of those reviews will not be stellar, as someone will have downloaded the book, read part of it, realized it's not an action book, and be disappointed. How will I react to those 1- and 2-star reviews? In preparation, I've been looking at the negative reviews of some of the other books on these free download lists. Some of them surprised me. The most common negative reviews that I read are:

- book is boring
- book is religious but the description didn't "warn" about that
- characters are not well developed
- the pacing of the book isn't good
- book is too short
- book is too long; could have been told as a novella rather than a full length novel
- too much sex
- too little sex, or not realistically portrayed.

What kind of negative reviews will I get? I tried to work in what I learned of the Middle Eastern culture, translating it back 2,000 years. I could get dinged for too much of that. It's not an action book, so comments like "it's boring" are certainly possible.

The first two reviews of it are from advanced reader copy readers. I have one more of those that should be posted soon, hopefully today. Meanwhile, with two more downloads since the last report DLA has dropped to 6th place on the Religious > Historical free list. I can't keep checking this all day long. And I can't obsess over what place the book is in on what list.

It's going to be a long five days. And so far no sales of my other titles. Here's the link again:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Days of Free Book Promotion on Kindle

Today I began a 5-day free promotion of  Doctor Luke's Assistant at the Amazon Kindle Store. I can do this because I enrolled DLA in the Kindle Select program. That allows five free days in the 90 enrollment term. I decided to do all at once and see what happens.
Before the promo I had sold one copy of DLA, back in April. For the month of June I'd sold no books at all. The promo began at midnight Pacific Time. When I checked this morning, about 7:15 Central Time, there had been 46 free downloads in the US and 2 in the UK. Right now (8:30 Central Time) there have been 110 free downloads in the US and 3 in the UK. No sales of other items yet. It's listed as #15 among free downloads in the category Kindle eBooks>Fiction>Religion>Historical. But, there's only 15 books total listed. I guess that's how many are on a free promo at present.

The whole idea of a free promo is to generate some interest in the promoted book and anything else the author has for sale. Hopefully the free downloads will actually be read, and some people will post a review. Those reviews are what helps drive sales. So far DLA has two 5-star reviews, both from people to whom I gave advanced reader copies.

The jury is still out on whether the Amazon Select program is good for authors. One of my friends has received significant payment from loaned books through that program. So far I no one has borrowed DLA. Maybe someone will after the free promo is over. My thought is I probably won't re-enroll it for another 90 days, but we'll see. Perhaps the promo will change my mind.

At least my first novel is now in the hands of...119 potential readers. I won't make any immediate money on that, but have those potential readers is exciting.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Compulsive Blackberry Picker

That's what I am: a compulsive blackberry picker. Last year I almost missed them entirely, forgetting when the season started and getting to the bushes too late. This year I wasn't going to make that mistake. We have a number of bushes along our street, on the undeveloped lots, as well as along our walking routes. I've been watching them. Although winter was warmer than normal and spring came early, we had a good blackberry winter, which boded well for the crop.

Then came Ephraim, our four year old grandson. He stayed with us for ten days, beginning just at the time the first berries were close to ripening. Two years ago he and his mother visited us at picking time, and he helped me once as a two year old. He says he remembers that (I have my doubts), and wanted to pick with me again.

So beginning his first night here, we walked by the blackberry bushes. He wanted to pick the pretty red ones, and the dull green ones. I explained to him the fine art of knowing then the blackberries were best. I think it was his third or fourth night here we had a few to pick, which he carried home in his hands. Finally, on Sunday evening, I knew there would be enough ripe enough to pick that we would need a container. I put on my blackberry-picking shirt and my rattiest jeans, grabbed the bucket and cutters, and we went for it. I think we picked around a cup, maybe a little more.

Monday night we picked two cups, and Tuesday night closer to three. That night we went a little farther and found two other good places. Most of the time he held the bucket while went close to the vines to pick. Unfortunately some of the time we were along a collector street, and I had to keep interrupting picking to make sure Ephraim wasn't in danger.

Last night I picked alone (Ephraim having gone home), after not picking on Wednesday. I went back to the same places as the days before, and had more success. Not having E1 to watch, I went deeper into the bushes. In the same amount of time, I picked about 4 or 5 cups. I didn't measure them at home, but I think that's about right.

It wasn't the same of course. I didn't have a bucket holder. I didn't have a little boy to explain what makes the best pickable blackberry. He understood black very well. Plumpness took a little longer, but I think he was getting it by the end of the third day. The loose attachment of a ready blackberry to it's vine wasn't something he understood. I let him pick more on Tuesday, and as I'm eating them I see more not-yet-ripe berries.

But that's okay. I miss my little assistant. Tomorrow I'll go to the mother of all blackberry patches, about a mile and a half from our house, and try to get a gallon or more. This is an old homestead, with the right kind of soil and the right drainage and the right amount of sunshine. For two or three acres the blackberries thrive. Someday the school district will build an elementary school there, they say, but a school board member assures me that's years away.

Yes, I'm compulsive about blackberry picking. Today I learned there are bushes behind our building, next to the stormwater detention pond. I went back there after my noonhour walk, and picked a few. I'm sure my colleaques have been picking them not-yet-ripe, though that's okay. The bushes are loaded, though of course I'm not dressed to be able to reach them all.

The peak of blackberry season is a week or two away, and it looks like a bumper crop. I hope to freeze a lot this year, and for once not let them sit for years and years and get freezer burn. As I pick, I'll be thinking of Ephraim, who loves to pick blackberries with grandpa, but won't eat them.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Scott Walker and the Candy Store Generation

Today is election day in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker and four state senators are facing a recall vote. The reason? After being elected in 2010, an election which saw the governorship and both houses of the Wisconsin legislature pass from the Democrats to Republicans, Walker and his allies in the legislature dared to propose significant changes.
Here's what I wrote about this situation in my (now in the late editing stages) book The Candy Store Generation.
Still, those who think the massive debt is ruining this country had success at the ballot box in 2010, suggesting that the electorate is changing. Not only did they elect a Congress with greater fiscal conservativeness, they did so at the State level. Many state legislators and governors were elected on platforms of greater fiscal responsibilities. We see movement in some states toward this end. Wisconsin and Ohio are the first two to see sweeping changes toward smaller governments.
The Wisconsin situation is perhaps a harbinger of what we can expect on the national level. 2010 resulted in a Republican governor and Republican legislature. The state budget was in awful shape, and the new governor and legislature believed drastic action was needed. They took that action, and Democratic members of the legislature left the state to prevent there from being a quorum, hoping that would keep the Republicans from taking that drastic action. The summer of 2011 saw this play out on television.
Then the protesters took center stage in the Wisconsin media drama. We should all be able to remember their occupation of the State capitol. They didn't like what the Republicans were doing, and they said so. They were able to gain enough signatures on petitions to force a recall election of governor Scott Walker. I write this ten days before that election will take place. The polls show Walker surviving the recall election, but not by much. By the time this book is published we'll know for sure.
What is happening in Wisconsin is, I think, push back against the drastic actions that are needed to bring budgets into alignment with the amount of money that can reasonably be raise through taxes and fees. The fact that Walker looks to be likely to remain in office is a good thing in the battles over the budgets. But the fact that the recall election is even taking place shows how there will be pushback against any reduction in spending that will directly affect people's pocketbooks.
I'll watch some television tonight and see what I'll have to be adding to the book. I won't delete any of what I wrote, as shown in the post, but I'll add the results. I wonder if The Candy Store Generation will be successful in pushing back against the hard medicine of righting our financial affairs. Latest polls suggest the race tightening, but that Walker is most likely to survive the recall. However, at least one of the four Republican senators is in trouble. I understand the Republicans had a one seat majority, so this would result in a divided legislature. I need to check on that some more.