5 Things Makes A Twenty-Palaces Heavy Post

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1) First, though, did you know that my brother-in-law teaches jazz drumming at a university in Europe? If you like Jazz, check out this interview he did with jazz writer Debbie Burke: Hard Bop Noir from the Michael Lauren All Stars.

2) Just before Christmas I pointed out that The Twisted Path had 18 reviews and I was hoping readers would drive it up to 25 so it would be favorably considered by Amazon’s algorithms, with the hope it would eventually make 50. As I write this, the review count is 66. Thank you all.

The number of reviews for Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths: And Other Tales Of Dark Fantasy stands at 14, up from 11 two weeks ago. It’s just a short fic collection, but if you read it and liked it, please post a review.

3) The Twisted Path, at less than 25K words, is about a quarter the length of Twenty Palaces. Actually a little more. I know what 20P earned in its first three months, and I was hoping to make about a third of that with the new novella, despite the lower price. It’s not exactly science, but I wasn’t sure how much enthusiasm there was for Ray Lilly’s return and I wanted to set some sort of benchmark to see how well it was working.

It’s been less than a month and I haven’t hit that benchmark yet, but unless things go very screwy, I expect to. To be clear, sales haven’t been through the roof and I’m not saying I’m swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. The financial considerations here are fairly modest and I expect them to remain that way. Still, if things keep going at this pace, the door is wide open for more Twenty Palaces in the future. However, I won’t even begin work on that until I turn in my current work-in-progress (Working title: Open Enter) to my agent.

4) Speaking of sales, BoingBoing gave a terrific review to The Twisted Path. Check it out.

5) Finally, on a more personal note, we have hit the darkest, coldest part of the year up here in Seattle. Yeah, the days are growing longer, but even a few weeks after the solstice, we’re only getting 8hrs and 45min of sun. Most of that, I spend indoors on a computer, tapping out fiction. The cold and the dark make this a difficult time of year for me, but for the first time I’m armed with a quality SAD light. I’m going to make a commitment to myself to get out more, talk to people outside my family, and stay off Twitter. With luck, I can make it to April without too much unhappiness.

Thank you all once again.

Where Things Stand with The Twisted Path after One Whole Day

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Let’s see:

The Twisted Path has its permanent reference post up on my blog. I also added the cover art to the front page in the Twenty Palaces section. (That felt good.)

I posted a download link for Patreon supporters, and sent messages to patrons who quit the service after their quickly reverted rate changes.

At nine-thirty-ish last night, I started sending out the newsletter announcing the book was available. As I type this at about three o’clock the next afternoon, it’s going to be another eight and a half hours before they finish sending. (To prevent throttling by my ISP, they go out at a rate of only 50/hr) So far, only four unsubscribes, which is pretty good considering it’s been a year and a half since the last one.

The first Goodreads and Amazon reviews have appeared. I’ve sent a copy to someone who may post a review on a high-traffic site (fingers crossed). I’ve sent a copy to Booklife, who gave The Way into Chaos a starred review and will maybe consider reviewing this one.

For the moment, the Amazon sales rank is below 1800, which is a very nice place to be.

In the reference post mentioned above, I reminded folks about the Twenty Palaces novelette “The Homemade Mask”, which was part of my short fiction collection. I thought I hit the 20P connection pretty hard back in 2014 when it came out, but in today’s sudden surge of new sales, about 10% have been the collection. The frontlist drives the backlist, I guess.

I also realized that I’ve spelled “The Homemade Mask” many different ways, including “The Hand Made Mask” at least once. Oops.

iBooks keeps kicking back the files I upload, giving me impenetrable error codes that are deciphered by Apple support through an exchange of emails. Not exactly timely.

B&N have finally posted the book for sale, but as of two seconds ago, without the cover. If I look at all the books written by people with my name, the cover art is there. If I click and go to the dedicated page, it’s “Image not available.” And email has been sent on that issue, too.

Did I mention that Nook has the most infuriating ebook uploading system? Worse even than iBooks. Centered text isn’t centered, and if you go into their manuscript editing section and manually set the text to be centered, it still isn’t centered. Have internal art? Set the size to very small and watch nothing happen. The world needs more skilled coders because the ones we have are making my blood pressure shoot through the roof.

Smashwords remains hilariously demanding for the amount of sales it provides. I’m not reading a fucking style guide for a couple of dozen sales. The epub is fine. Just accept it.

Amazon remains the center of book sales, and an odd duck. I uploaded the file from my own author page, but the book isn’t connected with my other works yet. I had to ask for that to be done separately, and it should take a few days. I’m also not sure how well the new book is connected to the rest of the series. I listed it as the fourth 20P in the information page as I was uploading it, but it doesn’t show. I also just noticed that the paper version of the prequel novel, Twenty Palaces, is listed as part of the series, but the Kindle edition is not.

Also, in the past I refused to give Amazon permission to sell my books in Mexico, India, Japan, and Brazil. Those are big markets, but unless you sell exclusively through Amazon, they won’t take a 30% sales commission. Instead, they take 65%. I’d rather not sell in those markets than be leaned on for a sixty-fucking-five percent commission, but the book wouldn’t publish unless I signed up for them. Which is annoying. Wish I could opt out.

In the middle of all this, I tucked my 27″ iMac into a canvas bag and took a bus out to the Apple store to get them to repair a dead ethernet plug. In the end, dude fixed it by rebooting and holding down a special combination of keys that reset the peripherals. Voila, the ethernet appeared in my network preferences again. Which meant I spent two hours, three-quarters of that on a bus, to do something I could have googled up at home. Go me.

Thank you to everyone posting reviews, talking about it on social media, dropping notes on reddit, and spreading the word in places I don’t even know about. Your enthusiasm is what makes this work.

Now to wrestle with iBooks again.

The Twisted Path

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Connolly’s Lovecraft-ian/Geiger-style lore and world building is amazing. I have enjoyed all of his novels and novellas, but none have been as anticipated as The Twisted Path.
— Jason Weisberger, BOINGBOING

Most of you reading this know that, a few years back, I said I was setting the Twenty Palaces stories aside due to a lack of sales. Readers were unhappy (although not as unhappy as I was) but I think they understood, for the most part. You understood. I wanted a growing readership that spread across the land and the seas and conquered all, but 20P wasn’t going to be that. Not for me.

I didn’t want to abandon it, but I’m not prolific enough to write a Ray Lilly book and a non-Ray Lilly book every year. Could I grow my readership by self-publishing more 20P, and only 20P? Clearly not. Even with Del Rey behind me, sales dwindled.

That extremely nebulous plan I had for the overall series went onto a back burner.

However, it wasn’t long after that I heard about other authors supplementing their series with novellas. I could do that too, couldn’t I?

The answer turned out to be No. I knew what came next in the series, but I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. After I finished The Great Way trilogy, I took a stab. I tried again after I revamped A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. Both times, the story felt dead in the water. I was getting nowhere with it.

Then I talked it over with my son. I told him that the pacing was all wrong and the whole thing felt lifeless. He recommended I restructure it in an unusual way, and I’ll be damned if his advice wasn’t so on the nose that I took it verbatim. If you read the story, you’ll see what I mean.

Are you new to Twenty Palaces? This isn’t the place to start.

The Twisted Path picks up shortly after “The Homemade Mask,” (included here) which is set only a few days after the end of Circle of Enemies. This is the true beginning of the next phase of the Twenty Palaces story.

Yeah. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I mentioned that extremely nebulous plan? The first three books were meant to be about Ray working with Annalise against the predators. The next set digs deeper into the society itself and the spell books that pre-date the human race. That’s why the title style has changed from “[Noun] of [Noun]” to “The [Adjective] [Noun]”. When this series of stories wraps up (assuming things go well) Ray and Annalise will move on to the next phase, and the titles will change again.

But while the first four books were written so that readers could jump in with any of them, this one won’t be much fun unless you know what’s come before. I’d recommend starting the series with either Child of Fire, or the prequel Twenty Palaces.

Does that mean there will be more Ray Lilly stories after this one? I hope so. Circle of Enemies came out in 2011, more than six years ago. Is there still interest? That’s the real question. Time (and the Amazon.com Author Dashboard) will tell.

Which just means that, if you read it and like it, please spread the word.

Pick up your copy here:

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords

New Twenty Palaces Novella Coming Soon

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I’ve been talking about this here and there, so let’s hit the topic one more time, but with art.

The new Twenty Palaces novella, The Twisted Path, will be released soon. I just got the copyedit back, so sometime in the next few days, I guess? Being a novella, it’ll be ebook only, and I hope you’ll buy yourself a copy for Christmas.

Here’s the photo the cover was created from and the original.

My wife took that picture in the public square in Evora, Portugal. My son adjusted the image (in GIMP) and I did the text. I’m pretty happy with it.

And I’m pretty happy with The Twisted Path too. I’ve come at this story several times over the last few years. It was only this last effort where I feel I “solved” the story.

Of course, you guys will be the final judge of that.

If you want to hear about the novella as soon as it’s released, sign up for my newsletter right there in the sidebar.

Bringing It Home: a followup to last post

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For the last few years, I’ve been putting more and more of my thoughts into Twitter threads, and it’s time to pull back from that. The people on Twitter are great, except for the ones who aren’t, but the company is a parade of fail. What’s more, it’s all so ephemeral. If I write about a Star Wars reboot on my blog, it’s always available to me when the subject comes up. If I put it Twitter, it falls into the memory hole before the day is out.

So, more posts in spaces I own.

This is probably a terrible decision, considering how little traffic I get. But I’ve been on Twitter for seven years. That’s a lot of bullshit to type out, and a lot of time to waste. It’s time I reclaimed time, if you know what I mean.

And as a followup to my last post, remember how I said I was working on a 20P novella? I just turned it over to my agent.

At the moment, I’m as free as a bird to watch creature features and daydream a new project. And I have a tall glass of celebratory bourbon beside me.

Happy Tuesday, you guys.

State of the Book/State of the Self

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[I wrote this on Saturday night, before news struck of the deadliest mass shooting by a civilian in this country’s history. Rather than let it go live at the scheduled time, I’m just going to post it later in the week, along with my wish that sensible gun control be enacted in this country, starting with a lifting of the ban on CDC’s ability to study gun violence.]

You’ll be reading this tomorrow, but I just tweeted this:

If you’re not a long-time reader, let me explain: When I finish a draft of a novel I treat myself to a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Which means that I’ve wrapped up the zero draft of ONE MAN, and what a fucking relief it is. I started this book in March of 2015, according to the creation date of my Scrivener file. That’s a long time for me, even if you count the amount of time I spent traveling on vacation and taking a digression to work on side projects, like The Way into Fate, the rpg game supplement that closed out my Kickstarter campaign, and short fiction, too.

So, that’s a long haul, and I’m still not done. I have a list of 90-some changes that need to be made, from small ones like adding a couple characters to a scene or changing someone’s name, to systemic ones like giving certain characters their own slang. Then, once those changes are done, I have to manage the numerous comments I’ve left myself recommending I check various details in the book. Then, once THAT’s done, I have to reread the whole book, smoothing out the text, searching for word echoes, and generally prettying things up. If I were sensible, I’d do that twice.

Only then will this draft be truly done and ready for my agent to read. If you’re waiting for THE TWISTED PATH, which is the next Twenty Palaces story, you’ll have to wait until then. Sorry. Gotta get this book on the market.

Personally, I’m relieved to have accomplished even this much. This has been a difficult book, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a fantasy with a made-up setting. It’s a crime story. It has a bunch of POV characters. It has stakes and magic and betrayals and secrets.

And if this book flops, too, I’m going to have to rethink my whole approach to writing.

Let me tell you about my ambitions, and why they don’t include Kickstarter (right now)

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Along with the release of the sales numbers of my self-published novel has come a flood of requests that I turn to Kickstarter to fund The Twisted Path (that’s the working title of the next Twenty Palaces book). Currently, I have no plans to do that, and I’m writing this post because I want to explain my reasoning to you guys and I want to have a post I can link to when people broach the subject. Because they do broach the subject. A lot.

I want to be a best-selling author.

What’s more, I want to do it on my own terms; I want to write the books I think are cool, and I want a hundred thousand readers to snap them off the shelves the first week they come out. I want to write thrillers with good characters and magic, along with A Few Things I Want To Say. I mean, not to jump up and proclaim that I want to be Stephen King, but I want to be Stephen King. It’s not about making a whole bunch of money, it’s about having my books in the hands of lots of readers from all over the world.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to copy Stephen King, or Nora Roberts or George R.R. Martin or Gillian Flynn. I wouldn’t even try. I intend to write books my own way because honestly believe the things I think are cool will be cool to bunches and bunches of readers.

Or maybe not. We’ll see. That’s what I’m shooting for, anyway.

How does this tie in to Twenty Palaces, a series that you, the person reading this post, quite possibly read and enjoyed? Well, 20P has dedicated fans, but not very many. As mentioned in the Twenty Palaces sales post, I sold over 3700 copies of my book, self-published. Couldn’t I sell at least that many if I self-published The Twisted Path? Or maybe even more if I turned to…

(dramatic pause)

Kickstarter?

Well, sure. Maybe. Maybe I could write two 20P books a year (or three in two years), and quite possibly the readers I have right now would be willing to pony up the cash I’d need for an editor, cover artist, copy editor, and the disreputable author himself (not to mention covering Uncle Sam’s and Kickstarter’s cuts). A Thousand True Fans, right?

Here’s the truth: I could do that. I could live on that money. I’d probably have to depend on 2.5K mostly-true-occasionally-false fans, but I’m still living on the advance money Random House started paying me in 2008, okay? I live cheap. I have no car, no cell phone, no new clothes, no new glasses…

Oh, wait, that part sucks. Anyway, I’m cheap as hell, I don’t need much money, and I could make that work, right?

Yes. Yes, I could. But you know what? That would be another year of not making my goal. That would be another year of working on a series that didn’t get me where I want to be. Every Twenty Palaces book I’ve written has sold fewer than the one before; do I want to keep going after fewer and fewer readers every year?

Several people have suggested that I could get new readers with a Kickstarter campaign, but I don’t consider that realistic. Take a look at these guys: their campaign has been fantastically successful. At the time I write this, they’re over 11,000% of their goal. However, they have fewer than 8,500 backers.

That’s huge for a Kickstarter but Circle of Enemies sold more copies than that and it’s considered a failure. When I look at fiction projects run by novelists, especially ones who are more successful than I am, the number of backers is usually in the low-three figures.

So no, a Kickstarter campaign won’t bring in new readers. It would sure please the readers I already have, though, and you know what? I want that. Wanting to be read by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world includes the people who already know and like my work. I’m grateful for everyone willing to buy a copy of my books or to recommend Ray Lilly to their friends.

But to stay with Twenty Palaces when I know the reading public at large–not just the ones who enjoy my work, but the wide audience–has rejected it would be to never move beyond my starting point. It would mean standing in this small safe place. I would be giving up the chance to grow and try something new.

If I were a different writer–someone who could put out 20,000 finished words a week–I’d write Ray Lilly books alongside whatever new things I came up with. I can’t do that. I’m not prolific. It has to be one thing at a time with me.

I just can’t get past the opportunity cost. Twenty Palaces novels are challenging: each one took me a year or more to write, and you know what? I’m not young. Look up at that third paragraph; did I say I wanted to be the next EL James or JK Rowling? Nope, it was “Stephen King.”

Because I’m old. Life is short, and I need to spend my years wisely.

So here’s my plan: I have already written a book in The Auntie Mame Files which needs to be revised. I’ve also written about 200K of The Great Way, which is the series name for my epic fantasy. Everything I’ve written so far has been aimed at publication through New York. Yeah, I know it’s possible (maybe not likely, but possible) to make more money by publishing books myself, but more money isn’t enough. I want more readers, too.

If I Kickstart or self-publish a new novel, it will be one of those books.

I won’t be returning to the Twenty Palaces setting until I’m honest-to-god successful. It’s only when I have, say, 100,000 eager readers buying my books that I’ll reintroduce 20P to see if the series can find new life.

So that’s it: the final word. I could self-publish or Kickstart The Twisted Path, but it’s not going to happen until after I succeed with something else. If you liked the Twenty Palaces books, I hope you’ll like the next thing I write. If not, that’s cool, too.

But please don’t argue with me about continuing the series, or try to explain to me what Kickstarter is, or insist that yes, in fact, truly, it would be the right move for me to write The Twisted Path next. The series is dead. It was starved of sales and died. I won’t be trying to revive it anytime soon.

Sorry if you’re disappointed by that–believe me when I say it hurts me even more–but that’s how it’s gotta be.

Added: As if he used his powers as SFWA president to read this unfinished blog post, John Scalzi put up a terrific post about writing for a living. It’s not just an art, it’s a job, too, and we all have to make realistic choices.

Plus, I’m convinced the dude has installed spyware on my computer or used a time machine to read this post in the future and then come back and pre-empt it. Hmf.

I recommend reading his thoughts on the matter, plus the comments from other pros in the comments. As an addendum: keep in mind that, looking at the numbers in this post, where he’s talking about the sales figures of Redshirts, John Scalzi, as successful as he is, has not yet reached the threshold I set myself for returning to 20P. Just sayin’


State of the books/trailer/shorts report

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Thanks to a comment I received yesterday, I realized that I’ve been putting people off for months now about the status of the books, the trailer, everything. And that’s not fair. So here is a quick rundown of where things stand on the projects I’ve been promising. And since this is long, I’m going to put in a Continue reading

Five things make a post.

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First, early reaction to the sample of A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark is pretty good. I have to write much more of it before submission (it’s about 30% finished) but early signs are positive.

Second, there’s a gorgeous sunrise outside my window, all blue and pink. The sun will be above the cloud level soon, turning the day into the usual dismal gray, but this was nice.

Third, I’m making good progress on the synopsis of The Twisted Path aka Twenty Palaces 4

Fourth, I’ve seen exactly two of the movies on the Oscar nomination list, and both of those are up for less showy awards. I’m not particularly embarrassed by this lack but it does mean that I’m unable to take part in the blog discussions of it. See also:

Fifth, I skipped last nights State of the Union address, so I can’t comment on it. See? No blog material.

Back to work.