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Decisions, Decisions

“Holy crap, you’ve written a lot of books! Where should I start?”

I get asked something like this a lot, but I never have a good answer. I mentioned a week or two back I’d put a post out like this to help people – but I’m not sure how much help it will provide! Hopefully you’ll want to grab them all. :-)

Anyhow, to answer the question: It depends on a lot of things. For example, do you like sci-fi or fantasy more? Do your tastes range towards action and adventure or crime and mystery? Fast paced or slower, more thoughtful?

Let me throw out a few first and let you decide…

Voidhawk - my first published novel way back in 2009. It also just became an audiobook, but I digress. Voidhawk is fantasy, but it’s fantasy with a twist. It’s kind of like dungeons and dragons in space. Complete with wooden ships sailing through the void (space). So it’s part high fantasy, part space opera, and part wtf. I consider it a niche market and I never expected it to take off. Yet quite a few times over the past few years my Voidhawk series (6 books in it so far) has done quite well. I regularly get people asking for more, which is going to happen someday soon.

Wanted - This is my second published novel. It’s near future science fiction that I dreamt up during the threat of a world-wide recession back in 2007 – 2009. The book takes place in a mildly scorched earth environment. Global terrorism has torn America up and left the southwestern US to fend for itself. Enter the main characters – a former Spec Ops guy who wants to be left alone, a porn star turned actress whose career was peeking after all the real Hollywood stars died when dirty bombs took out LA, and a couple of rich kids who had the misfortune of being on a plane that crashed in the Sonoran desert. There’s 4 books here and this has arguably has been the most successful series I’ve written.

Blades of Leander / Order of the Dragon – More high fantasy here. A new world with new troubles and a peasant farmer boy who’s thrust into being the man of the farm. Then somehow things get twisted up with young love and the chance to make a difference and be a hero. It escalates from Child of Fate (book 1) into a trilogy (Blades of Leander) and then a follow-up saga (Order of the Dragon, 4 more books).

Vitalis - Futuristic science fiction centered around humanity’s discovery of life on another planet. Real, advanced life – in the form of dinosaur-like critters and a downright nasty ecosystem that is very xenophobic. It’s risqué at times, earning at least an R rating and not just for harsh language. Book 2, Resurrection, even starts out with a couple of characters that make some readers uncomfortable – although I never get very descriptive and tragedy interrupts the moment before it can get started. Vitalis is six books at present and one I’m anxious to continue very soon. The first book is called the Vitalis Omnibus because it contains 7 novellettes I put together and tried to sell individually.

Dark Earth – Urban fantasy here. It involves the discovery of a parallel world to Earth that followed a different evolution. We have technology, they have magic. Sort of. They also have a lot of very mean and nasty people in charge. It’s a harsh world where bigots and chauvinists seem to be rewarded. Until the portals start opening and they begin to find out just how dangerous a pissed off woman can be! Dark Earth sets the stage for a 3 book series, which then has two additional books set in the same setting. Another series also uses the Dark Earth setting, but it’s 40 years in the future…

The Lost Girls – This is the series I just mentioned. These books came about when a character popped into my head and demanded attention. She called me dirty names and abused me every possible way until I wrote her story. Then she demanded I write another one, which is rare (usually I break away between books in a series but for her I did back to back). Eventually she demanded a third and later a fourth book. At that point I’d had enough. She’d mellowed out a little over the years and I couldn’t bring myself to do anymore to her. Until another idea hit me. This time it was an idea about a bad guy. We had a long talk (yes, me and the fictional heroine of the series), and she agreed she’d do one more for me. So that series hit five books. There may be more down the road, but she won’t be the starring character anymore. These books are urban fantasy / paranormal / science fiction (yes, I really did wrap all that together) AND they are detective / crime novels to boot. I will not be shoe-horned into a genre, damn it!

If you’re a proper red-blooded American, and by red-blooded I mean you understand the Internet may have been built for the exchange of technology and data but it wouldn’t exist without the need for hot and steamy content, then maybe my Homeland series is up your alley. Only two books in it so far (Forbidden Love and Broken Slipper), but they involve undercover homeland security agents and the lengths, depths, girths, and other extremes they will go to for their country.

I’ve got a few stand-alone books too, or books that are related to a series but aren’t officially a part of it. Those don’t get much traction even though everyone that reads them that tells me about it says they enjoy them.

Oh! Silly me, I almost forgot my latest. I released one a few months ago called Transcendent. Future sci-fi with humanity controlling all of our solar system (but not doing anything beyond it). It’s my attempt at capturing the dystopian young adult interest so popular with Divergent and The Hunger Games. Except I went a little more high tech by introducing biomechs (basically humanoid tanks of the future with a human pilot plugged in the cockpit and organic muscle systems stretched over their metal frames).

And, on the not-so-sly, I’ve been working with my wife to capture a spot in the paranormal romance genre by releasing a serial novel called Claimed by the Beast. We’re using her name, Dawn Michelle, for that series. I refer to it as furry porn, but only tongue in cheek. There’s no actual, um, porn going on. (although there are a few very steamy scenes in upcoming releases).

Phew – I think that about covers it. Don’t ask me which one is m favorite – I love them all. I’ve been very disappointed by the lack of response a few have gotten (Homeland and Transcendent, for example). I’ve been surprised by others because I didn’t think people would be as twisted as I am. I’ll vouch for any and all of them, but they’re my children so I kind of have to. :-)

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Be a Writer, They Said

February 22, 2014 1 comment

I’ve been an obnoxiously creative person since the earliest age I can remember. I played with Transformers and GI Joes way longer than my friends did and during my fragile and formative middle school years I found some like-minded fellows and took up playing Dungeons and Dragons. Good, old school D&D too, not the complicated stuff going on these days. 1st edition all the way.

I picked up writing somewhere along the way and found a passion for writing ridiculous stories. Teachers becoming evil and taking over the schools so that the students had to fight back to survive. Aliens, monsters, whatever. Who knew the concept would turn into Hollywood movies years later that I would never benefit from. :-(

I kept writing, having no clue what I was doing, only that I had to write and get my ideas out of my head and onto paper (or a computer screen). And so I sucked. But I didn’t know I sucked. My friends and family either didn’t know it or they wouldn’t tell me. So I kept on sucking. The places I submitted my stories to denied me time after time. Not hundreds or even dozens, but enough that I figured I must suck.

Then somebody saw past the suck and gave me a chance. I was hooked up with an editor and she let me know I sucked. But, and this is important, she also said there was hope beneath the crap. She helped me take that monumental first step to not sucking. And once the first step was taken, I was anxious to keep on climbing.

The great part is nobody told me how many steps I had to climb. Not just to write decent stories, but to have a snowballs chance in hell of having any commercial success in writing. To realizing my dream – being a writer full time. Well, I’m still not there, but I’m getting closer each day.

If I’d have known how long the odds are and how much work it takes, would I still do it? Probably. I’m thick headed like that though. The numbers I’ve been getting from my Amazon investigation via my web crawler tell me there are well over 2 million books out there. Sampling only 10,000 books, I see an average of 2 books per author. I believe that average is only amongst the more successful end of the spectrum. I’m willing to wager there are a LOT more 1 book writers than there are 2, 3, 5, 10, 40, or 100 book writers out there (even aggregated).

Okay, so, a conservative number at this point is 2.3 million books and 1 million writers. Yes, 1 million. According to my Amazon author rank, I’m around 4500 right now, which is down from previous days (down as in worse). Even with that number, if I were single and hadn’t racked up a ton of student loans and other bills, I could live off of my royalties. I’m neither single nor remotely close to debt free though, but let’s make a wild ass guess and say rank 6000 is the cut off for what’s possible for a frugal person to live off of. 6000 out of 1,000,000. Those are long odds, my friends (.6%). To be where I want to be I’m looking at around .25%.

I’ve published 46 books (47 comes out very soon). I have #48 and #49 on deck and I’m halfway through writing #50. And will those put me where I want to be? It’s possible, but unlikely. Maybe when I get to 60 or 80 books I’ll be there. Or maybe 100. Maybe more. It doesn’t matter, I’ll keep on writing because that’s what I do.

And that’s the moral of this blog article. If you’re not in it for the love of writing and the need to create, then you’re in for a long and very painful road. Success is very much measured by putting food on the table, but there are also intangibles that have to be measured. Are you successful if you’re miserable doing what you do? And are you willing to be miserable learning to get better every day for the time it takes you to rise into that .5% and better you need to be in?

This is not my way of discouraging would-be writers. This is my attempt to inform and to inspire. If you like writing, rejoice! You’ve got a lifetime of it ahead of you.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Did the World Just Change?

February 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Hugh Howey, breakout indie author of Wool and other stories, may have just set the world on fire. The publishing world, that is. Not by making gobs of money (which he has), but by extrapolating data from the Internet and exposing the deep dark secrets of the publishing industry.

I’ll post the link below, but first I want to say a few things. It’s more than just interesting, it’s eye opening. It’s jaw dropping. It’s amazing and redeeming. And it’s very, very flawed.

Hugh had a super-secret programmer that build up a program to compile a massive amount of data was pulled together by crawling through Amazon’s bestseller lists with a computer program. They then asked the data questions and it answered, breaking out earnings and volume of units sold. Author incomes were calculated and market share was determined. Not only by author, but also by publisher and publishing type (e.g. indie, small press, traditional, amazon, etc.).

The results? Fascinating. And did I mention flawed? It exposes that more books were sold as ebooks than print books. It shows that more money was made via ebooks than print books. It also definitely indicates that indie authors make more than traditional publishing authors do (overall, there are outliers that vary). Or at least it shows all those things if only the top 7000 bestselling titles are analyzed.

That’s the flaw. At the time of this snapshot of data (Jan 28 – 29), I had no books inside the top 7000 bestselling books on Amazon. I have some that are close, and I have a few that are in the top 10 bestselling subgenre lists, but from my understanding these books were not included. Aw, poor me, right? Not really. (EDIT: I discovered that the list of books involved were selected specifically from genre lists (mystery, romance, scifi/fantasy), and in many instances the books may have an overall ranking up to 100,000 on Amazon’s grand chart. In short, that means I have no freaking idea which books are where since book titles and author names were excluded from the raw data report provided to the masses. Very, very frustrating.)

That 7,000 books work out to roughly 3,000 writers. On a whim I decided to check a book I co-wrote and saw that the low sale rate it’s enduring right now (1 sale every 2 – 4 days) has it ranked around 450,000. As high as that is that’s nothing, I’ve seen some books that are ranked well over a million. That means there are well over a million books out there. Possibly 2, 3, 4, or 5+ million books available on Amazon when factoring in ebook, print, and audiobooks. And how many writers? I have no idea, but if we take the same ratio (7 : 3) and assume a modest 3 million books, that means there are over 1.2 million writers.

So this study grabbed the top 7000 books and 3000 writers. That’s .23%, we’re talking a quarter of 1%. So how many other writers like me are in the mid lists and making money that is impressive, yet not cool enough to hit the overall bestseller lists? Maybe I’m not number 800 after all, maybe I’m number 8,000. Or maybe I have no idea whatsoever, given the lack of definitive data. The data is awesome for a sweeping view from orbit, but useless for pinpointing where we are individually.

Hugh responded to my critique though – they are running a new list going out to the top 50,000 bestselling books. That will include several of mine, but not all. In the first study I wasn’t reported at all. In this new study I’ll be underreported. But hey, at least 50,000 is approximately 1.66% of the books available…

What will really be undeniable will be when all the books are processed – or at least a decent sampling is taken. You can’t sample a population by trimming the top 1% (or less). That skews the results and makes everybody think that writing is the golden road to riches.

So far the findings show that 3,000 writers make 10k or more a year on writing. That’s less than 1% of the writers out there. Pretty dismal odds for anyone that wants to get into writing. My complaints about the lack of specificity aren’t designed out of a competition with other writers, rather a means of evaluating myself and my progress. Or maybe when I reach the point where I’m paying all my bills with my royalties I won’t care anymore. After all, I’m not a writer to do better than anybody else, I’m a writer because I love writing.

Here’s the link to the page. Yesterday it was up and down due to traffic. Hopefully today (or whenever this is read) it’s able to withstand the load of people checking it out: http://authorearnings.com

The part about changing the world? Well all this flies in the face of what the traditional publishing industry has been saying for years. Does this mean they lied to us? Well, um, yes. The years of anecdotal evidence have given way to real evidence now, and it’s only going to get better as more numbers are crunched. Or worse, if you’ve been grandstanding about how great traditional publishing is.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Who Wants a Guardian Angel?

February 11, 2014 Leave a comment

No, I’m not handing any out. I’m afraid I don’t have any to spare. Or any at all, for that matter. Which is ironic, considering the book I just finished the rough draft of. I’m calling it Guardian and the title is applicable for so many different reasons. For example, the main character is a foster parent aka legal guardian of some troubled teens.

There’s also a spirit out of southwestern Native American folklore that serves as a bit of a guardian angel. With a twist. Then there’s a few other spirits that get involved and a few people doing their best to protect others. It’s a mess and before Katalina (the main character) figures out what’s going a lot of people have been hurt and she’s too late to stop what she set out to do.

Guardian is book 5 in The Lost Girls series and it’s in the hands of my editor now. The cover artist is feverishly at work (or he should be when he wakes up). All that means a potential release before the end of the month. And the inevitable…what’s next?

Building on a blog post I released last week, courtesy of feedback from a reader, I have a couple of options. So I tossed the question out on my Facebook fan page to help me decide which direction to go. I won’t say the response was overwhelming but it was probably the biggest feedback I’ve had on a post so far. The result? Carl Waters, reluctant hero of the Wanted series, is strapping his boots back on and taking a stroll in the near future mildly scorched earth setting.

Carl is a US Marshall these days thanks to some contacts he acquired both in the private sector and their affiliations with the government. His wife, Jessie, has revitalized her acting career. Allison, their adopted daughter, may or may not play a role in the story. She’s turned to technology ever since Carl rescued her from the streets of Houston and demanded she learn to read.

What about the rest of the cast? Tanya, Sarah, and any past players? All to be determined. I’ve got a lot of scattered thoughts that I need to pull together on this one. It’s going to touch on Carl’s new career as well as bring in enough from the prior storylines to continue the series.

What was the other option? A new Voidhawk book that brings some or all of the crew to the world of Kroth. Kroth, for those unfamiliar with the name, is the world that my Blades of Leander and Order of the Dragon series take place on. If I remember correctly the Voidhawk’s crew slipped away from the City at the Edge of Forever with a certain something that belonged to someone very powerful. The very same being that played a part in the formation of Kroth. The really cool part – my subconscious planned all that out without even letting me know! I’m devious and I don’t even know it.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

What I Can Do For Me

January 28, 2014 Leave a comment

As my children learned to crawl, walk, and talk I considered the first major milestone to be when they could wipe their own butts. To me that was an epic moment. Maybe not on the list of top 5 moments in my life, but it was up there. I do not, however, recall the moment when I hit the same goal.

I’ve been reaching out to my writing peers lately. I reconnected with them on the Kindleboards’ Writer’s Café message board. I ran across a link that mentioned it and wanted to check out something from a few big names that post on there. I was shocked to remember my username and password that I’d set up on it years ago, so I figured I should jump in. So I did.

What I found out surprised me. I’ve long considered myself a little fish in a big sea. It seems I’m not quite as little as I once thought. I might even be in the vaunted top 5% of writers as far as income is concerned. That sounds awesome – right? Well the bottom 95% appear to being making three, four, and low to mid five digit incomes.

So that made me feel proud of the hard work I’ve done over the past several years, but it only served as fuel to build a bigger fire under my chair. I want to write more and to reach more people. I may never be a Dean Koontz, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try like hell to be a Hugh Howey, Michael Mathias, or Joe Konrath.

So close on this realization I received an email from a publishing company that has been on a string of acquisitions lately. A real New York based publishing company, although they are focused on the ebook market. They wanted me to consider them for future sci-fi books that I write.

Now I’ve never snubbed my nose at the more traditional publishing industry. I started out seeking acceptance from them and received a fair share of rejections. A mark of passage and, to be fair, I deserved to be laughed at for those horrible early submissions.

Receiving that email felt a little bit like a pat on the back. But then I got to thinking about it. What’s the big deal? They focus on ebooks and that’s what I’ve been doing for years now – longer than them, in fact. So I responded and said something to the effect of, “Tell me what you can do for my that I’m not already doing for myself.”

Yep. I said that. Fired it back and got a timely response – they want to do a conference call with me and the president of the company. Sounds impressive, I admit, but I’m doing well enough with my books that I’m not in any rush.

Okay, so why consider them in the first place? Traditionally established New York publishing companies offer reduced royalties over what I can get on my own. Bragging rights? Is that worth going from 70% royalties to 25% (or lower)?

Well that depends – can they step up to the plate and offer me increased visibility that would allow for additional sales? Right now I’m considering one of my books a success if it sells over 100 copies a month. Sadly, I’m only forecasting six of them this month (although one should be over 500 copies). If they could offer exposure that increases my visibility and allows sales to go from 50 to 500 or 100 to 1000, then that’s a win. Not only does it offset the lost royalty percentage, it also increases my potential audience. And the more readers I can get who find my books and like it, the more of my existing books they’ll find and grab.

So maybe, just maybe, that’s worth offering up a new book or a trilogy. It can’t do me any harm – worst case I explore some new characters in a new book that broaden my mind and give me the chance to learn more about writing.

In the meantime, I’m days away from releasing Vitalis: Chrysalis and probably halfway through book five in The Lost Girls: Guardian. Check for more info as I share it or sign up for my newsletter below so you can get the updates when they happen.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

The Devil Inside

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

I signed up a few years ago on Kindle Boards – a message board for kindle book owners, readers, and writers. To be fair, I tried it out a little and didn’t see much use for it. So I went away and didn’t come back. Recently I ran across some information about some successful authors not so different from me (save that they’ve gotten much more success) and they mentioned the KBoards Writer’s Cafe as they place to be. I figured I’d log back in and try it out.

My first surprise was that I remembered my user name and password! I mean come on, we’ve all done that where we forgot one or the other (or both). That was an unexpected bonus, but it was only the beginning of my foray. I dove deeper and found the Writer’s Cafe and then started reading up on stuff.

There’s whining – any message board will have its share, I managed to skim over that without slowing down though. I read some good tips and suggestions and a lot of things I’ve already figured out or are doing. I even tried offering some insight to other writers and would-be writers trying to get things rolling.

Then I found some threads talking about income. Apparently it’s not just a superstition to talk about what you make there (unless it’s nothing), but it can spawn such animosity that other writers will find your books and intentionally leave bad reviews and down rate them to spite you. Seriously? WTF! I shouldn’t be surprised considering what I endured in 2012 that snuffed my rise to the top with my science fiction series, Vitalis, but I had hoped it had been largely dealt with my Amazon and by people growing up. Silly me.

It really bothers me that people would do that. Competition I understand. I didn’t invent the word but I have certainly added value to it over the years. I compete with others and with myself. In business, in lifting weights, in writing code, in playing games, and in damn near everything I do. But it’s not spiteful do or die competition. It’s friendly and it’s designed to bring out the best in myself, not the worst. That’s what happens when you can’t beat somebody by providing a better product or effort – you resort to undermining their attempts to succeed. That demon inside of us whispers things when we get frustrated and angry. It suggests ways to win that we shouldn’t consider. Yet some of us still do, it seems. Shame on these people for trying to ruin somebody else’s hard work because they couldn’t produce something better. If this sounds like something you’ve done or will do, then you are a dick.

In spite of that, there is a utility that a few brave souls (including myself, since I feel I have nothing to hide) have used to chart book sales and annual revenue. I’m nowhere near the top. I am, however, surprisingly higher than most. It’s a matter of hard work. H.M. Ward, Joe Konrath, and Hugh Howey have me beat (and so do a lot of other people), but I’m still over halfway to a hundred thousand books sold. Not too shabby by my approximation.

In closing I offer these simple words: work harder and smarter. Improve yourself and learn to be better and do better. All of us, even the best, can always stand to be better. I set records in 2009 for powerlifting but that didn’t mean I should stop trying to improve my technique and my strength. I had sci-fi stories (yes, plural) in the top 10 of the sci-fi Amazon charts in 2012, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be a better writer. Oh, and then there’s the easy one: Don’t be a dick.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

The Writing Machine

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

I haven’t blogged much as I should have recently. I’ll make no promises that I’ll step it up to a few posts a week in the immediate future either. My dayjob has been kicking me between the legs so much lately it’s becoming repetitive. I hope I get used to it and build up a tolerance. Although I hate to imagine having callouses “down there!”

Anyhow, in spite of the day to day burdens of life at a tier 1 auto supplier, the write must go on. I try to squeeze some writing in on lunch since I never leave the day job except to go home at the end of the day, but even that’s been denied to me this week. The answer? headphones.

One of my wife’s favorite shows (perhaps her current favorite altogether) just started back up, “The Voice.” I admit, it’s kind of catchy at times and I do enjoy the train wreck that is Christina Aguilara’s outfits. The problem is it comes on when the kids go to bed and that’s prime writing time. Enter the headphones. I fire up a selection of music I’ve loaded for inspiring creative genius and go to town. Sure, there are still some distractions with the Voice in the background and my wife occasionally laughing or talking to me (I keep the volume low enough to hear what’s going on around me).

In spite of the distractions the music helps keep me more focused, even if it only serves as white noise. Monday night, for example, I cranked out 2000 words on my current work in progress (Child of Fate, a fantasy novel beginning a new series). Last night I shocked myself by managing over 3000 words in an even shorter time frame.  With Child of Fate I’m shooting for an average of 3000 words per chapter and I’m some in the early to mid 20’s for chapter count. Two more to go and I expect the book will be finished.

So what’s next after Child of Fate? I’m tempted to launch into book two right away, but I’m considering my options. I may branch out and try something completely different from my usual fair, but I remain undecided. Whatever it is I’ll keep plugging away like the writing machine that I am. That much is certain.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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