Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Self publishing one year later

I was originally going to post this on the 24th, but that was Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and I was busy eating too much pie and relaxing with the family.  Since then, I've eaten more pie and spent time hanging a bunch of Christmas decorations while doing my very best not to fall off the roof.  Luckily I succeeded, though I'm extremely sore from the process.

I'll do a blog post on the Christmas decorations and why my wife and I go overboard with them sometime in the next month or so. :D

One year published

On November 24th, 2010 I self published my first book, "Rojuun" on Smashwords, a fact that filled me with quite a sense of accomplishment then and now.

One year later, I've published 4 novels, 1 novella, 8 short stories, 1 personalized children's book, 1 omnibus, and 1 collection of short stories.  That's not too shabby methinks.

In that time, I have reached over 1000 sales, which isn't too shabby either.  Over 100,000 copies of my free books have been given away in addition to that.  Many of the free giveaways result in sales or will result in future sales. 

"The Emo Bunny that Should" has been my most popular story, having been downloaded over 43,000 times.  I don't get results of how many free books I give away through Apple, so it's probably larger than that.

The journey

I decided to try writing in 1991 and put out a few poems.  It wasn't until 2002 that I tried writing a book.  It was a learning process that taught me I wasn't ready.  In 2007, I wrote a couple of short stories, the first of which was "Blue Haired Alien Girlfriend".  I submitted them to magazines, but the quality of writing at that time wasn't good.  I've fixed them since then.

I learned more through making a couple of Neverwinter Nights modules that total nearly 400,000 words of dialogue.  It gave me new ways to look at things and made me stronger at creating a character's personality through dialogue.

Playing D&D with a group and even DMing also helped me look at new ways to write.  World building became a strength, although I learned that it's possible to do so much world building that you forget to write the story.

Early 2010 was when I learned about self publishing through Amazon and Smashwords.  It was then that I decided to write that first book in earnest.

What I've learned

Self-publishing is an incredible amount of work.  Writing is only the first part.  Editing is vital if a writer wants to be truly successful in the long run.  I spend more time editing than I do writing the books.  I enjoy the stories that I write, which helps a lot.  If a section of book is agonizing to edit after the seventh time I look at it, then I study what's wrong with it and try not to do that every time I write again.

Marketing is the most time consuming and frustrating part of the process for me and a lot of other Indies.  It's largely about social networking and selling oneself.  To a large degree, there's no immediate result or gain either.  That makes it very discouraging.  The key has been to remind myself that self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.  Still, it would be nice to wake up one morning and see a million sales.  I can't help the desire. *sigh*

The most important thing I've learned is to keep improving the quality of my writing.  It's a long term plan.  I can focus all my energy on marketing and get a lot of sales right away or I can spend time becoming a better writer and earn those sales along with loyal readers over the long term.

Most readers look for authors they know and like.  It's important for an author to brand themselves so that people know who they are.  The way I'm doing that is to give away a lot of free short stories.  My most successful series is the Stories for Demented Children.  They're extremely popular and draw the attention of people because of the odd titles.  I recently put them together in a collection to sell in the hopes of earning a bit of extra change.

In the coming year

I'm working on The Dralin Trilogy.  It's slightly darker than The Willden Trilogy and set in the city of Dralin.  It's fun to write about the characters and imagine what their lives would be like.  The first book is done and I have a few pages of the second one written.  I really need to get going on it.

I want to get a few more novels written to balance books I charge for vs. books I give away, so the novels are primarily what I'm going to be working on for now.  I'm hoping to write three in the next year.  It's a reasonable goal.  However, I do have a day job *sob* which eats away my time.  I also make it a point to spend time with my family, much to their chagrin.  :D  So if I don't quite make it, that's okay.

It's been a good first year and I look forward to many more. :)

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How I became a writer

The beginning - poetry

It started back in 1991.  I was 21 and decided to see if I could write.  I had no clue, honestly.  It seemed the best way to find out was to write something.  I decided to write some poetry for a start, just to see what would happen.

I knew it was pretty bad and that the technical merits were nonexistent.  However, the one thing that did come out well was the image of what I was writing.  The blank page became my canvas and the words my paint.  I wrote quite a few terrible poems that I occasionally torture the readers of this blog with. (insert evil cackle here)

The poems came off and on for a while as I lived my life, picking back up when I met my wife. :)  But other than that, I didn't write much for a long time and nothing serious.  You might be interested to know that those first poems were written on a computer using Wordstar.

First attempt at a book

I started writing the first book, called "Liquid Wyvern" in 2002.  It wasn't very good, but I learned a lot in the attempt.  The first chapter of that book was used as the fabric for "Dralin", my fourth novel.  The second chapter will be my ninth book.  The original chapters work better as outlines for novels rather than as chapters.

I made it 40,000 words into the book before setting it aside.  After that, I wrote a couple of short stories, "Blue Haired Alien Girlfriend" and "Test Pilot".  I submitted them to sci-fi magazines where they were rejected.  After publishing "Rojuun", I took a look at them again and realized that they needed massive work, so I fixed them and now give them away for free. :)  They're both fun little sci-fi stories that I enjoyed writing.

Neverwinter Nights

I like playing D&D and computer rpg games.  Baldur's Gate was the first computer game that I played and I loved it.  Then in 2006 I discovered Neverwinter Nights, which has a toolset that can be used to create your own game.  People were making modules, which are separate games.  The cool thing was that they didn't have to fit into established story lines or rules.  There were some true gems out there and I decided to try my hand at it.

Over the next few years, I built two humorous adventure modules, "Resurrection Gone Wrong" and "Resurrection Gone Wronger", both of which made the hall of fame.  Between the two, there is over 350,000 words of dialogue, which is longer than my trilogy!

I learned a lot in the process of building these modules.  It gave me the opportunity to look at writing in different ways.  The biggest thing I learned is writing dialogue.  I've become very good at that aspect of writing.

I also created a character named "Zombie Bob" that has become a bit of a legend in the community.  He added a lot of humor to the module and even a strong story line.

Discovering eBooks

I started thinking about writing again and I did some research.  One of my biggest issues with trying to become an author is that you have to go through an insane process of getting an agent who gets you a publisher, a process that can take years or even decades.  It was something that always discouraged me.

While researching, I discovered Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.  It would probably mean never getting a traditional publishing contract, but I decided that would be alright.  At that point I decided it was time to get serious about writing and publishing my books.  It was a decision I do not regret.

Becoming a self published author

In February of 2010, I started writing.  My original story was lost at that point (I've since found it)  It took four months to write it, not counting a month where I performed in a play with my wife.  It took another four months to edit it numerous times before finally publishing it to Smashwords on November 24th 2010.  Since then, I've learned even more about writing and have become better, but I'm still extremely happy with the book.

In the year following, I've added 3 more novels, a novella, 8 short stories and a children's story that can be customized, called "A New Pet in the Family".

I'm getting ready to start the fifth novel and look forward to making a career out of this before long.  There is an unlimited potential for authors right now and it's exciting!

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Mountain Lake - A Poem


I have been writing (mostly bad) poetry since I was 21.  This is very odd considering I absolutely hate poetry.  Poetry drives me up a wall.  As a form of writing, it tends to be overly impressed with itself.  If someone wishes to say something, it's best just to come out and say it instead of tying it up in uselessly colorful words that confuse the entire situation.

So . . . now that I've gone on a rant about how much I dislike poetry . . . Let's get back to the fact that I write it. *sigh*  The fact of the matter is, poetry is a very useful tool for writers.  It's a way to get concepts, images and ideas onto paper and experiment with words.  It's also awesome for saying lovey-dovey-gushy stuff.

This specific poem is about Muncho Lake in the Colorado Rockies of Northern British Columbia. Muncho Lake  It was a sight I viewed while driving to Alaska back in 1994.  The scene is as I remember it in the morning after sleeping in my little Toyota pickup truck overnight.

From Wikipedia:
The jade green color of the lake is attributed to the presence of copper oxide leached from the bedrock underneath. Its name is derived from the Kaska language in which "muncho" translates as "big water".

Please understand that this was written before I was writing consistently.  The technical merits of the writing are . . . non-existant.  It could be written much better, but I'm not going to edit it.  I figure this will keep me from becoming too impressed with myself if I hit it big. ;)

My Mountain Lake

Snowcapped peaks
Rugged rock
Breaking the sky
Towering over land

Clouds above
Bringing moisture of life
Waiting for time
To release their gift

Beams of light
Parading down
Godly in manner
Brilliantly shining

A lake of jade
Calm little rippled
Silently lapping
Upon shores of grass

Trees climbing mountains
Douglas and spruce
Orange and red
Yellow and green

Swans passing over
On their way south
Spreading their wings
spreading their beauty

Over this I look
Gazing at this sight
Holding my breath
In wonder and awe

I am filled with amazement
At a sight of such beauty
I now leave my body
And play in this space

Over this lake I fly
Under the water I gaze
Hopping from peak to peak
I revel in life

Freedom is here
Untainted and true
Pleasure and beauty
Of the artist unknown

I look back toward my body
Basking in joy
I am at peace
With all that I am

Thank you my mountain lake
For sharing your beauty
FOr sharing your tapestry
For simply being there

I will always remember
The joy you have given
I will someday return
To see you again

Copyright 1994 John H. Carroll

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anilyia - Book 2 of the Willden Trilogy


In a post a couple of months ago, I talked about my first book, "Rojuun".  Here I'm going to discuss the second book, "Anilyia".

The process

Writing and publishing my first book was thrilling.  At the same time, it gave me something to live up to.  I decided right away that I was going to make it a trilogy.  It just seemed like a good size that I could sell.  I didn't want to write eighty books and still not have a conclusion.  So then I had to figure out what the next couple of books would hold.

The good news was that I had four excellent, well-developed characters.  The group relationship was developed and I could have fun with it.  One of the hardest parts was figuring out how to re-introduce the characters without boring the crap out of the reader.  I did it by narrating the details through the memory of the main character, Tathan.  I did the same for book three.  On my next trilogy, I'm trying new ways that I believe will work better.

Writing the second book was fun because I had learned so much from the first one.  I ran into two big problems.  The first was that I stopped about 60,000 words into it in order to do final edits and publish Rojuun.  Then I had to pick up from where I left off.

The second problem was the middle of the book.  I had them traveling for weeks and I did an information dump in the process.  It was clumsy and my least favorite part of the book.  Before I discourage you from reading any further, I'd like to say that the rest of the story is well worth suffering through that part. ;)  And there is some rather neat stuff in the information dump.

Phongnhakebang Caverns in Vietnam

The story

I picked up a few days after the first book.  The characters are in an inn and they need to report their findings about the race called Rojuun to Mother Tree, who sent them on the quest in the first place.  I introduced some intrigue right away that I intended to follow up on in the third book.

I still hadn't come up with a plot by the third chapter.  I decided to make fun of the "Save the world" theme that most fantasy books tend to have and brought in a character that would be over the top.  For the next few chapters I had numerous opportunities for humor.  It's one of my favorite parts of the book.  The plot developed into saving a princess, which is another cliche.  However, it's not a normal rescue by any stretch of the imagination.
After the characters visited Mother Tree, I sent them back into the caverns of the Rojuun.  Setting up a vast ecosystem underground took quite a bit of imagination and research.  I have no idea if what I wrote is possible, but I do believe it's possible.  Luminescent plants and animals that produce both light and oxygen is a really neat concept.  I can picture the scenes in my mind as though they were part of a movie.

The Rojuun become more developed as a race in this book and also much more mysterious at the same time.  There will be future series in this world where Rojuun will come into play as well.  Many readers will not be sure what to think of them after reading "Anilyia".

I will leave the question of whether the companions save the princess and what happens after the attempt for discovery within the book.  Also, I should warn you that "Anilyia" ends in a cliffhanger that will make getting book 3 "Kethril" irresistible.  Luckily that also is available in all stores.

Jessica Jorgenson, the model for the covers of the Willden Trilogy.  Photograph by Tracy Carroll


Book 2 of the Willden Trilogy begins shortly after the events of book one. Tathan and his companions meet danger with a healthy dose of humor and irreverence during their adventures.

After spending time in the deep caverns fighting the terrible creatures called sstejj, the companions return to Mother Tree deep in the Willden Forest to tell her what they’ve learned. Along the way, Liselle and Vevin meet a magical being who informs them that the world will go poof if they don’t save Princess Anilyia of Mayncal, believed to be held captive by the Rojuun.

The companions start their quest to gather information; only to have their plans interrupted by a mysterious green eyed woman and her pet . . . who, oddly enough, also has green eyes.

Their journey takes them into the depths of the world. They discover the location of the princess, but the odds of rescuing her are beyond difficult and everyone is talking about humpfiggers falling from the sky. Perhaps half a plan would be better than none at all.

Will the companions be able to accomplish the mission? Do they truly understand the Rojuun? Will Vevin finally get to nom one to see if it’s tasty? What in the world will they do with the princess if they do save her?

The Willden Trilogy is an epic fantasy that follows the adventures of Tathan and his companions through the Willden Forest and into the depths of the world. A new race called Rojuun has appeared in the world and is threatening to make humans their servants. It is the companions’ task to learn more and perhaps rescue a princess if they have the time.

This is a full length novel of approximately 103,000 words, or about 400-450 printed pages

The price of Anilyia is $2.99


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to find your books on international Apple iTunes, iBooks stores

iTunes bookstore, or iBooks as many call it.

As many authors know, or don't know, or guess, or deduce, or think, or figure, or remain oblivious to, or . . . I'm getting out of hand, aren't I? . . . Apple's iBookstore is available in lots of countries.  Smashwords distributes eBooks to Apple as well as to other bookstores.  They do it efficiently and also have the option free isbn numbers for writers, a requirement for publishing with Apple.

It's a little difficult to find your books on iTunes, but not impossible.  Smashwords has this information in their FAQs: http://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#findonapple

How to Locate your Smashwords Ebook in the Apple Store:
Take a look at this (study the URL before you click):

                country code ^                      ^ISBN ^ 

On Smashwords, find your ISBN by clicking your Dashboard's ISBN Manager.

Note: be sure to take the dashes out of your isbn when you paste it. 

They also promote Russell Phillips' Tools for Authors: http://www.russellphillipsbooks.co.uk/pages/tools.php which has a tool to create the links for Apple.

Now you've found your book.

Here is what my first book, "Rojuun" looks like.  Once you enter the above info, the URL is adjusted to add the name of your book.:

Also, you should now have an author page, which can be found by clicking on "View More By This Author" in the upper right hand corner.

If you look at the numbers in the links above for my first book and my author page, you may notice that the author number is one greater than the first book.  I've done some research and it appears to be that way for all Smashword authors.

Finding your books internationally

Okay, in the links above, you may have noticed that they all have /us/ in the link right after .com.  That is the country code.  I know for certain of 32 countries in which Smashwords distributed books are available.  You can read the recent Smashwords anouncement where Apple added 26 European and Scandinavian countries here: Smashwords Blog

If you would like to be able to see your author page or book in each country, simply replace /us/ in your link with the country code listed below.

US                                 us
Canada                          ca
U.K.                              uk
Germany                        de
France                            fr
Australia                        au
Austria                           at
Belgium                         be
Bulgaria                         bg
Cyprus                          cy
Czech Republic             cz
Denmark                       dk
Estonia                          ee
Finland                          fi
Greece                          gr
Hungary                        hu
Ireland                          ie
Italy                              it
Latvia                           lv
Lithuania                       lt
Luxembourg                 lu
Malta                           mt
Netherlands                 nl
Norway                       no
Poland                         pl
Portugal                       pt
Romania                      ro
Slovakia                      sk
Slovenia                      si
Spain                          es
Sweden                      se
Switzerland                 ch

I found the data on the country codes here: http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/codes/country.htm It seems like a very useful page to anyone who might need info like that.

Anyway, I hope this helps all you authors who have books distributed through Apple.  This is another useful tool that I'm creating largely for my own benefit, but also for other authors.

All my best and happy writing. :)