A new year and nothing to burn

Normally, I ‘burn’ a book on the new year. This year, I have nothing to burn. I simply haven’t been able to write.

It hardly needs to be said, but it’s been a difficult year. Writing has been pretty far from my mind for most of it. I even have to remind myself I published The Dark Queen of Darkness in February. I’m absurdly proud of that book and I had high hopes for the launch. Instead, the whole world shut down, hundreds of thousands of people (millions?) lost their lives, and folks who rely on in-person events for their livelihood found themselves without a source of income. My hopes for Hexe hardly even seem relevant looking back on it.

On launching Hexe this year, I had planned a whole PILE of new and interesting things to try and amplify my platform. I was going to start doing regular blog posts on my experiences. I had planned YouTube videos (not the airplane ones, those are a fun 1-off) that talk about my experiences. However, after everything shut down, and my author event was cancelled, effectively killing my book launch, the day job pretty much took over my life.

I’ve spend my last 10 months at the epicenter of contingencies to adapt our processes and tools to work in a remote environment. And for anyone who thinks that after the pandemic is ‘over’, that we’ll just get to go back to old and comfortable ways, that’s a fantasy. The pressure to continue remote work to ‘reduce costs’ and ‘improve efficiency’ will absolutely remain and are likely to increase. My division (or section? I don’t know anymore), spent more than 40 years honing and perfecting data collection practices and tools that make us a world-class organization. What we can tell you about subsistence in Alaska is quite literally unparalleled in the subject area. In March, I found myself repeating: “Yes, we can adapt, we can because we have to.” Now that I’m mid-way through that process, I’ve got two observations. The first is that you can change long-standing business practices nearly overnight. The second is that it’s crushingly difficult, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s emotionally exhausting, creatively exhausting, and takes a significant mental health toll. There’s no time to take a break and not think about it. This is all on top of the routine work we do.

I think this is a long way of saying. I’m exhausted and by the end of any given day, I can’t face it. I open my iPad to pluck away at Apple Pie and Comfortable Shoes (the sequel to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks), and immediately feel overwhelmed. What’s more, those books are intended to be a satirical take on how we treat each other and how people manipulate each other and how in the end we’re all just bloody human and make bad decisions. The “witch hunt” is meant to refer to the colloquial expression and also literal expression. Doom-scrolling through Facebook after an emotionally exhausting day has me fully unable to cope with it.

So, that’s it, I’ve got no writing goals for the year, no goals to keep up with my blog, no goals to get my YouTube stuff in order. It’s not because I’m lazy or giving up, as much as I just can’t cope with another thing right now, especially when that thing, though I love it, doesn’t pay the bills or ensure future employment. I do hope your year is a good one and maybe next New Year’s I’ll have a more upbeat post.

Before you publish, Part 13 —Launching a Second Book

Before you Publish - 13

It’s now almost two weeks after The Dark Queen of Darkness hit the world. This was a project some 4 years in the making. It’s an accomplishment, to be sure, and now it’s time to answer the question, ‘what now?’ It seems like it should be easy: Write another book! Practically speaking, that’s a back-burner project, but generally something I’m moving forward as I can. That said, before I can focus on getting Book 2 of the “Basket Case Files” rolling or perhaps finally get Deep Space Engineering Helpdesk in some sort of condition to publish, I need to do some other things first.

The first thing I need to work on is marketing. This is not something I understand well and haven’t had any real success at, though I’m starting to develop some strategies. Really though, the most important thing I need to do is share my experience for the benefit of my writer friends. I always feel that going forward is more straight-forward if I can see what other folks have gone through first. When I first launched into the publication of my second book, I thought that by getting Wine Bottles and Broomsticks out the door first, I’d have a handle on what to do the next time out. That could not have been further from the truth. This particular experience was a LOT harder than the first time. While that was a bit unexpected, the results boil down to the following:

  • Better produced book (cover, editing, layout etc…),
  • Better visibility,
  • Sales are comparable to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks (so far),
  • I’m more satisfied with this work than my previous launch.

To stay brief, this post kicks off a continuation of my series on publishing insights from an indie author. Now that I’ve done this twice, I’ve not only had twice the experience but also learned twice as much as the first time around. As I did with my first book, I’m going to try to recap some of the things I did, why I did them that way, what I learned, and what I’d do differently. Rather than being a checklist of what you NEED to do before publishing like the first part of this series, I’ve got items to talk about that are more in the realm of ‘optional’ things. Most of these are not strictly necessary to self-publish, but they’re absolutely part of the landscape. The point is to relay how these worked out for me, how I might approach differently and my recommendation for anyone looking into it. I will also be reaching out to other authors to get their perspectives throughout this series.

Here are some of the topics I’ll cover; hopefully, I’ll be able to get one out each week.

  • Hiring contractors – what to expect,
  • Setting up your release date,
  • Creating an imprint,
  • Cover Design,
  • Internal layout,
  • Marketing and advertising,
  • ISBNs,
  • Copyright registration,
  • IngramSpark,
  • Barnes & Noble,

To accompany this series, I also plan to do a YouTube series on InDesign specifically for indie writers, once it launches (sometime in late March or early April 2020), they will be a set of 5-10 minute videos on:

  • Why InDesign, how to set up your project, and general book layout considerations,
  • Placing your material in InDesign,
  • Page masters & why it matters,
  • Styles explained,
  • Dealing with Images,
  • A bit of jargon and cleaning up the layout,
  • Final check on page-masters, styles, layouts and overall look,
  • Export settings,
  • Formatting for ePub – Table of Contents,
  • Formatting for ePub – Using Styles to organize your book,
  • Exporting for ePub,
  • Exporting for .mobi (kindle).

So that’s where I’m headed. If you’re interested, just keep an eye on this blog or follow me on Twitter @daveskoster. If you want a signed paper copy, they’ll be available locally in Wasilla and Anchorage or find me on social media and maybe we can figure out something with Venmo.

New year & writing – last years success and next year’s goals

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In January of 2019, I announced that I’d be publishing The Dark Queen of Darkness in September of 2019. That didn’t happen, and that’s part of the learning process. I’m still aiming for a Feb 14, 2020 release. What I realized sometime in April or May of last year was that I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what went into self-publishing. Lots of people do it and it looks easy, but until I’ve had my hands on something, it might as well be magic. To prepare myself, I decided to self-publish what I’d come to consider a terrible throw-away book: Wine Bottles and Broomsticks (I did a series of author interviews and a series on what I learned and I recommend you have a look if you’re prepping yourself for indie publishing your first book). Wine Bottles was a book I first shopped to 40+ agents and got a lot of help from author friends on that with no luck. Then, I tried to crowd-source, still no luck. I reckoned that my failure here meant this book had no real appeal. Wine Bottles and Broomsticks surprised me by doing spectacularly well for a debut indie-published book. At least by my reckoning. So far, here’s where I am with it:

  • 100 copies sold over 6 months, 80% were paperbacks,
  • Picked up by a book-club, I’ve been invited to attend this month and discuss the book,
  • More than one reader, who I have never met, has reached out to me to tell me how much they liked it – if you’re one of these readers, you’ve got no idea how much it means for me to hear that. You are the reason I do this and I thank you,
  • I was standing in Black Birch Books, the only place Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is available locally and the woman behind me had actually purchased and read the book!
  • I was hosted for a meet the author event at Black Birch Books for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, and it went great.

All of this came with a totally botched launch and poor planning on my part. My take-away is that no I’m not Richard Castle, and I’m not a viral success, and that’s totally fine. I understood this going in. The win for me, as an author, is a foundation to build on and the knowledge that the series I’d planned for Rick Basket does, in fact, have an audience. The bullets I’ve put up there exceed my expectations and I call that a success. I suppose that 2019 was a good year for me, and I just need to remain focused as we go into this year. My goal for 2020? Repeat 2019 and take it one step further. Can we do 2 books? Who knows, but I’m going to try.