State of the Fourth Estate 05

It occurs to me that I completely failed to bring you the traditional “State of the Fourth Estate” post last month. Instead of rambling on about what’s happening with my writing, I gave you pictures of Tuxie and Rhubarb.

Many of you probably consider that an improvement.

But tradition must be served (I prefer it barbequed, but I won’t look down on anyone who’d rather have their traditions fried), so here we go, not quite a month late.

Starting with the blog, as usual, the Home Page continues to be the most popular page because most of you are reading new posts there. Which is perfectly fine.

Home Page aside, in 2016, the most popular post was not Using Up the Leftovers: Sauerkraut. Top honors instead go to Four for the Price of One. I’m not na├»ve enough to think my musings on The BFG, Ghostbusters, or even They Might Be Giants brought in well over five hundred viewers. Nope, most of the credit goes to those three young ladies from Japan*.

* If BABYMETAL brought you to the blog and you’re still hanging around, make a note in the comments, would you?

So far in 2017, the pickled cabbage has reclaimed the popularity lead, but posts about The RagTime Traveler are doing very well. Thank you all for that.

Unsurprisingly, most of the readers come from the US, with Japan, Brazil, the UK, and Canada making up the rest of the top five. (I’m going by page views, as WordPress doesn’t seem to track unique viewers.) There’s been a single page view from each of twenty countries, including (alphabetically) Angola, Faroe Islands, and Turkey. C’mon back, folks. You’re welcome to hang out as long as your network connections last.

Over on the fiction side of things, The RagTime Traveler is, of course, the big news. If you missed the earlier announcement, by the way, you can now preorder TRTT as an ebook. Just click that picture of the cover and choose your format.

When I wrote the 2014 SotFE post, my beta readers were looking at Splat Squad. In 2015, it was Lord Peter’s Eyes, and last year it was TRTT. This year, unfortunately, there’s nothing in beta.

As many of you know, Life rather kicked me in the face in 2016. I’ve got about 41,000 words of the first draft of Mo’less Jones and nearly 50,000 words of the first draft of the still-untitled other novel. Had I spent the entire year on one or the other, I suspect it would be with the beta readers today, but as Kurt Vonnegut put it, “So it goes.”

(For those of you who haven’t been regular readers, my father and co-author of The RagTime Traveler and Mo’less Jones, passed away in October. I do intend to pick up Mo’less at some point, but there are both emotional and practical reasons why it may be a while. And so I’m instead working on The Nameless Novel, which has nothing to do with ragtime or baseball.)

Last March I said that my daily target was 1,000 words a day. More recently, when I started writing again in November, I dropped it to 500 words. As I said last month, it’s not a hard-and-fast goal, and I don’t usually worry if I come up short, but never coming close to 1,000 words was starting to drive me nuts.

But for the past month, days when I failed to hit 500 words have been rare, and I’ve exceeded 1,000 at least as often as not. So I’m officially bumping the target back up. Not only does that feel good, as a sign that my brain is starting to work again, but it means I might just have the first draft of The Nameless Novel done before the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival*.

* Yeah, my first drafts tend to run short. If TNN comes in at 70K, it probably means the draft that goes to beta readers will likely be 80-90K, right on target for a fantasy.

It’s iffy: there are still some major gaps in the plot that I need to figure out, but if it was a sure thing, it wouldn’t be much of a goal, now would it?

Stay tuned!

What Next?

And so the proverbial feline has escaped from the satchel. The co-author I referred to in my State of the Fourth Estate post in March has revealed himself: Larry Karp, aka “Dad”.

As he says in that post on the Poisoned Pen Press authors’ blog, I lent him an editorial hand and eye on his non-fiction project last year, and that led directly to our fiction collaboration. Ethically, I can’t review Brun Campbell, The Original Ragtime Kid and its companion CD, Essays in Ragtime: The Music of Brun Campbell. But I can urge you to buy them–there’s more information on the project here, including direct links for purchasing. Buy ’em! And then post reviews.

Word of mouth and online reviews are the best advertising for books and music. Buy, buy, buy! Review, review, review!

[Ahem] Sorry. Let’s move on.

When I wrote that earlier post, our collaboration was still in the hands of the beta readers, and the working title was so new, we weren’t sure it was going to stick. Two months later, we’ve completed our post-beta revisions, and we’re very happy with The RagTime Traveler–both the title and the book itself.

I never expected to write a mystery, and I never expected to collaborate on a book. Writing RTT could have been a horrific experience on both counts, but it turned out very well. Our writing styles meshed nicely–we’re both seat-of-the-pants writers, preferring to plan the first draft no more than a couple of chapters in advance–and the mystery developed quite naturally. Thank God neither of us is a compulsive outliner, or we’d still be fighting over the first draft, instead of watching Draft 4 slide out of the printer.

The RagTime Traveler involves time travel, but it’s not a time travel novel. Nobody’s grandfather is killed, and there are no Time Cops playing deus ex machina.

RTT is a mystery novel. Do you have to accept the reality of time travel to solve the mystery? Nope. All the clues you need are in the present. But it’s a story that couldn’t have been written without involving time travel. That would have been a very different–and IMNSHO, much less interesting–book.

I’ll be saying more about RTT, but I hope I’ve intrigued you. It’s never too early to start that word of mouth advertising.

So what’s next? I’m taking a vacation. It’ll be interesting to see if I still remember how to not write. After all, it’s been more than three years since I spent an entire week not writing.

No writing includes the blog. There won’t be posts next Tuesday and Thursday. There will be cat posts tomorrow and next Friday–I know better than to deprive you of those! The photos are taken, and the posts are written and scheduled.

Mind you, just because I won’t be writing, that doesn’t mean I won’t be working. There’s one last job to be done before we submit RTT to a publisher.

Legend has it that the murderer always returns to the scene
of the crime–and who’s more of a murderer than the author? My co-conspirator and I are off to Sedalia, MO; there’s a murder scene we need to visit.

State of the Fourth Estate 04

“It’s deja vu all over again.”
–Yogi Berra

Today marks the end of my third year writing full-time. Time for another “State of the Fourth Estate” post.

Nothing much has changed on the blog front. This is post number 576. WordPress tells me the blog has seen nearly 6,000 visitors–presumably including spambots–who have made a collective 13,000 views.

Twenty-one percent of the views come on Thursdays, and eleven percent between noon and one. On behalf of your bosses, thank you for using your lunch breaks to read my writings.

So far this year, the most popular page on the site is the Home Page. Presumably individual posts would draw higher numbers if they didn’t appear in their entirety on Home Page. But I don’t see any real value in making you click through to read the second paragraph.

More deja vu: the individual post with the most views is still the infamous “Leftover Sauerkraut” post. So far this year, it’s had more than ten times as many views as the next most popular (February’s “Gone Too Far” piece on the Super Bowl and its commercial culture.)

As far as I can tell, WordPress no longer allows you to see cumulative stats since Day One, but the numbers looked similar in 2015. The Home Page pulled in the most views, “Leftover Sauerkraut” came in second, and “Water, Water, Everywhere‘s” musing on water wasters was a distant third.

Pickled vegetables aside, indignation over the imminent fall of Civilization seems to be a hot seller. I’ll keep that in mind going forward. I trust you’ll let me know when you get bored with that kind of pessimism.

You can look forward to a few changes on the blog during Year Four. One of them is already in effect: no more ads in the posts. Clarification: I may still promote the occasional product I use and appreciate, and I’ll definitely be promoting my own writing. But you won’t get any more ads from WordPress’ commercial partners. You’re welcome.

Less significantly, over the next few months, I plan to clean up a few cosmetic issues with the blog’s appearance. You may not even notice those, but I’ll feel better.

But enough about the blog.

I’m still writing fiction. That was the point of my career move, after all.

I put short story writing on hold from mid-2014 until late 2015 in favor of concentrating on novels. But I’ve had a few bouts of free time between drafts, and the result is two new short stories that will be going out to editors before the end of the month. As usual, you’ll be able to follow their progress on my Scorecard.

The two combined are about 7,500 words. That works out to an average of 125 words a day. I’d be depressed about that if they weren’t side projects.

I’ve made much better progress on the mainline projects: novels.

Speaking of novels, that’s another bit of deja vu. At the time I wrote the first annual SofFE post, Novel Number One, Splat Squad, was in the hands of my beta readers. This time last year, Number Two, Lord Peter’s Eyes, was with the beta readers and I was querying agents with Splat Squad. Now Number Three is in beta and Peter is making the rounds of agents’ in-boxes.

So I’m keeping a consistent one-novel-a-year pace. That’s hardly a record, but it is quite respectable. Since each book has been upward of 90,000 words*, that means I’ve been hitting around 350 words a day. Actually, that’s a severe understatement. Keep in mind that each book has been through at least three drafts. As it happens, 1,000 words a day is my goal. Nice to see that I’m right on target.

* Digression for non-writers: In days of yore, manuscripts were measured in pages, specifically, typed pages with a typical letter size and a standardized margin. With the rise of ebooks and their rather loose association with page count, the emphasis is now on the number of words rather than pages. Expected word counts vary by genre, but in general, adult fiction will run somewhere between 70,000 and 110,000 words. Your favorite best-selling author might run longer (“Game of Thrones”, the first novel in Martin’s series, came in at 284,000; the sequels are all significantly longer), but previously-unpublished authors such as yours truly are well-advised to keep it to five digits.

“Life is what happens while we are making other plans.”
Allen Saunders

Novel Three does have a title, but we’re not quite ready to announce it. “We”? Yup. In last year’s SotFE post I said “my third novel [has] a historical setting”. That’s still true, at least in part, but it’s not the same book.

Not long after I made that statement, an established author whose work I respect made me the proverbial offer I couldn’t refuse. He wanted to do something a little different from his previous books: a time travel novel. He asked me to come on as his co-author. I’ve wanted to do a time travel piece for decades, and, quite coincidentally, some of the research I’d already done for my novel was relevant*, so I jumped at the chance. I put my notes and the first several chapters of my novel into suspended animation, and I’ll get back to them later.

* Even though some of the research transferred, there isn’t any actual overlap between the books. Although the time period is similar, the geographical location is very different. Most of what applied to both books was related to politics and technology.

The collaboration has gone well. Not only has it been fun, but I’ve learned a heck of a lot about a genre I hadn’t considered working in. And no, being a co-author doesn’t materially affect those word count numbers a few paragraphs ago. I haven’t written all 90,000+ words, but on the other hand, we’ve done it in just over six months. It averages out about the same.

Yes, I’m deliberately being mysterious. It’s more entertaining for you folks that way.

As I said earlier, the book is currently with our beta readers. Unless they find something we’ve both missed, we think it’ll be ready to shop around after one more draft. And while we’re waiting for the feedback, we’ve started a second collaboration, something that should be a genre stretch and learning experience for both of us.

I’ll have more to say–hopefully much more–about Novel Three, including the identity of my co-conspiratorco-author, over the next few months.

Year Four begins tomorrow with the obligatory Friday Cat Post. Baseball season starts next week. Optimism abounds.

Moving on.

State of the Fourth Estate 03

I really don’t write much about my writing here. There are reasons for that, other than the potential for a recursionary death-spiral. But that’s a post for another time.

This time is for the annual “State of the Fourth Estate,” in which I summarize what I’ve been up to writing-wise. I thought I was done with the annual self-assessment when I left the corporate world, but no… At least this one doesn’t involve a company-mandated format, corporate goals that have little to do with my day-to-day tasks, or (ugh!) 360° reviews*. The delights of the 360 weren’t what caused me to abandon the security of employment, but they were certainly a factor.

* If you’ve never been introduced to the joys of the 360, you must be among Heaven’s Elect. For you fortunate souls, here’s how it works: your peers–the cow-orkers you interact with every day–nominate you to give them anonymous feedback on their job performance. Just how anonymous can it be, when you only request two or three reviews? But wait, it gets even better! You’re also expected to write a similarly-anonymous review of your boss! That’s right, the same boss who will be writing your annual review; the one that directly influences your chances of a bonus, raise, and/or promotion. Of course, since the 360° review is anonymous, it won’t affect your boss’ opinion of your work, right?

But I digress.

The blog is now over 400 posts. I’m still using it as a way to try new things–or to experiment with new ways of saying the same damn thing (are you listening, Bay Bridge?)

Not all of the experiments are successful. That’s expected. In writing, just as in Science! you have to plan for the unplanned outcome. But it’s also true that you learn more from the failures than from the experiments that worked out the way you thought they would. I still find it surprising and more than a little sobering that the most popular thing I’ve ever written–the infamous Leftover Sauerkraut post–dates from July of 2013, less than four months after I started blogging. It took Woody Allen decades to get to the point where his fans started complaining that his new movies aren’t as good as his old ones. I’ve been there practically since Day One.

But several posts from the past year are in the Top Ten and people continue to sign up as followers–138 here on the blog, 25 on Facebook, and 7 on Twitter*–so I’m clearly doing something right.

* Yep, seven. As best I can tell, if you’re not already well-known, getting attention on Twitter requires you to commit acts designed to bring about the downfall of civilization and/or get yourself incarcerated to protect you from yourself.

But I digress.

Moving on to the reason I wanted to write: the fiction.

At this time last year, I had two short stories and a poem circulating to editors. I now have four short stories and a poem making the rounds.

I also had a novel that had just gone out to a carefully-chosen cadre of beta readers. I completed The Stairs, The Guides, and the Bay Area Splat Squad, and it’s now making the rounds of agents who represent fantasy and science fiction. One more major milestone on the road to, well, probably not fame and fortune, but at least getting the visions in my head out where the select, fortunate few can see them.

A second novel, Lord Peter’s Eyes, is currently in the hands of a different-but-overlapping cadre of beta readers. Unless the readers uncover structural problems to rival the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, I expect to have it finished by early summer.

Both Splat Squad and Peter have modern settings. I’m trying something different with my third novel: a historical setting. Agents and publishers, rest assured that it is not Yet Another Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy or Yet Another Victorian Sherlock Holmes Pastiche. I’m not quite ready to talk about the details, but I can say that my office is currently buried in city directories, maps, and history books. Yep, I’m doing actual research for this one. Not allowing myself to Just Make Stuff Up gives the creative process a very different feel. But the fun of finding historical nuggets that leap out at me, screaming “Me, me! Write about me!” is more than worth the price.

On to the next year–including the start of the MLB season in two weeks–and a fresh set of digressions.

State of the Fourth Estate: One Year On

Happy Birthday! Happy Belated Anniversary! (Relax, it’s not a baseball post. Well, not much, anyway.)

March 22, 2013 was my last day as a corporate employee. That was a Friday; I spent a chunk of the weekend figuring out the basics of WordPress, and on the 25th, Koi Scribblings: The Blog made its official debut. That means no matter how you figure it, I’ve been a professional writer for a year. “Professional”? Yeah, more on that in a moment.

I marked the six-month anniversary with a post covering the “state of the fourth estate”: summing up what I had accomplished and what I planned to do next. A full year is, IMNSHO, more than twice as impressive as half of one, so it’s time to update that status report.

First, there’s the blog. It’s over 250 posts and–aside from a minor bobble due to The Great Kidney Stone Fiasco–has stayed on schedule. That’s a nice portfolio of work I can point to. I’ve attracted a small but growing crew of followers (currently 106–I’ll refrain from speculating about how many are trying to get me to boost your SEO rankings by following you back); thank you all for hanging around. Seeing your likes helps me remember that there’s a larger world than what I can see from my office windows; seeing your comments lets me know I’ve written something that engaged you. I said when I started that the goal of my writing was to “educate and entertain”. If I write something that affects you enough to do more than just click a button, that’s a pretty good indication that I’ve met the goal.

Second, there’s that “source of income” I mentioned in the first Sof4E post. I took a swing at content creation*. It wasn’t a rousing success. The publishers are interested in quantity and speed; to encourage writers to produce multiple articles, the price per piece is low. To successfully game Google’s rankings, the article need to adhere tightly to a house style and format. To put it politely, that wasn’t a good match for my skills. I did sell a few pieces, but… Let me put it this way: to cover my share of the mortgage, I would need to sell three articles every single day. Since it took me about six hours to write one article and push it through the editorial process, that would leave me six hours a day to eat, sleep, and do something to cover the rest of my expenses. Doesn’t leave much room for the writing I want to do, that “educate and entertain” thing, does it?

* What’s “content creation”? Here’s a piece of news that may surprise you: many websites are commercial enterprises designed to make money by encouraging you to buy something–or at least look at an advertisement. Quite a shock, huh? So how do they accomplish their nefarious goal? They publish “content”. Note my careful word choice here. In many cases, it’s not information, but an incredible simulation: something that looks useful at first glance, but proves to be too superficial to really accomplish anything. Such content is carefully designed so that it will appear in response to some particular search on Google. Google, for their part, is constantly tweaking their algorithms to push content down in the rankings and pull useful information up. Thus, the content sites are focused on sculpting their content through formatting and the use of key words to game the system. If someone clicks through to their site, they win, even if the reader immediately closes the window and moves on to something more useful. It’s a step up from telemarketing, but not a very big one.

Still, the exercise in content creation did result in a (small) paycheck. By the most literal definition, that does make me a professional writer. Sweet, innit? OK, it’s not going to give me any street cred or professional respect, but it’s a small step forward.

Note, by the way, that there’s a slightly higher class of content creation. Instead of contracting with a content creation company, the writer chooses his own subjects and writes in his own style, then uses a distribution service to market the articles. It’s the modern version of writing “on spec”. I class this as “content creation” because to succeed at it, the writer needs to do the same Google targeting that the creation company would do, but because the writer is writing in his own style and voice, there’s an opportunity to do more than produce a string of article-sausages, all alike and all devoid of taste. And yes, I did take a shot at this type of content creation as well. Over the course of a month, I wrote several pieces in the style I’ve created here on the blog and posted them for sale. None of them sold–until today. As I was writing this post, I got notification that one has sold. It looks like someone bought a large group of cat-related articles, and mine was one of them. It’s still not going to give me a lot of street cred, but it’s worth more to me in terms of personal satisfaction than the earlier content creation sales.

Third, there’s that writing I want to do. I’m making progress there too. I’ve got two short stories and one poem making the rounds of potential publishers (as always, you can check the scorecard of submissions, rejections, and acceptances in the menu up at the top of the page). There’s a third short story in the final stages of review and rewrite; I expect to start submitting it this week.) The big news is the state of the infamous “novel in progress”.

ybHere you can see Yuki guarding beta reader* copies of the book. Those went out last month, and their comments have been trickling in. While I was waiting, I started a second novel; its first draft is about 20% done. Now that the comments are all in, I’m bringing the second novel to a point where I can set it aside for a couple of months and I’ve started the second rewrite of the first novel.

* Ask three novelists what their process is, and you’ll get at least five different answers. Here’s the high-level summary of my current approach. Write a draft (get the story down without worrying about consistency or felicity of language). Rewrite it (fix the consistency errors and the truly awful bits of writing). Give it to the beta readers (a carefully-selected group whose opinions you respect and who you can trust to tell you the truth about the bad pieces). Rewrite again (fix the bad stuff the beta readers pointed out and upgrade the merely adequate bits of writing to sparkle. Put it aside for a month, then rewrite it again with fresh eyes.

So, yeah, still months away from trying to sell the first novel, but getting it into the hands of the beta readers was a major milestone. The second novel is moving faster than the first one did, which is encouraging. I’m never going to be a fast writer, but speeding the creative process up improves the odds that I’ll be able to tell all of the stories lurking in my head.