Category archive: Uncategorized

Boom and Bust Free Day

At Number 6 for SF Adventure last week. I like that.

I promised when I started this blog that I would share raw numbers whether they were good or bad. So today I have to share the results of yesterday’s free day experiment.

I didn't stay up till 3:00 am to see where it got to on the 1300 download day, but here's where it was when I crashed at 11:00pm

A marketing expert I know constantly says, “Test and measure. Test and measure.” Unfortunately, in the amazing universe of the internet there are way too many variables for a proper quantitative experiment. The first free day I ran for Apocalypse Revolution, back in mid-February, a respectable 550 downloads flew out the door in a day. When I ran a second free day two weeks later I didn’t expect much, and for most of the day the were only about 30 downloads. Then something very strange happened somewhere in cyberland, and in the next four hours over 1300 copies flew out the door. What weird corner of the internet picked me up that day I simply don’t know, but I sure wish I did. That put me in the top 500 on the Kindle free bestseller list, at least it was at 485 when I went to bed with California still to finish downloading.

Apocalypse Revolution up there with the big names in Science Fiction

But for the most part, unless you really spread them out and promote the heck out of them, free days have diminishing returns. Perhaps its because the dedicated SF readers have already snapped up my novel, or perhaps it’s something to do with how Amazon promotes them, but the numbers usually go down the more free days you offer. That means the paid afterglow that usually comes with the free days also goes down.

The Old Cover Shoot'em Up

Last week I decided to run a free day for the old cover of Apocalypse Revolution, just a little something to say that I gave the $400 I spent on that cover a fair chance. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was never thrilled with it. I didn’t expect too many downloads, but a respectable 347 downloaded throughout the 24 hours. Enough that I ended up 713 on the Kindle free bestseller list. That also put the novel at #6 for Science Fiction Adventure and #19 for horror. Not earth shattering, I know, but I enjoyed the ride. I especially liked the moment when Apocalypse Revolution was beside Wool. That’s fun exposure.

The New Cover. They're clearly trouble.

So yesterday I ran a free day with my spiffy new cover. I thought it would blow the doors off the free day. In the UK it did well relative to last week. But on this side of the pond (which oddly, includes Australia) only 72 people downloaded the novel. I guess I’d saturated the market. I refuse to believe the old cover worked better than the new cover and I point to the UK numbers as proof. Last week only nine downloads, this week 28. Or maybe they just like the new cover better in the UK.

Now I did zero promotion for both these free days, not a single tweet. I have one free day left before my KDP Select runs out, and I’m debating whether to run it. However book two of the 1000 Souls is nearly complete, and I’m still trying to build a following for the whole series.

I still love free days though because I want people to read my writing, people who have as much fun in my world as I do. I know only a fraction of the free downloaders are actually reading the novel, but hey, a fraction is more than zero. It’s a start.

Bloody Words Handy Links

My Bloody Words Bony Pete Award from 2006

This is for the all the great people who attended our ‘Making e-Book’ panel at Bloody Words. Near the end of the panel I promised to post some handy links for those wishing to e-pub their novels. So here we go.

For the cover: I don’t vouch for any of these websites or own stock in them, but I’ve heard good things. First, those that provide royalty free photos that are good for cover art:

Morguefile, Stock xchange, Dreamstime, and Stocked Photos.

For paid photos there is also iStock Photo, which has images from $12 to $25 that are great for covers. For much higher end images you can try Getty Images. This is much more expensive, but they have some great artwork.

With an image and Photoshop or Powerpoint you can create your own cover, but it’s worth every penny to hire a professional cover artist unless you’re graphically talented. I didn’t fail grade nine art, but the teacher used to shake his head and not speak when he looked at my art, and it wasn’t because he was awed by my genius. For my short stories I did my own covers. For my ebooks I hired a different graphic artist for each of the novels. Now that 1000 Souls is a series of five, I’ve commissioned a talented artist to work up a theme that will carry through all five covers. So Apocalypse Revolution will soon have a new cover, and I’m glad because the vampire-target cover just never really worked for me. Live and learn.

Now that you’ve got the cover, you need to get your meticulously proof-read and edited manuscript ready for publication. Here’s the link for the Smashwords Style Guide, which you should use to massage your MS Word document into shape and cut all extraneous code. Do this first whether you’re publishing on Kindle or Smashwords.

You can load up your cleaned and pressed MS Word Document, but I used Mobi Creator first for my Kindle version, a free software that puts the MS Word into a Kindle friendly .prc file. Sorry Mac users, it’s PC only. I had to partition my hard drive and run Windows XP on one side.

This turned out to be handy for Calibre, a free software (yes, PC only) that makes ePub format files. You really only need an ePub format if you want to load it up on any non-Kindle e-reader. This is a handy way to give beta copies to critics and friends to read before you publish. When you do publish, Smashwords takes your clean MS Word doc and converts it to ePub and every other e-reading version you can think of, so you don’t need Calibre at that stage unless you want to sell your novel from your website with no third party involved. I don’t recommend this unless your famous.

Don’t be intimidated by all this. If you can read instructions and aren’t afraid to make mistakes you can e-publish. Remember that everything can be fixed because it’s not brain surgery.

For those of you who are more advanced, you’ll want to go with Kindle Gen. Amazon is promising forward compatibility if you use it for your eBook.

So there you have it. One week of evenings and a very little bit of study and you can publish your eBook. Just remember what all three panelists said: make sure someone other than your mother has read it first, and listen to your editors.

Happy publishing. Send questions. The adventure is just beginning.


Hero in My Own Mind

At 40 kilometers - 2 to go

Infection was not a predicted side effect. I knew that by running two marathons in less than one month I was asking for trouble, but I didn’t expect a brush with flesh eating disease.

Okay, so far it looks like I don’t have flesh eating disease, but I saw the look of worry on my doctor’s face the day after the marathon when he discovered that the leg pain I developed during the marathon wasn’t a muscular injury but a bacterial infection. Nutty.

How did this happen? I do remember banging my shin once in early May when I was prepping for the Toronto Marathon, and apparently the cut or abrasion doesn’t have to be visible in order to allow the little critters a path into one’s flesh.

All I know was that training runs between the two marathons had to be curtailed because of a pain on the front right side of my right leg–something I self-diagnosed as chronic anterior compartment syndrome. Isn’t the internet a wonderful and dangerous place when it comes to medical information? I should have checked with my doctor because I could have saved myself a lot of pain.

It started at 6 kilometers, that ache in my leg. By 10 k I knew I was in trouble, and by 22 k I had serious doubts about whether I’d even finish the marathon. That’s when I became the hero in my own mind, the lead character in one of my novels, suffering through adversity until the end of the story. I know, stupid. I should have stopped at a medical tent and asked for a ride back to the start. My brother-in-law had given me instructions for a couple of short cuts that would allow me to bail from the course and head straight back to his place, but in the haze of pain I couldn’t remember.  So I battled on.

But while my characters were great inspiration, I began thinking of real people who struggled on through great pain. My wife had three children the natural way, and I watched her fight through labor bravely each time. I once joked with her that running a marathon is the closest a man can come to the endurance test that labor is for women, but she reminded me that there is one big difference: a man can stop running. We can just give up on a marathon. My wife is a hero.

I also thought of my dad who, desperately ill with cancer, would refuse morphine when I was coming to visit so that he could be alert when we chatted, even though it meant great discomfort for him. My dad was a hero.

So how could I not finish the marathon in spite of the pain? It was just pain and I could push through it. I was lucky, because the body can fail no matter how positive the runner.

During the marathon I may have been a hero in my own mind, the protagonist of one of my novels, the star of my own film, but the people who truly got me through that race were the real heroes in my life.


Totally Off Topic

I just about died yesterday in the Toronto Marathon. At least that’s what one medical study suggests was happening to my heart during the marathon when I went into meltdown mode at 35 kilometers (22 miles).

Up until 30 kilometers, I thought I had a chance of running the marathon in less than three hours. This is one of those weird holy grails for marathon runners, a boundary that seems impenetrable, and yet we all know that people do it, not just the pros, but regular people like us. I know two men who’ve nearly made it on multiple occasions. I was only one minute shy in 2010.

So at the beginning of the marathon we all lined up at the front and started sizing one another up. Who should be there and who shouldn’t? What I like about the Toronto Marathon is that it’s pretty easy going, and the organizers trust runners to line up at the start according to their skill with no qualifying races for proof. For the most part people are good, although usually one or two runners join us three hour guys even though they have no hope of running the race that fast.

But we’re not checking out other runners because we want to be marathon police.  We’re looking for potential pace partners–people you can run beside because they’re going for a three hour marathon too and have a real shot at getting it. I listen to the banter to find that person who says something like, “This time I’ll make it.”

The horn sounded before I could identify my pacer, so I had to run for a few kilometers to see who dropped away early. It’s usually the really young men, the 20-25 crowd, who misjudge just how much training you need to run a marathon. This excludes the pros of course. They know. So do we old guys–anyone over thirty. We all know that our bodies need training and that they will fail us if we aren’t careful.

But searching for a running partner was my undoing in this race. My first 2k I ran way too fast because I wasn’t in with the right people. One marathon expert says that for every minute too fast in your first 5k, you’ll lose two minutes in your last 5k.

By 5k we’d all settled down, and I’d picked out two men and one woman that I felt might go the distance in less than three hours. I even asked one of the guys, and he stated he was shooting for under three hours, but his tone warned me to be wary. It was arrogant. It said, “I’ll see you after you get to the finish line.”

Marathons are one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had, and I think that’s why I run them. I like the challenge, and when I fail to run the race I want, I just want to try it again as soon as my body is able.

Yesterday I tucked in with these three runners and went for it. I would crack that three hour nut! But at about 15 k a trickle of sweat ran down my neck, and I knew I was in trouble. The sun was over the trees. I don’t run well in sun. I’ve been lucky so far because a lot of my marathons have been cloud covered, and it makes a hell of a difference. During my first marathon the sun peaked out, and it was as if someone had dropped a wool blanket over my head. Fortunately the clouds came back that time.

This time it was a beautiful blue sky for the whole race, and I cursed that yellow orb. In the Rosedale Valley I lost my second running partner. The woman had already fallen behind, but this would later prove to be temporary. The arrogant man, the one who was sure he would beat me to the finish, suddenly announced that he had a stitch.

“Don’t panic,” I said. “I know it’s hard, but take deep breaths and hold them. Breath slower. It’s just because we’ve been running down hill and you’ve been breathing too fast, essentially hyperventilating. Just slow down your breathing. You’re getting too much air.”

He had the grace to reply, “Good luck. I’ll see you at the finish.” He dropped away and I never saw him again. He had been humbled.

But I was next. The other guy I was running with had been only 30 seconds shy of cracking that 3 hour nut last year in another race, and he said we should stick together, should push each other. But by now we were really feeling the heat. Oh, it was only 16 degrees C (61F) but with the sun it was intense. Runners began throwing water over their heads after a few sips. I saw one guy even do it with Gatorade. I think his brains were already fried.

For a short while downtown saved us. Tall buildings with long shadows provided shade, and my pace picked up. We turned south for the lake and the water front was cool, but the sun was merciless. At 30 k I had to confess to my running partner that I was done in.

“No stay,” he said, and he sounded panicked. It was more like like a guy in a horror movie saying, “Don’t leave me to face this ugly monster alone!”

“Sorry, dude.” I didn’t stop running, but I dropped back at the next water table, taking my time with my pace and my Gatorade. I did my best to keep him in sight, but by 35 k I knew it was hopeless. I wasn’t going to come in under three hours. It just wasn’t in the cards today.

So I had a crazy idea. Why not walk occasionally? I’ve NEVER stopped to walk in a marathon before, and this is my sixth. But today I decided to do something radical because I was at the end of it, and a plan had started forming in the back of my skull. What if I treated this as a training run? What if I got through this and tried again soon, taking a chance on finding a cloudy marathon. You think strange things when you’re at the end.

So I walked occasionally. I ignored the people passing me at speed. The woman I’d counted as one of my running buddies earlier now surged ahead, and I had to just watch her go. I was done.

But I was happy. The last three kilometers were the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon. The crowd was cheering, and I was alone, other runners way ahead and others way behind. I joked with the crowd, asking questions like, “How long is this race anyway?” My smile proved that I knew the answer, and people would laugh and hoot while others hollered, “Almost there! Almost there!” and, “Go! Go! Go!”

For ten minutes I knew what it was like to be a celebrity. I loved it. And then I came around the corner and there was the clock. I would finish at 3 hours 13 minutes and 56 seconds. Not too shabby. Certainly not my personal best, which is 3:01, but totally respectable.

I didn’t see my wife in kids in the confusion of that last moment, but they saw me, and later they told me I’ve never looked so good at the end of a marathon, so happy. I have to agree. Slowing down worked for me.

But since I didn’t die of a heart attack, I’m thinking about that little voice in my head that said, “Make this a training run.” Now I look at the calender and I see that the Ottawa Marathon is on May 27th. Is this crazy? Have I lost my mind?

Maybe. But if I’m lucky and it’s cloudy…


Where Have I Been?

Corporate year end. Income Taxes. Training for Toronto Marathon (in four days, bib number 49) Hockey with kids.

Enough said 🙂 Will blog again.

I Want to Give Free Stuff to My Fans

A fun thing has been happening since my last free promo day for Apocalypse Revolution: fans have been e-mailing me. At first I was baffled as to how they were getting my e-mail address until my wife reminded me that she had included it in the front and back matter of the novel–smart woman.

So now I get to talk to my fans, see their posts on my facebook fan page and receive their feedback. It’s great. I’ve met some wonderful people. So here’s a promise to all you fans out there waiting to be discovered: contact me and get yourself on my mailing list.  When book two of the 1000 Souls series is ready, I’ll ensure that you a free copy.

I’m sure some people think that’s nuts: give away copies to the very people who are most likely to buy the novel? Well, maybe, but if they liked Apocalypse Revolution enough to contact me, they deserve my attention and gratitude.

So get on the list to get a free copy. You can contact me at: or you can use the handy “Contact Mike” button on this very blog.

I also have plans for a couple of short stories that take place right in the middle of Apocalypse Revolution.  Those will be available only to fans on my mailing list. Just our little inside secret to share.

But since I’m not totally made of money, I may have to limit the free novel to the first hundred fans on the list, so contact early and contact often. I look forward to meeting you.

Death of a Hamster

Where have I been? Second born and third born down with flu. Me, down with flu. Dog sitting–Doug, the dog. Culmination?

Friday night at midnight. Bob, the hamster, is discovered inert in his house. Diagnosis, in hibernation–thank you internet. 1st born, wife and I start gradually warming and reviving Bob. Eyes opening. He’s going to live, yeah! Or so we thought.

3rd born wakes up screaming for help because she has vomited all over her bed. Doug starts running around and barking in the excitement and must be shoved into the cage. Wife hands hamster of to 1st born so that she can help me clean up vomit.

By the time we’re done we find 1st born weeping with dead hamster in his hands. Bob convulsed and seized as he came out of hibernation, probably because he also had the flu–hamsters can get human diseases. In fact, that’s probably why he slipped into hibernation in the first place.

Life and death. Whatcha gonna do?

When I Gave Myself Up for Dead

I was twenty-seven when I did something incredibly stupid and dangerous.  I often still feel the need to apologize to my mother for putting her through prolonged worry, but I had reached maturity, finished university, gone out into the workforce and felt that somehow I had missed my destiny.  I couldn’t tell you what it was, just that my life was an empty disappointment.  My job was okay.  The people were nice and I was liked.  There were promises of advancement, and one women at the head office had made it clear that she was interested.  The whole world, my whole life was before me and I turned my back on it.

A friend asked me before I left, “but what if you get killed?”

I answered with the bravado of a young man.  “Then my tombstone says I died at twenty-seven.”  At the time I meant that in the lifespan of the solar system, let alone the universe, it was essentially the same as gasping my last breath at eighty.

But I hadn’t really learned that lesson yet.  It was later, when I truly did fear for my life, when I stood beside men who did this every day and weren’t flinching, that I took that lesson into my heart: I was going to die no matter what.  Someday, somewhere, I would have a tombstone that marked my passing from this world.  It was just a matter of time, and in the grand scheme of the universe, a minuscule amount of time.

Now a few of you will think that’s depressing, but I found it liberating.  While I sometimes forget the lesson of that time in the day-to-day rush of life, I’ve held it in my heart and it has allowed me to continue to do things that I might never have ventured had I lived as if I could coast on forever.

At a family function over the holidays, my brother talked about cancer screening, saying that if my father had gotten some at fifty he’d never have gotten the cancer that killed him at eighty-three.  Eighty-three!  If I should live so long!  I’m not against cancer screening, and I’m going for a check-up myself in a couple of weeks, but it sounded as if my brother believed that dad could have lived forever.  It sounded like he was saying that we weren’t going to die as long as we had good health care.  I know if asked he’d state that of course he knows we’re all going to die, but I don’t believe he’s taken that knowledge into his heart.

Some days I wake up and wonder why I chose to be an author, why all my career decisions have been built around getting more time to write.  On a good day I remember that I’m going to die.  On a good day I remember that I have to fight to get every bit of me down on paper so that when I go at least some of me will stay behind, if only for a little while.  I want to reach as many people as I can, to give them a moment of ease, a moment of insight and maybe even a sense of their own mortality so that they can do great things too.  I want my grandchildren (if I’m so lucky) and maybe even great-grandchildren know another side of me, to be inspired by me.

I want to be great in a quiet way.  Not a president.  Not a mover and shaker, but a persistence presence that spreads over time, even after my novels are forgotten and the electrons have spun into chaos, or the paper has returned to the earth.

But the other gift of that great insight into my mortality is a fearlessness about who I am.  I don’t care if people think I’m a literary genius or an purveyor of pulp, and this has allowed me to write books about anything, whether it be a lost soul wandering in Afghanistan, a construction worker afraid of heights or a plague of vampires in Chicago.  Yes, vampires.  It’s more the situation that interests me, how people respond to the pressure, how they struggle to survive, how my characters interact that fascinate me.

So giving myself up for dead was the best thing I ever did.  I can do anything.  I can write anything.  It’s my destiny.  To die. When that moment comes I won’t look back and say, “what if?”

So what did I do that was so dangerous?  My friends and family know.  My readers will already have guessed, and the rest of you…does it really matter?  It’s knowing you’re mortal that sets you free.

But don’t worry, I’m not reckless.  I want to see my children grow up, so when I run at night I watch out carefully for cars.  They scare me.  No need to go too soon.

And mom…sorry about that little episode.

My Boycott of Agency Pricing

My library card had expired.  Gasp!

I’ve been reading eBooks for the last few years, either on my ancient Sony ( two year old technology) or on my spiffy new Kindle, but thanks to agency pricing, I have renewed my card and started borrowing dead-tree books again. That’s right, me the big eBook fan, has had to crack open some weighty volumes to get all the information I crave.  But the publishers made me do it.

In an effort to fight the rising tide of eBooks, the Big Six publishers adopted the agency pricing model, where they set the price and no one is allowed to discount, and they’re setting the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks.  So an electronic download, which doesn’t require logging companies, pulp mills, trucks, printing presses, more trucks and heated bookstores are now priced higher than dead-tree books.  Let’s not even get into the incredibly environmentally unfriendly paperback returns policy, which sees the cover of an unsold book ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit, and the rest thrown into the recycling bin so that more trucks, pulp mills and trucks can get rev up their engines.

But what really gets me steamed is that great authors are being squeezed by the new “industry standard” on eBook royalties.  This cartel of six has decided that they will not sign a single contract that pays an author more than 17% of the list price of a novel.  Their stated claim that they must have this deal in order to make a profit on eBooks doesn’t ring true when you read Publishers Marketplace, which reports on each publisher’s financial statements as they’re released, and it turns out they’re all making a good profit on eBooks.  It’s reduced hardcover and paperback sales that are hurting them.  So they’re using eBook sales to subsidize the old industry at the expense of authors.

So I’m boycotting agency priced books, and it’s really easy to tell which books are subjected to this policy.  If it costs more than $9.99, and more than the paperback, it’s an agency priced book.  If Amazon can’t sell you a discounted copy, it’s an agency priced book.

For instance, a friend recommended The World Without Us as essential reading for all apocalyptic fiction authors.  Amazon’s  price for a Kindle version is $11.20, but the paperback is $10.20.  I’ve seen far more glaring examples, where the Kindle edition is near $14 and the paperback is around $10 dollars.

This won’t last, of course.  Someday one of the really big authors will say goodbye and indie-pub (or worse, sign with Amazon) so that they can collect the 70% royalty.  When that happens others will follow suit, and the publishers claim that they have the best authors will melt away.  Then they’ll want to lure someone like John Grisham back, and they’ll offer him a 35% eBook royalty, and every publisher after that will not be able to claim that 17% is the “industry standard.”

Meanwhile, out of the millions of indie-pubbed books, some cream will rise to the top.  These authors will keep selling under $9.99 to get the 70% royalty, and as they build their careers and become in demand, they’ll eat into sales of books from traditional publishers.  The only solution for the Big Six will be to lower the price of eBooks in order to compete.

But for now, I’m off to the library.  I got an e-mail notice that the hold I placed (via the library’s website) on The World Without Us has been filled.  Oh, and I’ve been loaning eBooks from the library too for my Sony eReader.  Thank you public library.  You’re a forward looking institution.

Kindle Publishing: First Step

There are dozens of paths that will take your novel from a computer to Kindle, and the route will largely depend on the current file format of the work.  We’re going to start with the most common for indie authors: a Microsoft Word document.

Microsoft Word comes with some serious baggage designed to make your life easier if you just want to write and print a document.  But we want to publish that document, so we need to clean out all the Microsoft Weirdness formatting.

Smashwords has an excellent 85 page manual on how to do this, which includes going nuclear (their expression) but I found with my document that it wasn’t that complicated.

Step One: Activate the show/hide.  That’s the reverse P-thingy as Mark Coker from Smashwords calls it, or the pilcrow.  You’ll see that weird symbol somewhere in your toolbar.  In my version it’s beside the little red toolbox.  Here are some fun images for a pilcrow if you want to know what it looks like.  Just give it a click to show all your formatting.

Now you can see what a mess you’ve made of the document.

Step Two: Go to the Tools menu item and pull down to AutoCorrect.  Deselect each box under AutoCorrect, Auto Format as you type, AutoText and AutoFormat.  You have complete control now.

Step Three:  Look at your document.  Do you have little arrows showing tabs as paragraph indents?  Bad.  You don’t want these in the document.  Fortunately I stumbled across an easy fix.  Select the entire document and then align all the text to center.  Don’t panic.  It’s just temporary.  With the entire document still selected, align all the text to left.  Boom!  All those evil tab indents are gone and now we can properly format the paragraph indents.  The pros among you will have already formatted your paragraphs this way.

Select the whole document again and go to Format in the menu.  Pull down to Paragraph.  Under Indents and Spacing there’s a section on indentation.  Under ‘Special’ select ‘first line.’  It’ll default to .5″ which is a reasonable paragraph indent.  Click OK and we can move on to the easy stuff.

Step Four: Do any of your quotes look like smart quotes?  We need to get rid of those.  They’ll be gobbly-gook in your Kindle or Smashwords book.  Simply do a search and replace.  Because we turned off the smart quotes in step one, it’ll find the smart quotes ” and replace them with straight quotes ” .  I know, they both look like smart quotes here.  They’ll both look like straight quotes in the search and replace, but it’ll still do the job.

Now do the same for the apostrophes.  Again with the ellipses, you know, those three dot things…

Step Five:  This is probably a no brainer, but do make sure you’ve single-spaced your text.  We’re not sending it to an agent here.  We’re publishing!

Step Six: Insert your page breaks.  I do them between chapters.  Simply go to Insert on the menu and pull down to Break and select Page Break.  Oh, I assume you’ve put your cursor at the end of your chapter where you want your page break.

Step Seven: Make sure you don’t have more than three blank lines in a row anywhere in your document.  Multiple blank lines look awful in an e-book.

Step Eight: I really hope you’ve already figured this one out all by yourself, but just in case: if you have headers/footers/page numbers, get rid of them.  Like I said before, we’re publishing!  Forget the agent formatting.

Step Nine: I like to put my web address into hyperlinks right in the e-book.  Now’s the time to insert your hyperlinks.  Can you guess how?  Okay, just in case: highlight the web address and go to Insert on the menu and pull all the way down to Hyperlink.

Now you have a cleanly formatted document ready for the next stage.  Believe it or not it gets easier after this.  You just need your cover and…you do have a cover don’t you?  Okay, that’ll be tomorrow.