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Archive for January, 2013

Weapons of the 21st Century

With a title like that, this blog has to be pretty cool, right? Well, I leave that to the reader to decide, but here’s a spoiler: the weapons I’m referring to are words.

I just did something I try not to do very often. I read my reviews. Not the reviews I’ve written, but rather the reviews people have written on my books. The last 4 were 5 stars, then a 3 star, then numerous other 4 and 5 star reviews. Pretty darn cool, I have to say!

But that’s dangerous too. I’ve figured out a lot of things as a writer with over 20 books published. I’ve learned how to write through adversity and slumps. I’ve figured out what makes the books interesting for me and the readers. I’ve learned the value of good editing. And according to a lot of my reviews, I’ve written some great books and have made some lifelong fans. It would be easy for me to think I’ve peaked and I don’t need to learn anymore. FAR FROM IT!

There’s so many things I want to try and learn that the list is limitless – and that’s just with writing! I haven’t even touched on hang gliding or scuba diving. Reading reviews that praise books like Bound, Bounty, and The Lost Girls leaves me a very warm and fuzzy feeling. Yet it doesn’t teach me anything. Oh sure, it tells me I made some people happy and that’s a great thing. I’m here to entertain, after all, but I want to know what I can do better. The writer that can’t improve his craft has not yet been invented. I certainly appreciate the reviews though, and I hope to earn many more yet to come.

So this blog post is to share some great reviews on the books linked above. It’s also to remind myself and any of my peers paying attention that no matter how good it gets or how great we may feel, we should never take success for granted. Reviews, for example, don’t put food on the table. Working hard and always striving to write the next book a little better than the last one, on the other hand, can help pay the rent.

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.

 

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My Pants Are On Fire!

Back around 2004 I held the match used to light a fire under my own ass a little to close. I haven’t been able to put the flames out since. No, there’s no burning sensation when I go to the bathroom, it’s all about motivation and self-discipline.

I received a Christmas present from my wife and kids that seems a little funny. It was a book. A giant hardcover book. I write books, what do I need to read one for? Not only that, but I’m a huge proponent of ebooks, what’s this boat anchor doing on my desk? First and foremost, a writer that does not read is a writer doomed to obscurity. Secondly, it’s no simple task to get somebody else an ebook for a gift. Oh sure, it can be done, but I think that Amazon needs to come up with a way to make it a simpler process.

So what book was it and how does this have anything to do with my pants being on fire? The book is Total Recall. It has nothing to do with freeing Mars from an oppressive regime (nor does it involve Colin Farrell). Total Recall is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography. So far I’m only about a third of a way into it, but that’s due to lack of opportunity, not lack of interest.

I grew up in rural Michigan. No, not on a farm. Yes, I grew up learning to shoot guns and we ate the larger furry critters for dinner when we could. We had electricity and modern conveniences, though I was eternally upset that we couldn’t get cable TV and in those days a satellite dish was outrageous. So I read and watched movies and found ways to go outside and entertain myself (see the aforementioned “shooting things”). About the age of 8 I stumbled across a movie on network television called Conan the Barbarian that my dad was watching. I was instantly mesmerized. As soon as I could I had him rent the unedited version on VHS tape (it may have been a few years until VHS was available, come to think of it). Then sometime later I bought the tape and watched it again and again, as well as the sequel, Conan the Destroyer.

I loved fantasy, so that wasn’t surprising that I’d take to those movies. It was more than that though for me. I felt the story and I connected with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had it good compared to him, but I didn’t know that. I was a stupid kid who thought he lived a miserable life. Nevertheless, I was sucked in and eventually ended up owning all of his movies on VHS that were available. These days I still have several of them, but they’re on DVD. And yes, there are couple of real stinkers in the group, but you take the good with the bad.

I read up on the guy over the years and followed him as best I could. What a story he had, it was something the best of fiction writers couldn’t make up. Or, if they did, nobody would dare to believe it. A poor Austrian kid that managed to rise to the highest level of athletics, international stardom, and even land the position as the governor of California? Who does that? Whether you agree with his beliefs or like him or not, I think everybody alive has to respect his accomplishments.

And now, reading his autobiography, I feel a lot of things clicking for me. Of course the book is a matter of hindsight and I’m sure he’s remembering and portraying only the more positive things in his life. He mentions a few mistakes here and there, but this guy is a salesman – he knows how to put a spin on things. Even so, the drive and the way in which he set goals and worked towards them leaves me with warm fuzzy feelings. If he accomplished all that he did using his methods, it makes me excited about my own future. I woke up in 2004, so to speak, and stopped being lazy. I went back to school not because I wanted to, but because I needed to in order to accomplish the goals I set for myself. I got back into working out and not only improved my health, but I won some powerlifting contests and set a few state records (that have since been beaten). I took my writing seriously and was picked up by a small publisher, then I launched out on my own and started my own publishing company with the help of a friend. My books are doing better than ever these days and I hope one day down the road they’ll hit the point that I can make writing my one and only profession.

I have no interest in politics or acting, but I have a lot of things left I want to accomplish. Reading Total Recall is reaffirming my drive and letting me know that somehow I may have stumbled across the path to success. I compare it to working out – no matter what the routine is or who the trainer is, each weightlifter is different. Each body is different, and only by discovering for yourself what works and what doesn’t can the optimal growth be achieved. I still lift some pretty damn heavy weights even though I don’t compete anymore because I know that’s what my body needs. I know it’s the same level of hard work and dedication that’s necessary some times to write through a tough part in a book or to get through learning the next technology I need to master in order to finish my next project at my day job. It’s about setting goals, working hard, and not making or accepting excuses.

And maybe, one day, I’ll be able to write a book like Total Recall that people will be interested in. I doubt it – I have no interest in celebritizing myself, but I learned long ago to never turn away from an opportunity!

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.

 

Repeating the Past

We’ve landed back in Michigan! Safely, although it’s so darn cold up here. We can’t figure it out, moving 300 miles west, northwest and the temperatures don’t change much, but it’s just felt so bitter cold compared to where we were. Less humidity, maybe? Well whatever the case, we’re back where we started from. I spent 34 years trying to get out of Michigan and now circumstances conspire to bring me back. They’re good circumstances though. A good job and we’re close to family again (a 75 minute drive is a lot closer than 5 hours!).

Another thing that surprised me is the wildlife population. I’ve lived in Michigan, Utah, and Ohio now and they all have their critters, but Michigan seems to be the one most overrun with deer. I’m a hunter, or at least I used to be, but I didn’t have any places to hunt at until I returned to Michigan. I’d always heard that Ohio had monster bucks, but I hardly ever saw any deer while I was down there, let alone any bucks. I did see herds of elk and antelope in Utah, but never had a chance to try and chase one down. Maybe some day when the books take off I can afford a hunting trip out that way. Until then I’m looking forward to Michigan’s hunting season next year.

Another thing that makes this go-round in Michigan better than the past is my location. I’m living in an amazing house on the outskirts of Detroit. Sure, the rent is high enough I thought I was going to have to prematurely donate some organs to afford it, but we’ve managed to make do with it. The moving process was horrible, complete with a breakdown on the side of I-80 during a blizzard courtesy of a flat tire on the rental trailer, but we arrived safe and sound eventually.

All that remains is unpacking and getting things taken care of. We’re almost there too. I have a few more things to take care of, including running an electrical outlet for our treadmill in the basement and reassembling my home gym (scheduled to be done this weekend). A few more things need to be cleaned out of the garage so I can start parking my truck in it. And lastly I’m waiting on some computer parts to be delivered so I can rebuild my aging dinosaur of a desktop and clean up my office.

That’s right, I’ve got my own office. It’s great! Throughout the last week and a half I’ve been able to use it to continue writing my latest book, Victim of Fate (the sequel to Child of Fate, book 1 in my Blades of Leander series). It’s a fantasy book and in the measure of many great second stories, darker than the first. I’m having a lot of fun with it though. At this point I figure I’m five or six chapters away from finishing it. That doesn’t include the two or three extra chapters that always find a way to sneak in when I’m not looking though.

After that, who knows what’s next. I’ve got a lot of options and I catch myself thinking about them from time to time, trying to decide which one excites me the most and is ready for the rubber to meet the road. The only thing I can be sure of is that I’ll let you know when I know!

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.

One Writer’s Lessons From 2012

January 1, 2013 2 comments

I’m a drop in the bucket of writers out there. Once published by a small press, now I’m effectively independent. I suffered plenty of rejections along the way until I figured out how to do it on my own. And yes, I figured that out without any help or by buying any books on how to write and sell a book. 2009, 2010, and most of 2011 were a struggle for me. Why bother, I often asked myself – the numbers were never promising. Fortunately for me, I’ve always been a long term thinking kind of guy. In late 2011 and then in 2012 those numbers changed.

For example, in 2012 I gave away 107,537 books!

What the hell was I thinking, right? I’ve talked about it ad nauseum before, but my thoughts were to let people see if they liked what I was writing since I wasn’t a big name in the industry. It worked. And no, very few of those numbers came from KDP Select.

Now here’s a less impressive but more substantial number: 33,993. That’s how many books I sold in 2012 on Amazon US and Amazon UK. I sold more in other Amazon markets, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, iTunes, and Smashwords (and probably a few other distribution channels), but those numbers are nothing compared to Amazon so I’m not bothering to list them.

You’re thinking 34k books at the average price of a book being around $10 must be impressive! Yeah, it would be, but I don’t charge that much. As a matter of fact, All of my books save one are priced under $5. I won’t go into financial details but suffice to say that selling 34k books at my prices is not enough for a family of four to live off of. Thus I have a day job too (in fact, I’m starting a new one tomorrow!).

I write primarily fantasy and science fiction – and yes, sometimes the two get intertwined. I can’t tell you which genre is more successful though, but I can toss out a couple of examples in case you’re curious.

Ice Princess, a near future science fiction book, was my best selling book at 3,887 copies. My next best selling book was Voidhawk – The Elder Race, a fantasy novel (albeit space fantasy) at 3,716 copies. Given that my Voidhawk series has 5 books in it at present, the series sold 9,964 books throughout the year (with many of the books not being released until sometime in 2012). Wanted, the trilogy that Ice Princess is a part of, sold 4,253 books (although book 3, Bounty, was just released in December).

So what does that mean? Beats me! Write what you like and keep at it. I released a more traditional fantasy book called Child of Fate in November and it really started ramping up in December (181 copies). I’m hard at work on book 2 in that series and expect to release it in February – which seems like another success story in the making. People enjoy reading books in a series. As a reader, I can’t say I fault them. I always want to know about loose ends and if I’ve spent the time to read a book and become attached to the characters, I want to continue that relationship. As a writer I often feel the same way – it’s hard to just abandon a character and move on to someone else.

I spent a lot of money on a promotional campaign late this year and it doesn’t appear to have done anything for me. Writing more books and making sure they get edited properly and have great cover art, on the other hand, seems to be the key to success. That and a healthy dose of patience and perseverance. I believe that in order to make it in this industry the key is having a will stronger than the grindstone that rubs against it constantly. It’s an opportunity to turn the weakness of being stubborn into a strength!

And so, for 2013, I plan on being a downright irascibly stubborn son of a bitch! Happy new years to everyone, now let’s get to work!

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.