Closing the book on 2015

So, 2015 is almost in the books. I won’t lie to you. It’s been a year of trials and tribulations. My writing career hasn’t yielded the results I had hoped for, BUT results have been yielded. That’s a terrible sentence. What an awful arrangement of words. It’s hardly English is it? No, don’t look at it. Let’s just keep going and hope it stays behind us. Don’t look back.

And that’s really the lesson I’m carrying forward into 2016. “Don’t look back.”

But first, let me take a look back. What? Did you think there wasn’t going to be some self-reflection in a post like this? Bear with me for a bit.

 

Nobody does a cuter eye roll than Tina Fey. Nobody.

Nobody does a cuter eye roll than Tina Fey. Nobody.

 

When I first decided back in 2013 to self-publish the Grant Scotland series, I knew only enough about the publishing industry to know I didn’t want to go the traditional publishing route and that I had discovered a large amount of inspiration, creative energy and determination that I had never before possessed. Deep down, I knew instant success was not in the immediate future, but I was certain that I no longer had any choice about what to do with the time left to me.

Gads, that sounds fatalistic. I don’t mean it like that. It’s just that I realized I was at that point in life where there are debatably (yes, that’s a word, WordPress – stop squiggling at me) more days behind me than in front. Nothing that I had done up until then had been especially noteworthy, but at the same time I don’t consider any of my time ill spent. Far from it. I’ve worked in bookstores (something I recommend to everyone who loves books – such a great job) and I’ve designed computer games (laborious, but incredibly fun) and I’ve even tried to be a serious-minded career-driven professional programmer – complete with benefits and a retirement plan and everything! On top of that I’ve had friendships and relationships with people both within and without my comfort zone. Every one of them has contributed to my continued growth as a human being and as a writer.

No, I don’t dismiss my past spent not writing. I’m just especially driven now that I’ve finally figured out my time is best spent engaged in trying to be a successful author. I don’t think I was ever the natural born writer. I tried to keep writing after I finished college, but I found I had nothing to say. I guess I just needed to get some dirt under my fingernails. But now I find that saying things in prose is the most important thing I can do with my time.

And I love that. It’s rewarding in and of itself, but I freely admit it is not at this moment monetarily rewarding. 2013 and 2014 were years spent writing and spending money to support my jump-start into self-publishing. When Wayward Daughter was released and the omnibus put together and made available earlier this year, I saw little to no interest picking up anywhere. I had three books in a fantasy series out and no one seemed to notice. On top of that, I couldn’t seem to find my target audience. It isn’t that they were reading it and hating it – I just couldn’t seem to put the book in their hands. Most of my readers that don’t have at least some connection to me are (according to Goodreads anyway) women who read fantasy only because they either like Gabaldon or Martin or are looking for the next vampire sex novel. And I’m none of those things. I’m more in line with Glen Cook or Joe Abercrombie – speaking strictly content and narrative style, of course.

So, this year I finally faced what I had known from the start was waiting for me. With my meager savings depleted and my former careers well behind me, I took on a part-time job delivering pizzas and started severely curtailing my advertising budget as well as all other expenditures. I have entered (cue dramatic pause in whatever music you may be listening to) the Dark Days. These are (and will continue to be for a while yet, I’m certain) the times that will sorely test my mettle and determination as a writer. Can I keep it going in the face of profound reader apathy and surrounded by an increasingly large and somewhat suspect ancillary industry of self-publisher services? Will the car stay healthy enough to make delivery driving profitable enough to stay ahead of the bills? Will I ever appease The Donald? Stay tuned!

But seriously, it’s not as bad as all that. I’m just in my December mood. This month has always been tough for me. Something about it being so damn dark out all the time, I guess. I secretly don’t mind at all how people and businesses spend every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas in an orgy of forced glee. It actually helps. And all the lights are nice, too.

Anyway, the pizza delivery gig is actually not bad at all. Much more lucrative than I had imagined. At around 25 hours a week, I can support my relatively humble lifestyle and still keep writing. Also, I’m surrounded by supportive friends and family and I count myself incredibly lucky to have them. It helps me keep going. Although my productivity has certainly suffered from those halcyon days of yore when I was easily hitting 1K words a day writing Wayward Daughter, I’ve still been able to keep at it. Additionally, I’ve been writing this blog and have been active on Twitter and on blogs and forums related to the self-publishing industry. So, those are undeniably good things, no matter the Trump glare I get from the disappointing results of seemingly every promotion I run.

 

"Why do I even bother with you?"

“Why do I even bother with you?”

 

Why indeed? Because without the hard edge of the relentless definition of success that capitalism lays before our feet, which Trump embodies more perfectly than anyone I know, I would get soft. And I’m plenty soft enough. I don’t need to be softer. Please don’t take that as any sort of endorsement of his politics, because it definitely is not.

Well, that’s the wrap up. The year has been a struggle, but progress is being made on all fronts. Slow progress, but it’s both honest and interesting – two qualities I admire a great deal and are rarely found together. 😉

Happy New Year, everyone! Next week I’ll get back to giving away T-Shirts and telling you about how the Troubled King promo went and possibly making some New Year’s resolutions. I guess I should’ve done that last thing here, but I’m no slave to the Julian calendar. Fight the power!

Or not. Or maybe just not today. Whenever you get around to it. No biggee. In the meantime – eat, drink, review, tip!

P.S. And don’t forget to add yourself to the mailing list for the next T-Shirt draw!

 

Considering The Leftovers

Have you seen the show The Leftovers? Do you remember 9/11? I’m going to talk about both of those things and then tie in a third thing. That third thing is going to have something to do with politics, so I’m giving you fair warning that this post will be a departure from my usual fare of writing and self-publishing. I’m still going to be talking mainly about the creative element here, but there will be some political topics brought up that can’t be avoided. I won’t be grinding any axes, mind you, so you should feel safe to keep reading. And, as always, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

So, The Leftovers. Have you seen it? You should. There’s something interesting going on in this show. I recommend it to everyone, but not necessarily because I think it’s one of those shows you’d enjoy watching while relaxing on your couch with a family size bag of Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips, a tub of guacamole, a bottle of whiskey and a candy dish filled with amphetamines, aspirin, antacids and Skittles. No, it’s not exactly fun in that usual way is what I’m saying. I mean, it’s a good show, but it’s not all that, as the kids say. Do the kids say that? I don’t know kids.

Anyway, I’m certainly entertained by it, flaws and all (some episodes drag and others seem a little inexpertly executed) but I can see how some people would have difficulty getting into it. “An Apocalyptic event without zombies? Whhaaaaa…?” So, it’s suffered in the ratings and that’s most likely why HBO has decided to only renew it for just one more season. No, it’s not its entertainment value that recommends it. Instead, I want you to watch it because I think it’s talking about things we as Americans all need to spend some time thinking about.

If you’re not familiar, the show is based on Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name. The premise, copied from Wikipedia:

The Leftovers takes place three years after a global event called the “Sudden Departure”, the inexplicable, simultaneous disappearance of 140 million people, 2% of the world’s population, on October 14. Following that event, mainstream religions declined, and a number of cults emerged, most notably the Guilty Remnant.”

Immediately, we assume this is some sort of Rapture story, a la Left Behind, and I suspect Perotta plays off of the themes of that work in his book, although I admit I haven’t read either. In the show, however, we’re quickly persuaded away from this notion because it is revealed that people from all faiths, backgrounds and degree of moral character “departed” – that’s the word they use to describe it – from everywhere around the world. As the series progresses from episode to episode the writers continue to play with the religious theme, however, refusing to let the viewer dismiss it entirely. This is often done well, but sometimes it’s a bit heavy handed. I won’t get in to spoilers, but I will say the religious imagery in the final episode of season 2 is a bit of an eye-roller.

Overall, though, we’re left to try to make sense of this clearly inexplicable event in the same way as the characters. Grasping at any sort of meaning, they stumble and struggle to comprehend what happened and cannot deny the call to action such an event demands, even though no one can figure out what that action should be. Every time we get a glimpse of a logical response to both it and the more mundane but no less tragic events that follow it, that logic is ripped away to reveal again the raw nerve that was exposed by such a seemingly random massive catastrophe. The character of Nora Durst is pretty much the prime punching bag for the show’s study of how trauma can roger us but good.

 

Seriously, Carrie Coon is mesmerizing in her performance.

Seriously, Carrie Coon is mesmerizing in her performance.

 

There is no healing in this show, although everyone seeks it. Instead, we as viewers witness the most massive case of PTSD ever portrayed. Does any of this sound familiar yet? If you’re an American, it should.

 

911 towers

 

Yes, I believe this show is talking, albeit in a hushed tone, about America’s response to 9/11. Not quite ready to go there? OK. I’ll do a little more due diligence. The Sudden Departure event is often referred to only by its date – October 14th (although it’s sometimes called Heroes Day) – and is somberly annually commemorated nationwide. Also, after The Sudden Departure, a special government agency (The Department of Sudden Departures) is established to investigate insurance claims made by those related to the Departed. Additionally, although the event was a world-wide phenomenon, the show only deals with how Americans cope with it, although I readily admit that this could be simply the creators of the show wanting to keep it on a more personal scale to match Perotta’s book. But finally, and I believe most importantly, each and every episode shows us the characters struggling to find above all else a way to feel safe and secure in a world that no longer makes sense to them.

The last point is the one that made me want to write this post. In the second season (no spoilers) the action revolves around a town in Texas that somehow suffered no Departures. Their response to the call to action was to believe that they were exceptional. They built walls to protect themselves from the outside world and only allowed in people under a draconian visitation policy. They celebrated their exceptionalism, used it as proof that they were somehow chosen by God and buried and excused the faults of their own people. “We have been spared” the townsfolk rejoiced.

Now, on 9/11 America certainly was not spared, but we as a nation have reacted no differently. Our own Departed were taken from us by an enemy we do not understand and in a such a sudden and ferocious way it defied easy explanation. When we look at how Americans by and large chose to respond to 9/11, we see close parallels to the Texas town in the show – not just in the immediate aftermath, but to this very day. Even still, many yearn for ever more security and more suspicion of everyone who is not “us.” We seek to identify enemies to blame – and certainly for 9/11 there were plenty – but at the same time we refuse to accept any of the blame ourselves.

Guilt is perhaps the biggest motivation of everyone in the show.  All of the Leftovers constantly battle with guilt and what to do with it. Similarly, we who did not die in 9/11 have struggled with the same question. What do we owe our own Departed? We have sought vengeance, justice and even nation building in the days since, but has it brought any increase to our sense of safety and security? Certainly, 9/11 was a call to action, much like the show’s Sudden Departure, but has any action yielded the result any of us were looking for to assuage our guilt?

This is where the show really shines, I think. As I said above, there is no healing. There is no safe place to hide. The enemy (more or less portrayed as the cult-like Guilty Remnant, although there is no suggestion that they were in any way responsible for the Sudden Departure) is both elusive and ever present. The show does not judge anyone’s response to their guilt or their interpretation of the call to action, it only raises the questions:

Was it worth it? What ever you did in the wake of tragedy – did it give you the peace you were looking for? Are things better? Are they worse? Would more violence help? Would more running?

Asking the questions but never supplying the answers is what, in my mind, makes a great piece of artistic expression truly powerful. There’s always room for your own answer. In fact, it begs you to answer, but also suggests that even if you do there will always be more questions.

That’s life, I believe the show tells us. There are no morally absolute answers, no entirely correct solutions to problems. The best we can do is own our answers the way we should own our faults. Because that’s what they are – a kind of fault, but more in the meaning of accepting responsibility.

I won’t get into my political beliefs about what we should have done in the wake of 9/11 nor what I believe we should do now. I won’t ask you to defend your own. I will submit that perhaps the best way to honor and remember our own Suddenly Departed, not just from 9/11 but from every traumatic departure we’ve suffered, is to keep struggling to live courageously. Just to wax philosophical for a second if you’ll permit me, but I believe the show suggests that there’s plenty of time for fear when you die, but it’s a waste of a way to live.

“We have been spared” the townsfolk rejoiced. But that does not mean you are spared. You don’t survive one trauma just to wall yourself off from any further trauma. I’m no shrink, but I’m pretty sure that’s not healthy.

I was never a big fan of George W. Bush, but there is one thing he said for which I give him some credit as remarkably wise. When asked “Can we win [the War on Terror]” he responded: “I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”

You can interpret that quote your own way – up, down or sideways, I won’t judge – but I like to interpret it as an admission that there is no winning a war against fear itself, to echo FDR. In that regard, it’s an impressively honest and perceptive public statement. It means to me that the important thing is the struggle. And in the struggle against terror, the best way to proceed is with courage. Terror cannot flourish where courage persists. The Leftovers shows us that although the characters never find the security, safety or meaning they crave, they do find ways to grow as individuals when they stop being afraid and decide to be brave.

 

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So, there you go. Enough deep reading of a TV show’s palm and getting all philosophical and crap. I’ll let you get back to your own stuff. But seriously, check out the show and let me know what you think!

Oh, almost forgot. This week’s T-Shirt winner is none other than Tristan Nolan! YAY! Congrats Tristan! Look for the latest Tone of Voice Newsletter in your inbox and respond with your shipping info and I’ll send your Official Adventures of Grant Scotland T-Shirt out to you.

If YOU would like a chance to win a free T-Shirt, then just sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be doing a drawing every week until I say something that could conceivably indicate otherwise.

 

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Front.

 

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Back.

 

Until next time! You know the drill: Read, review. Order, tip.

 

 

Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #4)

Well, the holiday season is in full swing and all of us here at Grant Scotland Enterprises are full of good cheer, not to mention copious amounts of scotch! But we’re not just celebrating the annual month-long feeding frenzy of consumerism nor the yearly visit of a conspicuously overweight Aelfan man of notoriously unstable temperament and questionable judgement nor even the secret pagan rites of the Winter Solstice festival.

No!

I mean, yes. All of that, of course. But also, no!

We are chiefly celebrating – and we’re really excited about this – our first Grant Scotland T-Shirt recipient! That’s right, ladies and gents! We have a winner! A verified winner! Someone who has actually succeeded at something! Right here in our very presence! Can you believe it?

But let me back up a second, if you don’t mind. We’ll bring our lucky contestant out later so we can gaze in admiration and swoon with adoration. First things first, though. Let’s talk business.

I just recently finished my first promotion of the holiday season and I wish I could say that everything went super terrific. In fact, it was just the opposite of that. What would that be, anyway? Unexceptionally inferior? Insignificantly awful? Ordinarily bad?

Ordinarily bad sounds about right. It has a certain sad-sack tone to it.

 

What is the sound of one clown crying?

What is the sound of one clown crying?

 

Anyway, I had decided on marching my promotion efforts sequentially through each Grant Scotland novel as the holiday season progresses, so I began with Spy for a Dead Empire. I bought advertising space on two ebook advertiser’s websites and newsletters during the first two days of a Kindle Countdown Deal. For those who aren’t familiar, a Kindle Countdown deal is a week long period of price-reduction (either graduated or not) where the publisher (me, in this case) signs his book up for participation in the 90-day Kindle Select program (which means Kindle Unlimited subscribers can borrow it and I get a little bit of money from borrowed pages read) and Amazon allows some additional internal promotional options. That may be a little much to take in all at once, but essentially it’s a deal with Amazon where I publish with them exclusively for a time and in exchange they help promote my book.

So, my Countdown Deal days were from November 23rd to the 30th. I tapped Booksends to run an ad on 11/23 and Booktastic on the 24th. Concurrently, I gave Amazon a budget of $100 to run pay-per-click ads on their site (you may have heard of it) for the period of 11/23 to 12/7. Let’s see the breakdown and the results:

Countdown Deal: Discount Spy for a Dead Empire @ $0.99 from 11/23 up to 11/27 and @$1.99 from 11/27 to 11/30.

Booksends newsletter ad space for 11/23 – $25 + $10 for EReader IQ partner newsletter

Booktastik newsletter ad space for 11/24 – $10

Facebook community page promotional post boost for two days starting 11/23 – $5

Amazon pay-per-click ad campaign 11/22 – 12/7 – $0 to $100 depending on results. Actual result was $75.56

Total marketing expense: $125.56

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And lets take a look at those sales from 11/23 to 12/7:

Spy for a Dead Empire Amazon sales: 12 copies @ $0.99, 2 @ $1.99

Spy for a Troubled King sales: 0 copies @$3.99

Spy for a Wayward Daughter: 0 copies @$3.99

Spy for a Dead Empire borrowed pages read: 882

Spy for a Troubled King borrowed pages read: 271

Spy for a Wayward Daughter borrowed pages read: 1 (for real?)

Total Sales: $16

Royalties from borrowed pages read: (roughly one-half cent per page)  $5.77

Amazon pay-per-click stats:

Impressions: 104,519

Clicks: 95

Average Cost Per Click (aPCC): $0.80

Detail Page View: 103

Estimated Total Sales: (Resulting from same user clicking the ad and then buying) $7.96

Gross income (not adjusted for Amazon’s 30% cut on sales): $21.77

Net: -$103.79

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YIKES! That’s awful! And highly unsustainable. What really did me in was the pay-per-click. I definitely was too competitive on that. An $0.80 cost-per-click is ridiculous. Maybe I’ll tone that down for Troubled King’s holiday promo. We’ll see.

The sales were so dismal that I don’t feel like including the daily counts. Most happened on the first day and then the rest happened sporadically, probably mostly attributed to Amazon’s click ad. Booktastic was notably horrible. Maybe resulted in one sale. Maybe.

Well, I don’t have to guess what my financial adviser has to say about this…

 

"When I'm president, remind me to deport you. Now, show me this winner you mentioned. I only want to talk to winners."

“When I’m president, remind me to deport you. Now, show me this winner you mentioned. I only want to talk to winners.”

 

Ah, yes! To the good news! The first week of our Grant Scotland T-Shirt giveaway is completed and the winner is….

JOSH PHELAN! That’s right! Josh Phelan is a WINNER!

 

He's actually wearing a Grant Scotland T-Shirt underneath his suit.

He’s actually wearing a Grant Scotland T-Shirt underneath his suit.

 

Congratulations, Josh!

I’ll shortly be contacting Josh via my fancy-shmancy newsletter (Sign up now and don’t miss next week’s giveaway!) to get his size and address. Soon he will be receiving his short-sleeved shirt just in time for winter.

I know, I know. Someday I’ll figure out how to schedule things appropriately… but it is not this day!!!

So long everyone! Tip your driver and review a book! Alternatively, you could tip a writer and review a driver, but we’re not equipped for that here.

 

Adventures of Grant Scotland T-Shirt Giveaway!

‘Tis the season, everyone! ‘Tis the season of buying and selling, giving and taking, eating and drinking, sneezing and blessing, caroling and drinking, wrapping and decorating, arguing and drinking, throwing and dodging, weeping and drinking… and… what else? Oh yeah, drinking. But it is also the season of Grant Scotland! In fact, it is the very first season of Grant Scotland merchandise! The inaugural season. Season One – with deleted scenes and a blooper reel!

That’s right! Sweet Grant Scotland loot is now available! Feast your eyes upon the glory that is the Official Adventures of Grant Scotland T-Shirt (TM)!

 

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Pictured sizes are 2XL and Small for reference. Other sizes include, XL, Large and Medium.

 

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This is what I had written on the back, because when you’re wearing this thing, you’re wearing Grant Scotland.

 

“Oh sweet merriment above the firmament!” you may cry out in glee. And who could blame you?

“I am unworthy to even gaze upon such gifts of grace!” you may exclaim tearfully. And who wouldn’t think that? Except maybe not quite with such hyperbole.

“But how might I lay my unworthy hands upon such gleaming bounty, even if only to pass it on to one more worthy than myself?” you may ask on your knees and with hands upraised beseechingly. And again, who could blame you? Although, really, you’re starting to get a little weird about the whole thing.

Well, you’re in luck! Every week during the holidays (and perhaps even some weeks after the holidays) I’ll be giving these T-Shirts away FREE! Yes, FREE meaning including shipping. Not, FREE, but you have to give me thirty bucks, first. No! FREE, like for real FREE. FREE as a newly born infant! FREE as a lucky penny! FREE as that pack of gum you stole when you thought no one was watching! (People were watching, it’s just that no one cared.) FREE, I say! FREE as only a man writing with no pants on can describe it!

“What’s the catch?” you ask, suddenly cagey and on guard. And why shouldn’t you be? There’s nothing in life for free!

And you’d be right. I do require one small favor. Sign up for my mailing list. In exchange, you become a permanent entrant to every weekly giveaway I hold this season (and possibly later).

That’s it. That’s all. No money involved. I promise not to email you anything but blog updates and alerts for book releases and major promotions. That will be at most once a week. Additionally, the mailing list stays with me, obviously. Your email address goes nowhere but into my Mailchimp account.

I’ll make sure nobody gonna get it. Know why? ‘Cause we tight, yo. *FIST BUMP*

So, every week for the next… mmm… call it five or so, I guess… I’ll draw a winning email address out of a virtual hat and announce the winner and ask that person where he or she would like me to send the shirt! It’s that simple! I’ll announce the first winner around this time next week, so sign up now!

Oh. What’s a virtual hat you ask? Well, it looks a little like this:

 

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Photo touch-up courtesy of my lovely goofball of a wife.

 

I’m reasonably certain you’d look way better in my t-shirt than I do. It’s really not that hard, as you can plainly see. You’ll draw a lot of attention. No need to thank me. And when people stop you on the street and say “I like your t-shirt,” you can reply with a wink: “Grant Scotland lives.”

Or you can smile awkwardly and look away and pretend to be interested in the cars and the buildings and the lack of anything interesting to look at while you wait for the crossing light to change. That’s pretty much what I do, because I suck at self-promotion. But it won’t be self-promotion if you do it!

But however and wherever you wear your Grant Scotland T-Shirt, you’ll be happy that you got it for FREE! So sign up now! Don’t miss your opportunity to be dressed in the next big thing in serial adventure, fantasy, mystery, action, espionage, suspense and… what else… oh yeah, drinking.

 

"Ahem. There is also a cat of plainly superior quality, breeding and temperament."

“Ahem. There is also a cat of plainly superior quality, breeding and temperament.”

 

Hope you’ll sign up! Good luck! In the meantime, don’t forget to tip your driver and review a book!