Writing in Atom

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I’ve switched to yet another writing program for this novella. Now I’m using Atom, the programmer’s editor from the creators of GitHub. Basically, I’m a nerd and I love using programming tools to write my fiction. While this editor was not designed to write prose, it handles that task pretty good. I like how all my files are arranged in the tree to the left and it lets me view them as a web page with included images for the character descriptions. When I’m done with my draft I can export every scene into clean HTML files which can then be cut and pasted into Sigil for ebook creation.

The only hard part is going to be stitching them all up into one file. I may avoid that step by doing my editing in Sigil. Stay tuned to find out if I figure that bit out or not.

Discovery Engine

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This is the year of finding an audience. Most of my writerly efforts will focus on marketing. I finally have three sequential books in my Star Saga series and just for good measure, two novellas set in between the three novels. Couple that with a anthology of short stories set before the series makes a total of six ebooks that are ready for public consumption.

My covers all match in style and are unique to my series, yet are still recognizable as Science Fiction. The ebooks are all edited and proofed and ready to be read. The website has a modern look and features all my books. I’ve joined professional indie writer’s groups and I’ve even got an author Facebook page! I know, right? Professional.

My next task is to create some advertising goals across all media that I frequent. It’s time to start spending money in order to start making money. I’ve started with a paid review and I’m now moving on to unpaid reviews from reviewers who are well respected in the genre. This is a slow process, but so was sending manuscripts to agents. The greatest sales spurt for any of my books came after a single web review by someone who I never figured had much of a reach.

I’ve also submitted to a contest for the first time. It wasn’t cheap, but I feel the odds were pretty good with one of my novellas. We’ll find out this September if that one paid off. I’d love to send out a manuscript to some traditional publishers, but all of my stories are set in the same universe. I just don’t see a publisher wanting one of them without the whole series. I’m not ready to give up the rights to that series. Short stories are different. I might try and write a short and send it to the big magazines to see if they will bite. It’s been years since I sent out shorts.

I’ll continue to use the email list to communicate with my readers. I may even try to do some YouTube videos. I even started an Instagram account. Ugh.

Other things I’m probably going to try include cross platform blog posts and of course Medium posts. Trying to get out there for people to find you is a bit like designing a discover engine. An algorithm that lets you plug in things about yourself and your books and turns that into word of mouth that results in book sales. We’ll see how I do.

Pre-Visualizing My Novel

I’m still working on all the bits of writing required before you actually write a novel. In the film business we call this Pre-Production work. It’s all the planning that goes into filmmaking before the camera rolls. In writing a novel there are many things that have to be written before you start the actual telling of a story. You have to plot out the story, you have to invent and learn who your characters are, you have to research things and places that might be in the book and you have to decide things like who’s point of view each scene will be. It’s almost as much work as actually writing the book. But it’s so worth having done before hand because if you do it well, writing the book goes so much smoother and faster.

This is one of the more interesting phases of writing a novel for me. I’ve had to spend more time learning the characters of this novel than any of the other Star Saga novel. Primarily because they are all new to me. So I have to allow myself the time explore who they all are, what they look like and what they need out of the story. One of the newer things I’ve been doing for this novel is casting my main characters by finding either actors or real people on line who look my main characters and saving their images into a picture folder. Just wish I could add pictures to my Plume Creator program someday. This helps visualize them more than you might think.

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I have also created a static model of the SS Weippe for use on the cover of the novel. This actually helps me describe the ship and get a feel for how it looks next to other models I’ve built in this time period of the Star Saga. The more visual aids you have, the easier it is to write when you get going.

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Speaking of the corvette used in this novel, I finally settled on the hull registration number for it. I decided to pay homage to the Flower Class corvette used in the famous novel, The Cruel Sea. The Compass Rose was K-49, so I made my SS Weippe, 049. I have also finalized the name as Weippe, which is taken from a small town in my home state of Idaho. Weippe is where the Nez Perce tribe first met the explorers, Lewis and Clark. You may have heard of them. Anyway, in my novel the Weippe is the first Federation ship to encounter the Votainions. Needless to say, it does not go as well for my crew as it did for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Another interesting tidbit, I have decided that my captain will look like this picture of Ernest Hemingway.

 

Introducing Manuskript

I’ve started testing a new writing program for Linux users called, Manuskript. This is a very promising first draft tool along the lines of Plume Creator or Scrivener. If you want to give the program a shot, I suggest you use the develop GIT version, instead of the pre-release. But if the terminal causes you anxiety then just wait for it to go out of beta, because this one is still unstable and going through rapid development.

I started outlining my latest novel using Manuskript and found it quite nice to use. Unfortunately, I was not able to recover from a file system location change and wound up losing some of my outline. For this reason I’ve returned operations to Plume Creator and will be coming back to Manuskript to test and play around with it as I write Corvette. What this means is I’ll be cutting and pasting my completed scenes into Manuskript after I create them in Plume. Then I won’t freak out if something happens to them.

But if you want to install and play around with Manuskript I highly encourage it! It’s a pretty slick tool already and as it becomes more stable it will be another welcome addition to the Linux writing tool set. While I was using Manuskript I introduced the program’s developer to Plume Creator’s developer, hoping the two of them could share experiences and ideas. I’m pretty sure this will help improve both tools and give us Linux writers a huge productivity boost.

As time permits, I’ll be doing more posts about Manuskript and showing you some of the features I really enjoy. If you have any program testing chops, this is the perfect opportunity to help a new project out. Download the develop version from GIT and let the developer know about the issues you find. That’s called giving back to the community and I believe it’s an essential part of being a writer. Very few folks use Linux to write books, but those of us who do, have the unique ability to help developers make our products better. Something users of proprietary programs like Scrivener, and Word, can not do.

Pre-Production, Part 2 Original Source

Original Source

One of my favorite authors, Tobias Buckell, wrote a series of articles about being a new professional writer that were later turned into an audio podcast. Joe Blo NeoPro can be streamed here. The third episode touches on the idea that all great writers draw from some other source for their ideas. Go and listen to that episode for further details.

The Original Source for my novella, Corvette, stems from the research I’ve done into two primary areas. Currently best selling Indie Military SF and historical novels and movies about the Corvette’s of WWII. I’ll start with the current best sellers.

Current Best Sellers

In order to understand what is selling in the market you are writing to you must actually read what is popular now. That means going out and getting a few ebooks in that genre and studying them to see what makes them popular. If you have read Chris Fox’s book Writing to Market, he lays out what books he’s read to research his own Military SF novel, Destroyer. I’m reading the very same books he read to study how they are satisfying the current market. Bye the way, you can listen to Chris talk about this for free on episode #137 of the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast.

Some of the books I’ve read that are hot on Amazon Kindle now are: Constitution by Nick Webb, Warship by Joshua Dalzelle and Battle Cruiser by B. V. Larson. Reading these books one after the other the plots all seem to blend into one, which I guess is Chris Fox’s point above. Familiar, yet each one slightly different.

Historical References

I could have gone back even further to sailing ships, but decided to stick to WWII for now. It was an area of modern military history that I knew very little. So I Googled around for popular fiction that involved WWII corvette class ships and destroyers. Turns out there is a seminal novel and movie of the same name called The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. I first listened to the BBC radio adaptation of the novel and it was riveting. Next I’ll be reading the novel and then watching the movie. But that is just one example for me to draw inspiration from.

     

I’ve also started watching every WWII naval movie I could find. There are some real gems out there like The Cain Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart. The movies made during and after the war always have this annoying subplot of someone’s love interest so they can feature the popular actress of the day. But they all have great shots of the ships or at least models of the ships.

Cover Model

Something that I always wind up doing that most writers don’t do is build a model of a ship that’s featured in my novels. Below is the unfinished model I will be using for the cover of my novel Corvette. It’s a 1/350 scale version of my corvette starship. So before I even start writing my novel I have this totally detailed model to play around with and dream about what it looks like inside.

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When I was writing Starforgers I was building a slightly larger battleship version of this model and it led to me actually figuring out a key action scene by playing around with the model. So who knows what I might dream up while waving this model around?

Pre-Production, Part 1 – Premise

PRE-PRODUCTION

What follows is an overview of how I go about starting a new novel. It’s not a very detailed explanation but it is specific to this novel. I’ll not give away any salient details of the story so as not to ruin it for potential readers. My aim here is to inform you about my processes. I’ll also be updating this blog in regular posts with my progress. I’d like to move rather quickly on this one and see how fast I can conceive, outline and write a novel. I’ll be recording the time spent writing it in a spreadsheet so I will have an accurate account of how long it takes to complete each phase of book construction. For me, a book goes through three stages, Pre-Production – everything done prior to actually writing it, Production – the actual writing of the first draft and Post-Production – everything that happens after the first draft to include editing, proofing and publication. If you know much about how films are made, you will recognize these phases.

Pre-production is everything that happens before I actually start to write. In order to write this novel as quickly and efficiently as possible, I will be outlining it down to the scene level before commencing the actual writing. This is normal for me so I don’t anticipate any difficulty other than doing it much faster than I normally would.

SET-UP

When I begin a novel I usually start a new book in Plume Creator my first draft writing tool. I have areas for the book itself, notes on character, plot and locations. This lets me keep all my written notes in one place right with the actual chapters of the book. Under Plot I create a synopsis page. This is where I start hashing out the overall plot of the book in a few paragraphs. I’m just noodling at a distance, no details and usually just the main character is known at this time. Once I have the overall plot described almost as if on a back cover blurb, I start thinking about the main characters and what changes they will endure. I also start trying to figure out the theme of the book and what will be the original concept. What will make it unique and what about the story will follow common tropes.

This past week I managed to do all the above paragraph in about two hours. I spent a third hour breaking the plot down into the necessary story structure elements needed for a four act novel. This will look familiar to those of you who have read Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. I use this format for every novel and novella I write.

STORY STRUCTURE

[ACT ONE] THE SETUP

HOOK – Setting a killer hook

Introducing your hero

Establishing the stakes

Foreshadowing events to come

INCITING INCIDENT – Launches Hero On Mission

FIRST TURNING POINT – AT 25%

[ACT TWO] THE RESPONSE

PINCH POINT #1

MIDPOINT

[ACT THREE] ATTACK – The hero fights back

SECOND TURNING POINT

PINCH POINT #2

[ACT FOUR] RESOLUTION

 

CONCEPT

This novel will follow the current Military SF tropes that are selling for Indie authors.

1. Old captain with an old ship on perhaps a final mission.

2. Only ship in the area.

3. Secret military mission.

4. Happy ending with only side characters dying.

5. Violent, overpowering enemy that prove to be cunning and dangerous.

6. They have to beat the larger, better armed enemy vessel.

If you have read any of the top selling novels in this genre these tropes will be quite familiar to you. They all have a cool looking starship on the cover and many are named after ship classes or starship names. I have followed this convention closely. The name I have chose for this novel is Corvette. A corvette is a small, fast ship that usually escorts civilian ships in a fleet or convoy and protects them from submarines. The inspiration for my starship corvette is the Flower-class corvette’s from World War 2. I have spent time researching the Flower-class corvettes for original source material.

These ships were small, no longer than about 200 ft and had a crew of about 50. They were simple and sturdy vessels that could be build fast in smaller ports and were initially designed to stay in ports to protect them from enemy subs but as the progressed they were pressed into escort duties across the North Atlantic. They usually had one main 4 inch gun and several smaller guns aft.

As part of my research I’ll be watching the films The Cruel Sea and Deep Six as well as reading the novels the films are based on. Both of these films have ships the size of the corvette or slightly larger. In researching naval life and battles I’m looking for interesting bits that are common to all such stories. While my story is set in space and with space ships, they are not much bigger than these sea ships and so I can draw parallels quite nicely. While I have never been to sea in a Navy ship, I’ll have to rely on my research and talking with friends who were in the Navy.

My corvette starship was sketched out on paper and I’ve already started building the model that will be on the cover. Modelling is a hobby of mine and I love that I can use it to prepare unique covers for my SF novels. This model is built to 1/350 scale and will be about 400 ft in length if it were real, but the total living space is about that of a WWII corvette. In other words it’s tiny.

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Because this corvette is so small I need a large enemy warship to illustrate how out gunned it will be on the cover. So I will be using my Votainion warship model, actually built to the same scale as the corvette. I hacked together a cover concept that will no doubt change over time but gets my creative juices flowing for writing the novel.

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Next up I’ll talk about my main characters and some more about the original source material for the novel.

Writing To Market

The idea that writers should only write what interests them and not write what is currently popular is one of those golden rules that gets bandied about by writers agents and publishers. Probably because when you get right down to it, nobody really knows what will be popular next and maybe it could be what you are writing. That’s a pretty big risk to take on a project that will take you months to complete. But then as a writer, every time you write a novel its a big risk. Maybe no agent will like it, maybe it will languish on Amazon with no reads. Maybe it will in the end, only appeal to you and nobody else.

What if you studied what is currently getting popular and used the tropes of those books to write a novel that should by all means succeed? That was the position that Chris Fox took with his book Write to Market. I read it with particular interest because his next novel is a Military SF genre and he’s specifically writing it with the currently popular tropes. Just putting his own spin on it. When you read his book, and I recommend every writer read it, you begin to see that he’s actually thought about it more than most. I think aside from his arguments, which are quite logical, I began to realize that after writing nine novels of what I like, maybe it couldn’t hurt to write what readers like for once. Just to see how it goes. It’s not like I have a huge audience clamoring to read my next original novel.

One thing that did occur to me while I read Chris’s book was that John Scalzi did the same thing with his first real novel, Old Man’s War. He checked out the book shelves and saw that Military SF was doing well and then went and shadowed the plot of the book considered by many as the first best example of that genre, Starship Troopers. It certainly worked out for him. Although that is a very small sample size, mind you.

So I’m diving into the Military SF market using the same common tropes that the top selling Indie authors are currently using. Of course I can’t just make up a new universe, so I’m setting it before my current Star Saga novels. This will allow me to use it as a funnel in the unlikely event that people enjoy this novel. Of course the danger is when they come to my original plotted books they might be disappointed. So be it. At least my name will be out there as having written at least one popular novel.

It just so happens that Space Opera is becoming popular again due in no small part to the latest Star Wars movie setting the box office on fire. I was hoping that would happen because I have a lot of that lying around my Amazon author page. All I have to do now is grab reader’s attentions and then sort of go, pssst, over here is something like Star Wars but less silly. Wink, wink.

Military SF is an off shoot of Space Opera in specific and Science Fiction in general. In Military SF the focus is usually more on a battle or at least the fighting bits. Where as Space Opera’s scope is more galactic in nature and may or may not directly involve fighting. Usually the tone and pacing is fast and realistic as it pertains to combat. While I’ve written plenty of battle bits in my Space Opera saga, the focus often shifts between points of view of the enemy and the good guys and sometimes pulls away from the combat to include the political maneuvering and some civilian plot lines. In a true Military SF story it’s just about the men and women doing the fighting.

In my next post I’ll start a detailed series about how I write a novel. My intention is to knock this one out as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. So I’ll be compressing my normal timeline for book completion to just a few months. It’s all part of the experiment to see if I can use these techniques of writing quickly and pushing a novel through editing and out for publication in as short a time as I can. Since I don’t write full time, this will all be done on my lunch hours as my day job. A maximum of five hours a week to be spent on the writing, editing and publishing bits. I usually build a model or two for my book covers and that time will be done on the weekends and not subjected to specific hourly increments. I just have to complete the model and shoot it before the book is ready for it’s cover.

Of course this moves out the start date of my next Star Saga novel, XiniX, but I’m okay with that. Ideally this new novel will be released by summer. Being that it’s now nearly March, I had better get cracking.

 

 

Writing Bits and Pieces – Sales Numbers

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I entered my accounts into BookTrakr and this is what came back for my all time sales numbers. Not completely sure when I started selling my first book on Amazon, but I think it was about eight or nine years ago. My first book, Starstrikers was hit by lightning and sold really well for about three months. Nothing has ever taken off that well again. I have seven books on Amazon and combined they have made about as much as that fist book.

Mind you, I don’t advertise in any real way. Occasionally I’ll hit social media with a mention but that’s about it. So, things could probably be better if I actually tried to sell them. But for now, I’m not interested in that. I’m more interested in getting my first trilogy finished and that means publishing two more novels. After those two books release, I’ll take a more proactive course when it comes to advertising.

The reason I’m waiting is because of what happened to that first book. If I had had a couple more books in the series available back then, I’d be making far more money than what you see above. So back lists are important. Very important.

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These are the numbers for Starstrikers. Now this book is available nearly everywhere. I don’t do Apple or Google markets at this time. But you can get it in ebook and print form just about anywhere.

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Now let’s look at two novellas in the Amazon exclusive only market. The one above is not really doing to well at all. It’s a great yarn and both of my true fans love it. But new people don’t care about it. It has a villain as a hero and she’s a woman. That combination must be horrible for sales. This book has no reviews. Not even the people who got it for free bothered to read it or review it. What a pity. It’s a good story.

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This novella did pretty well despite having a nearly all female cast. It was about starfighter pilots and I was able to draw in my followers on Google+ who like fighters, Sci-Fi and model building to check it out. They loved it, but that’s as far as my social media footprint went. Not even a hundred customers. What’s really interesting are the numbers of lent units for each of these novellas. This one has over 16 thousand lends in like two months. So lots of people are reading it, but they are not talking about it and they are not coming back for more. Because the lead character of this novella is also in Starforgers and the Tales From Ocherva anthology and those books are not selling. It has seven reviews of 4 stars or better.

The lead character of The Blood Empress is in Starforgers, but I’m not seeing any movement between the two. So I’m failing to convert customers into fans with these books. Which is why it’s so important to release book 2 and book 3 before I advertise. Eventually, people will start to realize that the Star Saga’s Starforgers trilogy is about a bad ass woman named Devon Ardel who started as a Stellar Ranger and then became an awesome starfighter pilot in a career that eventually had her becoming an awesome starship captain.

I’ll come back and show you the money after I release the next two novels and we’ll compare numbers. Hopefully things will be better by July.

Writing Bits and Pieces, Going Rogue

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What happens when you spend all that time making an outline and then toss it aside when you’re in the heat of a first draft? You go Rogue. It happens with just about every book I’ve ever written. At some point, I make a change and the next thing I know I’m going off outline. Swinging the machete and clearing a new path. Most of the time I circle back and find the trail again. With my latest Work In Progress I may have ventured too far from the path as set forth in the outline.

I scrapped many scenes in a few chapters and then ditched an entire chapter. At this point, I’m having to completely wing the final act. I mean the story is pretty much the same, it’s the way things happen that has changed. Just enough turmoil to make staying on the outline impossible. But that’s OK.

Novel outlines are not like blueprints for buildings. If you suddenly decide to knock out a wall here and add a new room there, it’s not going to cause the builder any headaches. You just press on and make sure your story has a proper resolution. After you’ve written a few novels, like at least five or six, you begin to develop a second sense about what needs to happen and can often pants your way out of the sticks and back to camp without being on the established path. Can I use any more metaphors here?

So you can see I have about 20 thousand words on this novella. I might have another 10 to 15 thousand left to write. It’s much shorter than a regular novel.

Writing Bits and Pieces – Removing a Character

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This week I had to rewrite a scene or two and remove a character and replace him with another. I don’t want to risk any spoilers, so I’ll be discussing this particular writing problem in slightly vague detail. In re-reading what I had written it became clear that a certain character should not be in the story. The scenes that I had written worked fine, in fact I loved having the cameo by this character from another novel of mine. But it reduced tension in this key Second Act scene and made the hero’s journey seem too easy.

I wanted the hero to have to face a new problem and didn’t want to give him anything familiar to lean on. I wanted the hero to have to trust a new character in a situation that was uncomfortable to him. That was hard to get across when he was interacting with an old friend instead of being faced with a somewhat threatening individual.

It was a hard couple of scenes to have to cut up and redo. I really liked them the way I had them. But they didn’t serve the story so they had to go. Usually I find this sort of deep cut editing in the second draft, but this one was found and handled in the first draft. Hopefully that will be one less thing to change down the line. I’ll still need to go in and tweak these scenes a bit, but at least now I have some tension right where I need it. Yet another reason to be familiar with story structure.