Tuesday, January 9, 2018

My 2017 Writing in Review

It is time once again to put forward my writing summary for the past year. As I always mention, the facts and figure I provide here aren't meant to be boastful - I provide the information so that others can have an understanding of what I've done, what works, what doesn't work, and everything in between. I sell more books than some, and fewer books than others, and that's about that.

In 2017, I sold 2,557 ebooks, and had 709,267 Kindle Unlimited page reads. This is significantly less than last year's totals of 5,921 and 849,081 (my numbers in this post might be a little different than last years' numbers, as KDP is providing better tracking tools that make adding all these numbers up easier, so the numbers in today's post are probably more accurate). Percentage-wise, book sales dropped 57%, while KU reads dropped 16.5%. Overall revenue dropped 43.5% this year, which is pretty damn significant - although thankfully, 2016 was by several thousand dollars my best year to date. For those of you who are wondering, paperback sales were too insignificant to even bother including in the above calculations. 

This was the first year since I started publishing in 2011 where technically, I didn't release a new title of any kind (Assault on Abbeville was published on New Year's Eve, 2016). This means as of right now, there hasn't been a new Commando title in two years, which, I am certain, is the reason for the poor sales this year. Historically, every new Commando title has given my sales a huge boost for several months, and kept things at relatively high sales points for the first six months of the book's release. While AoA did pretty well its first few months, it quickly tapered off, probably as a result of it being the only book in the series. Overall, however, its sales figures were reasonably strong, competing with any one individual Commando title. Numbers-wise, AoA made up 18% of my overall ebook sales, and 13% of all KU pages reads. This is highly encouraging, because it means there's definitely an audience for this series, and I am in the process of plotting out the second Revenants book.

Takeaways from all this? It was interesting to see the very large disparity between my sales and KU figures. While sales dropped over fifty percent, KU page reads dropped less than twenty percent. I don't know how that plays out in terms of money, since the value of each KU page read shifts from month to month based on the KU Fund and how many overall page reads there are in all of the KU titles (okay, I could probably figure it out...but I'm not going to bother), it's interesting to see that the the dip was relatively small. Also, as always, my non-WW2 titles sold like garbage. Killer Instincts sold a whopping 18 copies and had about 11,000 pages read in the ebook market this past year, earning me less than $150 for 2017. San Francisco slaughter was about a third of that total. All my other short fiction? A Sergeant's Duty did okay for a short story, pulling in about a hundred dollars. The Train to Calais earned about fifty. Renegade's Revenge? About twelve bucks. Nanok? Two dollars.

So, what happened? Life happened.

I don't want to get into the details, but in the past year, there have been a series of serious problems with multiple members of my family - health, finances, life in general - and the chronic nature of these problems has really thrown me for a loop. I've been anxious, depressed, angry, distracted, annoyed, scared, frustrated...basically every emotion that can grind away at the focus and dedication I need in order to write, I've had those emotions repeatedly over the last year. It is ugly, it is unfortunate, and it is really, really hard to dig out of and get back to the place where I need to be in order to...you guessed it...Always Be Closing.

For 2018, my primary goal is to finish and publish the sixth Commando novel, Operation Elysium. I'm about halfway through writing it, and I think it's going to be a great addition to the series. After that? As mentioned above, there is definitely a market for a second Revenants novel, so that's going to take priority, but I also want to start a new series, focusing on German Panzer warfare. I've got a bunch of research and some substantial plotting done for the first book in the series, so that's also good.

But ultimately, the hardest part will be overcoming the emotional obstacles I've thrown up in my way that prevent me from getting the work done. I find myself actively avoiding writing, which isn't good, and I need to get around that fear and embrace the process as something positive and encouraging, rather than something that I don't want to do, but feel I have to. As I have a full-time job with good pay and benefits, I am under no immediate financial threat if I don't publish, so for me, writing should be a fulfilling, emotionally positive act. I need to find that place again, and if I can, I know I can bounce back.

As always, many many thanks to those people who have sent me messages of encouragement over the past year. I greatly appreciate it, and it is genuinely heart-warming to know that both readers and fellow authors want to see me continue to write and publish. I honestly couldn't do it without that kind of support.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tom Clancy Classics: The Hunt for Red October

(Yes, I know it's been over nine months since I wrote a blog post. That's a loooooong story. But here we have a new post, so...yay!)

Back in high school during the early 1990s, I started reading Tom Clancy's novels, and continued to do so into college, where I finally stopped when I tried reading The Bear and The Dragon, which was so gigantic a novel and so deeply entrenched in Clancy's fantasy universe (because by the time Clear and Present Danger came along, the series was no longer a "might be happening right now" and in the realm of pure speculative fiction) that I just had no interest, especially since this was right around 9/11 (aka, sixteen years ago). I haven't gone back to read any Clancy since then, but I found myself iin the mood after visiting Battleship Cove in southern Massachusetts, where they have the USS Massachusetts, as well as a destroyer, a submarine, and an East German missile frigate.

There will be spoilers ahead, since THFRO was published over thirty years ago, and the movie came out over a quarter-century ago. If you cared that much about spoilers for either, you'd have read/watched them by now. Also, I'm not going to write a synopsis - that's what Wikipedia is for.

First off, I love the THFRO movie. It has a great score, great acting by everyone, some excellent submarine combat scenes, and just an all-round great "techno-thriller" feel. I think that term, "techno-thriller" gets thrown around way too much lately, but THFRO is really one of the first novels to define the genre, and while the movie demonstrates some of the elements, it is in the novel where the elements of the Techno-Thriller really shine, because so much of the book's detail comes in not only Clancy's passion for technical precision, but in now military technology - both intelligence gathering tech and combat tech - plays a crucial role in the story. There's a whole scene around an Alfa-class Russian submarine suffering a reactor incident that, while extremely technically dense, creates a sense of impending dread in the reader as each aspect of the reactor failure is detailed, culminating in the fatal sinking of the submarine. While not everyone enjoys that level of detail, you have to admit that Clancy was very good at laying the details out and using them to ratchet up the tension of the story.

I've probably watched the movie ten times, but as this was the first time in probably 25 years I've re-read the novel, I was impressed with how much of the book has nothing to do with Ramius and Ryan. A lot more of the novel is given over to the standoff between the US and Soviet naval forces, something that is just touched upon in the movie where a Tomcat collides with a Russian plane and makes a crash landing on the carrier's flight deck. The novel really does a great job of showing the vast scope of the operation, from both sides.

Speaking of the opposing side, we have to discuss Captain Tupolev. In the novel, Tupolev is a former student of Ramius', but he goes after his old mentor out of duty, not some insane, bug-eyed obsession. Stellan Skarsgard was fine in his role, even if it was fairly limited, but the movie's Tupolev was a sweat-sheened, chain-smoking madman who would risk a reactor incident in order to catch and sink Ramius. The novel's Tupolev, at the end of the story, stumbles across Red October by accident, thinking it is an American Ohio-class missile submarine. You cheer Tupolev's death when you watch the movie, but I was actually sad to see him die in the novel, because it is clear he's rather conflicted, especially as in the novel, the submarine duel is three against one, no two against one as it is in the movie.

Other things of note?

In the movie, the fight with the saboteur takes place during the submarine battle, while they are separated by a couple of days in the novel. Ryan is also described in somewhat more unflattering terms in the book, a wealthy desk jockey with a bit of a paunch who was a second lieutenant in the Marines for three months (years in the movie) before being injured. Interestingly, the events that take place in PATRIOT GAMES are mentioned in brief in the novel, but not in the movie, which is interesting. I wonder as to the reason Clancy included that little side-note at all, unless he was already writing PG when finishing THFRO and decided to slip it in at the last minute.

In the novel, neither Jim Greer or Sonarman Jones are mentioned as being African-American. I think it was great that Hollywood (in a rare display) diversified the cast a little in picking two actors of color for those roles. Interestingly, though, there was a black submarine officer aboard the Dallas, who disappears (or isn't cast as such, I can't keep track of all those characters). So, the balance is really more like +1, instead of +2.

It's amazing how much of the novel gets cut away in order to make the movie. And the movie moves at a truly break-neck (no pun intended...) pace. There's also almost countless POV shifts, something that is a Clancy trademark in most of his novels, and something that many thriller readers and critics I know dislike - they prefer the story stick to the POV of just one character. As popular as he was, Clancy's stories and his writing style were not designed for the "average reader" in mind. You had to be able to keep track of many characters and be able to read, comprehend, and follow along with a lot of dense technical information.

Also, for a story that deals with so much cutting-edge technology, and still reads well 30+ years later, I did have to chuckle a bit when they start talking about computers, because their specs seem so antiquated now (I looked up the Cray-2 supercomputer that gets used in the novel - a 2012-era iPad is more powerful than the Cray-2). This isn't a fault of Clancy, of course, so much as it is a sign of just how far computing has come since the early 1980s.

Anyway, that's enough for now. Please feel free to leave any comments, and we can keep the discussion going!

Monday, January 9, 2017


Although it was mentioned in last week's 2016 Writing in Review post, I wanted to formally announce the release of the first book in a new series: REVENANTS #1: Assault on Abbeville. The Amazon product description is as follows:

As the Third Reich stands triumphant upon the ashes of Western Europe, five men sneak into France under the cover of night. During the German blitzkrieg, each of them had been left for dead by their comrades. Now, these once-dead men, these revenants, have come together to infiltrate Hitler’s Fortress Europe on a mission of murder. Their assignment: hunt down and assassinate the deadliest German in France.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Revenants must rely on their cunning, their skill, and their cold brutality to do the impossible and survive. The odds are overwhelmingly against them, and there are enemies at every turn, but when everyone thinks you’re already dead, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

REVENANTS: Assault on Abbeville is the first in a series of military action - adventure novels written in the spirit of classic war movies and wartime adventure pulp fiction. It is related to the author's COMMANDO series, but can be read and enjoyed on its own.

 Unlike the Commando series, Revenants features five men who once served in different Allied armies: France, Belgium, Norway, Poland, and the Netherlands. Each of these men was left for dead on the battlefield during the 1940 invasion of Western Europe, and through one method or another, found their way to England. There, these five men were recruited to carry out assignments that no Allied government would officially sanction.

In contrast my Commando series, I intend for Revenants to be darker, both in tone and in moral outlook. These men aren't bound by any "rules of warfare", and while the Commandos aren't ones to favor a fair fight, the Revenants live to fight dirty - it's the only way five men can survive any battle against the Nazi war machine.

If you are a fan of the Commando series, I think you'll enjoy the Revenants series as well. They are both in the same "universe", meaning references to characters and events may cross over between the two series, much like my fellow author Dan Eldredge's Ranger series, but you in no way have to read one of my Commando stories in order to enjoy Assault on Abbeville.

Currently, only the eBook edition is available on Amazon, but I hope to get the paperback edition published before the end of the month. There is a link to the book on the right-hand sidebar, but if you are viewing this on a mobile device, you can go to the Amazon page by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My 2016 Writing in Review

Hello all, and happy New Year. I've written one of these "writing in review" posts every year for the past several years, and wanted to get this one out as soon as possible (I realize I don't have a tag for these posts, so I'll be creating one now if you would like to go back and read the others). Although I did not actually publish anything in the calendar year of 2015, I sort of only book-ended this year with a major release in January and one with just hours left on New Year's Eve. And, as always, just to preface, I give my sales numbers only for the purposes of providing information for folks, not as some measure of my subjective success or failure. I do better than some authors sales-wise, but many others do better than I do, and that's a-OK.

This was easily my best year by a considerable margin. While last year I was down, money-wise, this year I beat last year by several thousand dollars. I had over 5,100 sales of all ebook titles, and I cleared over 840,000 Kindle Unlimited pages read (which works out to roughly 4,000 of my titles read through, on average). While that sales figure is down compared to last year by about 500 sales (and keep in mind that for the first half of 2015, I was counting KU "borrows" as sales), my average daily KU page read counts have skyrocketed. Between July and December of 2015, I had 170,000 KU page reads, which averages out to around 944 pages a day. This year's daily average is about 2,311 pages a day, nearly a 150% gain. In addition, starting in April of this year (when I received royalties for February, the first full month after Operation Archery was released), my monthly royalties were higher - sometimes double - every single month this year.

That is, of course, the good news. The bad news is that the percentage of books sold that aren't associated with my Commando series is, basically, almost non-existent. I sold twenty-five copies of San Francisco Slaughter this year, as well as thirty-two KU reads. Now, looking at my overall yearly sales figure, we see that SFS was less than one-half of one percent of all my sales this year. Killer Instincts sold 225 copies, about 80% of them over a two-month period during which I ran a large sales promotion after it received the new cover. There were also 96 KU reads, about half of those very clearly due to the visibility of the promotion. Both ebook and KU sales come out to about 4 1/2 percent of my totals for the year. As for all the other non-Commando shorter works, barely anything moved. Twenty-three copies of Renegade's Revenge were sold. Eight copies of Spiders & Flies (each moved a few hundred KU pages, a mere handful of reads). The rest are even more pitiful.

Last year the Commando series accounted for around 90% of my totals, but this year that number has nudged up to probably around 93-94%. While some of that growth can be attributed to having a new title in the series that sold quite well, it is clear that everything else I've written is just ignored. Keep in mind that without that KI promotion, that percentage would go from about 4.5 to barely 1 percent of my sales, so without those extra 180 or so sales, Commando titles would probably be...97-98% of my income this year.

Which is a little disconcerting, especially as I have just released Assault on Abbeville, the first in a new WW2 series, REVENANTS. This series is set in the same "universe" as my Commando books, so they are indirectly related, but that is no guarantee that the readers of one will be interested in the other - I may very well have another San Francisco Slaughter on my hands. I also want to push and get a Panzer-focused series out the door this year, after the publication of Operation Elysium, and my biggest worry is that title dying as well. As much as I enjoy writing the Commando books and short stories, I fear the notion that such are the ONLY things I can write which will earn me any kind of appreciable income.

And, of course, all of this comes back to productivity. This year after releasing Operation Archery in late January, I began work on Operation Elysium, but got side-tracked and wrote Assault on Abbeville, as well as polishing up and publishing A Sergeant's Duty, the second "Short Bursts" story. As of right now, about 15% of Elysium has been written, and the rest extensively outlined. In the next couple of days, while my day job is still quiet, I'll be making an effort to push forward on the first draft, with a great determination to have the book done by the spring, which will hopefully leave me with more than half a year to write and publish the first Panzer book, which also have some extensive outlining right now.

So now, it is just a matter of getting my shoulder against the wheel. I know I can do it - in 2014, I was actually surprisingly productive, releasing Operation Dervish, SFS, Renegade's Revenge, and Spiders & Flies - It is just a matter of sitting down, writing, and repeating that process as frequently as possible.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: FINAL HARBOR by Harry Homewood

I never really thought that a novel following the action of a WW2 submarine crew would be interesting and exciting enough to keep my attention, but FINAL HARBOR proved me wrong. Not only is this book very well-written, the level of technical and historical detail is, in a word, staggering. In fact, if there are any complaints to be had about this book, it is that the little technical details occasionally get in the way because, while it may be proper protocol to repeat every command given, it doesn't need to really be written out that way!

But that is really about the only complaint I have regarding this book, and that complaint is relatively minor. The plot does occasionally stray into the domestic lives of the crew, but I think taken as a whole that isn't a bad thing, as it does tie us more strongly to the characters, and when there are casualties among the crew, the effect it has on the reader is a lot more pronounced. these aren't just cardboard cutout submariners firing torpedoes at the enemy and gritting their teeth while being depth charged, these are human beings with families and friendships, goals and aspirations.

As for the action itself, the scenes are extremely well written. Submarine warfare is very much winner-take-all, because even a single torpedo hit is capable of blowing a ship in half, while even one depth charge, if well-placed, is enough to shatter a submarine's hull and send her entire crew to the bottom of the ocean. Harry Homewood is able to deliver these scenes with nail-biting tension, and you come out on the other side with a sigh of relief, or a gasp of horror. Like war itself, this book does not pull its punches!

In conclusion, if you have any interest in WW2 submarine warfare, especially in the Pacific theater, I highly recommend this novel, and you can find it here on Amazon. There is a sequel, SILENT SEA, which I have read, and found equally engaging. Check them out!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Anatomy of a Kindle Promotion

A month ago I ran a seven-day sale on my novel KILLER INSTINCTS, reducing the price from $5.99 to $0.99. I promoted the book through three different eBook sales mailing lists: BookGorilla, The Fussy Librarian, and eBookSoda. All three emails went out on the same day - Sunday, May 29th. The book was listed as a "Thriller" in terms of category, one of the largest population bases in terms of the subscribers of these mailing lists, meaning the book likely found its way into a couple hundred thousand email inboxes.

KILLER INSTINCTS, despite being one of my better-reviewed novels, just doesn't sell well. In the twelve months before the sale, I'd only managed to sell 28 copies, along with a few thousand Kindle Unlimited page reads, probably amounting to another half-dozen or so "sales" of the book. I was curious as to how well the new cover would affect sales, since I'd just put it on the book a few weeks prior, without any appreciable rise in sales. Below, I've provided the KDP sales chart for the whole month of May, through to today (June 27th). The top chart is sales, the bottom chart is Kindle Unlimited page reads.

Click the image to view at a larger size

All told, between today and May 29th, I sold 187 copies of the book, only 13 of which were after the sales period. While those 13 extra sales were nice, and more sales per length of time than I was seeing before the promotion, it isn't really that exciting. What is much more interesting, though, is the Kindle Unlimited activity. I had about 16,000 page reads (about 37 book reads) between May and June, and only about 1,500 of those were before the sale. About 5,500 were during the sale, leaving about ~9,000 in the weeks after the sale's conclusion. That's about 23 copies of the book read since the sale is over, a little less than double the number of sales during that time period.

But sales is one thing - what about the money? The cost of the promotional emails through the three companies ran about $75, so I needed to break that amount in order for this to have been worth it. Running the numbers, in the last 30 days, I've earned about $175 in sales, plus roughly $65 in Kindle Unlimited page read royalties (estimated), for a total of around $240. That means $165 in profit after deducting the cost of the promotion emails. Since I'm estimating my royalties for the prior twelve months at just about $130 (just under $11 a month), we're looking at a period of profitability roughly fourteen times higher than usual.

So, was the promotion a success? In terms of sales and royalties, it certainly was successful. I sold twice as many books in the first day as I'd sold in the past year, and the money was certainly far better than usual. What's more, looking at that Kindle Unlimited chart, I'm going to guess that a lot of folks who saw the promotional emails decided to add the book to their KU reading queues, and they've been reading the book over the last few weeks, a trend which will probably continue for some time. As for regular sales, I think I'm going to take the price down, probably to $3.99, at least for a few months. I think the new cover will help it sell better at a slightly lower, more attractive price point.

I hope the above information is helpful for any authors out there who are considering the use of promotional email lists in getting visibility and sales for their titles. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Covers for Old Novels

Apologies for the lack of posting over the last couple of months - Real Life has been rather distracting, and I haven't gotten around to providing the usual semi-regular content here. Hopefully that will turn around as the summer gets into full swing!

Recently, after talking to author Mark Allen about the cover for his new novel, The Assassin's Betrayal, I was rather impressed with his experiences in finding and working with a new cover designer, Rebecca Frank. After some consideration, and looking at her website and portfolio, I contacted Rebecca and discussed her re-doing the covers for Killer Instincts and San Francisco Slaughter. After some back-and-forth over cover concepts and several drafts of each, I received the following covers, which I think are fantastic, and a massive improvement over the originals, both of which were designed by yours truly.

Below I've placed each of the new covers to the right of the old cover.

I don't think either of my covers is *awful*, but as you can see, there are certain benefits to paying a professional to do the work for you. Not only do you get what is simply a better, more professional-looking cover, but it adds a layer of professionalism to your book as well. Everyone I've shown Rebecca Frank's covers to has said something to the tune of "I can totally imagine that on a book in a bookstore", which is an excellent metric, if you ask me.