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.


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,

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:

Or go to my web site,

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 or any other way – and I will send it to you.

Cheers and have a happy!


Used Ebooks?

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

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.

An Excellent List of Book Sites

…from fellow author and blogger Charles O’Donnell. Thanks, Charles! Here’s his info: the list is below.



I don’t make any claim about these sites or what they are – they are just all about books in some way. Have at it.,114408.0.html

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.


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:


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.—

No Transaction Without Rotation

So I’ve been experimenting with ads on some various places, trying to – you guessed it – increase exposure and sell books. I’ve used, which is a pretty good consolidated site where you can purchase ads on dozens of different blogs. I’ve also placed ads on (not worth it) and ereadernewstoday (a bit expensive, but more effective).

The Blogads and Ereadernewstoday ads have something in common – the engines that run the advertising allow you to load several different versions of your ad that will rotate into your space. You can also link each ad differently e.g., to different books. But what does this matter, you may say? Doesn’t it make more sense to just hammer away at the consumer with the same thing in hopes of hardselling him into buying?

You can see where this is going. Consumers have to be wooed, not browbeaten. Unless you are in an automobile showroom, the hard-sell is just not going to work, triply so on the web where relief is just a click away. More to the point, while new site visitors might have the same average response to your ad, repeat visitors will quickly tune it out after they have seen it a few times. If they made that split-second decision not to click it once, they will probably make the same decision again…unless you have something different there this time.

Different things catch different peoples’ eyes. Let’s say you are selling a book series – oh, hey, that’s what I am doing. Let’s say I am selling my book series Plague Wars. I have several covers, with different colors and a related theme but each is a bit different. One has a hunky undershirty gunman that I hope will attract a broad spectrum of genders and types of readers. Another has a modern warrior more suited for those interested in modern military, and a third had a space marine and a planet scene for the sci-fi types. Same series, but since it progresses from Earth eventually to space, it makes sense.

In all cases, I link not to the particular book – I don’t want to get people to buy and be upset by getting a later book in the series – I link to the series page on my web site, which then has links to buy. Then hopefully they will 1) see it’s a series, 2) divine that they should probably read book 1 first (always on sale at lower price from the rest), and 3) buy from that page where I get a few percent extra profit because of Amazon Associates (if they buy from Amazon).

If you have several books that are not a series, it’s just as easy, because each “creative” or “version” of your ad is in essence advertising a different related product. You should get some synergy sales if they like you as an author, but since each book is a standalone work, you don’t have to strategize on how to make sure they go for the first book in the series – just take them to a buy page, either where you have an associates link or straight to the purchase site (Amazon, Kobo, B&N, etc.)

So, you ask (I know you ask), how do you know this, Dave? Are you just spouting conventional wisdom?

Actually, no. Being an intuitive and impatient person, I usually want to try something out before I read the instructions. In this case I was able to do “before-and-after” comparisons. So first I loaded one ad version for the first book in the series, The Eden Plague. Once I had a good baseline for click-thru rates and cost per click, and incidentally now I had the time and motivation to generate more ad versions using PowerPoint and Paint, I then loaded two more version, making three in rotation. This is what the ad sites recommended in their FAQ, but hey, baby steps, right?

Roughly speaking, my click-thru rate doubled, and my sales increased a measurable amount, varying between 10 and 50% per day. All it took was some time and effort to create and load the versions, there was no difference in cost. So clearly, this strategy is more effective than just running the same ad day after day.