Adventures in Self-Publishing : Cover Stories

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It’ll do

I am not a visual person by any stretch of the imagination.

When I was in college studying computer science back in the 90’s, people would occasionally ask me if I could make websites for them.  The conversation would go something like this:

Person: “Can you make a website for me?”
Me: “Yeah, I can code one, but it’s going to look like a computer guy made it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s going to look terrible.”
So yeah, I didn’t make any websites.

Given that I’m self-aware of my lack of design sense, I don’t know what possessed me to make my own book covers when I started self-publishing short story collections.  It comes even more perplexing considering that I knew artists that could do quality artwork.  Ego may have had something to do with it; the notion of doing everything on my own.  Maybe I didn’t want to pay for art at the time.  Whatever the reason, I figured some text on a solid color background would be good enough.  I did three covers like that, and it honestly only worked for The Rules of Tech Support.

cf1cover

A picture! Yay!

I like to think I made the most of my limited skills with my Nine to Five Lives ‘clock face,’ but that may have been too clever for its own good considering its low sales (it’s free now!).

At that point I figured it was time to get some actual artwork done.  My friend Damon Cone provided some artwork for Con Fluff 1, which I used to make a faux ‘con badge.’  I thought about making similar ones as promotional items for the book.  That never happened, but it remains an interesting idea for future use.  The character on the cover is me, which seems a little conceited, but at the same time, why the heck not?

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SO PRETTY

I commissioned an artist friend who goes by Padunk for Con Fluff 2 and she knocked it out of the park.  She was also kind enough to put the title text on the artwork, which made it look really nice.  Future volumes have also featured artwork, and with the exception of The Rules of Tech Support, most of my collections featuring my early awful covers have been put off-sale, though you can still see them here.

While I have been happy with all of the artwork (Faeries, Fantasies, and Furries is another favorite) there are a few that need a do-over:  As the first book in the series, I don’t want to pull Seven Super-Short Sci-Fi Stories, but it does need a facelift.  Funny Animals, Funny People kind-of works, but I have a better concept in mind I’d like to see for it.  I took the easy way out with Fuzzy Words by plastering a picture into the middle of a (wait for it) solid colored background.

I’ve since commissioned new cover art for the printed version of Fuzzy Words from an artist named TinyBunner.  After spending the day arguing with CreateSpace I think everything is ready to go for printed copies.  I’m very excited at the prospect of having an actual printed book, but that’s a post for another day.

Three Years and Many Words Ago…

meOn October 27, 2011, I uploaded One Sheet Stories to Amazon.com, which marked the beginning of my adventures in self-publishing.  Three years later, I have self-published a total of six e-books to the tubes so far: one non-fiction book and five super-short story collections.  My works can be found on Kindle, nook, iTunes, and Kobo.

Like many other creative persons, I hoped that my creations would be well received.  While the number of copies of One Sheet Stories that were sold that first year could be counted on one hand (it’s free now), my second book, The Rules of Tech Support, has sold over one hundred copies and was downloaded over four hundred times when I gave it away on Amazon.

One reason I write is in the hope that this endeavor can result in financial independence, but realistically it will take some doing.  I have received a small amount of royalties.  Not much, but enough for me to let Uncle Sam know, for what that’s worth.  There are definitely no plans for me to quit my day job anytime soon.  I have, however, gained knowledge from my successes and failures that I have begun to share with others.

I like to think that my writing has improved over those three years; the fact that I give away some of my earliest works for free now is a reflection on how rough some of those early stories were.  As evidenced by the slow start, I may have been a bit premature in attempting to sell my works.  If nothing else, I learned that I needed to package at least seven stories to justify the ninety-nine cent price tag.  Lessons learned and all that.

My attempts to sell paper copies of my books were met with what I can only describe as a fantastic level of indifference (insert lamenting about how ‘nobody reads anymore’ here), but the opportunity to spread the word about my work and talk to like-minded individuals have made up for the lack of financial success.  Luckily the financial costs are low and the potential for higher levels of success are there, so I press on.

Of course, there are things that I still need to work on; length in particular is something that still vexes me.  I have at least one idea for a novella that I would like to complete someday, but only a few partially finished chapters sit unloved on my hard drive.  I have also taken a few tentative steps towards writing different kinds of stories, but the majority of my works are still humorous (I hope).  Marketing is another challenge that I am looking forward to addressing in the future.

As I enter my fourth year of being a self-published author, I can only hope that as I write and publish more, I sell more and who knows, maybe someday I will get to really say ‘take this job and shove it’ for good.  As my fourth year begins, I have two follow-ups to The Rules of Tech Support in the works as well as another science fiction collection and of course, more furry stories.

Writing and publishing has been an adventure for me so far, and I hope that you (and many others!) will join me on what should be a fun ride in the years ahead.  Thanks for reading.

Earth-Mine

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When I started writing fiction, I didn’t give much thought into linking my short stories together or having them take place in a shared universe.  As time went on, I did find myself putting some of them into a few distinct worlds:

“Earth Prime” is our home-sweet-dimension, and given that the majority of my stories involve some combination of furries, super-science, and fantasy, I don’t know that many of them actually take place here.   I do have a few sci-fi stories that take place ‘twenty minutes into the future,’ that is, near enough for us to relate to them (I hope!).

“Earth-F” is a parallel version of our world inhabited by furries.  These stories tend to be humorous and I like to ‘Hanna-Barbera’ the names in those stories.  For example, in a story that took place in a television studio, an older character referred to old-time TV stars such as “Mewcille Ball” and “Droopy Sales.”  I know, I know!

On “Earth H-minus” mankind has destroyed itself in what becomes known as the “Final War” and after their intelligence has been increased due to increased mutations, the furries eventually inherit the Earth.  One as-yet unpublished story takes places in a period where humans and furries coexist, though not harmoniously.  Society is eventually rebuilt by the furries but I haven’t quite hammered out the predator/prey relationship rules yet or if the humans were completely eradicated.  Yeah, its not exactly a happy place.

The ‘Enchanted Forest’ stories obviously happen in a fantasy world, but I haven’t done much there (like come up with a clever name) though it has been established that magic does have limits.  For now, anyway.

I should probably sit down and figure out just where all my stories fit, because inevitably some reader out there is going to try to ‘connect the dots’ and completely screw it up.  Well, assuming I haven’t already!  😀

Click here if you’d like to read some of those stories!

The Long and Winding Words

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My last e-book “Con Fluff 1: 2012 Furry Convention Short Story Collection” was released seven months ago, and as the 2013 edition won’t be ready for a few months at the minimum, I feel the need to get another e-book out into the wild.  My (virtual) stack of unpublished short stories has been growing and I’m pretty sure that I have enough of them to assemble another e-book.

Since my stories are very short, I have to round up a few in order to assemble a collection of decent length.  One early lesson I learned in my Adventures in Self-Publishing is that five stories was not enough content for 99 cents, as evidenced by the thud that ‘One Sheet Stories’ and ‘FlipSide Stories’ made in their respective marketplaces.  Luckily, people are buying the longer collections I’ve produced since so I think I’ve figured out how much stuff is enough.

The stories themselves are another matter, though.  The longest anything I’ve ever written was about 12 pages.  It also took me a little while to get over my habit of keeping stories about a page long due to printing constraints back in the First Storm Manga days.  Even when I have a hard limit to work with, I try not to think about length, but even then I’m pretty sure that the thought of ‘is it long enough’ rattles around somewhere in my subconscious.

I don’t know that I have a Great American Novel in me but I’d like to write one eventually.  Time will tell!

Doing It Write

doingitwrongA spectacular failure can have the effect of dropping a big heaping scoop of self-doubt on one’s head.  After failing to sell even a single paper copy of my first furry book, “Con Fluff 1,” in the Artist Alley of Furry Fiesta a few weekends ago, I found myself questioning everything I did there: my sales pitch, my table layout, pricing, and so on.  The bigger question of “Am I Doing It Wrong?” has also been hanging over my head since then.

A friend recently made the observation that I was incorrectly trying to sell clean stories to an audience that was not interested in them.  Given how I joke with friends about how some furry art sites don’t update until you turn off their “not safe for work” filter, I’m hardly in a position to disagree.  A little part of me is wondering if I should cross that line and start writing erotica/smut/porn/what have you.

I’ve never written anything overtly sexual, and I don’t have much desire to…it’s just not my thing.  Despite that, I now have a little nagging voice in my head telling me that if I just cross that line, I will gain a bigger audience.  Oddly enough, the internal debate I am having is reminiscent of when I’ve see artist friends struggle with the question of whether to do fan art for conventions.

While doing your own thing as a creative person is very personally satisfying, it also carries some risk, especially where anime and comic book fans are concerned.  Those fans have popular characters that they like and don’t often take chances on things that are different or new, especially coming from a little-known or new artist.  However awesome an artist’s original creation may be, most folks are going to gravitate to the table with the cool looking Iron Man or Hetalia fanart.  In the same way, I find myself wondering if folks are bypassing my works just because it is clean.

Part of the reason I don’t write smut is that I don’t think I’d be good at it, but that isn’t stopping me from considering crossing that line.  The little cloud of self-doubt that’s been following me around since Furry Fiesta isn’t helping either.

I don’t know.  I guess it wouldn’t hurt if things got just a little more naughty.  We’ll see.

What the ****

Most of my stories are written for a general audience, and so I try to avoid the use of swear words in my short stories.  I also believe that cursing is for the uncreative and unoriginal.  Think about it: haven’t we all cussed at one time or another because we “couldn’t think of anything better?”  The problem is that there are instances where cursing just works really well and is even expected at times.

Case in point: I am currently writing a story that involves pirates…IN SPAAAACE!   Just like any other self-respecting pirates, these scurvy dogs (really, they’re pirate DOGS) spit, belch, don’t bathe, threaten harmless people (or cats as the case may be) and should probably swear like sailors.  Thus, I have a few options:

1)  Say ‘f*** it’ and use real swear words in my story, which I don’t really want to do.

2)  Borrow not-quite-swear-words from other works of fiction, like ‘frak’ from BattleStar Galactica, but I don’t want to do this either because its well, unoriginal, and I know I’m setting myself to get stuck in some “THERE’S NO FURRIES IN BATTLESTAR GALACTICA” debate down the road.

3)  Use common words.  This method was used often by one of my favorite writers, Isaac Asimov.  When a swear was needed, his characters would say things like “Space!” or “Stars and galaxies!”

4)  Just make stuff up.  This is obviously the hardest one, because I’m essentially inventing new words, and I’d like for them to make sense and not look like a random jumble of letters.

I am going with #3 with a varying degree of success, and who knows, I may invent some new pseudo-cuss words, especially at work, but for now I’ll just have to punt and pepper my story with <SWEAR WORD> placeholders until I think of something better.

Crap.

FREE-book!

UPDATE: The free promotion for “The Rules of Tech Support is now over, but you can still get “One Sheet Stories” for free!

My second e-book “The Rules of Tech Support” is available for free today via Amazon Kindle devices and software, and of course, you can always get “One Sheet Stories” for FREE here!”