The simple answer to the eternal question

I keep seeing some form of the same question on writing forums: How can I be successful as an indie author?

The answer is the same, no matter how much people wish it wasn’t. It’s the same if you are any form of artist or entertainer.

1. Keep making good products – subtask: keep improving

2. Make it easily available at a good price.

3. Promote

4. Repeat the above ad infinitum

The things above are necessary, but not sufficient. The last piece is:

5. Get lucky

But you will make some of your own luck by doing 1-3 the best you can. In poker terms, you must put yourself in a position to get lucky.

Some folks will never get lucky and break out and catch on, and that’s sad. Some classic writers/artists never had much success in their own lifetimes. That’s how it goes. Life ain’t fair. But if you keep at it, the chances of your work catching on, at least enough to make a living, keeps growing.

It’s also very easy to sabotage yourself. Let me give you an example. I recently looked at a writer’s blog post that my wife pointed me to on twitter. It essentially bemoaned the fact that she had written eleven books (though I could only find nine on Amazon) over a decade and was still only making 5-600 dollars a year. You know what? I immediately looked at her books and diagnosed her problem. I posted a post on her blog, because I could find no email for her to send (and by the way, she also said anyone why sends her direct messages on twitter she is likely to block…hmmm). I suggested she e-mail me and I could give her a couple of easy tips to improve her chances of success.

Crickets.

What was the problem? Let’s compare to the list above.

1. Keep making good products – subtask: keep improving

Her books are all romances, with different sub-genres. They are well written, with just a few formatting issues, but not enough to kill. Good covers, good titles, she has a good name or pen name. Okay, #1, check.

2. Make it easily available at a good price.

5 of 9 books are listed for $9.99 KINDLE PRICE.

One is 5.95, two are 2.99, and one is free.

Whoah. Anyone see a problem here?

If she would contact me – and maybe she will see this and recognize herself – I would say, drop all ebook prices to 2.99. If she’s already only making 50 bucks a month, that means she’s selling maybe 10 copies a month of those ridiculously priced ebooks. I bet simply dropping the price would triple her sales right off, and set her up for future success. I bet she would have 10x sales within a year, and be making more money. 100 copies a month with a 9 or 10 book backlist is not difficult. Yes, she might make slightly less money in the short term, but it’s all about volume, baby. All the promotion in the world won’t overcome something being overpriced.

I bet there are people that read her free book or her 2.99 books and then see the price of the others and say, “well, those books were good but I’m not paying that much.” And those people that stop at the cheap books are not going to recommend to friends, or at least, not beyond the cheaper books.

To reiterate, the dichotomy between giving away one book and overcharging for others is killing her sales. It’s like Macdonalds giving away free burgers but charging $10 for a shake. You ain’t gonna sell many shakes. People will walk in, buy the cheap thing, and ignore the expensive thing.

3. Promote

It appears from what I can learn that she is promoting quite a lot. She claims 20,000 twitter followers. If one in ten bought all her books at 2.99 she would be rolling in sales. So promotion is not the problem. I refer her back to #2. She has to compete on price. With established authors and tradpubs slashing prices on all but the hottest bestsellers, who is going to buy her books over one of the other thousand romance writers out there who write equivalently good books?

And if she recognizes herself and still wants to e-mail me, I have a couple more tips for her. Just drop me a line through my website, http://www.davidvandykeauthor.com

An Interview With Bestselling Author BV Larson

Today I have a treat for everyone: an interview with bestselling – and that’s no exaggeration – author B. V. Larson. It’s especially great for me as we’ve known each other since our teens growing up in the same little dusty California town. While I took off for a career in the military, only trying my hand at writing after I finished more than twenty years later, he kept plugging away, perfecting his craft. When the ebook revolution hit, he had a ready backlist to take quick advantage of the new technology.

B. V. Larson is the bestselling author of over thirty novels, many of which have reached the Amazon’s Top 100 bestseller lists and in aggregate have sold over a million copies. Writing in several genres, most of his work is fantastic in nature, and spans Military Science Fiction to Epic Fantasy to Paranormal Romance. As a California native, B. V. Larson’s stories often take place on sunny beaches and in cities such as Las Vegas. He lives in Central California with three kids living at home, and currently teaches college. He writes college textbooks as well as fiction.

For some more bio info, here’s a video of B. V. Larson being interviewed a couple of years ago.

So B, what is a typical writing day for you?

I write 7 days a week for about 2 to 3 hours a day when I’m writing… which is almost always these days. I usually work in the afternoons after morning classes and before night classes (I teach college as well as write).

Do you have a favorite character in one your series, aside from the lead?

Probably my favorite character who is a sidekick would be Marvin from the Star Force Series. He appears first in book 3 of the series and he plays a significant role in every book after. He’s a robot that built himself with the main character’s help from scratch. He started off as an incomplete download (his mind, anyway) and he’s been trying to reconstitute himself ever since. He’s morphed over the years into a sneaky robot fascinated by life. He likes to tinker with biotic species, seeing what he can make of them. Essentially, he’s a robot nerd who has his own schemes and his own bizarre goals. He’s become my mad scientist who Star Force needs, but who constantly plagues them at the same time.

Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?

As far as what to write next goes, I keep a recorder with me at all times and record thoughts and story ideas. Later, I type them into files and organize them. I have files with literally thousands of these thoughts, which I weave together into a story when I have enough related material. So, from one standpoint a book takes me a few months to write, but from another it might take a decade or more. SWARM, my most successful book, was something I was thinking about and piecing together for more than a decade. When I finally wrote it, it seemed to write itself.

So how is SWARM different from other sci-fi books?

There are a thousand books about alien invasions. Swarm is a new twist on that theme. The aliens are capturing and cruelly testing humans, killing the weak. They are looking for someone special…for a distinct purpose.

SwarmMy original goal was to write about the rise of a normal man to the heights of power and responsibility. I chose to write about an alien invasion as a logical way it could happen. In this way, it is quite different from most alien invasion stories which are really about the invasion itself. SWARM is about the man caught up in it and being dragged into situations he never expected to experience.

You write in various genres. What is your favorite?

I wrote and sent out my first short stories at age 17, and writing is my life-long dream job. So for me, I write a lot because I’m spoiling myself. I’m also a person who is easily bored. As a kid, I was called “hyperactive” which has been updated to newer terms. This has a lot to do with my broad range of fiction. I tend to read random things, and if I like genre and get an idea, I want to write something in that genre. Sometimes, I have to stop a project, write a short story, novella or even a book, then go back to the project I’m supposed to be working on. At times, I write two books at once, because I keep thinking of ideas for both. All that said, I probably feel the most at home writing slightly horrific fantasy or slightly horrific SF. But I read and write practically everything, and I write every day.

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your books?

What I want people to think goes something like this: “Wow, that was a fun, fast read! I think I’ll go have another.”I don’t like to put “messages” into my work. One might sneak in now and then, I suppose, because we all have opinions and biases. I’ve always been annoyed, however, when an author breaks my suspension of disbelief by inserting things for such a purpose, when I sense the writer is forcing a story to go a certain way just to make some private point of his/hers. Often, this ruins fiction for me. I recall playing role-playing games as a kid, and there was one game-master who controlled everything you could do in his world, rather than letting it flow and letting the players participate freely. It was incredibly irritating. I never want to foist myself in such a fashion upon my readers. If you want to put a message in, it must be done in such a way that it is intrinsic to the story; it must fit there without intruding.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I figured out I wanted to become a writer at around age nineteen. It’s taken many years to learn enough to become successful, however. I’d caution young people not think their first story will take the world by storm. It might happen—but probably won’t. Like the first time a kid picks up a violin, our first writing efforts are usually painful to the ear, but with enough work, it can happen.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Don’t expect immediate success. If you picked up something new, like skiing or singing opera, or playing a violin, you would probably crash and burn for years before you did anything impressive. There’s nothing different about writing. You have to put in your years of skill-building, unless you are a natural talent…and that is very rare.

How do you think your audience found you and what triggered your boom in sales?

AnnihilationI really think having a lot of inexpensive, fun, readable stories was my secret. Looking at the successful indie authors, I usually see two types of people, those with one hit book, or those with a slew of books that are doing well and help each other. I took this second, safer route. You have to have an interesting cover and title, have a subject that intrigues and do a nice free sample/book blurb. To keep selling, you have to have a good book, or the reviews will sink you even if everything else is right. One last point: make sure you never mislead your readers. They will tear you up!

Many aspiring writers – I won’t say authors because they often haven’t sold anything – believe that unless someone is published by a big publisher they haven’t “made it.” Do you think that will change any time soon?

I hope it takes a looooong time before they figure it out! I do think it will take a while. In 1990, cable TV was considered not “real” TV. When I got a cell phone in 1995, everybody at work made a big deal about how I was showing off. A long time ago when paperbacks came out, people sneered at them and those who wrote such trash. In Shakespeare’s time, people who went to plays were considered riff-raff—people of substance went to the opera. And so it goes. The real change will come when the money comes to the indies. When we make more than they do, we will be important by definition.

In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it?

Hmmmm. Well, 47North offered to buy out my interest in the Haven series when it was at its peak and selling 500 or more books a day. I thought they were crazy at the time, but I should have sold out, because of course the series faded dramatically over the next six months. Now, I’m lucky to see 50 sales a day on that series. Sometimes, you have to know when to sell!

You’ve had great success self-publishing. What led to you going your own way?

Failure at selling fiction the traditional way drove me to Amazon. I spent over a decade sending in fiction and getting rejection letters. I did sell about 10 short stories and I have a college textbook series, but I never got a novel sale until after I became a big indie. Now, I do both. My next traditionally published book is “The Bone Triangle” and is due out in April 2013. It’s the second in the “Unspeakable Things” series that started with “Technomancer”.

Where can people find your books?

Generally, my books are on Amazon and B&N. Here are links to both lists:

http://www.amazon.com/B.-V.-Larson/e/B003MESPVM/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/b.-v.-larson

Or go to my web site, http://www.bvlarson.com

Thanks, B, it has been great having you with us today.

New Cover for Eden Plague

Just wanted to let everyone know I’ve changed the cover The Eden Plague, more in keeping with its action-combat nature and especially that of the rest of the series. The earlier cover was reasonably accurate but probably too suggestive of a romance book rather than a military sci-fi book. While there is a love interest in the book, it’s more in the nature of a necessary plot element than a central theme.

New Eden Plague Cover

Pretty soon my lovely wife and publicist will have the new cover up on all the sites – this blog, my web site, FB, twitter, etc., and the other will fade into history.

Also as usual, if any of you my followers would like a review copy, contact me through one of my sites – comment on this blog, e-mail me through http://www.davidvandykeauthor.com or any other way – and I will send it to you.

Cheers and have a happy!

Dave

Used Ebooks?

There have been a number of articles published recently about the possibility of reselling “used” ebooks. Here are a couple:

http://www.teleread.com/amazon/is-amazon-about-to-break-the-law/

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/56004-sale-of-used-e-books-getting-closer.html

Some people, mostly consumers, seem to think it’s a great idea; others, mostly authors and publshers, think it’s terrible. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in modern digital life, if something becomes possible, it will be done. The only question is going to be how.

A minority of people already resell their used ebooks. It’s called piracy. Some make money off it, some don’t, and some just facilitate this crime. I say crime because it’s both unlawful and immoral, but I’m not going to get all huffy about it. Like shoplifting, it’s a fact of life.

The fact that at least it is recognized as illegal and immoral and is somewhat suppressed means that many law-abiding readers would rather pay a small fee for the convenience and peace of mind to download a legal ebook, than go through the trouble of searching out a piracy site, and by the way, risk acquiring some malware with their “freebie.” In this sense those sites that actually propagate that malware are the author’s friends by creating risks for doing so. As we learned with the iTunes model, if the legal download price is reduced to a reasonable level – for songs, it turned out to be 99c – most people move away from pirate sites. Add to that the fact that your lawfully-purchased library is fully recoverable through the vendor (Amazon, B&N or whatever) should your reading device get lost, stolen or destroyed, and most people will buy legally.

The twist here is that if Amazon and eventually everyone starts reselling ebooks, how do we tell the original from a perfect digital copy? Just like with piracy, if there is not some DRM-like system in place, one person could “resell” their book many times.

The whole foundation of the concept of reselling a used ebook is “First Use Doctrine.” I am not by any means a lawyer but as I understand it, this means that if you buy something, you own it and can do whatever you like with it. But the law seems to treat digital properties differently. They say that a digital property is not subject to first use doctrine. And currently, ebook owners do not actually own the books themselves, they merely own a license to use the ebook. Since it is the license they own, my common sense says they should be able to resell the license. Because the rights-owner, that is, author and/or publisher, gets part of the sale price for a new license, they should get part of the sale of the resold license.

Of course, who manages licenses? The licensing vendor – for example Amazon. For Amazon to make this work without cutting its own throat, they would need to get a piece of every resale for transferring the license to the new owner. If they tried to do this without giving the author and publishers a cut, especially the big publishers that still have clout and legal departments, they would never make it work, in my humble opinion.

There are many ways this could play out, and I’m not going to try to make predictions. I’d just say to my fellow authors and readers – expect it to happen sometime. Until then, all a little guy like me can do is keep writing the best books I can, and hope the big boys don’t kill off their golden geese.

A great reblog

http://feralintensity.com/2013/02/15/we-interrupt-this-series-on-marketing-with-a-timely-lesson-on-how-not-to-succeed/

from Scath, also known as the author GL Drummond:

We interrupt this series on marketing with a timely lesson on how NOT to succeed…
February 15, 2013 Scath

A writer dropped into the KDP forum today, linked to her two books, and said, “Take a look and your opinions are welcome!”

She stated one was a “wonderful romance”, and the other was about basic training.

For the most part, we’re a pretty welcoming bunch over there (at the moment). The first response complimented her covers, but also pointed out that there were formatting issues with both books.

Her response?

“Come on people! You’re quick and ready to tear down a bad book, but you have nothing to say about good books?????”

For anyone who hasn’t interacted on public forums, that response is a signal to pop some corn and settle in for a drama llama show. It’s a clear indicator that the poster thinks his/her shit don’t stink.

She didn’t want anyone’s real opinion, she only wanted to be told how awesome she is, and the first responder replied saying as much. Her response?

“oh please…. what makes you an expert?”

Um. [scratches head] Why did she come to the forum and ask for opinions, again?

Another member pointed out that the KDP forum isn’t really the place to ask for criticism. Our fearless writer’s response?

“This is a general forum, is it not???? Many people here offer opinions and thoughts about content. Its not too difficult to read sample pages and enjoy the writing. If there are any Vets on here, [redacted] should be of special interest and well worth the money and time to read.”

Okay, she has confidence in her writing. There’s nothing wrong with having confidence in your work. I and many others have confidence in ours, or we wouldn’t put it out there. 🙂

However, it becomes clear as the discussion progresses that our first responder nailed it: Our new member doesn’t want to hear any criticism.

She only wants to be told that yes, her work is indeed the greatest thing since sliced bread. Yet she says

“I do want honest opinions about the WRITING and the STORY!”

And if you ask, so shall you receive. From another member: “I read few pages of your “great book.” The save is you stink. Your writing is very immature, and loopy.”

Her response?

“Maybe your just not an expert on hot and steamy romances.”

A few other members also point out flaws in the formatting and writing. Our fearless writer…well, I’ll let you read her replies:

“Your opinion is worthless.”

“Is it really too much trouble to ask some of you to please read the content and offer an honest opinion about the WRITING and STORY???? That is all I was asking for. I would like to hear from other true authors that can see quality writing.”

After that last crack, I finally decided to take a look at her books.

This was my opinion: “My honest opinion after reading the Look Insides: The writing is weak, and the stories aren’t that “hot and steamy”. They need major revisions, with help from a developmental editor.”

A few others posted before our fearless author responded again:

“Its a shame where this could be a very helpful thread of talking about something well written and a great example, but all of you are only interested in bashing other authors. There’s not a patriotic 1 of you in the bunch, is there? I was hoping to see some great military support over [redacted]. This is disappointing.”

OH NO, SHE JUST PULLED THE “PATRIOTISM CARD”.

Whoops, sorry for shouting there. Ahem. But seriously?

More replies, one of which pointed out that if her books were as great as she thinks they are, they’d be selling and have far better rankings than they currently held. OFA’s response:

“Both of these books have been selling great elsewhere, so don’t think just because they haven’t climbed the charts here there not doing well.”

I went to Google. There were a lot of “articles” about her books, but the only ratings on Goodreads were a single 5 star each—FROM HER PUBLISHER. Her books’ rankings on the other distribution sites that I could find were past 1 million or none. I linked to my findings, pointing this out.

OFA’s reply:

“did you not read the great reviews? and did you read either book before you started throwing mud?

No one here has read even the full samples of either book, yet you give an opinion. I only asked for the samples to be read, and then give an opinion. Read it before you sling mud!”

When did stating facts become mud-slinging?

And as I reminded her, I HAD READ THE SAMPLES OF HER BOOKS.

And so it continued, for five pages. OFA told us all how “unpatriotic” we are for not recognizing her great writing, and continued completely ignoring the fact that some of us had gone and read the samples of her books before tendering our opinions of them.

She was taken to task by one of our members who is a veteran for playing the military card: “Remember them telling you about attitude in Basic? If I were evaluating you, I would mark you UNSAT for refusing to learn. Hand me your 341 and report to your MTI.”

Not having been in the military, I think “Oh snap!” may be the proper reaction to that. =)

The sad thing is, this particular author will now go forth and tell everyone how a bunch of jealous wannabes “attacked” her when all she did was try to ask for some honest feedback, and there will be some who believe her. She’s not going to tell anyone how her delusions of being a “great” writer led her to be rude and dismissive of those who did try to help her out.

ETA: Our fearless author’s parting shot – “Well, all of you are a waste of my time. I need to find a more intelligent group of real authors to have a sound discussion with.”

The Moral of the Story

When you have a lot of people telling you there are problems or flaws in something, it’s usually because THERE ARE PROBLEMS AND FLAWS.

It’s not because a group of strangers suddenly decided to beat you down because you’re so awesome.

When you ask for opinions, you’re going to get them. If you can’t handle some of those opinions not being what you want to hear, then you shouldn’t be writing.

If you continue to write, then you are asking for opinions of your work, and at some point, you WILL receive opinions you don’t like.
Don’t be this woman when that happens.

Read the First Chapter of First Conquest

I’m really excited to have finished the first draft of First Conquest, a military science fiction novella set a century after the end of my Plague Wars series. Oh, that’s not finished yet? No matter, I am working on book 5 of Plague Wars, never fear. But this needed to be done for an anthology project and even though it got pushed back by circumstance from March to April, that just means I will have more time to edit and polish it up. Still, I think it’s pretty good already. It’s posted below.

For those of you who have not read Plague Wars (the Eden Plague, et. al.,), no worries. My intent is for this to stand alone, even though it draws upon and is backward-compatible with Plague Wars. For those of you who have, I have brought forward some favorite characters – Jill, Spooky, Absen and others – because the long lifespans of Eden Plague make that possible.

So without further ado, here it is. Remember, it’s only a first draft. Feedback is much appreciated.As one guy said, “take you best shot, just aim for the leg please.”

–Sorry, I can’t get it to hold the indents, so I put spaces between paragraphs. The book won’t be that way.

Prologue

Inbound toward Meme Empire system Gliese 370, thirty-six light years from Earth.

Ink-dark and cold, robot recon drone R-35 hurtled through the interstellar void. As stealthy as Earthtech could make it, the tiny ship soaked up electromagnetics and analyzed them, seeking specific conditions, certain parameters to meet as it approached the target star system at more than nine-tenths lightspeed. Just before entry it slowed to .6C with a short, brutal fusion burn; unfortunately its fate took an ill, unlikely turn.

Directly in its path a Meme Sentry waited. Itself as black as the human-built intruder, it detected the incoming drone as it crossed the boundary of the star system’s stellar wind bubble, for impact on the standing wave of hot shocked plasma caused an anomaly sufficient to breach background thresholds. The semi-intelligent Sentry broadcast an alert, launched its available hypervelocity missile, and immediately began gestating another.

R-35 had no defenses, but its rudimentary self-preservation programming initiated maximum threat protocols, beginning semi-random evasive maneuvers to delay its destruction. Using the time thus bought to dump its memory, it uploaded all data to its transmitter and broadcast an encrypted signal burst.
Thus it took the Meme missile more than one minute and forty seconds to chase R-35 down, ensuring the robot’s partial mission success. Drones R-05, R-15 and R-25 collected the transmitted data, relayed it via comm laser to the approaching EarthFleet dreadnought Conquest, and cruised silently inward.
With this tiny opening salvo, humanity’s first stellar conquest began.

Chapter 1

The Meme called SystemLord brooded long in his containment tank aboard the great guardian-ship Monitor.

SystemLord called himself “he” in his own mind because of his long association with the lower races, where the males were almost always the warriors. Unlike many Meme, he felt kin with the savages and Underlings.

SystemLord considered himself a warrior. One day, when he grew tired of ruling, he would join the Underlings in their sensory abandon, to kill with his own hand, to take females and produce progeny by sexual reproduction.

But not today.

At present he occupied himself with contemplating the concept of the personal name. By tradition Meme only took names upon Blending with another sentient creature. Until then, the amoeba-like bags of intelligent molecules carried mere designations based on function. Only upon absorbing and subsuming another thinking being would one of the True Race select a sobriquet, to trade space-dwelling status for the sensory pleasures of planetary existence.

He also ruminated on the basis of his own race’s name of Meme, which meant simply ideas conveyed, imitated and replicated.

SystemLord wondered whether the Meme had been too long bound by tradition. A suitably impressive name might be useful, delineating him from all others also called SystemLord, but to do so would invite conflict. After all, named beings simply did not command systems.

His thoughts then turned to the concept of taboo and iconoclast.

A communication pulse, filtered through the hierarchy of his Sentries, was routed to his main vision screen. Hemispherical, concave, the display perfectly surrounded the enormous eyeball that was a semi-permanent part of SystemLord’s body. The Meme ceased to brood as he studied the Sentry’s brief engagement, drawing certain conclusions.

First, the destroyed object was artificial, having revealed itself by maneuvering and transmitting. It was therefore by definition hostile. Because the concept of alliance or coexistence simply did not exist in Meme society, any non-Meme technology represented an enemy.

SystemLord shuddered as he remembered Species 447, which had resisted absorption for thousands of cycles, and had scoured many Meme systems clear of sentient life as it struggled to remain wild. Those creatures had required a race-wide effort to crush. Blending with their defeated, biologically lobotomized remnants had been sweet indeed.

Secondly, the object’s extrapolated line of approach originated within five degrees of the savage Species 666, so-called Human planet, which had proved itself resistant to absorption. Probability dictated it had come from there. Why any species would defy the Meme and their empire escaped SystemLord, but lower sentients were wild, unpredictable, and insane.

Third, these Humans were vicious but lacked the proper military mindset. Any commander worth his electrolytes would have ensured the probe die inert, failing to confirm its very artificiality to its enemy. Had it done so, the automated Sentry system might have mistaken the device as a mere unidentified floating object, never to be reported.

But clearly Humans were fools, for now SystemLord knew they were coming.

***

“Wake them up.” Craggy, intense, and pale, Admiral Henrich J. Absen sat stiffly in his crash chair, feeling it respond perfectly to every shift. Never comfortable with the adapted enemy biotech it used, he had to force himself not to fidget. Looking confident in the Chair was important to any ship’s commander.

“Aye aye, sir,” replied the BioMed officer on bridge duty. The man spoke aloud into the comm for protocol’s sake, though he could have transmitted his words via link implant. “BioMed, this is the bridge, skipper says, wake them up.”

Skipper. The word felt right as it echoed through Absen’s head. He was a full Admiral now, three-star rank in EarthFleet’s Commonwealth-derived naval structure, but he had declined to choose a flag captain to skipper the EFS dreadnought Conquest. Arrogant, some called him, but as the Fleet’s most experienced and decorated commander – surviving commander – he had that leeway. We beat the Meme every time, he thought, but oh, the cost. Good friends gone forever.

Glancing around his bridge he felt nothing but pride at his hand-picked crew. Survivors of several brutal alien assaults on Earth’s solar system, those that remained now meshed smoothly. Or they had, more than forty years of coldsleep stasis ago. They themselves were only a few days woken.

“Intel, does Analysis have a situation report on Earth system yet?” Absen knew the question uppermost on everyone’s mind: Is my home still there?

The intel officer on watch, Ensign Kristine Johnstone, replied, “Yes sir, just came through now.”
“Push to all stations,” Absen ordered.

Those bridge crew not fully engaged in vital tasks avidly read the short extract on their screens:

SITREP EXECSUM: SOLAR SYSTEM SECURE AS OF DATE 2079/05/25. MEME TASK FORCE DETECTED INBOUND EARTH ETA APPROXIMATELY THIRTY-ONE (~31) YEARS (DATE 2110/?/?). ASSESSED STRENGTH IN EXCESS OF SIXTY-FOUR (64) DESTROYERS. MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL PROJECTIONS ESTIMATE FORTY-THREE (43) PERCENT PROBABILITY EARTHFLEET DEFENSE SUCCESS.

A detailed report full of annexes followed, but for most, the summary was enough. As the ugly truth sunk in a hush fell over the bridge. Conquest and the task force she represented were thirty-six light-years from home. Because nothing known exceeded lightspeed, information from Earth was by definition thirty-six years old.

The bridge readouts showed the 9th of April, 2115 AD: therefore the Meme fleet had already struck five years ago, sometime in the year 2110. Everyone at home might be dead, or lobotomized and absorbed by Meme.
Sixty-four Destroyers, Absen thought in quiet horror. Sixty-four ships as puissant as his own dreadnought Conquest, the best EarthFleet could produce. The best forty years ago, he reminded himself. Four more decades of development must have produced powerful ships indeed.

He sincerely hoped so.

“Schedule an All-Hands in eighteen hours,” Absen ordered. “But since I know that the scuttlebutt will get there first, let me just say this to everyone. Nothing has changed for us here. Earth is either still free, or it isn’t, and nothing we do will change that. We accepted this mission when we left home forty years ago. We are here in the Gliese 370 system to make Earth’s first conquest. Humanity can’t sit at home and absorb ever-increasing assaults from an empire spanning unknown hundred of worlds. Our only hope is to attack, conquer and expand.”

The Intel ensign glanced at the CyberComm station where her uncle Commander Rick Johnstone sat, eyes unfocused. Kristine normally expected that look when Rick was deep in his link, but he was unplugged, so the look on his face made her believe he was thinking of their home and family back in South Africa. The Johnstone-Marquez clan had made their tearful goodbyes long ago.

A long queue of personal messages waited in storage of course, but she knew they would be anticlimactic compared to that simple paragraph about Earth. To stave off her fears, Kris turned back to her board and forced herself to work.

***

   Sergeant Major Jill “Reaper” Repeth, EarthFleet Marine Corps, gasped as the slimy tracheal tube withdrew and she began to breathe on her own again. Lifting her hands to rub her face, she carefully opened her eyes for the first time in what must be nearly forty years. Lighting glowed dim and no klaxons wailed, no strobes flashed, so Conquest must be on schedule nearing her destination.

Repeth felt the living coffin, another product of adapted enemy biotech, loosen on her lower body, and she winced when the catheter probe withdrew, though the discomfort was largely psychosomatic. With hair cut short and entirely naked, she was birthed anew into a world of incipient but suspended sound and fury. She welcomed it; after nearly sixty years of military service – plus the forty in stasis – she still looked forward eagerly to righteous battle. Neither guilt nor moral ambiguity troubled her thoughts of killing aliens hell-bent on genocide.

Sixty years. She’d never expected to serve for that long, but the Eden Plague virus conferred immortality and rapid healing, so such spans were commonplace. Turning down promotion from the enlisted ranks was a bit odd, but she relished her reputation for eccentricity. She’d been offered her choice of warrant or commission many times, but had always refused, preferring to stay where she was most comfortable – top enlisted Marine in a front-line combat unit, with occasional detours back into special operations.

Stumbling for the female showers in the deliberately heavy gravity –1.4 G that matched the target planet Afrana – she was grateful for the protocol that decanted key leaders in order of rank. Presumably Colonel Stallers and the rest of the battalion officers were already awake ahead of her. She nodded and mumbled greetings at several other women making the same unsteady walk while cursing the gravity drag.

Under hot water she soaped and sluiced, scrubbing remnants of bio-gel out of her ears, and then gingerly tested her wetware. As far as she could tell, her laminated bones and polymer-enhanced musculature had come through without a hitch. As the water rained down she stared at the twin tattoos on her inner forearms, exquisite representations of her namesake, Grim Reapers with upraised scythes, ready to harvest her alien enemies. Holding up her hands, she extended her claws in sequence to their full two centimeters, starting with the thumbs.

The pain of the ferrocrystal knives slicing through her skin from beneath was familiar, comforting.
Like the anachronistic bayonet, she seldom used her claws in combat, but they’d come in handy for covert missions. Earth’s governments had only united under Chairman Daniel Markis after the first Meme Destroyer had made it clear that humanity must stand together or die. A few fanatics always survived on the fringes, bombing and killing, afraid of Big Brother. She understood their sentiments, but still she’d hunted them down as murderers. Sometimes survival comes before principles, she thought.

Thoughts of survival threw her mind back to her last view of that fragile blue marble hanging in space, and all the hopes and dreams of its inhabitants. Leaving behind everyone there was hard, and once again she crammed down the gentler part of her humanity, coating her soul in armor akin to that she wore in combat. Only one crack remained in that lamination, a necessary one to let in her husband, Commander Rick Johnstone.

Having him along kept her human.

Still, the time for softness was past. Now she knew mother hen Conquest and the chicks she would hatch had simple missions: kill any Meme craft in the Gliese 370 system, destroy all resistance from the Blends they called Hippos on the world they’d named Afrana, and then begin the long process of colonization.

Repeth touched her palm to the locker she had closed forty years ago and it hissed open, revealing her carefully-packed kit. Once dressed in crisp utilities she felt like a Marine again. Starched eight-point settled carefully on her head – an affectation from her wet-navy days – she went in search of coffee, information and her commander, in that order. Once she found the first, the second and third would surely be nearby.

Nor was she wrong. Senior NCO and officer wardrooms were separate only in name, delineated by a line on the floor. As large as Conquest was, until the surge of crew dispersed to their own ships she would be packed to the gunwales with people and gear, and some of the usual traditions had become, by necessity, a bit flexible. In fact it was only because ninety percent of the crew and Marines aboard were still undergoing revival that everything still seemed empty, except for here in the mess.

Drawing a steaming cup of lifer-juice, she nodded at Colonel Stallers sitting with his company commanders – including her own, infantry Major Joseph “Bull” ben Tauros. A hulking brute of a man, he was the only one that seemed completely normal without hair; the cue-ball was his usual look.

Bull caught her eye and lifted his cup.

She raised hers back in greeting, but doubted his held coffee. Probably it contained some of that high-protein mix that made the man far too flatulent for the enclosed spaces of a ship.

Crossing the floor, Repeth spotted Tran Pham “Spooky” Nguyen sitting alone in a corner. Usually the slim Vietnamese highlander was easy to overlook, except that today she saw he wore the blinding white high-collared uniform of a Naval Steward. She’d given up surprise at Spooky’s changes of uniform; he’d long ago passed into legend within the covert services of Earth. At one point he’d been one of the most powerful men ruling Australia, but had surrendered his status and prestige for the role of what he liked to call a “facilitator.”

“Hey, Spooky. Nice look.” She sat down, knocked her coffee cup against his tea mug. “You playing bodyguard this trip?”

“Thank you, Jill. Of course, a Steward’s role extends beyond personal protection of the Admiral.” His accent was precise, perfect upper-class English, an affectation adopted so long ago that it was unshakeable.

She noticed he didn’t exactly answer her question, a common occurrence with Spooky. “And your role extends far indeed.” She chuckled. “Anything specific, or you just keeping an eye on things?” And I refuse to ask why you even came on this mission, she thought. You’ve always done exactly as you pleased and somehow you get away with it. Probably because you’re…well, just so damn spooky.

He’d gotten the nickname long ago, before the aliens salted Earth with the Demon Plagues. His brothers in arms remarked on how spooky he was when moving unseen in any environment. Later enhancements – combat nano in the blood, cybernetic implants like Repeth’s, and his dedication to the philosophy of Dadirri – had only enhanced his legend.

“As you say, keeping an eye on things.” Spooky’s eyes roamed the room, searching, she knew, for anything out of place.

She watched him for a moment more, bemused. “Good to see you on the job. Look me up sometime soon. I see Bull waving at me.” Repeth stood up, bowed slightly to her old instructor, and walked over as her Bravo company commander left Colonel Stallers’ table to sit at a different one nearby.

“Good decade, Smaj,” Bull greeted her.

She accepted the familiar corruption of “Sergeant Major” with good graces, knowing such nicknames built trust and camaraderie. “Good freakin’ four decades, Bull, but it feels like I only slept for a week.” Repeth sat down across from him and reached over to tilt his cup toward her with one nailbitten finger. “Ugh. Can’t believe you’re still drinking that dreck. I should space it.”

Bull pulled the protein shake back protectively. “Don’t you dare. I used all my personal allowance on this stuff. Can’t stay big on Navy food.”

“Who cares if you stay big? Your wetware provides most of your actual strength. Besides, it gives you gas like a sick hound.”

“I like to be big. You think this huge noggin would look good on a skinny body like yours?” The Israeli major reached up to palm his scalp like a basketball.

Repeth held up her hands. “All right. So what’s the word?”

“Word is, All-Hands at 1500 hours. Word is, Earth got hit five years ago by sixty-four Destroyers. We don’t even know if anyone’s left.” Bull slurped more of his shake, pensive.

Repeth pursed her lips and put on a stoic front. “Can’t help that. We knew when we left it was long years of travelling at best, a one-way trip at worst.”

“We might be all that’s left of the human race.” He hid a fleeting expression of deep concern.

She leaned over to pound her index finger on the tabletop in front of the big young Marine officer. “Listen, sir, I know you’ve never seen the elephant, but you’re, what, twenty-eight not counting sleep time? I’ve spent longer than that in active combat. I’ve spoon-fed green eltees and I’ve made and I’ve broke company commanders like you. But I’ve seen you over the past few months – before the forty years – hell, you know what I mean – and I know you’ve got what it takes. So just do your job the best you know how and have faith in ol’ mother Reaper.” Unconsciously Repeth patted her left breast pocket where her ancient leather-bound small-print Bible rested.

Bull’s mouth quirked up in a smile at her gesture. He reached up to his neckline to reveal a heavy ferrocrystal Star of David medallion on a chain. “I got faith, Smaj. But Moshe Dayan said faith and bullets’ll get you farther than faith alone.”

Repeth laughed. “Amen to that, my bulky brother. Pass the Lord and praise the ammunition.” She clapped him on the shoulder, a snsation like slapping wood. “I see the Bravo platoon sergeants are up. Suggest you finish that glop and start doing some officer stuff. Find your lieutenants, tell them mommy and daddy will make everything all right.”

Bull rose with her, draining his no-drip plastic cup and folding it into a cargo pocket. “Yeah, lieutenants. Making simple shit hard since Christ was a corporal.”

Repeth tsk-stk’d good-naturedly at his irreverence.

Bull grinned. “You don’t like the way I talk, Smaj, that’s your cross to bear.”

“Why do I feel like you’ve been waiting forty years to set me up for that line?” With a rueful snort she put the coffee mug in the rack and went to see to her awakening troops.—

The “Death” of the Hardcopy Print Bookstore

Some say there will soon be no more bookstores, ebooks will take over everything. They base this on seeing Borders go belly up and Barnes and Noble getting shakier by the day.

I don’t think so. I think the busineess is, more or less, just returning to where it used to be long ago.

Let me explain.

When I was growing up and buying books in the 70s, suburban bookstores were either independent mom-and-pop affairs that carried new and/or used, or they were mall chains like Waldenbooks or Barnes and Noble before they had standalone stores. I can’t speak to large urban bookstores, though I did visit a couple of big ones in real cities like San Fran or Los Angeles. But for suburbia, bookstores were seldom larger than any other small shop, perhaps 1000-2000 square feet.

Then in the, what, late 1980s and 1990s to the early 2000s Borders and Barnes & Noble reinvented the book market – good for them! just in time to create a print bubble. I think this happened because of the wealth effect of that time period, and people were buying a lot of luxury books such as coffee-table books etc. to outfit their McMansions, or hanging out at those stores to meet other readers – this was the center of the baby boomer wave in late youth and early middle age. There was a lot of socializing going on there, before smartphones and the expansion of the internet.

Also, those boookstores sold CDs, movies and other things so they became something of one-stop media entertainment shops. Even before ebooks there were jokes about how people spent more money on coffee and biscotti there than books. They also fed a lot of fanboy demand from the children of wealthy baby boomers raised on video games and Star Wars culture for series genre fiction of all sorts – graphic novels, D&D rulebooks and novels, Star Wars and Star Trek fanchise (yes, that’s FANchise) novels, and ever-longer series of epic-style, if overwritten and tedious, fantasy series.

They gave the people what they wanted.

Then several things happened at once. By “at once” I mean in the space of about 3 years.

First, the economic crash made new books into luxury items. A frugal reader could go to used bookstores and get twice the value with a bit more diligence for their usual fiction fare. Luxury books themselves – $100 art coffee table books for example – became dinosaurs for most people who were worried when their house lost half its value.

Second, the rise of Kindle and ebooks and all the platforms for them allowed heavy readers to save a lot of money in the long run, and never need to leave their homes to shop for their books. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to find a specific book, or fill in your missing series books, via ebook.

Third, the tradpubs were slow to recognize the price competition they faced. When paperbacks soared from $5 to $10 in less than ten years, during years of low inflation, the real cost of a new paperback did not compare well to a $3.99 ebook.

Fourth, the rise of Amazon and its Amazon Partner system mean that now, readers don’t need to go scour bookstores for that specific print book – just go online and almost anything is available somewhere through Amazon, delivered right to your door, at used book prices. So now the new book market is competing with, in essence, a worldwide used bookstore.

Fifth, books in general now have more competition for entertainment dollars and time – games, streaming video, endless free internet content – so all books are under some competitive pressure.

All of these things mean that only the hottest and most desirable books are bought at a high price point. The rest either have to be heavily discounted or they will not sell. Witness all the discounting going on now. List price for a trade paperback? $11-$15. “Normal” discounted price? 40% off,so now we are back to or below the old paperback prices, for frankly a better product with larger, easier to read print that looks better on your shelf. The market has spoken.

Which brings me back to my point – big-box bookstores in every suburb are temporal anomalies, abnormal products of a bubble and luck, not a sustainable business model. Even before consumer electronics, new books were a steady semi-luxury, and used books or cheap paperbacks sustained the masses. Everything old is new again. Hardback print books are a luxury, and ebooks have taken the place of the really cheap paperbacks. There are some other differences but bottom line, the bubble is over with and there is simply no place left in modern American suburbia – right now – for the big box bookstore. They were flukes.

So now the print bookstores are, voila, just like when I was growing up.

Shock and Awe…

…is one of the most overused of cliches but it gives a sense of how I am feeling right now.

Many times in life we don’t know why things happen – sometimes there is no specific reason, it’s just the way the universe is made that randomness abounds. Other times we can trace specific causes. I am wondering right now what the cause of my shock and awe is, because I’d sure like to replicate it.

What am I talking about? Well, yesterday I sold over 160 books. I’d never sold more than twenty before in a day, usually about 5-10. So where did this huge spike come from? I don’t know for sure. Here are some possible culprits, all of which arrived on 9 January 2013:

http://ereadernewstoday.com/bargain-and-free-books-for-1-9-13/6724013/

This is a bargain book post for Eden Plague on EReaderNewsToday, a popular site for free and bargain books.

http://noorosha.com/interview-with-david-van-dyke-author-editor-and-trained-killing-machine/

This is an author interview I did that was put up on the same day.

I also started a round of ads on small blogs on the very same day. My wife continued twitter and facebook marketing and said the 9th was a very active day.

And my friend and author BV Larson said he had a book, Technomancer,

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005J61EJQ/

spike sales 300% or more that day, leading him to speculate that Amazon had perhaps done some advertising that included both books.

And ultimately there is the Lord and prayer. I don’t subscribe to a vending machine God concept, but I do believe He listens to us and, like a loving father, gives us good things that are in our best interests. I’ve worked hard these past nine months and I think the Lord rewards hard work as well. Writing has revitalized my life and my relationships with people, and has shown me the light at the end of the tunnel of that dead-end job feeling I’ve had since leaving the military. It has given my wife and me something to work toward together hand in hand, something every husband likes (or should). All those things are interwoven in the “why”.

So I can’t answer for sure; I’ll just have to keep on writing and plugging away and see whether today was a fun fluke, or a prelude to things to come.

Leveling off

So I’ve been on a definite high since the promo and my sales started, but it didn’t help my writing. I started feeling pressure to get my next book out, and that actually caused a drop in production. I couldn’t get in that zone, kept getting distracted by the thoughts of sales, how I should market next, etc. Add that to some stress at work and then I started worrying about getting the next book done “on time.” But I had set my own deadline, and it was up to me to change it.

So after a certain amount of hemming and hawing with myself, and talking with my best friend, confidant and wife Beth (all those are the same person, although she says there are three of her in there), I just reset my own deadline. I told myself I didn’t need to do it fast, just well.

I immediately felt better and wrote more and better.

Combine that with getting some things off my plate at my day job and I am back on track. A bit over 27K done for “Reaper Plague” and I feel very comfortable now. Note to self- stop checking sales more than once a day. It’s just numbers.

On another, better note I got a nice 5-star review on Eden Plague from a new fan, Sharon. Hi Sharon! What surprises me – in a very good way – is that Sharon is well into middle age (I won’t give you the number she gave me out of respect for my elders) but when I was growing in the 70s up it was quite a surprise to see a woman writing science fiction or a girl reading it. In fact I had a huge crush on a girl named Valerie that I met in the sci-fi section of my local library. At 13 she was the first girl I’d ever talked to that was interested in “boy stuff.” I imagine it was even more so when Sharon was a child. And now she’s reading my books alongside the greats. What a pleasant shock to be here as an author, even though I have a long way to go. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Bless you ebooks, bless you Amazon for the Kindle.

 In any case since she was my first completely unrelated and unsolicited 5-star review, I sent her a copy of the second book, The Demon Plagues, for free. I hope she reviews that one as well, and I know she’ll be honest. Praise is like sugar, a little is nice but a lot makes you sick.