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 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 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.

My Salt Lake Comic Con Schedule


Salt Lake Comic Con starts tomorrow and I'll be selling books at booth 2220 with the Space Balrogs. I assume there will be a banner. Maybe a few really good looking people behind stacks of books. I believe it's BYOB for the balrogs, though.

My panel schedule is as follows:

Friday 10 am:

Chip the glasses crack the plates, that's what Bilbo Baggins hates! But what he doesn't hate is this scholarly dive into all things Middle Earth. With:

Robert J. Defendi Moderator
Paul Genesse
Aaron Hastings
Jennifer Jenkins
Kathryn Purdie

Saturday 1 PM:

I Am Not a Serial Killer Movie Review

Friday a friend and local author hit something of a milestone in his already admirable career. You see, some years back Dan Wells wrote a little book called I Am Not a Serial Killer. You might have heard of it. You might not. If you haven't heard of it, go buy it and read it right now. I'll wait.

Back? Good book, wasn't it?

So Friday night the movie version of this book released in six cities and on video on demand.

I'm going to break this review into two parts. the spoiler-light section and the spoilery section for those who are fan of the book and want a deeper examination of the adaptation. The spoiler light section will be mostly spoiler free if you've read the book.

Spoiler-Light Section:

I Am Not A Seriel Killer is a solid execution of a fairly difficult proposal, the adaptation of a book which is fairly intimate and cerebral in its presentation. It's the story of a young man, John Wayne Cleaver, who is the son of a Mortician and starts noticing a strange pattern in the bodies coming through the morgue. To add an extra twist, John has Antisocial Personality Disorder. He's a sociopath. His greatest fear is that he's a budding serial killer and he will do almost anything to stop that from happening.

John has developed a set of rules to keep himself under control. He's not allowed to stalk another person. If he feels the urge to hurt someone, he must compliment them instead. John, while broken in a way few of us are, is still fundamentally a moral character. He won't let himself become the monster his brain wants to create.

But now someone is out there killing people, and the police can't help, and John might be the only one in the town with the skill set and the unique perspective to stop the killer.

The star of this movie is Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are). He brings a raw and compelling performance as John. He pulls us immediately into John's world. We feel for John, especially because John can't feel for himself. John is both armored and vulnerable at the same time. He is both without feeling and an exposed nerve. Max plays this dichotomy perfectly. The only thing I can say bad about him was I didn't like his hair, and seriously, that puts him in good company (I'm looking at you, Tom Hanks.)

In the book, John is balanced against his family: his mother, sister, and aunt. Also Brooke, the girl he's drawn to. In the movie, John's counterpoint is the loveable neighbor Mr. Crowley, played by Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future). Crowley is passion where John is calculation. Crowley is warmth where John is distance. Crowley is age and experience where John is youthful mistakes.

The movie hangs on this relationship and it succeeds. From the moment that John helps Mr. Crowley use his smartphone to send his wife a kiss, the relationship between these two characters sparkles on the screen.

Of course, this is an independent picture. The picture quality isn't what you'll expect if you're used to big budget films, but the directing and the cinematography are solid, the locations good, most all of the acting compelling (there's one exception from a bit part in a news program that's a bit painful, but it's brief.)

My only real complaint about the film is the music. It pulled me out throughout, from the song playing at the school dance to the opening music to the scoring. Only the closing song is really compelling and it's so compelling that not even inanimate objects can resist it.

I can heartily recommend this movie to anyone. Many people call it horror, but as a piece of film it's solidly in the thriller category, so don't panic if horror turns you off. I made my mother watch it to see if it would play with someone dead set against horror films, and it went over well.

Spoilery Section:

The novel I Am Not a Serial Killer is fundamentally about John's relationship with his own broken brain. While there's a killer to be caught, the killer serves as a reflection and symbol of John's inner self, his personal demons manifest in the world. His battle to stop the killing is, at its heart, symbolic of his battle to master himself.

The movie doesn't actually fail here, but this is the weakest part of the adaptation. We can't see inside John's head, no matter how well Records puts his performance on screen. We don't really get John's relationship with his rules, though we do know his rules exist. We don't see John's struggle with his potential inner monster. We only really see his external struggles with the people around him.

His family relationship also suffers from the adaptation, although in this case that's a factor of time and not medium. We get the broad strokes, but there just isn't time to develop the nuances. This isn't a criticism of the movie, but someone who loves the book should be prepared. Cutting the text of even a short book to a mere one-hour-and-forty-three-minute will leave a lot of stuff on the floor.

Brooke actually gets a similar treatment. There just isn't much room in the film for Brooke, and I felt the loss. The first thing that my mother asked when the movie finished was if Brooke had a bigger role in the novel.

Also, the movie never says that the killer is a demon. While the book brings that out before John even realizes it, the movie leaves it as a bit of subtext at the very end.

But most of that is just the reality of adaptation. Not everyone can take a short book and translate it into three movies. Where the film shines is the relationship between John and Crowley.

The brilliance of the relationship carries through in the film. John fights his inner demons. He is incapable of love as we know it. He fights his own inner demons, trying not to become a monster. Meanwhile, Crowley is a literal demon, his methods are monstrous, but his motivation is love. He feels what John can't. He does what John fears. He is the perfect foil for John's character. Here is the one place the film couldn't fail and it does, indeed, succeed.

I Am Not a Serial Killer is available in select theater and more broadly in VOD. For a comprehensive list, see Dan's blog post, here.

Your First Published Novel: Part 25

I stand on the cusp of many things. It makes a difficult find a topic this week. So let's talk about all the transitions ahead of me.

Sales were good for my book bomb of course, and then they fell (of course). About Wednesday they started picking up again. That's probably a momentary blip, but it's nice to see a little momentum. Friends of mine who have books that released this year are starting to put them on sale. CQ hasn't suggested one to me yet. I think that's because my sales are steady. Maybe they're just waiting for me to suggest it. We'll see. When we do have a sale, we'll want to arrange the timing carefully.

Things are moving with Death by Cliche 2, but I don't have anything official to announce yet. I expect news there soon.

I am nearing the finish line on Death by Cliche 3 (the first draft, at any rate). This means that soon, like in the next few days soon, I need to be plotting it. I've been prepping. I've watched the movie The Hidden Fortress, from which I intend to draw ideas. A friend, Bryan Young, has suggested that I watch Kagemusha as well after I mentioned some of my ideas to him online. I'll do that this week and then leap into plotting. Leap, I tell you.

Meanwhile, we're also getting ready for Salt Lake City Comic Con, which will be the first convention where I'll be at a booth with a novel. So. There's that.

Life is good. The work is good. The friends are good. The colleagues are good. My cat is okay.

Let's call that a whole lot of win.

Kindle Unlimited

After last week I was asked to write a blog post explaining Kindle Unlimited. Someone might have also screamed "Dance, Monkey, dance!" at the top of their lungs. Never on to avoid pandering to the masses, I've put on a tapping clogs.

So Kindle Unlimited is a service where you pay Amazon $9.99 a month for unlimited reading of selected books. While the A-List titles aren't there, over a million titles are, so if you're a voracious reader, this might be the service for you. There also seems to be a feature where a certain subset of titles also include the audiobook version. These have a set of headphones next to the Kindle Unlimited logo and say, "Read or listen for free." For instance, every third audiobook I listen too is project-related. Right now I've been working on Death by Cliché, so I've been listening to a lot of comedy.  Right now Scott Meyer's Magic 2.0 books seem to be available for listening as well, but his book, the Authorities isn't.

My wallet was stolen Friday night, and Amazon won't let me test the audio version (it's too busy panicking about my cancelled credit cards), but the Kindle versions seem to work well.

So how does this impact authors?

Well, when you download the book, the Amazon ranking changes as if you made a full sale. I can't say it changes "instantly," because amazon rankings change on a delay, probably about 12 hours behind the actual sale. I'm doing a test of this today, and will hopefully have solid data on that by midnight. I've been told that the Kindle Unlimited downloads count for more in the sales rank change than normal purchases because Amazon is pushing the platform, but I can't prove that without a lot of data. (Even if I found a book that didn't have any sales in a day and I could both download and buy on separate days, I'd need them to be at the same ranking both times and I'd need every other book on amazon to perform the same as well, since all rankings are relative to all other rankings.)

Sales are delayed, however, because a lot of people download a lot of bad books on Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon doesn't think all downloads should be equal when actual money is concerned. The barrier of listing a book is just too low. So instead, Amazon pays authors based on how many people actually read the book. They used to judge that based on a single book read, with 10% of the book being the payout threshold. Evidently, that was too easy a system to game (For instance, I'd be tempted to write a lot of ten page books... I wouldn't do it, but boy would I be tempted). Now they pay by the page, and that's a Kindle Normalized Page (I assume that means that you can't game the system with font size). This means, and my math is loose here, that if both Douglas Adams and Brandon Sanderson were on KU, every time you read a Brandon Sanderson book, the payout would be a billion times higher than a Douglas Adams book.

This is the first read of the book, and it's judged by percentage of progress. Kindle doesn't have a way of actually counting page flips. It just goes by your furthest point you've hit, and Amazon looks for cheesiness like people putting their table of contents at the end of the book. There are other ways people try to game the system of course, but I won't dignify them in a post about Kindle Unlimited working properly.

So if you read 10% of my book, I might get 5 cents. If you set it down and picked it back up a year later and finished it, I might get another 45 cents then.

The point is they aim to reward writers who write the books their readers actually finish while minimizing the profit disparity between people who write novelettes and publish them on Kindle alongside giant epic fantasies.

How does this work for the author?

250 pages is probably about the size of my book. For every 250 pages read, in my first month, I made about 30% of what I'd make from an ebook sale. That is probably going to change from month to month due to subscribers and number of reads.

Would I prefer ebook sales?  Absolutely. However, those pages were almost certainly read. Also, I suspect a great number of my Kindle Unlimited readers wouldn't have plopped down $6 on an untried writer. Also, I have a good job. I don't need the extra money in the short term, and in the long term, I'm certain that building a readership is way more important to my long-term success than immediate profit.

So I think I'll stick on Kindle Unlimited, at least for my first book, for the foreseeable future.

Your First Royalty Report (Your First Published Novel: Part 24)

Last week, I hit my all time low in this process. That point where I was convinced, mathematically convinced, that this whole thing was a disaster. All the evidence to date fell into line, and I knew despair.

Let me back up.

When I first started showing this book to people, every one of them told me that they loved it, but that no one but them would get it. They were convinced this novel was unsellable. But I showed them. Right? Except for Goodreads, my reviews are good. I've been asked over and over for a sequel. My sales haven't seemed spectacular, but they haven't seemed terrible either.

Then in June, Howard Tayler posted about it on his blog. He had hundreds of click-throughs, but almost no sales. That worried me briefly because I was afraid that the cover of the marketing turned people off, but I still seemed to be doing all right, so I chalked it up as a fluke. Howard himself had mentioned that he'd done a particularly soft sell on his post. In my mind, I just needed to make it to my book bomb, and I'd be all right.

This week we had my book bomb.

A book bomb is where someone with a large following tries to get their followers to buy your book, all in one day, to help the Amazon sales rank. To my knowledge, Larry Correia is the only person who does them, and probably coined the term.

I took off work. I posted and reposted and put up samples all day. The comment thread wasn't exactly alive, and the movement in the rankings wasn't as much as I hoped for, but when you try to track the number of copies sold by ranking, I was coming out a little ahead of his last book bomb. There were lags, and highs and lows, but overall I felt good when I went to bed.

The next day Larry told me my numbers from his amazon affiliate link. They were abysmal. The worst book bomb he's had in years. I was crushed. Devastated. Maybe they were right, all those years ago. Maybe I'd written an unsellable book. After all, people don't usually come up to you and talk because they hate your work. Maybe the Goodreads reviews were more accurate than the Amazon ones. Maybe I've wasted all these years.

Then I realized that I could find out just how bad it is. My first royalty report, from June, should finally be in the system. I took a deep breath and I logged onto the site and opened it.

And blinked, a little stunned.

Now don't get me wrong, the numbers I saw weren't change-your-life numbers. They didn't make me think about quitting my job or anything, but they were way higher than what I'd expected. More than three times my estimate of sales for that period. Almost twice my goal for the first three months (which was to sell more copies than the average self-published novel sells in its lifetime).

There were a couple things that weren't in my estimates. My physical sales were higher than I thought because I didn't have any way to estimate numbers from Barnes and Noble and the like. My ebook sales were almost twice my estimate from various affiliate links and rank tracking. But the big thing I didn't expect helped explain that weirdness with the click throughs on Howard's site.

Kindle Unlimited sales.

I knew I was being offered through Kindle Unlimited, but I didn't really understand the implications. More than 27% of my sales are through Kindle Unlimited. I make less money on those, so it only accounts for about 11% of my royalties, but here's the thing. Those won't show up on affiliate links. So while Howard had a lot of click throughs and very little sales, we have no idea how many people downloaded that book through his link and into their Kindle Unlimited lending library. We do know that if you take all the pages read during that month, the Kindle Unlimited sales are in triple digits.

That's an important distinction. For all I know my downloads are actually in quadruple digits. While the downloads effect my rank, I don't have a really accurate way of translating that into numbers, and I only see money after people actually read it. If a lot of the readers are like me and almost never read a book the month they buy it, then I still have a lot of unread downloads out there.

And also, we don't know what my real numbers were during the book bomb, but we do know that if my percentages hold true, the people who read it from Larry's book bomb should at lead half again the numbers shown on his affiliate link (once you figure in the impact of non-amazon sales on those original percentages). I still suspect that these numbers are considerably less than many of his other book bombs, but they don't terrify me nearly as much as previously.

And I don't care about the money. Not yet. Yes, I'm in this to make a career and that means I'll need money eventually, but I'm fine before you factor in any royalties. What I need now isn't money, what I need are readers. Readers create other readers and growth, at this point, is far more important than maximizing the cash flow from each reader.

So the week started in a hope, finished on the edge of despair, and rebounded back into hope again. I have a better understanding of how my readership works, and a new understanding of how to push sales. Now that I know so many people are downloading the book on Kindle Unlimited, I know that educating readers on how Kindle Unlimited works, is as important as getting downloads in the first place because I don't think most of them know how authors get paid.

And that is, after all, the end goal. 

Biography of a Disasterous Panel

Last night I moderated a panel for Salt Lake City Comic Con and the Harry Potter book (or script) release Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Weller Book Works in SLC. It perfectly illustrates just how bad a convention panel can go. Let me make it clear that I don't blame Comic Con and I don't blame Weller Bookworks. Sometimes you just can't see how things are going until the car is skidding off the road.

To start with the panel room was right next to the open area where they were doing sorting hat stuff, just about the loudest thing I've ever heard. The screaming came continuously and loudly. And with great enthusiasm.

All that separated the two area was a pane of glass. It was nowhere near soundproof we had mics, but the sound system was very soft.

I already suspected that I shouldn't sit through the panel. The subject was the stage play the script was for and the upcoming unrelated movie. My panelists had the subject material covered and in those cases, I often won't even sit at the table with them. It depends on whether or not I think I can contribute something they can't.

But in this situation, sitting would be death. I had quiet mics and huge noise problem. Energy would be a huge problem. I knew that every time the energy lagged, I needed to blast it back up and under those circumstances, the energy would lag at every lull in the conversation. Standing keeps you from being too comfortable, and comfort is death under these circumstances.

Just as we finished introductions, the fire alarm went off.

So we evacuated the building. I didn't think of having us all meet in the parking lot for panel related discussions until too late, so fifteen minutes later, when the energy had completely dissipated, we made it back into the room. I asked Blake, the programming guy in the room, how he wanted to handle the time slot and he told me to go long and give the entire panel, we could let the one after slip.

So I got everyone in the room cheering and applauding to get the energy back up and once it was, we started the panel. About three minutes in the mics went out.

One of the panelists was loud and one was damn loud, but the other two were quieter and with the noise pollution they couldn't be heard. So Brian Young, a panelist, crawled around and got the mics working again, just about the time I was going to pretend I was an age of sail bosun and repeat everything the other panelists said at the top of my lungs.

The mics cut in and out throughout. Bounced all my questions off the back wall to get the energy up and the screaming outside got louder and louder and louder. For audience questions, I DID repeat the audience, to make sure everyone heard. Finally, I finished with a humorous story I stole from my friend Gary.

This isn't a bragging post. I'll start those when I have something to brag about. This is just me talking about what we did to make the best of a bad situation. I'm hoping that if you have a bad panel in the future, you can get something from it.

The point was we percevered. We fought through. We focused on giving the best panel we could. It might have been terrible, but no one lost their cool. We stumbled but we picked ourselves back up after. We pushed on. I'd say we never let them see us sweat, but it was 90 degrees and high humidity, so we actually sweated buckets.

Or maybe we panicked and degenerated into screaming masses of terror. You'll never know.

Ghostbusters (or Not)

So I originally wrote an unbiased review of the new Ghostbusters movie and posted it here, but then I came back in time from the resulting dystopian future and stopped myself. So instead I spent the weekend working a charity tournament at the local game store, Dragon's Keep.

They seem to be having some trouble where marketing is concerned on these tournaments. There was only one table, so after the first evening/round, I threw out the tournament structure and just ran it as a paid game instead. These things exist, where you pay $25 dollars for the right to sit at the table of a professional and play a game. I know they exist because yesterday I ran one.

It helps that the proceeds went to charity. If I had been paid for running the game, I would still feel guilty about a few things I didn't quite run perfectly.

But the game went well. We had a good time, and the store moved that much closer to sponsoring a child for So I'm calling the weekend a win. Even if I feel like I've been beaten by clowns. Biker mafia enforcer clowns. These things exist because yesterday I was beaten by some.

Transcending Medium

If you ask people about a game or a comic or a TV show that moved them, they will usually speak in imprecise language. Words like "awesome" and "moving" don't tell us much. Comments like "I laughed" or "I cried" do better. Experts will be more precise, speaking of pacing, or structure or character arcs. They might use phrases like "It sags during Act Two," or "It had the best Save the Cat moment I've ever seen." Sometimes, they can even tell you the differences between mediums. Often, though, if nailed down on how one writes for one medium or another, people will fall back to something like, "Good storytelling transcends form."

Right now I'm in my break from 80+ hour weeks and doing a measly 50 hours or so. Maybe even 45. It's like running naked through a spring rain. Seriously. And as 80+ hours looms again on my schedule (August, you bastard, I see you coming), I start cherishing every bit of goofing off that I get.

Yesterday, while recording the World's Greatest Comic Book Podcast, I mentioned that I was playing Arkham Knight, and that the Arkham series of games are some of the best Batman stories I've ever experienced. While a cohost seemed to think that was crazy talk, I think the reason is that I've never felt so connected to Batman character as I do in that game. Even though they arguably use the exact same tropes multiple times to achieve the same ends. I think it's because I don't really think of Batman as a character in most presentations. He's more an elemental force of rage and PTSD. Not every movie and comic, but often enough. But let's look at some of the things that Arkham does that makes their Batman stories some of the best.

Let me start by saying I've played all of the Arkham games but some of them I haven't played for a while, so my recollections of early games might be more emotional than base in pure fact.

A Slow Build of Pacing

The Arkham games don't usually start with a big in media res opening. They start in the middle of events, technically, but they don't try to blow up the world like pre-credits in a Bond film. They take time and start by laying down atmosphere. They give us some early romps to build our connection to Batman. They make sure that first hour or two of game play is pretty easy. Not only are they giving us tutorials, but they make us feel like Batman, so that when things get real, we feel like Batman's in trouble, not like we're just bad gamers. Obviously there's a difficulty setting so all of this comes through that filter, but the job of game designers is to make you forget that those dials exist.


Batman almost never reacts to anything. Even if most cutscenes, he's standing there like a sociopath, watching calmly as the world burns. And so the games find ways to get us in his head. Often (maybe too often) they do this with the Scarecrow's fear toxins. Let Batman be a stoic bastion of stoicness. When his worst fears walk next to him, screaming about his failures, the stoic act moves from emotionless to painfully poignant.


This actually extends to everyone who cares about Batman in the games, but Alfred illustrates it most directly. Alfred is was Joss Whedon would call our heart character. We know Alfred it the man who cared for this superhero when he was a little boy. Through Alfred's eyes, we see that little boy still there in Batman. We know it's okay to love this heartless bastard because Alfred loves him, and it doesn't take us long to realize that Alfred is a good judge of character, and he would not love this man if he was unlovable.

Big Set Pieces

A set piece, in fiction, is a big scene with a extended series of emotional beats, usually in memorable locales. The tearful goodbye in the rain is a set piece, as is the car chase, or the giant mid-act action sequence. The Arkham games do set pieces well. They translate them to gamist principles, but they do it well. They also slowly convert set pieces into the mundane. You want to make someone feel like Batman? Start a game with them desperately trying to take out four guys without anyone catching them, then slowly ramp things up until by the end of the game, they look at a room with 20 bad guys and ample hiding spots and think, "Whew. Thank goodness. I needed an easy one."

Dramatic Act Three

The Arkham Games are open world, but even so, they do a great job of rocketing you into Act Three. Last night I stopped advancing the pot to clean up all my side quests because I can feel the call of act three. The end is nigh. Batman has been stripped of everything until he's just a raw nerve of justice. Things are going to break, and it's going to be the Dark Knight or his foes. Blood will fall.

The purpose of this isn't to point out what makes a good Batman story. The purpose is to point out what makes almost every good Batman story. The designers of this game examined the triumphs of Batman storytelling... classics like The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Dark Knight. They distilled the heart of what makes a good Batman story and they expertly translated them into a game, because they knew that if they had a good emotional core, then half of their job was done.

You see these same principles transcending genre as well as media. The James Bond chase scene is the big Act Two argument in a RomCom or the tense stealth scene in a thriller, or the dreaded walk in the woods in a horror film. Act two might be about love, or violence, or a mystery, or a fall. The point is that the people who excel at their craft can apply these levers to any story in any medium.

And now back to Act Three. Because Gotham needs me.

Your First Published Novel: Part 23

Reviews can be hard. It's likely that reviews are the most difficult part of the writing process for some writers. You pour you heart and mind into something for more than a year. You draw knives and fight with your editors about it. You market and you fret and you sweat and you weep. And when you are done, it's out there.

And people hate it.

Not everyone of course. Most people like. If everything went well, most people might even love it. But people are gonna hate it. That's just the way with art.

I don't know that it matters for your first book that you be good at handling reviews. It does matter that you understand the process and you respond to them in a professional manner.  You can't rail against them. You can't complain about them (well, maybe in the privacy of your own home.) You certainly can't engage them. You shouldn't try. Some people would say not even to read them. My friend Randy Tayler tweeted at me "YOUR READING REVIEWS!" after one post. I don't know if he was happy for me or aghast.

You should be thankful for bad reviews. They bought your book. They read your book. They had an emotional experience with your book. You can't dictate what that emotional experience was. If you are ever in a situation where you must respond, at a public venue, for instance, the most you can do it thank them for reading the book. Do it sincerely. Practice in front of a mirror if you have to. Like the samurai of old, remember, it's not important that you be honest. It's vitally important you be sincere.

The only interaction I allow myself to have with reviewers is to thank them if we have some social media connection and occasionally ask if they are on Goodreads as well to remind them there is another place where they can post their reviews.

I don't want you to think I'm just inherently good at this. When Spacemaster came out, it was greeted positively overall, but some people's reviews of the setting were savage. Just brutal. That was quite the learning experience and I made mistakes. I argued. I justified myself. I did it politely, but it wasn't my finest hour. When this book came out as a podcast audiobook, the few negative reviews I garnered crushed me. But I'm used to them now. I've learned that you can't get good reviews without bad, and you should cherish the bad because that means the next few good are right around the corner.

As I write this I have a 4.5 on Amazon. A 4.1 on Audible. A 3.75 on Goodreads (that one is just starting to come up after a few one stars that gave up on the book early). Most of my negative reviews are along the lines of "Did not finish." My favorite review so far says I'm not as clever or as funny as I think I am. That's certainly true.

No one is as clever and as funny as I think I am.

Your First Published Novel: Part 22

It's been a month since the release of the book. Sales are, not surprisingly, sagging a bit. I didn't manage to generate much advertising this week. The Dungeon Crawlers Radio people have been generous enough to post some audio sample chapters, but those haven't worked as well as I hoped. However, I noticed after the last one that I didn't give him a proper intro and outro to each sample. Without context, it's hard to generate sales. So I'm recording those tonight when the house and neighborhood have gone quiet (read: after the fireworks), and I'll send them to him.

This week I finished up the next adventure for those local charity tournaments. I'll turn that in tonight. After that, I turned in my story for an anthology with Matthew Cox. I think I'm the first to submit. By a lot. So I spent the rest of the weekend shooting edits back and forth to him, as well as an unrelated argument about voice and viewpoint. Because we're on the internet, and fighting is kind of the point. Correct?

Meanwhile, for the first time since my birthday, two months ago today, I've the freedom to play a computer game. I recieved Undertale and Arkham Knight for said birthday. So I just finished playing Undertale about five minutes before posting this. I'll play Arkham Knight next. That will probably take a couple weeks. After that, I might be forced to start working 80 hour weeks again. I sure hope not.

I've been trying to hit up a couple podcasts a week, but I didn't want to interfere with me returning to the comic podcast this weekend, so I didn't push on the ones that record on Sundays. I'll hit up a couple more this week and see if I can generate some more sales buzz. I view this as a marathon, not a sprint, so I don't want to try any advertising that costs money until I use up take advantage of others. Also, I don't want too much happening at one time, because that would make it difficult to determine the source of the sales.

Well that's it for this week. We are plugging along. Hopefully, unlike a real marathon, I won't get shin splnts. Or lose control of my bodily functions.

A Rough Week

I don't have a lot to report this week, due to illness. We had one team join the Charity Tournament late, and I went back and finished their last round on Monday night. I'm not sure if it was that added effort, or if I caught a bug previously, but Tuesday I wasn't feeling well. I wasn't sure if I might have just blown my voice out. Well, I wasn't sure until the afternoon, when I realized that it was a full on cold or flu.

Wednesday it started settling in the lungs. Thursday morning it hit about as bad as it got. I filled a tall trash can with tissues. Saturday I started getting significantly better, but I still had to mostly cancel all activities. Today, I've felt like I've been batting cleanup on my immune system.

During that time, the book slipped to the high 70s in Humorous Fantasy, although it spent most of the week in the 30's and 40's. This week I'll start hitting up podcasts for my guest appearances, but since I wasn't even able to do the podcast I'm on weekly (Hold 322), this week was a bit of a marketing write off.

Charity Tournament

Yesterday I helped run a charity tournament. Today I taste pennies.

The tournament was at Dragon's Keep in Provo, UT. The charity is RiteCare of Utah, and they are a worthy cause. Their description from the website:

"We help children with all types of learning challenges related to speech and language. We are dedicated to helping children become more successful in their home and school settings by empowering them to reach their full educational and social potential."

I wrote the tournament. It's part of the Moving Shadow Campaign for my Echoes of Heaven setting. We had a problem with GM turnout, so I ended up running the second round multiple times (it's the one that takes the most familiarity with the material.) It was fun. I burned a lot of energy. I ate enough that I should be up 8-10 pounds today in water weight. I'm only up five. So it was good times.

Dragon's Keep is doing two more tournaments this summer. The are in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. They are also doing other events such as card tournaments. Their goal is to raise enough money to sponsor a child's entire course through the RiteAid program. It's a worthy cause. The next tournament is June 22-23. If you're within driving distance of Provo, you should join us. I might GM you for a round.

Oh, and the entire time, Death be Cliché was #13 in Humorous Fantasy on Amazon. So there's that.