Saturday, February 13, 2016


This really would have been better as an addendum to my last blog post on my writing and "the long tail," but it was late and I needed to go to bed. I looked over my sales figures for the last few years and saw that the principle of The Long Tail applies to my short-story collection Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire.

When I published Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire in July 2014, I sold 21 copies that month. Over the next five months, I sold eight copies at a rate of zero (August) to three (September) per month. That's over one-third of the premiere month's numbers in five months. In 2015, I sold 14 copies at a rate of zero (three separate months) to four (February) per month. No sales in 2016 so far, but when you combine the non-premiere months of 2014 with all of 2015, the "tail" has already exceeded the "head." And there's still most of 2016 left.

So if you've self-published anything and your numbers have crashed after the first month or two, don't worry. One or two sales per month over the course of years will add up in the long run.

Of course, if you plan on making a living--or at least more than, as Marko Kloos put it, "beer money"--doing this, you'll need to have a lot of product. One book earning $10 in royalties per month is $120 per year, but ten books earning $10 per month is $1,200 per year. And with that many books available, odds are you'll be earning more than $10 per month in royalties anyway. People who buy one book from an author are likely to buy other books, after all. My story "Ubermensch" is a superhero story, but people who bought it also bought Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire despite the complete lack of superhero stories in it. Moving outside of my own work, people who've bought my friend James R. Tuck's supernatural Robin Hood story Mark of the Black Arrow also bought his hollow-earth blaxploitation story Champion of Hollow Earth.

So as my friend Jeff Baker put it (and he learned the phrase from somebody at LibertyCon a couple years ago), if you want to make bank, "churn and burn."

Friday, February 12, 2016

"I am the Wendigo," "Melon Heads," and the Long Tail

I've got a substantial commute to my day job and one of the podcasts I listen to (usually on the way home because in the morning I'm concerned I'm too tired to listen carefully) is the Sell More Books Show. The podcast's two hosts Bryan Cohen and Jim Kukral have provided lots of useful advice on how independent authors can sell more books. Much of their advice has not been applicable to me--I've only got a few short stories and one collection thereof--but some is, and the time may come where I self-publish something more substantial.

In any event, I was listening to Episode 96 on the way home today and they discussed the concept of "the long tail." It's basically the idea that one's earnings are more lucrative in the long run than in the opening burst of sales, especially if one has an extensive backlist. Here's one article explaining how Amazon, e-publishing, etc made this possible. Here's another, the first in a series explaining the process. This article here points out that the theory may not be all it's cracked up to be, but it's something I've noticed in my own sales.

I published my rather gruesome horror tale "I am the Wendigo" in 2012 alongside the less gruesome (but funnier) "Melon Heads." Both stories serve as examples of "the long tail" in action. "Melon Heads" started with a bang--16 copies in the first month--and sold seven copies in 2013, six in 2014, and four copies in 2015. So far I've sold one copy in January and one in February. That's 19 sales so far, with three years, one month, and two weeks' earnings nearly equal to the opening explosion. Meanwhile, "Wendigo" has proven a bit more jagged--14 in 2012, 23 in 2013, 14 in 2014, 19 in 2015, and three so far in 2016. Although it's not the classic "long tail," it's still a case of later sales exceeding the premiere. And this can go on and on and on for years...

So long as Amazon stays running, of course. But I don't anticipate it going anywhere.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kylo Ren: Irredeemable?

The other day I found this article online that suggested that rather than Ben Solo--also known as the Dark Sider Kylo Ren--murdering his father Han Solo in the science fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Han committed suicide with his son's lightsaber to make his son into a monster in the eyes of the young Rey, to inspire her to take up Luke's old lightsaber and become this generation's Jedi hero. The article also states that Ben was part of the plan--that he knew the only way to redeem himself was to be the monster needed to inspire resistance to the First Order.

Here are some relevant quotes:

Finally, Kylo Ren is irredeemable. He cannot live, he cannot walk away, he can’t go home to his mother. Ben Solo-Organa is irredeemable as a living person. He’s irredeemable according to the standards of The Force Awakens, as he opens the film by ordering a massacre of innocent villagers. He’s irredeemable according to the standards of Star Wars, as his crime of murdering the Jedi apprentices under Luke Skywalker perfectly mirrors the greatest crime of Anakin Skywalker, murdering the younglings of the Jedi Temple. But like the person Anakin became — Darth Vader — he may be useful as a symbol of evil to motivate the next Skywalker, and be able to earn redemption by sacrificing himself, just as Vader did.

In one option, Han gets through to Ben, who hands his father his cruel dark side lightsaber to be thrown away. They walk away from the stormtrooper ambush, and Ben… well, what can Ben possibly do to redeem his crimes as Kylo Ren?

Making Ben into some kind of traitor within the First Order, deliberately being evil to ultimately undermine evil, is an interesting idea. But Ben taking up his father's offer and leaving with him (perhaps tricking any watching stormtroopers into thinking he's taking his father prisoner, or simply killing them) could open up some interesting story possibilities. However much Ben deserves to die for betraying and murdering Luke's Jedi trainees, massacring the villagers, and doing who-knows-what-else as Snoke's apprentice, he might be more useful to the Resistance alive than dead.

*For starters, he'd be an intelligence gold mine. He'd know all sorts of useful information about the First Order and Snoke's plans and assets as well as the Knights of Ren. He'd be a one-man intelligence coup, analogous to how useful Vader might have been had he survived the events of Return of the Jedi.

*Secondly, the Resistance doesn't seem to have any Force-wielders (other than Leia herself, who doesn't seem to use her Force powers) and given how big a deal Luke being the last Jedi is, there might not be any Force-wielders on the side of Good against Evil. Ben would be a vastly useful military asset, once they'd gotten all the intelligence they need out of him and can afford to risk him in battle. Him serving as a one-man analogue to the new Jedi Order he helped destroy could be a form of penance.

*Depending on how important Ben is to Snoke's plans--according to the novelization Snoke had been watching him his whole life to try to corrupt him, which reminded me of how Palpatine had been watching Anakin "with great interest" since he was around nine years old--losing Ben to the Resistance would be a massive setback. Given my first point about intelligence value, Ben's defection would be even more destructive than his death.

*Ben seems to be the one most interested in finding where Luke Skywalker is hiding. His defection could scupper the First Order's plans to find and kill the last Jedi.

So yes, even if in moral terms the above wouldn't make up for the atrocities he committed, it could certainly go a long way.

Furthermore, it opens all sorts of interesting story possibilities for future sequels.

*Depending on how well-known Kylo Ren's real identity as Ben is/becomes, it could cause all sorts of drama within the Resistance. Kylo Ren is likely a thoroughly terrifying warrior in ground combat. Many Resistance soldiers might have lost friends to him, been wounded or crippled by him, etc. Finn's defection was prompted by his refusal to participate in Ben's mass murder of the villagers, while he used the Force to mind-rape Poe. Two of our three leads are going to HATE him. If Rey is one of Luke's surviving Jedi trainees or especially if she's Luke's daughter, once she more fully remembers just what happened that got her left on Jakku, she's not going to be a fan either.

(Plus he mind-raped her too, although if I remember right it wasn't as blatantly scary as what happened to Poe.)

*Ben's defection could inspire challenges within the Resistance to Leia's leadership or trouble from the Resistance's backers within the New Republic. People could think that her maternal interest in Ben is undermining her decision-making abilities and think the Resistance needs new leadership. Especially with the Republic decapitated by Starkiller Base's attack on Hosnian Prime, they might think times are too dangerous to allow the Resistance to be led by someone they view as compromised.

*Snoke is going to be ANGRY. I could easily imagine Han not surviving if Snoke senses through the Force what's happening and sends orders to Starkiller Base to make sure at the very least Han is killed. And if Han survives, killing him is going to be a major priority for Snoke. It might drive Ben back into the Dark Side and even if it doesn't, it's punishment for betrayal. Harrison Ford apparently wanted Han Solo killed off, so even if he doesn't die in this version of The Force Awakens, he could die in the second film.

*Finally, if the only way Ben can be redeemed for his crimes is to die like his grandfather, perhaps Snoke comes to kill him personally? In the Clone Wars animated series, Palpatine doesn't have Darth Maul and his brother Savage Oppress blasted from orbit when he learns they've set up a rival Sith pairing to himself and Dooku--he comes to deal with them by himself, hand-to-hand.

(And it is awesome--watch it on YouTube here.)

A not-yet-fully-trained Rey might try to fight Snoke herself despite her issues with Ben and get hammered. Snoke is going to kill her when Ben throws himself into the fray, fights Snoke himself, and gets smushed, or Ben just takes the blow for her instead.

It's all moot now, but Ben's attempted redemption could be an interesting story in its own right.