Five Years Ago Today . . .

It was five years ago today. I hit the “publish” button on my Amazon KDP dashboard. Several hours later, State of Grace was available for sale.

SoG Cover Mk V revised lo-resAfter several months of work and countless hours of research, I at last made my dream of publishing fiction a reality. As I wrote in this space at the time, I went from being a writer to being an author.

Despite all that research, I had no idea what I was doing — not that I knew that at the time. I’d educated myself, but there were vast quantities of information I desperately needed and didn’t have.

I knew all about publishing a book, but as it turned out, I knew next to nothing about marketing and selling one. Had I known even half of what I do now, I might have been more successful at it, because there were opportunities back in the early days of indie publishing that just don’t exist in the same way anymore.

There’s no sense crying about that, though. I did what I did and didn’t do what I didn’t.

But I did do one very important thing: I kept publishing. I wrote more books, I joined support communities, and I took courses to get better educated about how to be an independent publisher.

If there’s a revelation I’ve had in the past five years, it’s that I didn’t go from writer to author; I became a publisher. I’ve spent most of this fifth year concentrating on getting better at the business side of this endeavor (although I’ve been writing too).

Most importantly, I’ve embraced my destiny. I’ve been a storyteller all my life. I’ve made it my vocation, my career since November 22, 2011.

So 21 books later (I’ve been kind of prolific), I’m hitting my five-year anniversary and looking forward to Year Six. I’ve tried a lot of things that didn’t work and a few that have.

And I’m still here. I’m still publishing. Happy anniversary to me.

At last, THE ARMAGEDDON CLOCK

TAC Cover lo-resI’m very pleased to announce that the latest Wolf Dasher novel, The Armageddon Clock, is available for purchase.

In Wolf’s biggest mission yet, he must team up with a deadly Phrygian Shadow to find a lost artifact capable of counting down to the Apocalypse. Worse, the mad wizard who invented it has escaped from Hell and plans to set the clock in motion. If Wolf doesn’t stop the countdown, everyone everywhere on Earth will die. But can he really rely on an untrustworthy ally, whose ultimate goal is to betray him?

Get The Armageddon Clock on Kindle here.
Get it in print here.

I’m excited to have this book on the market, because, in a twist of fate, it is actually the first Wolf Dasher novel I wrote. I penned it back in 2008 and was planning on it launching the series.

But a couple things occurred to me that changed my mind. First, the novel is about averting Armageddon. If my hero were to save the entire world from destruction, where would I go from there? How do you write sequels that are as compelling if the first thing he does is stop actual Doomsday? It seemed to me that this story was a good one, but it needed to come later in the series.

Second, the original drafts of The Armageddon Clock told a classic Cold War thriller. The novel is set in Mensch — a fictional version of 1960’s Berlin — and follows an American and Soviet agent (Urlish and Phrygian respectively) as they try to put aside political rivalries long enough to stop the Apocalypse. It would have been timely and terrific in 1988.

But it was actually 2008 (2009, by the time I made the realization), and the Cold War had been over for almost 20 years. I realized the novel would be unlikely to resonate with anyone younger than I.

So I set to writing a new Wolf Dasher book, starting the series from a different point and with more contemporary problems. The result of that effort was State of Grace — a novel that sends a British-American-style agent into a fictional version of the Middle East.

But eight years later, The Armageddon Clock finally gets its turn. Wolf finally faces down the Apocalypse. And because it’s Book 6 instead of Book 1, well, it’s just possible he might fail. Maybe this is where Wolf’s illustrious career (and everyone else’s) draws to a close.

But no matter how it turns out, I’m excited that The Armageddon Clock is here at last. It is, actually, the book that started it all.

Click here to get The Armageddon Clock for Kindle.
Click here to get The Armageddon Clock in print.

The Importance of Infrastructure

You don’t realize how important infrastructure is until you try to build it.

Selling books is a difficult business. There are lots of readers out there, and there are many, many more books than readers (which is good for readers). That means you have to figure out how to find people interested in your books and then let them know you exist.

Facebook offers one of the best advertising platforms on the Internet these days, and I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to use it multiple times in the past. So I did some research, took a course, and now understand how it actually works.

I’ve been using a reader magnets strategy to build my mailing list (offering a free book in exchange for signing up) in the past, and I have had some success. But my strategy depends on people finding my books, to see the magnet ad. Same problem.

So I decided to enhance the offer (putting two books and a short story in the magnet) and then pushing the offer on Facebook. It all sounded like a good idea.

But I had almost none of the infrastructure required to make this work.

And because I’m an independent author, I have no one to do it for me. I had to do it all myself.

The deal works like this. You give me your email address, and I send you the Wolf Dasher short story, “The Darkline Protocol,” and the first two novels in the series, State of Grace and Red Dragon Five. I didn’t want to bombard readers, so I need to send those books one at a time over several days. That meant I needed a series of automated emails that trigger as soon as someone subscribes.

So I had to set that up in MailChimp, writing each of the emails and providing links to the free books and to software to help you sideload them onto your Kindle.

Of course, to make them easier to download, I needed a service that is pro at it and offers better customer support than I can, where the whole thing is super-smooth. So I had to subscribe to BookFunnel, and then create the .mobi and .ePub files to be downloaded and then upload them to my account.

But back up a couple steps. I was offering the Wolf Dasher books, but I wasn’t happy with the covers. So before I could do any of this, I had to work with my cover designer to re-brand the whole line — all five books and the short story.

Then I had to remove the old magnet ads from the interiors of the Dasher books and update them on Amazon along with the new covers. Once that was done, I had to create those aforementioned updated .mobi and .ePub files.

But wait, there’s more.

With all that work in place, I was able to start designing an ad campaign for Facebook. That meant I needed an image for the ad. So I had my designer do that too.

But before you can create a lead-generation ad for Facebook, you need to do a couple things. First, you have to have a lead card, which requires an image and some other info.

So I modified the ad image with new copy to keep the imagery consistent but make the message on the lead card (which you see after clicking on the ad) read something relevant to filling out the card.

Secondly, Facebook won’t let you collect leads through them if you don’t have a privacy policy. So I had to create one of those based on a boilerplate, put it on the website, and then provide a link.

Great, now that everything is done, I’m ready to advertise.

Well, not quite. You see, Facebook collects those leads for me, but I have to do something with them. If I don’t want to manually subscribe people (which might be fine at the beginning but become hard if the campaign is wildly successful), then I need a service that handles all that.

So I had to subscribe to Zapier so that, as soon as you submit your information, it automatically subscribes you to the list and starts MailChimp’s automation. And that meant setting up the links and testing them to make sure they work.

As you might imagine, this process took weeks to build. And, while I want it and understand its importance, it’s not the kind of thing I enjoy. Some people like engineering, major in it, and go on to have fine careers. I majored in English and minored in Music and in Philosophy.

So putting all this together was grueling and tedious for me.

But it’s finally done. I’ve got an ad running on Facebook, and it’s generating results. It’s a good beginning.

If you want to take advantage of the offer yourself and haven’t been served the ad, click this link, or click on the ad image below.

Regardless, infrastructure is really important. Building it takes a lot of work. Here’s hoping I did it right.

Three Stack -- Shaken Not Stirred

Home Stretch for THE ARMAGEDDON CLOCK

Got The Armageddon Clock (Wolf Dasher, Book 6) back from my editor yesterday afternoon. I haven’t looked at it yet, but I’m sure it’s covered in red ink. That’s how these things go.

I’m pretty excited, though. This is the deepest edit the book gets (after my own revisions from first draft to second). By the time I’m done going through it and making changes, it’ll be close to publishable shape.

The Armageddon Clock has 50 chapters, and I can usually go through 10 chapters a day. So it should take about a week’s worth of work to mold it into near-final shape. Then I’ll be sending it off to my beta readers for their evaluations.

Speaking of which, I still need plenty of beta/ARC readers. Want to read The Armageddon Clock BEFORE it’s released? Drop me an email at john at johnphythyon dot com and tell me you want to be on the team. I’ll add you to the list and send you a copy of the book as soon as it’s ready.

I’m really excited. It won’t be long now!

Love Is Love: Donating to GLAAD

By now I’m sure you know about last Sunday’s shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and the trauma of the survivors.

While all the details aren’t yet know, it is pretty clear that this was an attack on the LGBTQ community. As an ally, I want to help.

Orlando Ad Image 1

You may recall that my novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer, features a gay couple as its protagonists, and I was donating a dollar from every sale to Freedom to Marry until last summer’s landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. It’s time for SatS to help again.

Through the end of Pride Month, I am donating 100% of the proceeds from The Sword and the Sorcerer to GLAAD. Click the link below to buy the book, and I’ll donate my royalties. Please feel free to spread the link to your social network.

“Life is the mightiest magic of all,” I write in the novel. That is its central message. It may be an epic fantasy yarn, but the The Sword and the Sorcerer is about the transformative power of love. I hope you’ll help me spread that message.

Click here to purchase The Sword and the Sorcerer from Amazon.com. I’ll donate my royalties to GLAAD.

Road Trip!

I’m hitting the road this weekend. School is out for summer, so The Wife and I are packing the kids into the car and dragging them across the country.

To make it more “fun,” the children will stuffed into the back of a VW Beetle. No station wagon, no minivan, no giant, gas-guzzling SUV. Nope, we’ll be forcing them to endure 12 hours of travel in the back of a bug. (I can make this particular trip in 10.5 hours by myself, but there’s no way we’ll make it even close to that time with four bladders in the car.)

As if that weren’t enough high-quality fun, the children are teenagers now. The last time we road-tripped with them, they were younger, smaller, and sitting in the back of an SUV.

We were tempted frequently to murder them.

So now, they’re larger, and the car is smaller. Having completed his first year of high school, The Boy is practically all legs.So that should end well, right?

But since this kind of torture was once an American tradition, I feel the need to inflict it on our kids, as well as acquaint them with The Way Things Used to Be.

So at some point in this grueling ordeal, I will read them my mini-memoir, “Are We There Yet?: My True-Life Adventure on Road Trips.” Oral tradition is the means by which our history was originally passed on, and telling embarrassing stories about each other is a Phythyon Family practice from way back.

So the teenagers packed into the back of a bug like a couple of Too Hip For You sardines will be forced to put down their iPhones, take out their earbuds, and listen to me regale them with stories of the road in a bygone era.

I’m sure it will go well.

If you’re interested in those stories yourself, “Are We There Yet?” is free until midnight PDT today (Thursday, June 9). Click this link to download it to your Kindle. If you miss the sale, it’s only 99 cents regularly. Either way, you’ll know what it was like to be a child in the 1970’s, hurtling down the Interstate in the back of a station wagon as your brother lost a beloved toy out the window, as your father argued over the price of hamburgers, and as the family dog tried to kill everyone.

As for me, I am desperately hoping my kids don’t make any memoir-worthy material on this trip.

But at least I’ll be in the front seat.

SPACE-d Out

This past weekend, I exhibited at the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a small show, and as the name implies, it’s geared largely to the alt-comics crowd.

However, since I write fantasy literature, I thought there might be some crossover with the audiences, and, since the booths were only $75, I decided it was a low-risk proposition to exhibit and see if I could find some new readers.

Below are my takeaways from my first show in eight years and my first as a novelist.

Surprise, Surprise

The most frequent question I got over the weekend was, “You wrote all of these?”

SPACE BoothI had six books on the table — the three Modern Fairy Tales, Magic & Monsters, and the two books in The Usurpers Saga. I didn’t bring the Wolf Dasher books, because I’m in the middle of a cover overhaul that isn’t finished yet, and I didn’t bring Legend in my own Mind, because I didn’t think it would appeal to the audience at the show.

People seemed surprised that I had written that many full-length books and had them for sale.

The second-most frequent question I got was, “Wait, you’re a novelist? What are you doing at a comics show?”

When I explained my strategy, most people got it. And it prompted them to look through my books. I had free bookmarks on the table, and many people took at least one after talking to me.

Patience is a Virtue

When you’re in business for yourself, it is hard sometimes to wait for success to come. But selling is not always an activity that yields immediate results.

I only sold three books on the show’s first day. I spent most of my time talking to people about my writing and the kinds of things they would find inside the covers. Many walked away without making a purchase. Many examined my merchandise, thought they might like it, but decided to roam the floor to see everything before opening their wallets.

I went into Sunday just hoping to break even on the price of the table. Because I viewed the whole exercise as a marketing expense, I expected to take a loss on the show, but it was looking like it might a more significant one than I’d hoped.

But things turned around the next day. I ran package deals on The Usurpers Saga and the Modern Fairy Tales, and on Sunday, people bit. I sold two of each package, plus a number of other sales, and raked in $175 the second day alone — enough to cover the cost of the booth and the ad I’d purchased. Some of those sales were comebacks from people who had visited me before and decided to pull the trigger the second or third time around.

On a related note, my price point required patience as well. Most booths were selling black-and-white comics printed on their home printer, or they were selling art. The average price of an item at other booths was about $5. I sold my novellas for $10 and my novels for $15. So there may have been some price resistance from shoppers.

However, when I made sales, they added up. I basically set myself up for fewer total sales but an equitable amount of cash. If I hadn’t bought the ad (more on that below), the show would have been much more profitable for me.

Predictable Results

As I expected, Little Red Riding Hoodie was my best seller. It appeals to a broad base of people, and the title is clever enough to get people to pick it up and read the back cover copy. Not only did it sell stronger than the other books, it was also the most examined.

Magic & Monsters did well too. I should have been able to predict that, but I hadn’t. It’s a small volume for only for $10, and there are five stories in it. So it’s a low-risk investment for someone unfamiliar with my work.

Mistakes

The biggest mistake was buying an ad. I purchased the inside front cover of the program, because it was available at a late date, and I thought it would increase my visibility, helping bring people to the table of a new exhibitor who was not quite the right fit for the audience.

In reality, the show was small enough that visitors got around to every table multiple times. No one mentioned the ad to me. I’m pretty well convinced all it did was cut into my profits.

It also may have been a mistake not to bring the Dasher books. I ran a contest wherein signing up for my mailing list would enter a person into a chance to win the whole line, and many people were intrigued by the “James Bond meets Game of Thrones” tagline. I could probably have sold some Dasher books if I’d had them available.

Conclusions

The mistake of buying an ad notwithstanding, SPACE was totally worth it. I got a bunch of signups for my mailing list, I gave away bookmarks with my website and links to books on them, and I made decent sales to offset most of the cost of attending.

I’m not really factoring in the inventory cost of getting the books printed nor the investment of display materials, because I can sell/use them at other shows. However, those costs can’t be totally ignored, and if I roll them all into this show, that makes the loss on it pretty significant.

However, I engaged with a lot of people, and I view the whole thing as an opportunity to get my brand and my words in front of new readers. I will definitely attend SPACE again next year, and I am looking for other shows I can exhibit at that have moderate investments.

I plan for this to be the first of many shows for me as I continue to develop my business model.

 

Memoirs on Special

Baseball is back, and I’m celebrating with my own remembrances of the devilish game that haunted my childhood.

Swing and a Miss Cover lo-res“Swing and a Miss: My True-Life Adventure in Baseball” is free from Amazon.com through Thursday. In it, I recall struggling with Fear of the Ball, trying to hit that stupid eight-inch sphere where someone wasn’t standing, and the dreaded Stepping in the Bucket. I also reminisce about being taught ardent love for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.

Click here to get it for the amazing price of nothing!

I’m also running a sale on my collected memoir, Legend in my own Mind. It tells the story of my fierce sibling rivalry with my brother David, how we conspired to catch Santa Claus in our living room on Christmas Eve, how we once chased a runaway dog through the principal’s house, and how we made our parents want to kill us on long road trips.

And there was how I was convinced I was a space prince hiding 0ut on Earth from a galactic rebellion.

It’s a series of misadventures of two boys in the 1970’s, struggling to understand why the world wasn’t as exciting as Saturday morning cartoons depicted.

Get it here for only 99 cents.

 

Trapped: Navigating Another Writing Obstacle

I’ve begun the next draft of The Armageddon Clock. That’s a good thing.

However, I was really hoping to finish it today, and there’s no way that is going to happen.

Often, a rewrite is a simple process. After I’ve gone through the manuscript and made notes, rewriting is just a matter of going through the book chapter by chapter and making those individual changes.

Like everything else with this novel, it hasn’t been that easy.

Without giving anything way, Wolf gets into trouble in the very first chapter. He’s caught breaking into an enemy facility, and he fights one of the principal characters of the novel before escaping.

In earlier drafts, I strongly hinted that this was a trap, baited with juicy intel to attempt to capture Wolf. But after this opening chapter and despite Wolf working (unbeknownst to him) with his assailant for most of the rest of the book, the concept that this opening sequence was a trap is never mentioned again.

That doesn’t make any logical sense. If they were trying to capture Wolf at the beginning of the novel, wouldn’t that have some bearing on how he was treated/viewed through the rest of the book? And what happens when he finds out?

In my edit, I had decided to explicitly make the opening sequence a trap. But as I started the rewrite, it occurred to me that this would change how Wolf was perceived by the other characters.

So I can’t just go through, looking at my notes and making changes. I have to reread certain chapters to make sure there aren’t sections needing a rewrite that I hadn’t previously noted.

And that takes time.

The great irony of this book is that it’s about a countdown to Doomsday, but it’s taking me forever to get it done. It’s already taken at least four times longer than I anticipated, and my editor hasn’t even seen it yet.

Still, I’ll be working on it today. I expect to make significant progress.

I just thought I’d be done by now.

Done, Not Done

Finally!

After months of rewriting an old manuscript, I’ve at last completed the first (sixth) draft of The Armageddon Clock.

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been struggling. I thought this book would be easier. I had a complete manuscript. I just had to tune up the prose and add in a bunch of things to fit it into established continuity.

But what I actually had to do was add 13 chapters and 22,000 words. To fit it into the established timeline and get rid of the embarrassingly bad writing, the book needed a lot of surgery.

So it was with great relief that I typed the final sentence last week. Yay! Done!

Except, of course, it’s not done. Now I have to read the newly minted sixth draft, edit it, and rewrite it into a seventh draft before sending it to my editor.

So, I’m back at it. I’ve edited 12 chapters so far. Thirty-eight to go.

For a book about a countdown to Doomsday, this is taking an unusually long amount of time.