Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thom Kephart From Amazon Speaks at PWSD

Thom Kephart, Community Outreach Product Manager from Amazon, was the guest speaker at the PWSD meeting today. Kephart has been working in the independent publishing industry for six years, starting with Createspace. Now with amazon’s Outreach program, Kephart is responsible for branding and expanding awareness of Amazon’s independent publishing platforms to the public. There were at least 150 people at today’s meeting, much more than organizers had anticipated. President Karla Olson was frantically trying to service a growing number of attendees, a huge line of people that circled the banquet room. I overheard her say, “We’ve never had this many people show up before.” Kudos to her, it went extremely well. And it proves that self-publishing is not only popular, but it’s still just beginning. There’s no telling how popular it will become. I once read a statistic that one quarter of the population of the planet writes fiction. That’s how many people could potentially use KDP.  

Kephart went over some of the basics of publishing on KDP and Createspace, and he did so fantastically. Here are some of the highlights:

Print sales are being helped by e-books sales. Often we hear that e-book sales are ruining the print business, but this isn’t true. Print sales are going up.

There are 40,000 publishers now on Amazon. And that doesn’t include independent authors who publish with Amazon.  

Metadata matters. What is metadata? Anything used to find, categorize, or describe your books on the internet, including tags, book descriptions, and author bios. Thom highly recommends having an author central page with a picture and bio. People want to know who the author is. Make sure to tag your book and find clever ways to reach readers with your description and categorization.

He recommends having your book on all POD platforms, not just Createspace. “You never know where someone is going to find your book.”  He also recommends buying the ISBN. This was a contentious spot for me when I was publishing on Createspace. I wasn’t sure how much it mattered, and Thom agrees that it’s not a major concern unless you have a huge readership, but he did recommend being listed as the publisher and owning your ISBN. Too late for me. Maybe next time.

He recommended the book “SEO For Dummies.” Let’s face it, most of us are writers, not computer wizards. But the internet is our marketplace and we should learn how to use it as best we can. First thing to know, what does SEO stand for? Search Engine Optimization. Business owners spend big dollars to make sure their websites are optimized, meaning that if someone types in “glazed donut” in Google, the site for their donut shop is more likely to come up first.

He said we writers have to help each other. Better to collaborate than compete.

In his opinion DRM is more annoying than helpful to readers, though he stressed that that’s just his opinion and authors should decide for themselves what’s best for their books. I say screw it. A simple search on the internet can get you free DRM stripping software.

KDP charges a bigger delivery fee for larger files than smaller ones. That’s probably common knowledge, but it was news to me. So if you sell picture books, make sure to check your delivery charges. They take it out of your royalty! The horror!

All in all it was a great presentation by Mr. Kephart. It also put a human face on the process. Sometimes we’re lead to think our books are being managed by twelve year-old girls in India or something, but thankfully that’s not the case. Thom was knowledgeable and helpful and said many times that he wants to hear from us authors personally. He said his department gets tons of drunken calls all hours of the night from authors who can’t figure out formatting or something. It’s good to know I’m not alone.


If you live in the San Diego area, check out PWSD:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Chater!

Today was my late grandmother's birthday. She would be thrilled to see how well her books are doing. I started a .99 cent sale of all her books last Friday and it's been going really well. She now has four books in the top 100 Regency Romance on amazon!

These were the rankings when I last checked.

The Gamester ranked 20 

The Marriage Mart ranked 48

The Duke's Dilemma ranked 90

The Random Gentleman ranked 95

The sale will continue until Friday Aug 24th. But don't worry, I'm planning another sale in November.

Thank you all!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I just read a blog by a well-known writer and I feel the need to respond to it. The author’s intent was to offer advice to unpublished authors who had just completed a novel. I used to read this type of stuff like crazy back in the days before self-publishing, when I was a starving writer desperate to publish in any legitimate market. The funny part is that this advice now seems completely antiquated . . . and potentially . . . unhelpful. Yes, maybe five years ago, ten years ago, definitely twenty years ago this advice might have been relevant. But now authors have choices and good ones at that.

This was the advice in a nutshell: after the author has completed a novel, and after all normal avenues have been exhausted to procure a publishing deal, such as querying agents or submitting to every publisher in town, even the small presses, the author should then forgo trying to publish the novel and instead look to the short story market to make a name for oneself, thus, in time, one might prove one’s merit to agents and publishers and maybe, just maybe, if the stars align just right, the author’s long list of short story credits (this could take years) might magically cause the publishing world to lower its drawbridge and let you into its kingdom.

The blogger qualified his advice with the fact that the publishing world is currently at a low point. If they aren’t interested in the work, it may not be your fault. You’ll never know this, of course, because they usually just give you a form letter. But now it’s an especially bad time to try and break into the publishing world because  . . . well, he doesn’t say, but apparently good authors are being laid off, submissions are being ignored, and midlist authors are not given the chance to renew their contracts.

Hmmm, hasn’t this always been the case? Was there a golden age when publishers were offering contracts to even a small percentage of querying authors? No. But apparently, now it’s especially bad. The author never said why. Just is.

The economy maybe?

So I’m thinking, well, if it’s so bad, why did they offer Amanda Hocking a two million dollar contract? There are a LOT of great writers out there, GREAT WRITERS, who never see two millions dollars over the life of their contracts. Why give two million dollars to a young girl who was self-publishing? I realize this argument has been made to death already—it’s old news for those of us who have been self-publishing for more than a year now, but this particular blogger didn’t feel the need to point it out, so I thought I would. So why give a self-published author such an exorbitant advance and then reject so many other authors? They could have offered her a quarter of that amount and it still would have been a lot for a new author. What happened to the standard advance for a first time fantasy author, which is usually about 15-35,000 on the high end?
We all know why. Because Mrs. Hocking represented a self-published author who was not only making a killing, but was getting a lot of media attention in the process. She was a thorn in their side. I’m not arguing her decision to sign or not to sign, I’m just pointing out the facts. She’s a good writer and deserves the attention, but so do a lot of writers.

The blogger then advised that the author might consider cannibalizing his novel and either turning it into one short story or several short stories. I’ve gone down this road as an author and here’s what I think about this issue, take it or leave it. The work wants to be what it wants to be. If it wants to be a novel, don’t cut it up into a short story. If you want to enter into the short story market, write something new. There are lots of fantastic internet magazines out there and entering that market is a great idea, but don’t trash your book to do it.

Here’s what I would do with the novel.

First things first. Is the novel any good? Your mom loves it. Your friends love it. Now you need honest feedback. Find beta readers. Go on librarything and put it up on their Early Reviewers program. If you get a significant amount of negative feedback, it might be time to rethink the work. If it’s your first novel, you might want to consider rewriting it or shelfing it and starting something new. My first novel was called The Third Dimension. You’ll never get to read it, and for good reason. But if the reviews of your book are mostly favorable, go to step two.

Pay someone to edit the hell out of it. Make sure it’s as clean as a whistle. A lot of first time authors resist this, but it has to be done. The number one complaint readers have of self-published work is that it’s grammatically flawed.

Next, get a great cover. The better the cover, the better chance it will have.

Learn to format it into an ebook or pay someone to do it.

Last, self-publish it everywhere you can. Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, everywhere. Get reviews. Promote it as best you can.

Take a step back and see how you like the process. Chances are you are going to love it. Don’t listen to anyone who says you’re going to go on some type of traditional blacklist. If you still want a traditional deal, you can still try for one. You’ll still have as much chance as anyone else—I would argue that you'll now have a better chance because now you understand what it takes to make a book sellable.

Repeat the process.

Meanwhile, there’s no reason why you can’t submit short stories to magazines. You could always self-publish the short stories, but getting $500 for your work and the street cred would be nice too. Many publications ask that you give them the rights to your work up to a year.

The downside of it all? It takes time to build a fan base, but if you’re diligent, it won’t take as long as it would take to get a publishing deal. Some self-publishers never make it. But more self-publishers are making it than those trying to break in via the traditional route. And, chances are, sooner than later, self-publishing will become the traditional route.

Pricing Elizabeth Chater's book, The Gamester, at .99c has done wonders. It’s been in the top one hundred historical romance for more than a month, and it’s climbed as high as 37th in kindle UK historical romance! Check it out! UK Amazon. Amazon.
Omegasphere is now available in print. The print edition includes the short story “Progenitor.” Check it out here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Omegasphere available in Print

Omegasphere is now available in print and it's only 7.99.  I also included my short story "Progenitor" as bonus material. Check it out.

Kurt Robbins always wondered where ideas came from. Then he found out. . . .

Kurt Robbins just finished his first novel and his editor loves it. The only problem is that six other writers submitted the same manuscript, word for word. Is Kurt a plagiarizer, or had something or someone seeded his mind with the idea? Memeticist Ursula Stevens is Kurt’s only hope in finding out the truth. While being chased by an unknown government agency, Kurt and Ursula search out the other authors, hoping to figure out who infected them, and why, day by day, Kurt’s intelligence is growing by leaps and bounds.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

This is why we write books

Review by: Australwind on June 24, 2012 : star star star star 
I received The Traveler's Companion as a LibraryThing Member's Giveaway and it finally gave me some hope for the future of writing and self publishing! This was definitely the sort of complexity and depth I was looking for - a book that would have stood tall amongst its fellows on the shelf in a library or bookshop.

Each of the main characters was well developed, including the clone/robot Angela, to a level where you are invited to like or hate, trust or fear, engage with their internal struggles as they are played out on the page.

The science of this science fiction seemed well researched and presented in a manner that was not too complex nor distancing of the reader. I found the underlying theme of the power of love, grief and loss as untapped sources of human creativity within this "world" to be quite resonant especially given I am an artist. The concept that this power could be harnessed to replicate our world including those we love in another Zone is not too great a reach from the bounds of possibility and this therefore made the story a whole lot more accessible.

Nice work, Mr Chater.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Glossary of Regency Period Terms and Idioms

Since I've been proofing and publishing my grandma's historical novels, I've come across a lot of idioms and words I don't know. Here's a short list to help out those who may be running into the same problem. I'll post more as I go.

The Regency period was between 1811 and 1820, though many of these words were used throughout the 1800s. 
Glossary of Regency Terms and Idioms:

“Children born on the wrong side of the blanket”: An illegitimate child.

“Queer as Dick's hatband": Perverse, absurd, peculiar.

“Shoot the cat”: To vomit.

“Shot in the neck”: Drunk.

Banns: The banns of marriage. The public announcement in a Christian parish church of an impending marriage between two specified persons.

Bluestocking: An educated, intellectual woman.

Billet-doux (French): A love letter.

Brangle: A noisy contest or dispute, squabble.

By-blow: an illegitimate child.

Cant: Jargon or argot of a group.

Chit: A child.

Cicisbeo: Lover, Gallant, or cavalier servant of a married woman.

Cony: a fool or dupe.

Cur: An ill-natured mixed-breed dog, mutt. Mean cowardly or unpleasant.

Fribble: To waste time.

Gapeseed: a person who stares idly or in idle wonderment instead of tending to business.

Le Beau Monde: Fashionable society.

Looby: Awkward clumsy man.

Orgeat: A sugary syrup drink made from barley.

Popinjay: Someone given to pretentious displays.

Rakehell: A heartless womanizer.

Terradiddle: Pretentious nonsense.

My sources were the Encarta Dictionary and Wikipedia

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Power of Categorization on Amazon

I published Elizabeth Chater's book, Emerald Love, on May 5 and by May 17 she had 0 sales. No sales for twelve days may not seem like a big deal, in fact it’s a reality for most of us; I've gone weeks without a sale of my sci book despite great reviews, but most of Elizabeth Chater's romance books sell at least a few copies in the first week. So what happened?

When I uploaded Emerald Love, I categorized it as Fiction - Historical.  
After a few days of no sales, I lowered the price from 4.99 to 3.99. I know that similar historical dramas in the 150-200,000 word range are priced at 7.99-4.99 and I would put Emerald Love up against any of them, so I felt the price was justified. But after no sales, I began to doubt it. The other books  priced at 2.99 were enjoying steady sales.
So I changed the price from 4.99 to 3.99.
A week went by. No sales.
I changed the cover.

No sales.
I brought the price down to .99cents!
No sales!
What the…?

I checked the document, making sure it was formatted correctly. No errors, looked good. Then I went to her amazon page. The search results said she only had 10 romances available, seven historical, three regency. Where was the eleventh?  

I had tagged the book: Romance, England, 1856, sepoy mutiny, etc. Why wasn't it listed as a romance?—because tagging doesn't put the book in Amazon's categorization system! So I went into the Bookshelf and discovered I had missed the "Romance" genre selection. I should have selected Fiction-Romance-historical. I made the change and re-uploaded it.

The next day there were two sales.

The moral of the story? Romance sells. And categorizing your book under romance on Amazon sells it. If there was any doubt the amazon categorization algorithms don't help, this should put that to bed. It proves that there's a big market for romance.  
My next book…hunky aliens from Venus…

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

To Preach or Not to Preach in Your Writing

I got a review for my book The Traveler's Companion that I thought was exceptional, despite the criticism. 

"This book was an excellent read. Don't let the three star rating take away from a great book. The author has written a smart, elegant, and enjoyable story. However, I found myself distracted by the preaching throughout the prose. The opinions of the author are obvious and overstated.  )"

The question is, can an author inject his opinions about life in to a narrative? For me, the answer is yes. The reality is, there's no way not to do this. The opinions will always seep through, no matter how hard an author tires to suppress them. Often the content or story line reveals the opinions of the author. I know that, when I watch most entertainment generated out of Hollywood, that I am going to get a certain political point of view: an evil handgun is going to mysteriously get up by itself, shoot an adorable minority girl who has skin cancer because of global warming, and when she's taken to the hospital, she's turned away because she doesn't have health insurance. Is this a modern day tragedy or political bias? Both. Is it good art or bad? Neither. If you don't agree with the politics, it's bad, if you do, it's a fair reflection of urban life in our times. 

But shouldn't the author suppress his political or religious opinions? Hell no. Why should he? One should hope that an author's first priority is to the truth, but an author without an opinion is worse than being overtly preachy--its cowardess, and the prose will reflect it. The danger is that the author uses popular media bias to help sell a work or to pander to an audience, rather than try and prove a point with facts and interesting insights. An author should also hope he doesn't appear overtly preachy, like I was criticized for up in my review, but as I've stated, its better to have an opinion in a work than not have one. 

Was a movie about a premature ice age caused by modern pollution preachy, as in The Day After Tomorrow or in Soylent Green? Maybe. Were you entertained despite it. Probably. The political message behind the work had to be stated in order for the work to have any relevance. The writers endeavored to touch on subject matter important to modern viewers as a vehicle for a cool concept. Whether or not global warming is a reality is up for the viewer to decide. For me, I like to be presented with factual information, a realistic debate rather than media hype, but first and foremost I want to be entertained. It's entertaining to get insights into modern debates, if they're good insights. For instance, Schindler's List has a message: one man can make a difference, even when he's pitted against the most powerful army in history. Do you agree with this in every instance? Probably not. The other obvious theme of the movie is that racism and anti-antisemitism are destructive, cruel, and will ultimately fail as a social policy. Do we argue or blame Spielberg for his opinions? I don't. Avatar is about the spiritual connection between a race of beings and their environment: destroy the environment, destroy yourself. Corny or great art? It's the top grossing movie of all time, so be careful before you say corny. Titanic, another Cameron super success, is about man's arrogance with respect to nature. The Dark Night has Batman learning that extreme good is inexplicably tied to extreme evil. The writers could have left out their opinions or insights into life, but the work would have suffered. 

Hopefully an author will know when his opinions are hurting the work, but if a reader doesn't agree with your opinion, even a little will seem too much. I try to craft my themes into a work so that I have clearly stated my position, and, hopefully, in the most entertaining way possible. After that, its up to the reader to decide. 

I want to thank the reviewer for the honest appraisal of my work and, because the book is FREE for a limited time on Smashwords, I'd like to invite everyone to take a look and see for themselves if the reviewer was correct in this instance. I'd also like to hear from other authors about this subject. To preach or not to preach!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

OMEGASPHERE A new novel by Christopher John Chater

Omegasphere is finally available on Smashwords! It should be up on Amazon in the next couple of days. This is a psychological thriller, but the core theme of the book is about where ideas come from.

I had a friend years ago who asked me where I got my ideas. It's an odd question to ask a writer, because the truth sounds sort of corny. The reality is we don't really know . . . yes, everything a writer does goes through the filter of his own personality and experience, but we don't know where the original idea comes from. God? The universe? The media? My guess is that it's probably all of the above. In the case of Omegasphere, I examine several possibilities through the characters Ursula and Kurt. Ursula is a memeticist, a scientifically minded cynic, and Kurt is a science fiction writer who is more open to mystical and paranormal concepts. Memetics is the study of how ideas spread in a culture, the brain child of controversial atheist Richard Dawkins, who began the study as a way to augment Darwin's theory of evolution using social  phenomena, such as how ideas are passed from mind to mind. To simplify the science, one person gets the idea to cook food, and then the idea is copied or mimicked by someone else. Soon the idea spreads throughout a culture or society, eventually reaching critical mass when everyone is cooking their food. The idea makes society as a whole healthier; people live longer and thus they have more time to pursue intellectual pursuits, which of course helps mankind to evolve.

Sometimes the ideas are copied incorrectly.They mutate while being past from host to host, and this creates a problem. The media makes its living this way, spreading half truths for political and or financial gain.Think of urban legends that exist for decades, even centuries, and influence social thinking without people even being aware of it! But there are great examples of ideas that make life better. Because someone came up with the idea for an ereader, one can now sit in relative comfort and read Omegasphere for only 2.99 on Smashwords :).  My hero wants to figure out where ideas come from originally. . . and when he's suddenly given remarkable extrasensory abilities, he's on his way to finding out.

Here's the description for the book:

Kurt Robbins always wondered where ideas came from. Then he found out. . . .

Kurt Robbins just finished his first novel and his editor loves it. The only problem is that six other writers submitted the same manuscript, word for word. Is Kurt a plagiarizer, or had something or someone seeded his mind with the idea? Memeticist Ursula Stevens is Kurt’s only hope in finding out the truth. While being chased by an unknown government agency, Kurt and Ursula search out the other authors, hoping to figure out who infected them, and why, day by day, Kurt’s intelligence is growing by leaps and bounds.

I'd like to dedicate this book release to my brother, Kerry. Get well soon, bro.

Friday, February 10, 2012

We've published a lot of books in the last month. Here's a recap.

Bait for the Tiger. A novelette, now .99c everywhere.

Infernal Triangle. Part of the Jamie Jarvis short story series. Bette Chater had a paranormal detective way before Psych came along. .99c everywhere.

Jamie Jarvis is on the case again. This time a car looks like it's crashed, but it hasn't hit anything. 99c everywhere.

Jamie infiltrates a monastic cult. FREE on Smashwords.

Operation Disaster is one of the science fiction stories Bette published in Fantastic Universe Magazine. Steve Vannevar has to travel back in time to stop a nuclear war. FREE on Smashwords. 

The Treasure of Mars. An alien wanders in from the desert and has great treasure to offer to save the children of its world. .99c everywhere.

Milady Hot-At-Hand.  Andrea disguises herself as a boy to investigate her sister and father's murder. 2.99 everywhere.

The Duke's Dilemma. In an attempt to save her younger brother, Lady Leslie fleas to London and into the arms of the Duke of Kenelm. 2.99 everywhere.

The Elsingham Portrait. Lonely librarian, Kathryn Hendrix, is taken back in time to occupy the life of Lady Elsingham.  2.99 everywhere.

The Runaway Debutante.  Matilda's father loses everything in a gambling debt, including her, but she courageously fleas for her freedom, becoming the personal chef and the delight of Major Bruce. As their love grows for each other, Matilda's past comes back to haunt her.  2.99 Everywhere.

The Marriage Mart. While Athena's grandmother tries everything to find her bookish granddaughter a husband, Athena makes an enemy of the most eligible bachelor in London. 2.99 everywhere.

Whoa . . .  that's a lot in just over a month, and there's still tons more to go. For now we're making sure all the books are exactly the way Bette would have wanted them, so please send me your thoughts or critiques on any of the books. Late this month my book Omegasphere should be ready to go (only a few months past deadline!), and plenty more Bette Chater books.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

I Met Greg Bear and You Didn’t

I went to Mysterious Galaxy bookstore to meet Greg Bear and hear him speak. He's currently on a book tour promoting the second edition of his Halo book series, Halo Primordium, which is based on the mega popular video game. 

During his talk, he was nice enough to introduce me to his fans as the grandson of his great friend, mentor, and colleague Elizabeth Chater. He also gave some history of their relationship that I found incredibly interesting. 

Back in the 1960's my grandmother went to work as an associate professor at SDSU, and a then 19 year-old Greg Bear took one of her courses and was immediately impressed with her teaching style, and by the fact that she was a published science fiction pulp writer. He went to her and suggested they start a course in science fiction writing. The obstacles were many. This would be the first such course taught at SDSU--in San Diego, in California! She was a woman in a professorial boys club. And the English department had an up-turned nose for any mention of science fiction. She and Mr. Bear went forward with it anyway and started a science fiction creative writing course, making 100 slots available. 200 people showed up. The class was enormously popular and continued to grow in popularity for nearly a decade. They even had Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, and Harry Harrison come to speak to their class. 

It's no accident that, because of the pioneering efforts of my grandmother and Greg Bear, the epicenter of science fiction in the world, Comic Con, is now held in San Diego. They, and a handful of others, blazed a trail for science fiction that has made it, according to Gregory Benford, the “Defining genre of the twentieth century.”
Pretty sweet. 

I was also impressed with how friendly Mr. Bear was— I'm going to call him Greg, since he and I are now BFF's—and how wise his council was to the some of the other writers and teachers in the crowd. His key to success: Don't give in to convention. Study the classics, learn from the masters, but don't succumb to current popular opinion or scientific flavors of the week. The parochial world of science can sometimes smother innovation. I think this is good advice, and, foolishly, I was almost surprised to hear it from him. I had expected him to say something more academic . . .  but now I see why he's a pioneer in the field and a bestseller.