Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Amazon Bestseller Status--Empty Brag or Not?

Yesterday, one of the science fiction authors (who shall remain nameless) I follow on Facebook posted a mini-rant about how some (presumably "indie scum") authors claim bestseller status from Amazon sales when those numbers don't compare to the ones needed to make bestseller status in the NY Times or USA Today. I didn't post a response then because I needed to focus on my writing and not argue with someone on his own Facebook page, but I think the topic merits further discussion.

Lyon's Legacy has made Top Ten in the Time Travel category on Amazon a few times, mostly when I put it on sale and advertised it on Book Gorilla. The first weekend it was permafree it also moved a lot of units without paid ads and reached #170 on Amazon overall for free books. Granted, each time there were only a few hundred units involved, and of course after a few days the novella slipped down the charts again. Other works of mine, such as "Letters to Psyche," Life at Seventeen Syllables a Day, and even SF Women A-Z also made it into the best-seller list for more obscure categories briefly with only a couple of sales. So, yes, I will grant this author the fact that Amazon bestseller status for an hour or two for a subcategory does not necessarily match numbers with bookstore sales generated over a week.

Is Amazon bestseller status misleading or meaningless, though? The author who complained about this is a well-known, award-winning author who shouldn't feel threatened by indie authors like me, who only make a handful of sales each month. For me, it is exciting to see a book climb the charts, even if I know it won't last. (However, when overall sales are slow, Lyon's Legacy can still linger for a while on the free Time Travel bestseller list with few sales, albeit near the bottom.) I do list Lyon's Legacy Top Ten Time Travel bestseller status in its book description on Amazon since I think that is a significant accomplishment. Maybe it came about after an ad, but then publishers pay bookstores for prominent placement of featured books, so they also invest in that status.

As for other bestseller lists, they can be gamed by people who know which bookstores are counted when compiling those lists, and the list-makers have been known to manipulate the lists to keep eBooks and the Harry Potter series off of the lists. Barnes and Noble has been accused of deliberately suppressing the ranks of indie books in certain genres so they don't compete with traditionally published books. Amazon can be gamed too, but in my opinion, it is the most honest, transparent store when it comes to its bestseller lists.

Bestseller status is important to big publishers and their authors, since they profit most when they sell lots of copies of a single title in a short time. Indie authors with lower overheads can make money off of fewer sales sustained over a long period of time. While it looks nice to be a bestseller, in the long run, I would like to have sustainable sales supported by true fans and word-of-mouth. It may take a lot of sales to many different people to reach my target audience, however.  I will only mention bestseller status for my works in the book description if it makes it to the Top Ten of its category. And while it's hard to avoid comparing yourself with others, for my own career, I'd rather focus on writing and publishing the best books that I can. As a reader, I'm too independent to read something just because it's a bestseller, but I realize others might value that popularity.

How do you feel about bestseller status for books? Does it matter to you as a reader? Do you care how the bestseller status was earned?

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Much Character Pain Can You Read About?

I started reading Jo Walton's All My Children last week, but after I started it, I put it aside for a couple of days. There was a section that I didn't want to read because the protagonist was trapped in a miserable marriage. Fortunately, once I got past that section, her life improved. Still, it got me thinking that while we as writers are supposed to make life tough for our characters, it's possible to put them in so much emotional pain that it becomes uncomfortable for the reader. Two writers who really inconvenience their characters are Jim Butcher and Laura Resnick. It's not enough that their characters have to fight some bad guys, but oftentimes they have to do it while being up all night, dressed in something inappropriate, and needing to use the bathroom, all at once. Sometimes I find the trivial issues (like the wrong outfit) distracting from the major conflict. As a mother, I don't like reading about kids in jeopardy either.

Are there types of conflict or emotional pain that you don't care to read about? Feel free to discuss them in the comments section--if you don't mind doing so, that is.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Popcorn Ideas

While I give the first draft of Chaos Season a chance to breathe (or my brain a break from it), I'm working on two shorter works. Or at least I'm trying to. I have been working on "The Unnumbered World," the next story in the Catalyst Chronicles universe, but I haven't done much with Young Seasons, a short story collection featuring the heroines of the Season Avatars series. However, I have already drafted the first chapter of Fifth Season, the next Season Avatars book. But I'm also getting ideas for a holiday Season Avatars story (I'm still not sure where it would fall in the series), an old short story I never finished, and new short stories. (Don't ask me where all these ideas are coming from. Maybe it has to do with my chronic sleep deficit, or maybe my mind is secretly trying to distract me so I don't finish a single story.) All this, especially combined with the rest of my Real Life To-Do List, makes my brain feel like this:

(Thanks to Kristine Katherine Rusch for introducing me to popcorn kittens on her blog.)

I guess I need to jot these ideas down, review my project list and decide what priority they should be. I also need to learn to write faster so I can complete more stories and get them out of my head.

What makes your brain feel like popcorn kittens are bouncing around your skull?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ingredients for a Great Series

Lois McMaster Bujold was one of the many authors I featured during my April A-Z Women in SF Challenge. At that time, I wasn't very far along in her Vorkosigan Saga. I've been working on it and now have only one more book to read before I'm caught up. Going into this reading project, I wouldn't have expected I'd enjoy this series so much. Here are a few things about this series that IMO make it compelling:

It spans genres: This series is a mix of everything: military SF, mystery, romance, and more.

Its setting: This saga is set in a universe where many different planets have been colonized. Each planet has a different culture, which allows for not only interesting world-building but also conflict.

Its characters and their challenges: Most of these stories feature Miles Vorkosigan, who suffers a variety of physical challenges (for those of you who haven't read the series yet, I won't detail his issues or how he acquires them). However, his problems have led him to develop great ingenuity and persistence. There is, of course, ample evidence in the early books that he may have inherited those traits. Although Miles may be dominant, he's not the only noteworthy character in this series. There are important secondary characters who get turns being the point-of-view character, and there are several quite memorable minor characters who help flesh out the books.

Going along with the characters themselves are their character arcs. The events in this series span decades. Characters go in and out of different careers and relationships and learn from their mistakes. This education can be hard-won at times, and the characters suffer, but it helps make readers care about these characters too.

Humor: Along with all the action and intrigue are touches of humor. I think the book with the best humor so far is A Civil Campaign.

The interrelatedness of the books: Each book can work as a stand-alone, but as many early locations and characters reappear, there are a lot of references to earlier events, especially in the later books. I remembered a lot of the references since I read the books so close together, but there are a few times where I did lose track. However, it was nice to be able to reconnect with earlier characters. The chronological order of the stories (not all of them are full-length novels) isn't the same as the publication date, so it's wise to read the series in chronological order if you're not familiar with it.

Have you read the Vorkosigan series, or any other works by Bujold? If so, what did you think of them? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Who Are Your Bookshelves For?

Last week on The Passive Voice, there was an excerpt from the article "Paper Chasing" on about books and book collecting. The author of this piece seems to think that collecting and displaying books, not just reading them, is a major part of books' appeal to serious readers. While I do have more books than the average person (I don't have an exact number, but the total is probably close to a thousand), I know there are people who have even more than that, who have rooms of books and not just shelves.

I lived in apartments for a good chunk of my adult life. With limited space, I sometimes had to purge my shelves of unwanted books before I could bring more in. Moving every few years also gave me incentive to trim my collection down, especially when I had to haul boxes of books up and down stairs. Even now, when my current house has triple the square footage of my last apartment, I still feel I need to limit the amount of physical books and bookshelves in the house. I've lost books in a couple of basement floods, so I don't feel comfortable keeping them down there, even if we had a finished basement. Perhaps this explains why I don't mind buying eBooks or borrowing books from the library. For me, the reading experience is more important than the physical act of collecting books. That doesn't mean my physical books are unimportant. I use a picture of one of my bookshelves on this blog, and the books I've kept do bring back memories of the stories or the authors. However, after I delete eBooks from my Kindle, I can remember them by associating them with the places I read them. My eBooks are never gone; they're just in Amazon heaven.

My bookshelves are more for me than anyone else. We do have some nonfiction books in the study downstairs, but the bulk of my books are in my office upstairs. I don't buy popular or prestigious books simply to impress other people. I buy books that I think I might like, and if I do, I may keep them. If not, they get resold. I don't expect my son to want to hold onto my books once I pass, but I do hope they find homes with other readers who like them.

How do you feel about collecting books? Do you hold on to physical books? Have eBooks changed your feelings about paper books at all?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Facts for Fiction: Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact

Normally when I write a Facts for Fiction posts, it's about a nonfiction book with facts or ideas that could be useful for writing science fiction. Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact, by Steven Kotler, reverses this by talking about science fiction concepts that are now reality.

This book is a collection of previously published essays about bionic people, mind uploading, terraforming the Everglades, flying cars, genetic engineering, asteroid mining, stem cells, and several other topics. We meet not just the people who created these technologies, but also the people who benefit from them. For example, we meet veterans who receive artificial limbs, a blind man who has his sight restored, and even a terminally ill woman whose passing is eased by Ecstasy and other psychedelic drugs. I find these stories particularly interesting because science fiction isn't just about technology but how people are affected by technology.

For me, some of the most surprising science fiction tropes coming to life include flying cars, asteroid mining, and biohacking of an individual's DNA. What's so surprising about the last one is how quickly the technology to do it has become widespread and affordable.

What science fiction staples do you think are most or least likely to come true? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Guest Post on Urban Fantasy

Today please welcome Jami Gray as she discusses urban fantasy and how she developed an interest in the genre.

Urban Fantasy…so is that like Lord of the Rings?

As one who writes in Urban Fantasy, you would not believe how many times I’ve actually been asked this question.  Every single time, I try not to heave a huge sigh or roll my eyes, because that’s just mean. My answer…”No, it’s fantasy in an modern, urban setting.”

Sounds good, right? I thought so, hence the reason it’s my go-to answer. However, I still caught hints of confusion or a quick shake of the head leading to a subject change.

So, to be able to give a more informative answer to those seeking knowledge, perhaps I should pose it to those who understand it best…readers.  What do you consider Urban Fantasy?

Is it the wizard stalking the rain-drenched streets on dark nights hunting ghouls and witches like some long ago western lawman? Is it the kick-ass female rocking the leather attire like ain’t no body’s business? Is it the terrifyingly, anti-social protagonist walking the thin line of insanity, that we somehow fall in love with between the pages, but in real life would cross the street to avoid? Or is the unlikely shifter/witch/vampire/hunter of any thing unnatural that suddenly finds himself or herself the one person who holds the ability to change the world around them?

Like many writers, I’m an avid reader. I started out with Fantasy. Yep, like Tolkien,  Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, or Katherine Kurtz.  As I grew, so did my reading tastes and I found myself drawn more and more to settings where magic and the real world collided.  Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality was one of my favorite series. How cool was it that normal, everyday people somehow managed to find themselves suddenly becoming the incarnation of Death, War, Time , Nature, Fate, Evil, Good, and all that those jobs entailed.  Think about it, what would you do if you suddenly found yourself in charge of Death. Would you be able to take a soul away, witness the grief left behind, because you knew down the road, a much darker, deeper agony lay in wait?

It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, early thirties that I noticed more and more books were coming out that didn’t focus on a romantic relations, but on the strong development of the female protagonist (generally). The books, like GUILTY PLEASURES by Laurell Hamilton where Necromancer Anita Blake takes us inside a not-so-hidden world of the unusual, or BITTEN by Kelley Armstrong where Elena showed us how a normal woman handles suddenly growing fur and claws, sucked me in and made me fall in love, all because the main character was an independent, strong female not looking for someone to come save her. Granted, she still had some issues, but damn, these women, they were frickin’ awesome.  And, as I went on a hunt for more, I found them: ANY GIVEN DOOMSDAY by Lori Handeland where we meet Elizabeth Phoenix, a psychic cop in the Phoenix Chronicles, Patricia Briggs’ skin walker, mechanic Mercy Thompson in MOON CALLED, the first in her Mercy Thompson series, Ilona Andrews’ sword mistress, Kate Daniels in a magic ravaged Atlanta from MAGIC BITES, the awesome intro to her Kate Daniels series, Jim Butcher’s STORM FRONT, where we meet the dorky and dangerous (yes, dorky, not dark) Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files and C.E. Murphy’s cop, Joanne Walker of the Walker Papers, in URBAN SHAMAN. I could go much longer, promise (C.J. Adams, E.E. Knight, Terry Brooks…) All of these were the beginnings of some great series, series where magic was set against the backdrop of the modern world, complete with modern problems.  They appealed because it blurred the line of reality, suspended my belief, and rekindled my faith in magic.  Reading this genre (and writing in it) is my way of sharing that wonder with others.

And since I’m always looking for new voices to discover, if you have recommendations, feel free to offer them up!

Pick up SHADOW’S EDGE for FREE for a limited time and dive into the shadows of the Kyn…

SHADOW’S EDGE, Kyn Kronicles #1
Everyone fears what hunts in the shadows—especially the monsters…

When the supernatural lurks in the shadows of the mundane, hunting monsters requires unique skills, like those of Raine McCord. A series of deaths threatens to reveal the Kyn community and forces her to partner with the sexy Gavin Durand.

As the trail leads to the foundation haunting Raine’s childhood, she and Gavin must unravel lies and betrayals to discover not only each other, but the emerging threat to them and the entire magical community.

Jami Gray is the award winning, multi-published author of the Urban Fantasy series, The Kyn Kronicles, and the Paranormal Romantic Suspense series, PSY-IV Teams. She can be soothed with coffee and chocolate. Surrounded by Star Wars obsessed males and two female labs moonlighting as the Fur Minxes, she escapes by playing with the voices in her head.

You can find me at:

Black Opal Books: 

Muse It Up Publishing:


Amazon Author Page:

You can find all the buy links for both The Kyn Kronicles and PSY-IV Teams, in all formats at:

Monday, July 06, 2015

Projects for July

I hope you had a good weekend! One of the things I was able to do over the long weekend was finish the first draft of Chaos Season. It's about 74,000 words, a bit short for fantasy perhaps, but there are two more books planned in this series. I plan to take a break from Chaos Season until late August or September before revising it.

Here are some of the other things I want to work on in the meantime:

Writing-- I've been stuck on the next story in the Catalyst Chronicles for a while. Part of the problem was researching the culture of the main character (she's half-Navajo), and part of it was trying to force the plot into a direction that wasn't working for the story I really wanted to tell. I have part of the draft for this story, so let's see if I can pick up where I left off. This story might be a short novella, shorter even than Lyon's Legacy.  I was stuck on a title for a while, but I finally decided to use "The Unnumbered World." Navajo beliefs about the origin of their people state that they traveled here from other mythological worlds; I can't remember if this world is the fourth or fifth. The Unnumbered World is not part of their beliefs, but they still have to adapt to it.

I'll be continuing work on the Season Avatar series with Young Seasons, a short story collection about the four Season Avatars of this series before the events of Scattered Seasons. This will eventually be a permafree book to introduce readers to this series. I'm not sure yet if I will put it in Kindle Unlimited first or start with a wide release. I may also prepare outlines for the final two books in this series.

Jawa Costume--My husband and I are planning to join the 501st Legion, a Star Wars charity costuming organization.  (Our son will also get an official costume so he can troop with us, but he's too young for this organization and will join the Galactic Academy instead.) Eugene will be an Imperial gunner; I want to be a Jawa. I have the material for the robe and hood and already dyed it the proper color; now I need to start cutting and sewing. I also ordered two bandoliers and should get them this week. Other required parts of the costume include a mask with glowing eyes, gloves, and boots. I have no skills with costuming, but fortunately the troopers I've met so far have been very friendly and helpful.

Alex--I want to help my son continue to work on reading and writing throughout the summer. He's very interested in dinosaurs right now, so we might practice writing a "scientific report" on them.

Other--The garden out back has been taken over by weeds, and there's no sign of peas or beans developing yet. (I hope something fertilizes the flowers!) The squash plants were starting to turn yellow, so they might need more water. I hope we can still save them.

The Star Wars-themed playroom is just about done; all we need to do is hang posters. I still have to do some of the purging I planned to do last month. Time flies when you're trying to make the most of your summer, I guess.

Do you have any summer projects, or are you just taking it easy? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

IWSG: The Last Lap

Today is the monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group, in which we encourage each other. 

I'm on the final chapter of the first draft of Chaos Season. It should be easy going by this point, as I already know what I want to have happen. Yet it's coming out more slowly and not as fluently as I'd like. Maybe I'm just overtired, or maybe I need a break from this story for a while. Maybe I feel I'm not ready to finish the story when there's still so much I want to change. (It seems like I'm coming up with a lot of new ideas at this point. Pantsing isn't always easier than plotting in advance.) I don't doubt that I'll finish in the next week or so, but sometimes the last steps seem the hardest to take. It probably would be easier if I had a longer chunk of time to focus on the story instead of only a half hour at lunch or an hour at night.

I can't let excuses stop me from finishing this book, though. It may not be easy, but with the butt in the chair and the hands on the keyboard, it will get done, even if I have to stubborn my way to the end. After that, I can give myself a mental break from this story for a while and turn to a couple of half-finished projects. They've been slow to develop too, but I know I can get them done if I put my mind to them.

Are there particular writing stages that are most difficult for you? How do you overcome them? Feel free to share in the comments below.

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