The Fifth House Edits: Week Four

translatorsrevenge

I’ve been so busy, I skipped the Week 3 post, but this week and last have pretty much been the same. At a pace of three chapters a day, I’m going through The Fifth House and making improvements. This includes clearing up confusing sections, cutting out redundant words, sentences and sections, and checking that the characters and their actions flow together from one chapter to the next.

That last part is no small task. When I write 1000 words a day during the first draft, I sometimes have to change my plan for the story in mid-stream. I don’t have time to go back and change what I’ve already written during my drafting stage, so I drop a comment into the document noting the change and advising Editor Andy to go back and fix it later. Other times, I just write filler describing what I wanted to but couldn’t write, or I write something and leave a note explaining that what I just wrote was horrible and could I make it better during edits.

Editor Andy hates First Draft Andy for pulling this crap, but that’s the way it goes. It allows me to keep writing up until The End without getting bogged down in repairing what I’ve already written. Still, it gets frustrating. Here are some of my favorite comments to myself, that make me curse First Draft Andy aloud.

“Confusing. Delete.” So if it was confusing and I should delete it, why didn’t I just do that during the first draft? Because then I would have had to write more to reach my 1,000-word goal for the day.

“This can all be shown instead of told, second time through.” All you have to do is snap your fingers!

“Stood stood stood” I guess I used the same word in three consecutive sentences…

“repetitive” “comma overload” Self-explanatory

“I don’t like this whole paragraph, but I’m moving on for now.” Now you’re just being mean.

“Not taking into account word count, this would be a good chapter end.” In other words, what’s wrong with a 300 word chapter if it’s got a nice hook at the end?

And my favorite: “This makes no sense to me.” In my defense, I get up really early to write.

You get the idea. At my average pace of three chapters a day, I should have this editing done by Valentine’s Day, a gift to myself. And then what? I start all over, undoubtedly finding all new mistakes and confusing sections to fix.

I’ll most likely take a one- or two-week break between this editing pass and the next, though, to work on some short stories and to get a little distance from the book.

There you have it. Writing, editing. It’s work and it’s not always pretty, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo credit: Translator’s Revenge by Daniela Vladimirova.

The Only City Left: One Month Post-Release

Photo by Lies Van RompaeySince it’s been one month since I released The Only City Left, I thought I’d do a review of how things have gone.

Sales

Full disclosure. I didn’t set the world on fire with the release of The Only City Left. I sold 7 ebooks and 9 paperbacks in the first month. For all but a couple of these, I know to which friend or family member each copy went. So it goes.

Reviews

I’ve done two things to garner reviews. 1) I offered 100 ebook copies to LibraryThing members through their Member Giveaway, with a request that they provide honest reviews in exchange for the book. 77 people took me up on the offer by the end of the two-week giveaway period. It is not required that any of them actually provide a review, however. 2) I contacted book bloggers that review books in my genre and requested reviews from them in exchange for a copy of the book. (See end of post for two great lists of book reviewers.)

So far, 4 LibraryThing members have provided reviews. All 4 of them posted their reviews to LibraryThing, 3 copied their review to Amazon, 2 copied their review to Goodreads, and 1 copied the review to their personal blog. Since the LibraryThing members have only had the book available to them for two weeks, I am hopeful that more reviews will come of this.

Regarding book bloggers, I have contacted 48 reviewers so far. 8 bloggers have stated that they will read the book for a possible review, although timelines for the review may be months out due to their large reading queue. 2 more showed interest but have not confirmed their plans. 2 bloggers have declined to read the book, 1 offered an Author Spotlight feature in lieu of reading the book, and the rest have not responded. 1 in 6 bloggers showing interest is actually a positive ratio in my book, and I will continue to request reviews from new bloggers as I discover them.

Marketing

Other than a couple of mentions on my social media streams and the requests for reviews, I haven’t really had a marketing effort. This is a judgment call on my part. I don’t think I should put time and money into marketing one book. Once I have more books published, I will have to look more closely at book marketing efforts. I also haven’t inundated my social media stream with requests for people to buy my book. Again, with only one book out, I don’t feel it’s worth nagging my social media friends about my book over and over.

I did have some book business cards printed, for those times when I’m talking in person with someone and the subject comes up. This way, I can leave them with a physical reminder of the book. They were relatively low-cost, but time will tell if that expense was worth it. toclcards

Thoughts

I appreciate all the friends and family who bought my book, but of course I have to reach farther afield if I ever want to supplement my family’s income by writing books. Since I’m not going all out trying to drum up sales on Book 1 of The Only City Left, I need to focus on writing Book 2, which is what I am doing. I also hope that after a certain number of reviews, Book 1 might gain some traction in and of itself. There’s a long road ahead and I’m only at the beginning, but I’m happy to finally be here, looking forward to the future again.

Links

The Only City Left on Amazon (Note: The ebook is free with purchase of a paperback. Also, the ebook is DRM-free.)

The Only City Left on Goodreads

The Only City Left on LibraryThing

Indie Reviewers on The Indie View (Note: Check back frequently and sort by date to see when new reviewers are added. Contact them quickly as I get the sense that reviewers become inundated with requests in a short amount of time.)

List of Online Reviewers Who Accept Self-Published Books (This is a great list that was published on 8/6/14. Thanks to Erica Verrillo for putting it together. There are no dates attached to the entries and I’m not sure it will be updated, so its long-term usefulness might be limited.)

Image of baby tortoise by Lies Van Rompaey.

The Only City Left Is Here!

2014 07-18 The Only City Left Cover

I am happy to announce that, at long last, The Only City Left is available for purchase (Kindle|Softcover). Since it was first released as a serial, the book has undergone two edits: one minor one to convert it into a book rather than a serial, and a major edit under the guidance of developmental editor R.J. Blain. I am quite happy with the results and I hope that this science-fantasy adventure finds an audience looking for a fantastical adventure through a dying Earth.

If you are a reviewer/blogger and would like a review copy e-mailed to you, please send me an e-mail at lithicbee+tocl1@gmail.com. Please include a link to your site.

Thanks to everyone who supported me along the way, be it through comments and shares on the original serial, or words of encouragement as I spent months editing the book.

Work on Book 2, tentatively titled The Fifth House, proceeds apace.

(The above links are affiliate links, meaning if you use them to purchase anything on Amazon, I will receive a small payment in return. One more way to support an independent author. Thank you.)

The Evolution of The Only City Left: Part One

Cover by S.A. Hunt.

The Only City Left has been a long time in the works, and has been through three phases of existence so far. In this post I’m going to talk about its origin and the first phase of its life as a serial.

The Only City Left was inspired first and foremost by the many fine independent webcomics I was reading. I was impressed that artists, writers, and artist/writers were throwing their work out there for all the world to see, and often learning and improving as they went. I thought, “Why can’t I do the same thing with my writing?” I hadn’t written consistently for a while, and it seemed like a great way to encourage myself to write more: write for fun, set a schedule, and don’t worry about mistakes. (That last part turned out to be the most difficult of course.)

My first entry for The Only City Left was posted on 2/26/12, and there wasn’t that much preparation that went into it. In my writing notebook for 2/24/2012, I have this entry: “The entire world is underground to the level of the tops of skyscrapers. (Think Trantor, but run-down and dying.)” Yup, The Only City Left was invented and begun in less than two days. This lack of lengthy world-building meant that I didn’t get stuck on the details, but it also meant that I had some sections of the story that were bogged down while I spun my wheels trying to figure out what happened next.

In my 2/24/12 notes, I went on to list every trope, cliché, and straight-up stolen idea that I could throw into the mix: “Vampires, kung fu, robots, werewolves, nano-swarms, aliens, mutants, mutated animals, treasure caches, ghosts, guns, lasers, swords, martial weapons, avatars of gods, underground oceans w/ preserved cities, twisted gravity, portals, bad air/no air, undead/zombies, charms.”

Several of these items made it into the first draft of The Only City Left, especially early on as I struggled to write 1,000 words each week to get the story started. One goal I had, though, was to put a twist on my use of familiar tropes.

Yes, there are werewolves, but how do they transform deep underground without moonlight?

There are ghosts, but there’s a pseudo-scientific explanation of their existence.

There are mutated animals, but they’re more civilized than the remaining humans in this tired, battered Earth.

I described my planned story to myself as “Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies.” While that vision of the world and the story has changed over time (and through rewrites), this description has stayed essentially the same: “1st person viewpoint of young man, orphaned, only goal is to see the surface once before he dies, but he has no idea how far down he is, and there is no clear path up.”

That young man is Allin Arcady, whose name is a nod to Arcadia “Arkady” Darell from Isaac Asimov’s Second Foundation. Asimov is a big influence on The Only City Left (see my The Caves of Steel re-read for more discussion on that), and there were even some subconscious connections I made that I didn’t realize until later, such as Allin’s mother being named Jessie, the same name as Lije Baley’s wife in The Caves of Steel.

From February to November of 2012, I wrote The Only City Left as a 1,000-word-per-week cliffhanger serial. I used NaNoWriMo to write the last 50,000 or so words, but continued to post the story one week at a time. I figured that by the time the story ended online, I would have a second book in The Only City Left series ready to go. (That didn’t happen as planned, but more on that next time.)

During that time, I learned some of the ropes of the online serial game. Share your post each week at Tuesday Serial, submit it to the Web Fiction Guide (which also gets it added to the Top Web Fiction list), respond to every comment someone leaves, and keep to your schedule as much as possible.

For a while, I posted links to each new post on all the regular social media sites, but over time I felt like this was too much bluster for too little results. (Your mileage may vary.) Most of my visitors found me through one of the sites I shared in the previous paragraph.

If I had it all to do over again, I don’t think I would change a thing about the serial. I met my goals of finishing a book, I had fun, and I earned some dedicated readers. Even without new entries, people continue to find and read through The Only City Left, which is immensely gratifying. I was even invited to have the first three sections of The Only City Left made into a podcast by Webfiction World, which was a very cool and unexpected accomplishment.

The next step in the process was to convert the serial into a novel and work on the second book in the series. More on that next time.

Asimov Re-Read: The Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel
by Isaac Asimov
ISBN-13: 978-0553293401
Amazon: Paperback | Kindle
Goodreads | LibraryThing

Classic Michael Whelan cover art.

The first book in Isaac Asimov’s Robot series, The Caves of Steel, is one of my all-time favorites and a definite influence on The Only City Left. It’s a murder mystery, plus it deals with the themes of man vs. robot and Earth humans vs. Spacers (humans who have colonized other planets). But the element that had the greatest impact on me was life in a big-C City.

The book takes place on Earth roughly 3,000 years from now, at a time when all major cities have been covered over and no one lives outside of these Cities except for the simple-minded robots that farm the food the humans need. The story is set in and around New York, which is the sort of Ur-City that seems to be popular with SF writers (case in point: I’ll have a post later about Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room!, which also showcases a “future” New York).

Our main character is Lije Baley, a 40-ish detective, married with one kid, who enjoys the small luxuries his C-5 rating allows him (the sink inside his apartment has been unlocked for private use, for one thing), but who lives haunted by the shadow of seeing his father lose all rank and privileges when Lije was a child.

He is called upon by Commissioner Julius Enderby (a friend who has risen through the ranks faster than Lije) to investigate a murder, but there a couple of hitches that make this case extremely sensitive. First, the victim is a Spacer, and he was killed in the heavily-guarded Spacetown outside of New York City, which should be an impossible feat. Second, Baley will have to take a Spacer partner and house him during the investigation.

This would be bad enough, but it turns out that his partner, Daneel Olivaw, is actually R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot. City dwellers have barely-concealed contempt for the robots that the Spacers are forcing them to use, because the robots are pushing regular folk out of their jobs. Without jobs and the status that goes with them, City life is miserable, so robots are not well liked.

Daneel is not just any robot, though. He looks completely human, albeit the Spacer ideal of human. He has some traits that give him away, like how he doesn’t breathe unless he’s talking, but for the most part he can pass for human unless someone is specifically trying to tell if he’s a robot or not.

Okay, so those are the basics. If you want to avoid possible spoilers, read no further (but do read the book, it’s a classic).

So what do I like about this book? To start with, City life. Asimov drills down into some of the minutiae of living in a City, not just at the technical level, but the social one. Like, the second you step into a public restroom, you don’t look at anyone else and you don’t talk to anyone else. Or how the mere thought of stepping outside the steel cave of the city is unthinkable to Lije. City life, despite its drawbacks, had become the new norm, and even those pesky Medievalists who want to return to nature acknowledge that they won’t be able to do it, but maybe the next generation or the next can.

Lije ends up at war with himself as to whether or not the Cities are a good thing. Early on, he is all for them: “Think of the inefficiency of a hundred thousand homes for a hundred thousand families as compared with a hundred-thousand unit Section … the endless duplication of kitchens and bathrooms as compared with the thoroughly efficient diners and shower rooms made possible by City culture.”

He even imagines the Cities growing and growing, combining with each other, overcoming the problems that will arise from population growth: “Baley had the picture of an Earth of unlimited energy. Population could continue to increase. The yeast farms could expand, hydroponic culture intensify. Energy was the only thing indispensable. The raw materials could be brought in from the uninhabited rocks of the System. If ever water became a bottleneck, more could be brought in from the moons of Jupiter. Hell, the oceans could be frozen and dragged out into Space where they could circle Earth as moonlets of ice. There they would be, always available for use, while the ocean bottoms would represent more land for exploitation, more room to live. Even carbon and oxygen could be maintained and increased on Earth through utilization of the methane atmosphere of Titan and the frozen oxygen of Umbriel. Earth’s population could reach a trillion or two. Why not?”

Ah, that’s quite an image, and if you’ve read The Only City Left, you can see where I got my inspiration (well, that and Trantor), even if only at a subconscious level. It had actually been years since I read this book when I started writing TOCL, but the seed had been planted. (Not only that, one of my characters is named Jessie, the same as Lije’s wife, and I didn’t make that connection until this re-read.)

In the end, Lije comes to see that City life is a dead end, and that humans must colonize the stars again. They can’t visit the Spacer worlds, because the Spacers, while long-lived, cannot abide the germs Earth humans would bring with them. New worlds will need to be colonized, and to do that, humans will need the help of robots. So that’s why the Spacers have been trying to foist robots on humanity! They, too, know that humans need to spread out amongst the stars to ensure humanity’s survival.

The Earth of The Only City Left, run-down and mostly abandoned, is my own take on this idea, but I never would have created it if not for Asimov’s The Caves of Steel.

The Only City Left: Behind The Scenes #1

Note: This post originally went live between Part 13 and Part 14.

Since this blog is supposed to be about the things I am interested/involved in at any given moment, today’s post is going to be about my own serial SF, The Only City Left.

When I re-started this blog, I set a goal of three posts a week, to push myself to write more and stay on a schedule. I started writing The Only City Left (TOCL) because I figured it would be a good way to take care of one of the three weekly posts.

I started the story with an idea, which was to have a fun, scary adventure through a future Earth where the entire planet is one gigantic layer-cake of a city. The setting would allow me to throw almost any fantasy or science-fiction element that I wanted into the mix. Fun would trump realism as needed. I knew that my main character, Allin, would be alone. Allin, alone, get it? Gosh, I amaze myself sometimes (not now, but sometimes). He would be in danger. And he would be trying to reach the surface of the city and see the Sun. Except for a list of all the cool things I would want in a story (sample: vampires, kung fu, robots), I had no particular outline of what would happen. I like to write this way, to discover the world and characters as I write.

I am now 13 Parts and 14,000 words or so in (Pt 13 was double-sized), with another 5,000 words in the buffer. And while I won’t say it has become more difficult to write TOCL, I will say that I am putting more care into it now. The story has come to life for me and I don’t want to give it short shrift.

So what does that mean for me? For one thing, I had to go back and do a thorough re-reading of my work recently, to take notes on the people and creatures who show up, the plot points that are hinted at, gadgets and technology that are mentioned, that sort of thing. I also discovered pieces of the story that didn’t make sense together. Yikes, only 14,000 words in and I’m contradicting myself already?

That’s okay, though (for me, at least). This is a first draft, for all that I am trying to make it a good one. So what kind of errors have I found? Here are a couple:

In Part 1, Allin narrates: “If I had a last name, I’ve forgotten it.” Ummmm, really? Later on, he is addressed by his first and last name and he doesn’t think, “So that’s my last name!” And it doesn’t make sense for him to have forgotten his last name, actually. It was fun to write at the time, but that little tidbit can and will be removed from later versions of the story.

Part 4: In the original flashback, it starts with Allin saying he was 13. This doesn’t make sense for many reasons, not the least of which is that his love for Tyena, while perhaps naive at 15, is a bit creepy and weird at 13. I’ve already changed this one on the website for any new readers who come along.

(I saw something today that made me feel better about my errors: On Peter F. Hamilton’s Facebook Wall today, he talks about an error that made it into the advanced reader’s proofs before being caught by a copy editor: “It’ll be interesting to see how many reviewers notice a minor character who gets decapitated then turns up driving a jeep a few scenes later.” Of course, his book is 1000+ pages long, but still…)

There are other items that I caught that I would not call errors so much as items that need to be explained at some point. For instance, the werewolf ghost that chases Allin interacts with his environment in a more physically destructive manner than other ghosts in the story, and he doesn’t pass through inanimate objects like the other ghosts. I’ll admit I didn’t really notice I was doing this at the time, but I have since come up with reasons for this and it actually dovetails amazingly well with the plot that is brewing. It is an example of what I like to call a “Thank you, subconscious” (TYS) moment. Yes, I do believe that sometimes my subconscious nudges me in one direction or another or outright inserts something into the story that I don’t think much about at the time, but which makes sense when I look back on it later.

With a little wiggle room going for me thanks to the 5-week buffer, I am starting to outline the “tentpole” moments in the story (a good piece of advice that Chuck Wendig recently tweeted); I am using note-cards and a bulletin board to put events in order (inspiration courtesy of Travis Kotzebue), and most importantly, I am figuring out how I want the story to end (good advice from one of my favorite comic book writers, Greg Pak). Yes, I started the story without knowing the ending. Shame on me.

Finally, I have been reading other serials on the web lately, and one of the ideas I am taking away from them is that a title banner for the story would be nice. I’m no artist, but here’s some concepts I scribbled today.

Letters as buildings, “O” as planet covered in buildings, “C” as crescent moon: 

Thin letters, “O” as planet covered in buildings, “C” as crescent moon: 

Small letters except for planet-city “O”, with crescent-moon “C” in orbit around the “O”: 

Just some ideas; not essential to the story but it might catch the eye more than the current wall of text.

Okay, so that’s a look into my TOCL-ized brain at the moment. I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you Sunday for Part 14 of The Only City Left!