Ah, Tax Time

I was speaking with my mother last night. The conversation went something like this:

"As soon as I finish playing this game I'm playing, I have to start on my taxes."


"Yeah. I'm hoping the game takes at least two more weeks."

For those following at home, the game is Empire Total War. I tend alternate my PC games between the oldest unplayed in my library and a newer "player's choice" game. The game after Empire Total War will be Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I got for Christmas. But I digress.

I have a tax guy. Or gal. I don't know. I turn it in and someone at the company does it. Last time it was the head of the organization because I messed up on my HSA and no one knew how to deal with the penalty for that. Usually, it's a minion. I highly recommend having a tax person walk you through the pitfalls of being a private business owner when you first go into business as a writer. For instance, don't write the word "Research" on a deduction. Evidently, that's a red flag.

I was lucky in that I found a tax guy (it was definitely a guy at the time) that was very affordable and sat down and spent an hour or so with me the first time, just walking me through the hurdles. Since then, he's passed away and his company has been absorbed, and the price goes up each year, but only 20 dollars so it will be a while before it gets as expensive as some of the big companies. In the meantime, all the people in the office know me by name.

So the big push is that I need to get tax forms OUT for the people I send royalties to by the end of the month. That means I should probably reconcile my end of year books for Final Redoubt Press as well. 1099s need to go to by January 31st. If the game takes two weeks, it will need to pause for that, obviously, because that needs to happen in the next day or two.

After that, I have to do the big push for my taxes themselves, and that used to take me two weeks, but since I started digitizing my receipts, I think that takes less time. It might only have taken a week last year. We'll see.

Anyway. I need a new gaming PC. And the guy who inherits my old gaming PC, and who uses them to Hangout with us on Saturdays REALLY needs my old gaming PCs. (Each week that goes by the chances go up we lose him for good as that really old machine just dies forever). And so I need to get my taxes done. So that I can play whatever comes after Rise of the Tomb Raider. Looks like one of the Command and Conquer games. And so he can use Google Hangouts without three reboots a night. Wish me luck. Hopefully, we will not lose contact with a friend and I will be neither commanded nor conquered.

Rogue One as a Prequel

So, a lot of people are talking about how Rogue One is a better Star Wars prequel than the prequel trilogy. For this week, let's take a step back and see how Rogue One succeeded in fitting in so neatly before Star Wars. I'm not going to rag on the prequel movies in this post. We're just going to look at what Rogue One did right. You can draw your own conclusions about whether the prequel films also did some or all of these things right. So let's again get with the spoiler space. 













What Rogue One did first and foremost was tell a good story, and where it succeeded most was where it concentrated on that story. The few times it genuinely failed was when it tried to force its references to the earlier films (earlier in the years they released, not in the universe chronology.) Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba showing up on the same planet as Saw are a good example of perhaps too heavy of a hand.

Don't get me wrong, the story doesn't stand on its own. If you take someone who hasn't seen Star Wars, they will be completely lost, but within the context of the Star Wars universe, this is a good self-contained movie. Apart from minor roles and cameos, all the characters are new.  Their struggle is personal and motivated by their own person inner demons.

So instead of a lot of blatant ham-handed connections, they held themselves to just a few ham-handed connections and tried, in general, to keep their prequelism more subtle. They took episode 4, 5, and 6 and they projected back from there. Here are some of the little things they did to help you feel like you were watching the inciting incidents of the original Star Wars Trilogy:


The Movie Ends with the Tantive IV racing away from Darth Vader with the Death Star Plans. Vader is beyond pissed at this moment, explaining why he is at a 10 at the beginning of Star Wars (maybe at an 11), when he rarely gets above a 3 or a 4 at any other point in the films.

Also, we see that Leia is lying to his face throughout the opening of the film, stoking his rage, and they both know it. That scene has always struck me as tonally different from the rest of the movies. That's probably because of Prowse's performance, later dubbed over by Jones, but now we have an in-universe reason.

We now know why the Death Star had the flaw it had. A nice little retcon.

And of course, we now have an full movie outlining the events described in the crawl of Ep 4, so obviously, there's that.

More Subtle

We see Red Five die, making room for Luke. I believe we see Wedge's spot open up as well. According to Sam Witwer, they hired the actor that performed Wedge's voice in Ep 4 to come back and do voiceovers in Rogue One, but then realized that Wedge was the only one who reacts to the size of the Death Star when they approach it in the Battle of Yavin, and he couldn't have been in this movie.

We see that AT-AT's used to have weak armor and a slightly different design, explaining why the pilots tried to shoot at them with normal snowspeeder guns in the Battle of Hoth, and didn't start the battle with a backup plan.

We hear two stormtroopers discussing decommissioning the BT-15s, setting up the line in Ep 4 where two stormtroopers discuss the new BT-16s while Kenobi is disabling the tractor beam.

Red Leader and Gold Leader were in the film. Red Leader, whose actor is no longer with us, was completely built from A roll and B roll from Ep 4. Gold Leader's actor is still alive and returned to perform additional voice work.

They have an analog version of the Dejarik holochess game in Saw's fortress.

K2 Starts to say "I have a bad feeling about this." but gets cut off.

Super Subtle/Pure Fan Service

They have blue milk in their home in the opening scene, like Luke's home in Ep 4.

They mention the Whills, which were mentioned in Lucas's original Star Wars script. They also use the phrase, "May the Force of others be with you," also from the script. Finally, and we're out of prequel territory here, but they wanted to have a blue squadron in Ep 4, but it wouldn't work with the bluescreen technology of the time.

As with every Star Wars film, the Wilhelm scream is heard, this time when Jyn pushes the stormtrooper off the cliff.

Sam Witwer, who worked with the voice actors, reputedly took great pains to make sure the stormtrooper performances fell into line with Ep 4 stormtroopers, who "never went above a 5." Evidently, the stormtroopers in ep 4 were all voice recorded by some LA DJs.

As you can see, they worked hard, on many levels, to make this movie work. Whereas some films (again, not necessarily referring to the prequel trilogy here) do nothing put openly wink at the audience, the Star Wars connections in Rogue One are buried deeply in its DNA. Whereas most movie remakes and prequels wave their arms blatantly at the audience, Rogue One works their magic down into the deepest fabric of the film. Some of it works. Some of it misfires, but as a whole, it comes together into a cohersive and well-made piece of storytelling.

And that's all any of us could hope for.

Character Archetypes in Rogue One

So. Rogue One happened. And as someone who is just old enough to demark their lives by the time before Star Wars and after Star Wars, you can probably guess what my next couple blog posts will be about. That's right. So let's get with the spoiler space. 













So, for those who went through this with me on Episode VII, you'll remember I use the Dramatica archetypes, but for those just joining us, let me remind you, briefly, about archetype pairs again.

In the Grand Argument Theory of storytelling put forth by Dramatica, the characters are broken into archetype pairs who each take one side of an argument. How these character interactions turn out make the story's ultimate statement on that aspect of the argument. For instance, the sidekick and skeptic character argue the merits of doubt and faith (through their actions, if not directly). How these characters fare show the story's message on which is more important: faith or skepticism.

So the archetypes are as follows:

Protagonist/Antagonist: Hero/Villain. These two are pretty self-explanatory.

Reason/Emotion: These two characters argue the merits of intellect versus passion.

Sidekick/Skeptic: These two characters argue the merits of faith versus doubt. Loyalty vs self-interest.

Guardian/Contagonist: The guardian tries to keep the protagonist on the true path, while the contagonist tries to steer them down a crooked path. For instance, most people think that Darth Vader is the antagonist in the Star Wars trilogy. He isn't. He's the contagonist because his ultimate goal is to corrupt Luke, not to kill him. He doesn't oppose Luke, he opposes Obi-Wan. Fatally, in fact.

So I don't know if Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy consciously use these archetypes. Dramatica didn't invent them, they produced them from observing and distilling many, many successful stories. However, they have an interesting take on at least two of the Interactions. One I've used myself. So let's examine how this all pans out in Rogue One.

Protagonist/Antagonist: Obviously, Jyn Erso and Orson Krennic. Jyn is our plucky hero and Krennic our Nazi-like villain. There isn't anything very surprising here.

Reason/Emotion: K-2SO/Boshi Rook. Our mentally damaged droid and our mentally damaged pilot. It's most interesting in the fact that they almost never interact. The movie doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on this argument. It actually brushes K-2's side under the rug by making him come from a place very close to emotion most of the time, and what arguments it makes about reason and emotion it tends to make with through our protagonist and contagonist, leaving these characters to carry more emotional character arcs, which I'm fine with because K-2's is arguably the most moving in the film. I can't complain they only pay lip service to reason. "I won't tell you the odds of her using it against you. But it's high."

Sidekick/Skeptic: Chirrut Îmwe/Baze Malbus. Our character of faith and our fallen faith character. I don't think there's any question where the film places the winner in this argument. In fact, even when the skeptic is being all skeptical, he is still absolutely loyal. "I don't need luck. I have you." The most interesting thing they did here, and one of my personal favorite tricks, is making the two inseparable best friends. Essentially, making them two halves of the same person, only truly complete when they act together. These two, in many ways, were the heart of the film.

Contagonist/Guardian: Cassian Andor/Galen Erso. It's no surprise that Galen is the guardian. His first act is to sacrifice his own freedom to save his daughter, and his every act after that is to keep her, and after that the galaxy, safer. His final acts are to get the word of the Death Star to the Rebellion. The interesting part comes in Cassian, who's tasked with killing him, and can't bring himself to do so. However, if you expand the contagonist to include the Rebellion leadership as a whole (or at least elements of it) you can at least argue that the contagonist still does him in.

The really interesting take is the protagonist and the contagonist. In most stories, the contagonist is trying to turn the protagonist away from their true path, but Rogue One follows where Return of the Jedi originally led us. In this story, the protagonist is having none of that, and it's here job to bring the contagonist back to the light. And she does so. Does Jyn change? Yes, but in her core principles she never really wavers and once she decides that the Rebellion's cause is worthy of her attention, after her reconciliation with the path her father took, she begins warping everyone around her to her way with the strength of her personality.

Cassian, K2, the Rebellion itself. One by one, she brings people to her side. Only Chirrut sees her for who she really is at the beginning of the movie, and it isn't terribly surprising since she's been hiding from everyone, including herself. In fact, you could make the strong argument that until she stops hating her father and sees the Death Star in use, she doesn't really see herself either. Only in that moment does she realize that she isn't the person who can just stand around and let the Empire win.

Maybe the most interesting pairing in the movie Rogue One is Jyn vs Jyn. The Jyn we know at the beginning, the scarred, discarded little girl that Saw Gerrera pulled out of that hole all those years ago, and the hero waiting within, that awakens when she realizes that her father wasn't a monster, and heroes can sacrifice their lives not just by dying for a cause, like her mother, but by living for one.

Like her father.

Messing Up is Data Too

So the weekend before last, I totally blew it. I had a 99 cent sale. My second. It was the first sale after the publisher moved me into the LitRPG category, and that move did great things for my overall numbers. This time I wouldn't be competing against Harry Potter and (strangely enough) Game of Thrones for the top ten spots in the category. Okay, I totally still would since all TV and Movie adaptations are there as well, but they don't fill that category quite as completely. Anyway, I was really looking forward to the data.

I set up several ads. Many podcasts announced the sale just before the sale went live. I had a few feeds promise to drop an ad into their feed the day of. Then, I completely forgot.

I can't tell you what happened. My Christmas vacation started. Rogue One came out. My alert to remind me to check on them went awry. I set everything up a week or more in advance and when the day came up and my alert didn't fire, I just completely forgot the date.

I remembered when there were just a few hours left in the sale. I checked the numbers. It would be inaccurate to say I'd sold nothing, but the blip was hardly noteworthy. I probably sold as many books the first two days after we shifted categories as we did during the two days of the sale.  A hiccup, really. I just completely messed up.

I should have checked those feeds the moment I got home that night first night as it started at midnight. I should have sent off friendly reminder emails so the ads hit the feeds first thing in the morning Saturday. A little late, but not too far off. If I'd been on the ball, we probably could have saved the sale.

But I didn't.

I was pretty depressed that day, for three or four hours. I just couldn't believe I'd messed up so badly. I generally don't make mistakes that big. I kicked myself for hours. Probably didn't help that one of my friends took that moment to light into me about how I should be with one of the big three publishers, as if I needed to be reminded about twenty-five years of failure and rejection at that moment.

But, I decided, that I needed this data too. This failure data. Now I know exactly what I sell when I have a sale and I don't push it with timely ads (and what I sell is Bupkis.) For you to know how effective something is, you need a baseline. I now have an idea just how spectacularly effective my first sale really was, because my second sale was a shocking realization that if I do nothing to draw attention to the promotion, there is no attention.

Now, I'll point out that the publisher does do some to draw attention to these sales as well, but this was a publisher-wide sale, so my book was on sale with at least 20 other titles at the same time (probably more, I didn't count). If I hadn't done anything on that first sale, they probably would have still driven some attention to the promotion, but now I know what the draw is of the Amazon sale by itself, and that is almost nothing.

So now I have my baseline. Now I know just how little mention even a day or two before the sale actually does to drive sales. This is all good information.

I just need to use it properly, going forward.

Vacation 2: The Wrath of Bob

I've started a new vacation, so here are you book recommendations for today.

20 Master Plots and How to Build them, but Ronald B. Tobias, is a cornerstone of my plotting process. If you've read my posts on plotting, you'll know that for every real subplot, I assign it a full plot arc and then map it to one of the plots in this book. I use this book to make sure that the plot is complete and that it follows the accepted form. Basically, that I don't mess it all up. This book shouldn't be used to make your work look like everyone else's, though. This book should be used to as a jumping off point to take the accepted form and to find new and interesting takes on the old themes.

Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley is an interesting entry to this list because technically I haven't read it. What I have read are the Dramatica help files, printed out and from begining to end, back when those were the only way to digest this information. If you get Dramatica, you could still do that, but it would be an annoying and you'd abuse a tree. It might be better just to spring for the kindle edition of this book. It explains the Grand Argument Theory of storytelling (if they still call it that), and how it applies to plotting a story, Dramatica style.

Death by Cliché 2 Nearing Completion

So next week I go on vacation. For Thanksgiving, I tried to clear my schedule for my vacation. I don't think that will be possible for Christmas. I've promised two friends that I'd give them full alpha reads by the end of the year. On top of that, at literally any minute I expect to get back proofs on DbC 2, and I've asked for a proofer that gives very thorough work. Not only does he find stuff that requires entire sentence rewrites, requiring more than one pass, but I specifically ask for him and my editor because he's a gamer and my editor isn't, so I expect him to catch at least one thing that the editor didn't, that's game related.

Anyway. I expect some longish nights coming, and I don't think they can be longish enough to get done before my vacation.

I'll probably take Christmas Off, though. Because: Christmas.

Things continue on DbC 4. I discovered this week that I've been taking "In Late, Out Early" to too great an extreme. In late, out early is a bit of writing advice that's meant to curb an author's instinct to linger on a character. You meander your way into a scene. You linger too long after a scene should be over. Well, taken to an extreme, the character doesn't have time to make an impact. They become more of a highlight reel than an actual character arc, and evidently, I have committed that sin. It isn't the first time. It won't be the last. Sometimes, we worry more about keeping things moving than actually taking the time to let the characters breathe. In our fear of being boring, we become as frenetic as a coked-up hummingbird.

So, I've gone back and written some more connective tissue bits. In them, I'm trying to correct some character issues that critiquers also noticed. If they like the new direction, I can carry the changes through the stuff I already wrote. It also allowed me to work in a Star Wars joke I was dying to use, but skipped somehow. So there was that.

But all in all, things are good. I keep finding myself looking for the cat, but that's becoming increasingly infrequent. I don't know if it will ever completely go away. But we push on. We keep going. Right now I'm also playing Europa Universalis VI, and I'm about to vent my frustrations on the French.

I suspect we all know that will help.

Taking One on the Chin

The day after I wrote my last post, a few hours after it auto-posted, I found out that I needed to put my cat to sleep. I did the deed on Wednesday.

If you've never had to do this, you probably don't understand just how emotionally devastating this process can be. You go through various stages from grief to guilt to agony to obliteration. During all of this, I tried to get out my weekly words, and I'm writing a comedy. So. That happened. But, you know, I can't lose a week. Not if I can help it. I have to keep working. I have to get something down. I have to get my submission into writers group.

I squeezed out something like the bare minimum of text I could produce and not call the week a total loss, and then I decided that I needed to finish with something that was genuinely productive. I had to find a way to turn the personal pain into a net gain. To make it work for me, because screw pain. Pain is my bitch.

When I started writing Death by Cliché 2, I knew that I was going to tell an epic hero's journey story with a cat in DbC 3. So I introduced the cat in DbC 2 as a "Chekov's cat" sort of writing device. I also introduced several other characters in what seemed like self-indulgent vignettes, that would actually play an important part in DbC 3. Then, in DbC 3, Cat is one of the important characters, carrying an important load-bearing wall of the plot with him throughout the book.

A third, maybe halfway through the book, I discovered my cat had diabetes. Never one to pass up any excuse for a chapter quote, I did a riff or three about giving cats shots and how diabetes affected his appetite. How the insulin changed his personality. I would like to hope that any cat person becomes at least a little attached to the journey that my cat took through those chapter quotes. I know some people on twitter did.

So after I had my bare minimum chapters written for DbC 4 I went back and tossed out the epilogue of DbC 3. It was crap anyway and I'd always suspected that I'd need to rewrite it. Instead, I wrote a chapter quote stating that I'd just returned from the vet, and about three hundred words that I hope are a touching good bye. I finished with an In Memoriam, so now the book has a dedication, and now the reader knows how that story actually ended.

I had plans that Cat from book three would be in book four, at least in part, but the place I left him was not unlike heaven for cats, and I think there he will stay. Happy. Forever.

Or at least until the world needs to be saved again. For all cat kind.

Vacation Over (Sort of)

Various things happened over my vacation. Mainly, I caught up on Halloween stuff. I have this tradition of playing horror (or at least atmospheric) computer games for Halloween, but this year everything was displaced by the release of Civilization VI, which I'd preordered. So after pushing through the final content edits on DbC 2, and starting my Thanksgiving Vacation I jumped into some games.

I played Bioshock 2 (atmospheric.) I learned that Five Nights at Freddy's is an absolutely brilliant game that I'd rather watch Markplier play than play myself, and I learned that being hunted by a xenomorph for six hours straight in Alien: Isolation is absolutely exhausting (but worth it).

This morning, for breakfast, I went through an accepted my final changes on DbC 2 (about six commas and the like) and dropped in my author's bio, then realized I'm in about four anthologies that aren't listed in my bio, so sent out requests for the titles of the ones that haven't actually released yet.

No podcast today (I write these on Sunday). I'll try to finish the Alien game, and then maybe get some more work done on DbC 4. As soon as the game's over, I'll throw myself full into finishing my plot blueprint of the book. I've got Act One done and the whole thing plotted in general, but I really need to work out the fiddly bits on the whole thing so I can have a solid working document to write from. Right now it's all kinda hodge podge. All the data is there I just don't have it in a particularly convenient working document yet.

I guess I don't have big message this time, unless it's this: Work is what you do, week in, and week out (barring vacations). It can be a grind, but that's the grind we sign up for. It's hard work, and much of it is uphill, and we wouldn't do it if we had any other choice. But we don't, so that's what we do.

In our own, post-vacation, scatter-brained way.

A New Vacation Tradition

I'm on vacation and I'm going to start a new vacation tradition. Instead of coming up with an insightful blog post, or a cheap nothing post, I'll post book recommendations. I'll start with books on being a better writer, at least until they run out.

Possibly the best book on writing characters and point of view, Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint is a master class that takes you from the basics (what's the difference between first person and third), to the intermediary (what's the difference between full and limited omniscience), to advanced (what's the difference between light POV penetration and deep penetration. This book is a must for new and experienced writer alike. Also, if my editors read it, they might stop italicizing all my characters thoughts without my permission.


Techniques of a Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain, is hands down the best general book on writing I've ever read. It walks you though many aspects of the craft, but of the many spectacular pieces of advice, the two that stick out the most are motivation-reaction units and what I call the Swain ending. Motivation-reaction units explain how to order character reactions to create a believable experience of the reader. Often writers present the reaction of a character in an improper order, and it leaves the character's responses seeming unmotivated or wooden. In the Swain ending, Dwight outlines the perfect character dilmma for the end of any story. While he might overstate how often you should use it (I believe he says it's required for every story), you'll be amazed at how many stories you see with the Swain ending, once you're aware of it. Tangled, for instance, has the most interesting take on the Swain ending, I've ever seen. Read the book, then rewatch that movie.

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, is consider by many to be the definitive book on screenwriting. It takes you from inception to building a plot board, to hammering out story beats, all the way through the end. It is an insightful look into the structure of movies and screenplays. While it might seem that it's only useful for creenwriters, with a few alterations, it is useful for certain novels. I've used it to plot every Death by Cliché after the first.

Crunch Time, Redux

Next week I go on vacation for Thanksgiving, and my editor, Michael, has returned Death by Cliché 2 just in time for me to have one sleepless week to get it done. I’ve already done one pass on it, and he’s told me that he’s happy with my edits. I’ve addressed his issues. After this pass, it will be ready to go to proofing. I could probably just accept his edits, but I can’t not do a full pass. So I’m doing 53 pages a day until it’s done.

But I hit a chapter last night where we still have a disagreement, and I thought I’d talk about that today because he’s a great editor and he’s letting me make the call. I usually go with everything he says, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one, and I think I need to discuss why.

The chapter in question is 11. The thing is presented, on the surface, as a joke. The chapter quote has the narrator making the comment that he’s surprised that I’ve made it that far into the book without writing a scene in the POV of the weather. Then I present, you guessed it, a scene in the POV of the weather. After that, the narrator makes a joke about how that whole chapter was a shot at him and we move on.

Michael thinks it reads like a Wikipedia article.

It’s written in that slightly self-indulgent style of much of the first book, which is largely absent from the second. That is a clue. It feels largely out of place in the book, which is another clue. I think it will stick in the craw of the reader a bit, which is the intention.

I think, when we’re working on these things from the inside, we sometimes look at them backward. We’re challenging everything and we say, “This belongs.” “This doesn’t belong.” That’s almost always right, but every once in a while, the fact that something doesn’t belong is the whole point. Look a chapter 3 of the Grapes of Wrath (I'm not comparing myself to the Grapes of Wraith, but bare with me). The famous turtle scene. It’s the very incongruity of that scene that invites analysis. It’s Steinbeck saying, “I’m doing something here, pay attention.” Not every bit a symbolism of literary artistry needs to draw attention to itself, but when the book is a comedy about gamer jokes, it doesn’t hurt to send up a flare.

I listen to a lot of podcasts by Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor. I hope that one day he and his students will read my books, or people with minds like theirs. I want to challenge them intellectually and literarily, as well as engage them humorously and emotionally. I want them to have some layers to unpack. I’m trying to tell a good yarn, yes, but that has never been all I’ve been doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I cut a lot things because they legitimately didn't fit. There are about five-seven chapters that didn’t make the cut. At least one of them was one of the funniest chapters in the book, in my opinion, but it didn’t support the narrative, and all the ground it covered was better covered elsewhere. Funny alone isn’t enough to get you in. Every chapter has to do double or triple duty.

And there’s one last reason. When Death by Cliché originally came out in 2006, it included a prologue. The editor didn’t like the prologue, and it was the first note I ever got from him (being the prologue). I don’t like prologues in principle, and this was my first published novel, so I caved instantly. I cut it, and the 2016 version of the novel was published without it.

Here’s what happened in that prologue. Two “giants” (meaning giants in the gaming industry) met around a miniature gaming sand table and invented fantasy wargaming. During it, it’s implied that the universe fractures, and that the game they are playing becomes the first of the many worlds like the one Damico falls into in the first chapter of the book. It’s not a strong implication, but it’s there, at least in this line:

“The first giant circled the table, the gears turning in his mind. He reached out and with a finger, touched the 40mm figure on the wall. For just a moment, he thought it looked afraid.”

It ended like this:

"Words have power. Words have meaning. Words can create and words can destroy. A man can say, 'A day that will live in infamy,' and begin the events that would save a continent. A woman can say, 'Let them eat cake,' and not know she’d just catered her funeral. Quantum physics shows us that a single observation can split our universe into countless realities.
How much more can a man do with a word? How much more with five?
'Play the game, wizard-boy,' the first giant said."

Now, it’s hard to prove a negative, but I’ve had a lot of complaints in the current version of the novel that it’s never explained how Damico ended up in the game world. I’m going deeper into that in book two, but I never had that complaint with the 2006 podcast version.

This isn't exactly equivalent with the issues with chapter 11 in book 2. Chapter eleven doesn’t explain something left unexplained if I cut it, but there’s that part of my mind that’s whispering that the book is something more if I leave it in, for the people willing to dig and put in the effort. For the people who aren’t, it’s 487 words of me committing to a joke about pissing off the narrator of my own book, which isn’t the farthest I’ve gone for a joke, by any stretch of the imagination.

So other scenes died so that one lives. Michael doesn’t like it, but he knows I do, and he’s giving me the call, and I’m keeping it. Here’s the thing. I’m not keeping it because someone will get it one day and think better of me. If people think well of me, they will think well of me for the humor, or the surprising and inevitable ending, or the way I handle the PTSD aspects of the book. I’m keeping it because someday someone’s going to read the book a second time, hit that passage, and get it, and feel a sense of pride as they figure out was the passage really means. They will feel better about themselves.

That’s why we put layers in books. Not because pulling them apart makes the writer something more. We put layers in books because taking them apart shows the reader that they are brilliant and witty and wise. It rewards them with the greatest compliment that a writer can give back to a reader.

Quiet, dignified applause.

Back in the Saddle. Ish?

So sometimes it's hard to get back into the discipline of working when you've given yourself a break. This has been doubly true for Death by Cliché 4. First of all, I had written far ahead of my Writer's Group. This was great on the one hand, because when those bad two weeks of 110 hours of daily work hit, I didn't need to produce any new words. On the other hand, I fell out of the habit of writing a full two weeks before I started my vacation.

Then came said vacation, and 94 hours of Civilization VI, followed by a fair number of hours of Master of Orion, and lots of very purposely not working.

I returned to my day job and objectively a terrible, stressful week. I was the only one submitting to Writer's Group last week, so I canceled it to give my brain relief from yet another deadline. I think it's maybe the second group I've canceled in the year (not counting scheduling conflicts, like conventions).

Finally last night I managed to get some time to really work on the book for an uninterrupted hour and a half. I had my chapter quote work, which I had kinda thrown out. I had about one and a half chapters, but the second chapter had been entirely written in fifteen-minute chunks and I just couldn't get my feet under me.

But last night, after the house was quiet, I finally forced myself to really sit down and finish chapter 2. By the end, I felt like I had my rhythm back and the book no longer felt like an insurmountable challenge. The book had never been that daunting. It was the idea of working again that had been daunting.

So now I know that about myself. In fairness, I knew it about myself before. I have to relearn that pretty much every time I come off a vacation, but every time it just feels like it's too much and that I will never get my feet back under me again. I know in my head that isn't the case, but it always just feels like so much work.

But you have to do it because that's the job. Butt in chair. Day in. Day out. That's the habit of the profession. That's the discipline you need to develop.

And my point of this post is that you don't just always have that discipline, even after years of perfecting it. It's a constant struggle to maintain it, and even a small vacation can seem to wreck it entirely. Sometimes just a long weekend is enough to tear down your good work and leave you feeling like a complete neophyte.

The thing that years of experience does bring you is the memory of the habit. Like a mold in which you can quickly build the habit again. As bad as it felt to start, I had my habits back probably after the first hour. Maybe after the first thirty minutes. It's like physical conditioning. A well-conditioned athlete still gets tired, maybe more slowly than a slob like me, but it still happens. The real difference between him and I is that when I exhaust myself it takes forever to recover, and it takes him five or ten minutes.

It's the same with work discipline. Build the good habits and you'll lose them just like everyone else, but if you build them well, they will come back to you, and they will come back very quickly. So keep plugging away. It doesn't get that much easier, but the amount of time that it stays hard gets shorter, and that's what you are really fighting for.

Also, a really good video game probably doesn't help the whole process. Two make it just that much harder.

Working Through a Broken Implementation

As I write this (yesterday compared to the earliest you could have read this), I'm finishing up my post-two-novel-edit vacation. The only real work I did during that vacation, besides building and subjugating many a civilization in Civ VI, was to take my chapter quotes for Death by Cliché 4 to my writing group. I usually just let them critique the chapter quotes with rest of each individual chapter, but I'm doing something very difficult with the quotes in 4 and they needed to be critiqued as a whole. For one thing, I was about 70% sure they were just way too long and about 40% sure the entire form was wrong and about 10% sure that I needed to scrap the whole idea altogether.

We discussed them at a high level at fairly great length and determined:

  1. Yeah, they are either too long or too short and making them longer probably isn't an option.
  2. The original idea I had for the form, which I couldn't make work, was probably better, and while this one might work, it isn't great.
  3. It's a neat idea and if I can make it work I should. (But man, it's hard, structurally).

Have you ever had an author give you the advice that sometimes you need to write scenes that will never make it into the novel, just to help inform the greater work? If not: sometimes you need to write scenes that will never make it into the novel just to inform the greater work. This is like that. The chapter quotes in 4 tell a unified story. They are, in the form I wrote them, not unlike the 10% of a screenplay that hits all the really plot-relevant parts. If I hadn't written what I wrote, I wouldn't have the full shape of the thing in my own head, and therefore I wouldn't be able to knock it down to about 10% of that and squeeze the thing into the head of the reader.

With jokes.

I did say it would be hard didn't I?

But I think I needed to work through that to get to where I am now. Sometimes we get to where we need to go in stages. Sometimes we have to throw out something almost entirely, but we don't think of that as lost work. We think of that as a draft and we move on. It's a part of the game. It's the price we pay for trying to create. We have to innovate, at least in part, on everything we do. Even when you work in tropes and hackneyed ideas, hopefully, you're innovating in your use of those tropes and hackneyed ideas. Of course, some of my reviewers would disagree, but that's something you have to work through too. In a way, everything we have done is a draft for everything we do in the future, and everything we have done in our life is a slightly more broken version of our next attempt as we push forward, chipping away all the pieces that don't look like an elephant until we come to that perfect, platonic ideal. Unobtainable? Sure.

But that's no reason to stop trying.

Fin. And Also Critique Rage

You should sleep better when you finish a big two-week push.

Not that I'm complaining. All right, I'm complaining, but it's a warm, happy, sort of complaining. Maybe I'll take a pain killer before bed tonight. First world problems.

Anyway, Saturday night, just one week plus a few hours from starting the second novel edit, I finished, putting in the last of the critique notes. There is still one set of notes I have to collect from one critiquer Thursday, but I'll put those in Thursday night and they'll probably take less than an hour. That left me with just the third book which I was about five-eighths of the way through. I was more than three quarters through by the time I went to bed and I finished that by the afternoon. So my goal was to finish by Monday night. I finished a day early. I still need to make a pass on my comments to take out the snark, but my vacation should begin apace.

I think the work on the first and third book was very solid. The middle book I'm not sure I was objective enough about. I need to go back and look at it through a better humor lens. I'll do that in a couple weeks and see if it needs another pass. I'm not sure I have the funny tuned right. We'll see. That might just be a third draft problem.

I noticed something on this big editing push I thought I'd talk about, though. I call it critiquer rage. I've spoken before about how you have to read past what the critiquer says to find the real problem behind words. One manifestation of this happens when you thoroughly lose the reader at some point during a critique session. From that point on, the tone of their notes change and they basically start hate-critiquing. I don't really blame them, because I've done it myself. It's that point where you've stopped evaluating the manuscript in front of you and now you're just arguing with it.

It's a hard place to be in when you're trying to read those notes. Sometimes you just have to throw them out. I try not to, but I DO have a critiquer or two who simply can't give me useful data once they've hit that point. The fact that they hit that threshold in the first place is pretty useful of course, and I go back and fix the issue that broke them, but much of their critique after that are just vitriol.

MOST people, though, still have some gems gleaming through their combativeness after their breaking point. You can still read their variations of tone and say, "They are calming down. This section is probably working if it's making them forgive me a little" or "They are arguing with the furniture now, I suspect this section is boring." Often they will spot logic problems when they are angry that they will NEVER spot when they are involved in the story, so really think through any of those.

The big thing is that you have to keep your head when you hit those chapters. It's hard, but you have to remember that they are doing you a favor and it was probably something you did that made them angry. You probably didn't ask for their critique if you didn't trust their opinion, so you need to listen to that opinion, even when you don't like it. And you need to find that opinion even when it takes some unpleasant digging. Sometimes I'll take a little break and flip to an easier critiquer when I find myself losing my own objectivity. Sometimes I'll read ahead and go back over a section several times, discounting a section as simple meanness then going back and thinking, "but maybe..."

Remember. They volunteered. You almost certainly didn't pay them. This is your career. You need to suck every bit of value out of their notes you can get. You might get more notes after you fix those problems, but likely your critique pool is finite. Unless you're at the point where you don't need notes from anyone but your editor anymore, you need to fix as problems as possible before use up the next resources in that pool.

And then you sleep. Hopefully better than I did. Maybe with the help of schedule 4 pharmaceuticals.

The Grind, Week 2

Remember sleep? I don't. I bet sleep was nice.

Things are going great. This blog post will probably be short because I want to stay laser focused. To remind readers, my goal is to create second drafts of two novels in two weeks, before my vacation, which includes a rather large pile of critique notes. That involved about 90-110 hours a week including my normal day job and drive times (I think the first week shook out at about 98 due to prior commitments). And between 5-6 hours sleep a night. On Friday night I slept in a whole 8 hours.

Things went well the first week I edited my cyberpunk murder mystery. I started on Saturday afternoon and I finished then next Saturday evening. I'm pretty happy with the results. I was worried that I'd feel rushed and while the pace was certainly punishing, it really made it MUCH easier to keep it all in my head at once. It's hard to tell how many details I would have caught if it had been spread over my more typical two weeks, but I was routinely noticing details at the end of the book that contradicted little things I'd said at the beginning of the book. Often, I'm still finding those on the third or fourth draft, but it's vitally important you catch them all in a mystery.

So now I've started the draft of DbC 3. I'm feeling pretty good about how things are going. Here's the thing, though. The edits for DbC 2 are just coming in from the publisher. That's only one set of notes, so they won't take as long as a full critique group. So now I have to ask.

Do I think I can get them done before the vacation too? Am I up to that challenge? I don't think I am...

But then again...

Back to the Grind

I don't even know where this blog post fits. Getting your Third Book Published? Sleepless Nights for Fun And Profit? Goodbye Video Games?

I tend to work in spurts. New writing is steady. I do about a thousand words or the equivalent in plotting, most weekdays. During convention season, when a lot of writing groups get cancelled, that might slump a bit, but I turn in about six thousand words a week to group, so that schedule handles the occasional missed meeting.

When edits come back from the publisher, that's another matter. So far, they've been pretty easy. I TRY to clear up all the big story problems before they ever see the manuscript, so it's not too hard to just do about ten percent of the manuscript every night after everyone goes to bed and not really miss anything socially, while still turning the manuscript around in ten days... which I think catches them a bit off guard.

But that those drafts before I turn in a manuscript? Oh, are they labor intensive. I try to read and do my major rewrite at night after everyone's asleep. That can go more than two hours getting me to bed after midnight, and leaving me chapters sorta clean to work with the next night, when I painstakingly go through piles of critique notes, considering whether or not I'd addressed those comments the night before and addressing those that I haven't (or not. I don't agree with every note, and sometimes the notes argue, especially where jokes are concerned).

So I tend to work between 50-55 hours when everything is happy and I'm in an off period with new edits. I binge video games. I enjoy life. I also set entertainment benchmarks, after which I have to get back to work. I played a few games during the last vacation period that ended with me playing all the Dawn of War II expansions. I finished those Saturday. Now it's back to work.

I want to draft two novels this bout, one that's a cyberpunk murder mystery that's been percolating in my drawer for about a year and a half. The other is DbC 3. They are both around 100k words, and I have a vacation starting the last week of October. I WANT to finish them by then, but I don't actually think that's possible. Still, I'm going to give it the old college try and see if I can double my editing output for the period, which basically means giving up all reading whatsoever and collapsing in exhaustion every night for bed. There were fewer pages of existing critiques on these two, so the time going through the edits might just be quick enough that it's doable if I sacrifice everything else and work 80-120 hours a week.

If I fail, it's not super critical. I'll just take my vacation. My critiquers for this bout of beta reads have all over-committed to the point where I don't think any of them will blink if I stop sending them pages for a week. I'll just take it up the week after. Still. We'll see if I can do it. I'm curious to see how it goes.

Wish me luck

Take a Deep Breath

There is a common occurrence at my writer's groups and I think it might help any new writers that might happen to stumble upon this blog, perhaps while looking for the lyrics to a Hamilton song. Here. I'll help the search engines. "The Election of 1800" + "Lyrics" Good.

Anyway, this problem often starts with a side issue, which is the "Slow Read Problem." This happens when your writer's group hasn't met for two weeks because you meet at the house of a high-falutin' humorist and he goes on cruises once a year and the group has forgotten important things that happened in your last submission. Because: cruise. And high falutin'.

Anyway, this happened last week. The number one, actually I think the only high-level criticism They had with my submission was that one of the characters, The Cat of Darkness, didn't seem to have anything to loose and they'd lost track of his thread and they wanted him to meet up with the other characters. The last we handled right away when I reminded them the two groups had met up about five chapters previously and asked if they still thought it was a problem and they all agreed that no, they'd just forgotten and that part was fine. I told them that the rest of the problem would go away in the chapters NEXT week, and while I couldn't figure out a way to solve it in the chapters this week, maybe we'd talk about it after the next group when we all had the big picture. We all agreed and walked away.

Here's what was really going on:

The critique caught me off guard and sent me into a panic spiral. All I could think of was that I'd need to rewrite about a quarter of the book to fix the problem and that I had no idea what I was doing and that I was a hack and dear God don't look me!

But. Deep breath. This happens all the time. Fake it 'til you make it. Keep outwardly calm. Suggest a plausible-sounding plan like a grown-up and fall apart in the car on the drive home.

Then, on said drive home, the initial panic wore off and several things came back to me one at a time. First of all, one of my primary critiques way back at during that last group was that they liked the irony that the Cat of Darkness's stakes were so much higher than the main character's (in a certain scene played for that comparison, at least). They'd just forgotten that scene. While sitting on deck chairs in the Caribbean.

Also, they had all enjoyed this omniscient scene I'd written this week who's entire purpose had been to up the stakes on the Cat of Darkness even farther. I just hadn't finished connecting the dots between the rules I set in that scene and what they met for the Cat of Darkness. A simple failure to finish a logical conclusion.

And next week, all those elements come together in an epic cat fight.

This post is entirely free of metaphor, BTW.

The point is, I didn't freak out. I panicked, but I didn't let them know it. And when the panic receded, I realized that the entire high-level problem went away with the addition of a single sentence to make certain that the readers knew that a scene about a cat was, indeed, about a cat.

I bounced that sentence off the group when I got home to ask if I could get away with it, because it was particularly omniscient, and they all thought it fixed everything very nicely. The closest we came to a critique was the high-falutin' humorist, who gave back a joke suggestion that earned him forgiveness for the whole cruise thing.

Earning Good Karma

One of the things I try to remember is to spread the love. Buy other people's books. Share other people's links. Promote other people's sales. Those are the obvious ones. I had a less obvious opportunity Thursday.

Daniel from Dungeon Crawler's Radio posted on Facebook in the afternoon, saying that all of his co-hosts had last minute scheduling conflicts and asked if anyone wanted to help with the show. Now, I believe that DCR has been critical for my book's success so far, so I was the first to reply. Followed by several other authors, which made me wince. Most of them were scheduled to be on the show as guests that night and I was afraid Daniel would think that I was just volunteering to be a guest as well.

So when he shot me the recording address I immediately replied, asking him the show topics and questions so I could come prepared as a panelist. I made it clear I was not coming to pitch my books. We've done that twice in three months and I don't want to wear out my welcome with his fans. I want his fans to like me. I want Daniel to like me. (Daniel already likes me, but I want him to continue to like me). Basically, I wanted to be clear that I was there to work for him, not the other way around.

So he gave me the show schedule. Three-four episodes recording. The first one interviewing a store owner. Second interviewing a new publisher. (Wymore). Maybe a spill-over episode. The last... Well, he didn't have a last. He asked me for ideas.

My chance to shine. I almost threw out some lame placeholder podcast subject, then I stopped. I stared at the blinking cursor.

Think, Defendi.

This is it. This is the moment. Here is where you define your worth to these people. But you don't do it showily. You do it by making it not about your worth. How do you do it? How do you do it?

And then I remembered driving to work, listening to DCR and Daniel mentioning something about DCR history and wishing I knew more. And then I remembered Daniel vague-booking about a contract deal. And that's when it hit me.

Daniel asks all the questions. Daniel has all these fans and followers, and no one gives them a window into Daniel's life. Daniel's too humble to bring it up and no one ever asks him the questions.

So I told him, "For our last show, I interview you. All your fans get to find out about your writing career and your recent contract and the history of Dungeon Crawers' Radio."

It was a blast. Maybe the favorite thing I've ever done as a guest spot on a podcast. I felt good. Daniel felt good. I bet the fans will really enjoy it. I got to talk a little about how much I love Daniel and how much I appreciate what he does for us authors, but that was the most I indulged in myself, and even that was about my feelings for him.

I never mentioned my book by name. I probably should have, but I really wanted it to be an act of altruism. Daniel has worked tirelessly to build DCR as a brand and he lets us all come along for the ride from time to time. He's good people, and I was happy to give a little back.

The episodes we recorded started dropping Friday and continue this week.

Aftermath (Your First Published Novel: Part 28)

All right. Things have finished falling out after my first Amazon sale, and overall, I'm still happy.

I was correct. Those "sales" on noverank in the first days definitely seemed to be false positives, caused by the rate of fall, not by actual new sales. Or rather it might be more accurate to say they were corrections, adding in books moved during the countdown sale after the fact.

Tuesday my rank stopped dropping. Wednesday, I had a small number of sales, Thursday and Friday, that doubled. It dropped over the weekend again. It seems to have leveled with my rank right around 25k.

I think I'm going to be happy about that. I know that this is something many writers struggle with. Hell, lots of people struggle with it in general, and I don't want this to turn into a statement on psychology or depression or disappointment or unrealistic expectations. We all have arrows in our quiver we can use when dealing with the business. Two arrows I am very glad to have are these:

1) I can find joy in a bad review, as long as they are not all bad.

2) I can reset my expectations and choose to be happy with something.

Don't get me wrong, these are not bad numbers for a first book from a small publisher. I don't have a whole lot of bragging contests with other writers, but I expect they are better than average. The publisher seems pleased. My acquisitions editor, who sees all the numbers from books he's acquired, says I sold more copies in my first month than some books sell in their lifetime. I'm pretty sure at this point I've passed more sales than your average literary novel (though I won't have firm confirmation of that for more than a month.) These numbers aren't bad.

But I hang out with people like Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson. Larry Correia gave me my cover quote. I know what really good numbers look like. It would be easy to fall into the trap of hating myself because my first book wasn't a runaway success.

But I've been in the business long enough to learn to manage expectations. I know to add "In its first four months" to that statement about being a runaway success. I know that many people don't buy first books from authors until their second books are out.

I'm a terrible salesman. I might have mentioned it. But the best thing I learned in a sale training seminar was to give yourself downtime. One salesman said that when something bad happened to him, he'd give him ten minutes. Ten minutes to be mad, or depressed, or to despair. Then he's back on. It's not a skill everyone has. Brain chemistry is tricky. Some people can't stop despression. Some can't let themselve fall into that trap or they'll never get out. But I can do it and it's a coping mechanism I've learned over years of disappointments and successess.

When I get a bad critique at writer's group, I give up writing for good on the drive home. I let myself do that. I know that I'll come to terms with the problem by the time I pull into my driveway and I'll give myself permission to become a writer again. If it's a bad problem and it take a long time, well, I have a long drive.

When my mother had cancer, that was the worst, because I had no one I could be weak in front of. So I would take my down time in the middle of the night, when she was asleep, when I could cry or rail and despair and no one could see.

When a relationship doesn't work out, I spend downtime proportional to the length of the relationship. When I get a bad review I roll with the punch and then laugh about it.

This blog post has turned into something else.

Which is funny, because as I said, I'm pretty sure the sales are above average. But I still needed to take my downtime and I think I've hit something here that needs to be said.

I can't help you find your coping mechanisms. Some people can never let themselves read reviews. Some people can never let themselves check sales numbers. Your first book, your first sale, will be a learning experience. I'm lucky in that I've had oh so many RPG books out and I've learned what tools I have and what tools I don't.

You're going to make mistakes learning what tools you have and do things that destroy you. Make sure it's only temporary. You're going to need friends and family to get you through. You're going to need to learn who you are and how you cope. When you do something that really messes you up, don't do that again. That's not your tool. Find another. Learn your limitations.

There isn't a writer alive that doesn't have to deal with disappointment. You think Andy Weir isn't terrified about what's going to happen with whatever book he writes AFTER The Martian? You think JK Rowling was delighted with the sales of her first detective novel, before her identity "leaked" to the public? You think Brandon Sanderson didn't have books where he said, "Well, that wasn't well-received."

My disappointment with my first countdown sale was inevitable. I knew it was inevitable. I have big hopes. The odds against my first sale meeting them were astronomical. I knew that going in and I was ready. Understand that. Prepare for that.

Being a successful writer is about being successful. It's about being unsuccessful successfully. Almost no one wins the first try, and those that do will fail later. Everyone fails. Let's say that again.

Everyone fails.

The trick is to fail up.

Not that this was a failure. I'm happy with it. But I could have turned it into a disaster in my mind. And that's the other lesson. Don't turn wins into losses. Don't compare yourself to others in ways that aren't healthy. Figure out the method that works for you and own it.

Don't just fail up. Succeed up.

Now I sound like a self-help book. So I'll stop.

Your First Amazon Sale (Your First Published Novel: Part 27)

Thursday and Friday we had a 99 cent sale of Death by Cliché on Amazon.com. If you are connected to me in social media, you probably saw the couple dozen messages touting the fact. This was my first big sale, and I prepped for it hard.

In fact, I was originally told the sale would be the week before and that I had about three days notice, to which I promptly fell into a screaming pile of panic. Mainly because all of my methods of effectively getting the word out involve podcasts, and you can't get guest spots on podcasts scheduled, recorded, and released with three days warning.

Also, Salt Lake Comic Con was about to happen, so no one would be returning my proverbial phone calls anyway.

Luckily CQ was able to push it back a week, and so the sale happened on September 8th and 9th. I managed to get an interview out on Dungeon Crawlers Radio, the Hello Sweetie Podcast, and various shows from the Defenestrate Media Network, as well as on schlockmercenary.com. They started dropping Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday and Friday I was a bit of a wreck. I hadn't had enough warning to take time off work, so I automated all my social media posts about the sale and just checked in at lunch to see how things were going. As with most of these things, I didn't do as well as I hoped, but I did far better than I feared.

I've been using Novelrank to estimate my sales, but I did receive firm numbers from the publisher. The book moved well and was well received. I needed to sell a lot more than I did to hit #1 in a category (the guy at the top of the category I came closest on was #53 overall in the kindle store, and I had multiple Harry Potter books ahead of me in humorous fantasy), but I was #2 in satire genre fiction and #3 in two others for a long time. I supplanted both Feast of Crows and The Princess Bride, although I've fallen below both of them since.

Death by Cliche
By Bob Defendi

Since then I've been watching an interesting phenomena on Novelrank. For the most part, Novelrank always reports low for me, but since the sale, as my rank steadily degrades, it might be reporting high. It thinks I'm getting consistent sales every hour since the sale, but for once, it isn't basing that estimate on my rank improving, it's basing that on the speed at which my rank worsens.

I've checked with my publisher and they have my sales at about 1/8 what Novelrank reports (yesterday, at least). The thing we don't know is how many Kindle Unlimited downloads we aren't seeing. I'll know better when my rank settles and I can compare the sales to actual ticks of my ranking in both directions.

But overall, it was a fruitful endeavor. If all else fails, a lot of people have Death by Cliché that didn't previously.

And of course, you can still buy it for the normal price.

Selling At a Convention (Your First Published Novel: Part 26)

Okay. Brace yourself. I might say some good things about Wymore in this post. If you don't think you can handle that, I understand. I'll see you next week. I'll try to throw a "Screw you, Wymore" into the mix as well so you know I'm not a prisoner in his dungeon or anything.

So this weekend was my first post-release convention, and I went in on a booth with the Space Balrogs. It was an enlightening experience, to say the least. You see, I'm terrible at sales. I always have been, at least in any situation where I profit. I can sell the hell out of other people's books. My own, well you might not guess it to hear me talk, but there's a deep core of my personality that doesn't like to brag. I boast constantly, but it's always for entertainment value and I exaggerate just enough the everyone in the room knows I'm doing it for laughs, not in earnest. For instance, I rarely said, "I'm pretty smart." I'll often say, "I'm hyper-intelligent." It's all about making people enjoy themselves without actually becoming an ass.

So selling is hard for me. Very hard.

The first day, I barely tried to sell anything. If someone at the front of the booth found a customer who looked like they'd be interested in my book, I discussed it with them, but none of them purchased anything. That wasn't surprising. Mostly I observed my fellow booth workers. James Wymore, Craig Nybo, and David J West were the most active salesmen and all of them made multiple sales that first day (Jason King was sick and Holli Anderson just collects customers effortlessly, without speaking--perhaps through black magic or pheromones). I know James best, and honestly I could hear his pitches better than the others from where I sat, so I spent most of the day just watching him.

The second day I started asking questions. He pointed out that he didn't sell any more books when he had many titles to sell than when he had one. He also told me that my plan of having the potential buyer read from the book might backfire, as he had better sales if he kept talking until money changed hands.

I have a snarky and a non-snarky explanation for why that is, but my book is a comedy. People SHOULD read it and want to read more, but everyone who opened it told me it was very funny and walked away. My theory here is that the reader and the writer have an implied contract, and once the reader actually reads, that contract is fulfilled. I think it might be easier for someone to walk away from the sale of a book they read if they've read a sample, than from a book where that implied contract is still unfulfilled. I don't know. I'm just spitballing.

With Wymore's advice (and help refining my pitch), I sold two that second day.

The third day I had more success. My pitch worked. My patter was on. Despite the fact that I was in too much pain to stand much of the time and my voice was shot, I sold several books. At one point, I had three sales and Wymore had none, so when the next person approached the booth, I cold-read her and decided that I could sell her three books, not just one. I only HAD one, so I decided to break Wymore's slump and I poured on all that fast talk I can't bear to use on my own book. She bought the whole series and I chalked that as a win.

Holli Anderson tells me my best sale was to the guy who stated flat out he didn't read books, but my favorite moment was when Wymore asked someone what they like to read and they said, "Editorials." Without skipping a beat, he said, "Then you would love Bob Defendi's book." After giving him my best, "Screw you, Wymore" look I asked the guy if he liked Dave Barry. He said he did and I told him, "This book was greatly influenced by Dave Barry." I didn't make that sale, but at that point, I knew that I could roll with just about any pitch situation. Seriously. Editorials. Wymore is the worst.

I love him for that, though. I told Sandra Tayler I expected to sell less than ten copies my first con. I sold ten, so I beat that number. If I'd been selling on the first day they way I sold on the last, I might have broken even, which is way more than I have any right to expect at this point.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't about the quality of the book. The book is doing better than I had any right to expect in overall sales. (You know, the ones where I'm not directly involved). This is about the art of looking a potential customer in the eye and forming a relationship that ends with the exchange of money. There are best-selling authors that fall apart the moment a sale needs to be made. Writing is a solitary skill. Selling is a very public skill and it's hard to master both.

I can officially say that I'm no longer absolutely terrible at it, and that's pretty good after a couple days practice.