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<== Click to receive a free copy of my short story Crystal Servants and learn about some of the major players in Crystal Kings, my upcoming novel due out October 17th.

Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get

I'm coming down from a hectic month, and things going forward look about as congested as what I see in the rear-view mirror.

The done list:

  • I finished my first draft of Crystal Queen.
  • Salt Lake Comic Con - We had a vendor booth and sold a bunch of books. I had some early copies of Crystal King and nearly sold out. I did a lot of networking and attended a couple of presentations.
  • Snake River Comic Con - I presented on virtual reality and augmented reality. It's part of what I do for the day job. I met some new folks and had lots of fun.
  • League of Utah Writers Fall Conference - I did some volunteer work, team-taught a Virtual Reality class aimed more at authors, and sold some of my newly re-acquired stockpile of early copies of Crystal King.
  • I did a proofread pass on a friend's book and fired off a list of changes last night.
The to-do list:
  • I may join a podcast this week to prep for my book release.
  • I was invited to contribute a short story to an anthology, due this month.
  • I want to write and send something to an open submission to another anthology due by year-end.
  • I want to send something to Writers of the Future before year end to see if my semifinalist placing can be repeated or beat.
  • Finish my first edit pass for Crystal Queen, then start another pass with specific goals in mind, such as fleshing out scenes or adjusting voice.
  • Prep for NaNoWriMo. I want to get a draft of Crystal Prince done in November, then I can look at the two drafts side-by-side.
  • Move my short story Crystal Prince to be a freebie available on Amazon. This will take some formatting work, but shouldn't be too tough. I've done it before, and it's almost done as-is with the copy on InstaFreebie.
  • Find a venue for my Crystal King release party. Yes, I've let this fall between the cracks and get lost for too long.
So, why did I give you the play by play? It's not to convince you I'm busy so much as it is to convince you that it's possible for you to make effective use of your time, and for you to schedule, work toward, and achieve your own goals.

I've told the kids at our house that I wish I had time to be bored. I would still not be bored, I just wish I had the time. They were not amused when I had dozens of assignments to hand out to cure boredom. It's like my view on sports cars. I'd love to have the cash for a Maserati. I'd go invest it sensibly instead of buying the car. Your mileage may vary.

No matter what it is you like to do, it's up to you to make it happen. I like to make things. If I don't schedule the time and put in the effort, I make nothing and I have nothing to show for how I've spent my time. Having plans to build a desk or write a book is a good start, but it's nothing more than that. You can't sit at a desk that hasn't been built yet (aside from using VR) and you can't read a book that hasn't been written yet.

If you want to create something, do it. Ideas are only useful when you do something with them. I have faith in you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017

Next week (Sept 21-23, 2017) I'll be at Salt Lake Comic Con at booth 639 with a bunch of other mostly local authors selling books. Look for "Xchyler Publishing / Utah Authors." There are a handful of cool things to note. First, I should have a few advance copies of Crystal King on hand if the order arrives Wednesday as planned. I won't have many, so stop by early! The release date is October 17th, but you can preorder it on Amazon if you can't stop by our booth, or if I sell out before you get to us. My publisher, Immortal Works, may have a few on hand as well.


Second, I'll have a 16x20 posterboard map from Crystal King to give away. Stop by and drop your name in the hat. I'll draw a winner late Saturday afternoon. See us at the booth for all the details.



Third, there's a slight chance you may be able to pick up a copy of Storyhack Issue 1 which is about to come out. This is the second issue since they started at Issue 0. It's a nerd humor thing. The cover is awesome, as you can see below. The cool part if you can find it: You will be able to find at least four of the authors at Salt Lake Comic Con. There may be more authors around, but I know Jay Barnson, Julie Frost, and David West will all be there somewhere in addition to me. You can think of it as a scavenger hunt as you wander booth to booth.




You don't need yet another plastic lightsaber. (waves hand in a Jedi mind trick.) Buy books from our booth instead. I look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Achieving goals and flipping negativity on its head

I'll put this message in terms of writing, but it's universally applicable. Bear with me if you're not here for the writing, and I hope you'll gain something useful in living a more positive life.

I set a goal the beginning of the year to receive thirty short story rejections. This is in addition to some other writing goals I talked about here.

Earlier this week, I got rejection twenty-nine. Lo and behold, I opened up my email tonight and saw not one, but two emails from publishers waiting for me. My goal was within my grasp. Mwaaahahaha! I reached out and opened the first email.

It was an acceptance. I'd noticed I was about a month past the "query us" date on one of my submissions and had dropped them an email earlier in the day asking for a status update. They responded by accepting the story. I still sat at twenty-nine rejections, but I'm cool with putting off my goal for the sake of an acceptance. Side note: If the publisher specifically says to query them after a given time has passed, go ahead and query. Mine was at about 80 days, and they said to query at 60.

The second email told me my story had been forwarded to the appropriate editor to be evaluated for inclusion in an anthology. Not an acceptance or a rejection. That puts me still at twenty-nine. Augh! So close!

I have six stories still out there at the moment, so I know I'll hit my goal on rejections for the year with ease. I just don't know when it will be. I've had as many as ten out at a time, so I need to get some resubmitted to new markets.

You might think that measuring rejections sounds stupid, but let me tell you why I do it. Rejection is not fun. It's easy to see it as being rejected as a person rather than having a story rejected. A section of one of my presentations on short stories deals with rejection and what to do about it. It can be a big deal emotionally.

My trick is to turn what is otherwise a negative into a scoring mechanism. In order to receive thirty rejections in a year, I have to write stories and submit them. I don't need to write thirty stories since some of them have been submitted to several places over the course of the year. Even so, I need to keep track of submissions, send stories back out when rejected, and all that stuff. It keeps me going.

Another reason to measure rejections instead of only acceptances is the nature of those two scores. Rejections are like basketball scores where you see players score regularly through the whole game. Acceptances are more like soccer scores where you can go a whole game without seeing a score, or if you're lucky you may see two or three.

Larger numbers (like basketball scores) are easier to analyze statistically. It gives you finer measurements for comparison, and it's something I have control over. Last year my acceptance rate was about 8%. This year it's about 15%. I can use those numbers and give you a pretty good estimate of how much I need to submit to publishers to get thirty rejection letters.

A pleasant side-effect is that I've already achieved and exceeded my goal for acceptances for the year, just by working toward my rejection count. It's not that I write stuff I expect to have rejected. I really like the stories I write, and I think they're worth sharing. I'm realistic enough to realize not every story matches a given publisher's tastes, so I use these publishers as my short story playground.

Yeah, it's a little weird to measure rejections, but it works for me and helps me to get those stories sent back out when they come home with "no thank you" stamped across them.

What "failures" do you worry about that can be used to create a positive goal instead?

Monday, July 17, 2017

What's In a Name?

I've been thinking about how important titles are for books. Sure, everyone judges books by their cover, but a close second to the artwork is the title. If you can't make it past the picture and the title, it doesn't much matter what's in side, right?

As is typical, I made a list of resources to monkey around with.

  • Amazon best seller lists related to fantasy.
  • An empty spreadsheet.
  • Enough knowledge of spreadsheet formulas to be dangerous.

I typed in all the normal words from a couple hundred titles. No proper names, no connective words like "and, of, the." The first thing I noticed was that certain words were used quite a bit. Here's the top 13 words, those I had more than about three occurances of:

  • blood
  • dark
  • dragon
  • fate
  • city
  • fire
  • king
  • queen
  • long
  • mage
  • secret
  • shade

Then I sorted them and removed duplicates. You may want to save the original copy before you remove duplicates if you're following along with a spreadsheet of your own. I forgot to save a copy before removing my duplicates so I may need to go back and rebuild my word list at some point.

Now comes the fun part. Mix and match, and see how many titles you can make from just that super-common list and the connector words you skipped over when building the list.

Imaginary titles I'm making up on the spot:

  • The Dragon Queen's Mage
  • Secret of the Dark Dragon
  • Fate and Fire
  • Secret City of the Dragon King
  • City of Fire and Blood
  • Fire Shade of the Dark Mage's Secret Dragon-City of Blood

It's like buzzword bingo book titles! With some pretty art, would you crack the cover to see what these stories were about? Except that last one, I mean.

Now to expand things out a little. There are only so many titles if you can only use the hottest words on the list. I took my sorted list and build a little table to pick ten items at random from it. This lets you do the same exercise all over with a new set of buzzwords. I've just hit F9 on my spreadsheet to refresh it, and here's the random set it gave me. No pre-planning on this one.

  • critical
  • failure
  • bone
  • accord
  • bed
  • man
  • moonlight
  • hunt
  • hundredth
  • moon

Now to play mashup and make some titles. If you're a gamer, or have looked through the Amazon best seller lists, you might recognize some of these. Critical Failure is already a book title I saw, so I won't use that one in my mashup list. Romance writers have some good fodder here, but I'll bypass that as well and stick with fantasy.

  • Bone Hunt by Moonlight
  • Critical Accord
  • The Hundredth Moon
  • Moonlight's Failure
  • Moonlight Accord
  • Hunt Man by the Moon

And that was with a pretty bland word set. I've seen some that show a lot more promise. It's easy to combine the hot words list with the random list. Just don't remove the duplicates from the list, and those hot words will show up more often. If you copied my mistake and didn't save the original list with all the duplicate terms, you can just add in two or three copies of the hot words.

Spreadsheet geekery:

  • Put your words in column A. Make note of how many there are. My list ended up 233 words long.
  • Create a colum of random numbers. I did ten items in column F, and the equation is:
    • =RANDBETWEEN(1,233)
    • The 233 here is the length of the word list, so it picks a random word's row.
  • Next to the equation in column G, I do a random lookup in the word list based on that index.
    • =INDIRECT("A"&F2)
    • This means fill this cell with whatever is in column A and row whatever's in cell F2.
  • Copy those two cells (F2 and G2) and paste it to make ten or so lines with the magic equations.
  • Hit F9 to refresh until you like the random set it gives you.

Here's a screen shot of my random lookup:



Let me know if you try this, and what cool book titles you come up with. I may run through some of the best seller science fiction lists and see what sort of words are most common over there, too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Marketing and Publicity

As with many reclusive, shy authors, I'm not great at marketing and publicity. Putting myself into the public spotlight is awkward, and by nature, I'd rather sit at home and work on projects than go out among the teeming masses.

When you treat writing as a business, that doesn't work. Even though I still feel like I'm just getting started, I want to be seen as a reliable business partner and a successful author who makes things happen on schedule and to specification. That's the engineer in me leaking out into my writing.

I've had short fiction accepted and printed by several publishers, with more on the way. They've all been great to work with and helped me with my craft, and given me tidbits here and there on marketing and publicity. Here are the ones I'm closest to with either past or current work.


I've Also done several things to integrate myself into the amazing local writing community. These go beyond my writing.

  • Attend conferences, conventions, and mass book signings. I've been to seven or so, some of them multiple times as they come around each year.
  • Join the League of Utah Writers.
  • Become a chapter president in the League of Utah Writers.
  • Volunteer to help with some of those book signings and other events.
  • Sell books at many of the conventions and conferences.
  • Speak at conferences, whether as a solo class, team teaching, as a panelist, or moderating a panel discussion.

Still, those things only go so far in building an audience of people who like to read what I like to write. With that in mind, we had Ann Hunter come out to speak to our LUW chapter several weeks ago about mailing lists. She told us about how she's used InstaFreebie to build a list and a bit of what she does with that list.

Armed with enough information to be dangerous, I wrote a short story set about ten years before my novel Crystal King, and I set it up as a giveaway with InstaFreebie. You might still be able to see the link for it at the top of my blog. I'll eventually change out that link for something else.

Just signing up, adding that link, and making a couple of Facebook and Twitter posts gave me a trickle of up to five people per day interested in reading the free story and joining my email list. Then I saw some facebook groups on extending my reach. My blog isn't a high-traffic mecca, so I wanted to bump things up to the next level. I joined some promotional events to put my free story into lists of other free things.

Two promos kicked in this week. Wow. I don't know how the week will end, but it's started really well. Yesterday I added fifty people, and we haven't hit the big push days yet. It's really cool to see that people are interested enough in my story to sign up, and have stuck through my string of emails talking about writing. Here are the links to the promos, both very well run by their organizers.




My first promo email where I share these events went out yesterday and another goes out tomorrow. These won't bump up my list because those people are already signed up. This is co-marketing with other writers because maybe their readers will be interested in adding my story to their to-be-read list, and maybe my subscribers will be interested in those other writers and their stories.

I'll use my list of new fans to keep them up to date as my release date nears, as well as giving them reviews and recommendations for other authors. My challenge now is to give them content worth their time.

Maybe I'll do a second write-up on publicity after my novel comes out to see what sort of difference it has made. The challenge there is that it's a first novel (mostly), so there's nothing to compare against besides other authors' debut novels. Stay tuned, and if you like horse stories, you can join Ann's mailing list.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fyrecon Schedule 2017

I will be presenting at Fyrecon, a new conference on art and writing held June 8-10, 2017 in Layton, Utah.


Here's where I'll be helping out:

  • Thursday 4:30: Cat Saving for Fun and Profit: Various Story Structures (panelist)
  • Friday 1:30: Adapting Timeless Stories (moderator)
  • Friday 2:30: The Future of Steam Punk and Cyber Punk (panelist)
  • Saturday 10:30: Calligraphy (teaching a hands-on beginner class)
  • Saturday 5:30: The Short Story Submission Machine (team teaching with Julie Frost)

I guess that means I need to update my presentations page on the blog now. I like to at least reference the stuff I've done so I can remember later. "What was that one con where I did that one thing?"

I'm also signed up to attend Toni Weisskopf's master class.

  • What’s Missing? Story/Theme/Structure—How to Build a Strong Story

This will be a lot of fun. Come on out and join us!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Evolution of an Ebook Cover

I have a short story now available for free as a promo for my novel Crystal King. The problem is that I needed a cover for the ebook, and didn't want to spend a lot for something that's a freebie, and didn't want to do it without a cover.

Now, you must realize something. I'm a software engineer by trade. I do programmer art. For those not familiar with the term, it's what you get when the engineer drops placeholders into the project to be replaced by the art director later. Stick figures, colored boxes and the like.

I decided it was time to branch out my skill set a bit. I dug up this photo from a vacation last year where my wife and I visited Mount Saint Michael on the Normandy Coast.



It looked medieval (being a castle and all), so I figure it would make a good base. Next, I needed a couple of characters. It's a night scene, so all I needed was silhouettes. To oldest son: "Hey, you. Can you come here for a minute? Wear this. Now hold your hands like so. Good. Now, look like someone's interrupting your sneaking. Cool. Thanks."





Next, came The Gimp. It does most of what I want for image editing, and it's free. I loaded everything up and made the silhouettes. I added some weapons to emphasize the fantasy theme. The level of detail here is not critical because of what I do later, but I kept the detail pretty high anyway. It was easy to add weapons and boots.


I'm making an ebook cover rather than print, so I set everything to 72 DPI. It took a bit of work to colorize the background to turn it into a night scene. Here's the final background with the silhouettes in place.



This looks a little goofy, so it's time for some artistic magic. I used FotoSketcher (also free) to turn it into this next image, which has an oil-painted feel to it. This is the result of several passes through the trial and error loop as I updated the base image, the silhouettes, and the FotoSketcher settings.



I combined my intermediate cover art with text, and both evolved over several passes. These are the covers I built, with the last one using a lightened version of the previous picture.

Me: How about this?



Smart people: Nah, fonts don't work well. Can't tell it's fantasy from the picture.

Me: Okay, try this one.



Smart people: Hmm. Nope. Fonts are better, but wording needs help.

Me: I'll try something new with the text and lighten it up a bit. It prints darker, but since it's an ebook, I don't care how it prints.



Ah. There we go. We're making progress. It's not perfect, but it's far enough up the curve that it will hold its own in comparisons. Now, let's read up on cover design and see what the experts say ... Crud. Reworking some more.



It's interesting how dangerous a little knowledge can be, isn't it? I have a new hammer, and everything looks like a nail. :)