Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spreading My Influence

It's been a little over a week since I put Jack Manley up for sale, and it's consuming my life.

I mean this in the most positive sense possible. I spend nearly every waking moment excited about the prospects of being a self-published author.  I am constantly checking my sales reports, and thinking of ways that I can get my book into more people's hands and brains.  It's an obsession, but in a way it's what I always wanted to be.  For the first time in years I feel as though my life is on the right track.

Since I launched the book I have enrolled it in the Kindle Select Program.  This means that for about the next three months the e-book is exclusive to Amazon's Kindle Store.  In exchange for that, the book is available for free to Kindle Prime subscribers.  I also get five days on which I can give away the book for free.  I'm not looking to do this just yet, but maybe in a month or so.  I'm very interested to see how effective the free promo is as a way of getting the book out there.

More importantly, I am preparing to launch Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity in print.  I'm using Createspace, which is Amazon's print-on-demand service, and so far it seems very user friendly.  The formatting is a little tricky, but there are plenty of blogs and tutorials that show how it's done.  All I need to do now is prepare the cover (including the back cover and the spine) and I will be good to go.


To be honest, with all the work I've been doing above there hasn't been time for much else, but I have just finished reading Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos by Terrance Dicks.

You may scoff, but for Doctor Who fans in the 1970s and 1980s, the Doctor Who book range was important.  Here in Australia the show was on permanent repeat every week-night, but you never saw anything from earlier than about 1975.  In England I understand that repeats were very few and far between.  For most fans the books were the only way that older stories could be experienced, and so the books are significant in a way that novel spin-offs of other sci-fi shows just aren't.

I bought some of these books out of nostalgia a year or so back, and finally pulled one down from the shelf last week because I was looking for something light to read.  I chose a book by Terrance Dicks, because he wrote probably about 90% of them.  If I was going to sample the style of these books, I might as well go to their most prolific author.

I was instantly struck by how brutally efficient the prose is.  Dicks has to cram almost two hours of television into a 140 page book, and he absolutely does not piss about.  The descriptions are terse, and a lot of things are said up-front in blatant disregard for the "show-don't-tell" rule.  Viewpoint skips from one character to another within a single scene.  A lot of things that various writers and teachers have warned me against are in this book, and yet it works.  Dicks has to be as efficient as possible, to cram as much exposition and plot as he can into the smallest number of words.  I think he does it rather well.  It's an interesting example of form dictating style.


What I'm Reading
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
English Grammar Essentials for Dummies
Marvel Comics circa 1964

What I'm Listening To
Powerslave by Iron Maiden

What I'm Playing
Hot Wheels: Beat That! on the Nintendo Wii (yeah, I know I've been weeks on this one.  My son is obsessed with it, and playing with him is about the only video gaming I do these days.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Thing Is Done!

I am now an official self-published author.

On Sunday I posted Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity up on the Kindle store, and it became available for purchase early Monday morning.  It's a pretty exciting experience, and I spent all day at work with one eye on my Kindle profile page.

Sales have been sluggish so far, but I'm not particularly concerned about that yet.  It's early days, and my marketing has been somewhere slightly above zero.  I'm currently perusing sites like Goodreads and Bookdaily, to see if I can use them to spread knowledge of the book's existence.  Mostly I'm happy that somebody - anybody - is going to be reading the thing.

Uploading the book was a mostly painless experience.  All I needed was the cover as a JPEG file and the book as a Word document.  Then I filled in a few fields, set the price, ticked a few check boxes and it was done.  Choosing the categories that the book would be listed under was a bit of a head-scratcher.  I opted for Action/Adventure and Sci-fi - Action/Adventure; a bit of an overlap, but there weren't many other categories that seemed appropriate.

The most time-consuming part of the process was checking what the book's format looked like.  There's a preview option, which supposedly shows how the book will appear on various Apple devices.  It's a bit finicky and inconsistent: if you look at a page, then go back to it later, chances are some bit of the formatting will look different.  In the end I threw my hands up and declared good enough.  If there are problems, I trust my people to notify me of them.

The book is currently selling for $2.99, which I think is very reasonable for a short novel (a bit over 200 pages).  You can find it here; I'd appreciate it if any of you went over there and at least checked out the free preview.  As a friend of mine pointed out, Jack Manley does rocket-punch a giant dinosaur in the prologue; you'll work out very quickly if this book is for you or not.


Last night I started work on my second novel, The Lightless Labyrinth.  (I can do this now that the weight of Jack Manley has been lifted from my conscience.)  The premise is simple: ten sociopaths go into a mine together looking for treasure.  More accurately, it's the average Dungeons & Dragons set-up, which I think has a lot of story potential when you boil it right down.  What would happen if you took a bunch of social outcasts who barely know each other, and put them in a dangerous labyrinth where their goals may or may not match up?  Murders is the obvious answer.  I'm about 2,000 words in and it's all progressing quite well.  The major difficulty at the moment is introducing the characters.  There are a lot, and they're all in it right from the beginning.  It's a challenge, and I don't think I'll know if I've succeeded until I'm a few more chapters in.


What I'm Reading
Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos by Terrance Dicks
Arounf the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Marvel Comics circa 1964

What I'm Watching
Hulk (the movie that starred Eric Bana)

What I'm Listening To
Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden

What I'm Playing
Hot Wheels: Beat That! on the Nintendo Wii

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pre-Publication Preparations

As shown in my post from a few days ago, I'm publishing my first e-book on Sunday.  I haven't been writing anything else in the lead-up to this; getting Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity up to scratch has been my sole focus.  I want to unburden my mind of it before I embark on another novel, and to be honest I'm daunted by the idea of working on something else.  I just spent eight years working on and off on the same thing, so it's a little hard to switch gears, you know?

The process of getting the book ready hasn't been as difficult as I had feared.  I designed the cover myself, with a minimum of fuss and (most importantly) no expense.  I even designed the thing using MS Paint, which has got to be against some kind of law.  What can I say, it's the only image manipulation program that I can wrap my head around.

The editing process has been pretty time-consuming, I'll admit.  Officially there have been seven drafts, but in reality it's probably double that.  I didn't get the book professionally assessed, but I did get some professional feedback from some editors after it won second prize in a competition.  Mostly I went with my own instincts based on that feedback and the feedback of some trusted associates.  The final draft bears only a mild resemblance to my chaotic first draft, so at least I can say that I put a lot of work into it, regardless of the final result.

I've read in various places that an e-book writer should not design their own cover, or do their own editing.  I'd love to have gotten some outside help, but unfortunately money has been very tight for me lately.  It wasn't an option, so I knuckled down and did the work on my own.  I'm also something of a control freak when it comes to my own stuff; I'm actually happier to have done my own cover design, and I think the result is great.  I guess I'll know in a few weeks time if anyone else agrees.

Aside from the writing, the hardest part of the process so far was getting my tax sorted out.  As an Aussie trying to sell my wares through an American company, I am subject to the IRS taking their tax cut from my earnings.  I could have ignored it and let the IRS take 70% of my profits, but luckily there's a tax treaty between Australia and the USA that cuts this significantly.  All I had to do was fill in a form and apply for a US Tax Identification Number.  Then apply for the treaty.  Two forms doesn't sound like much to fill in, but I am a dunce when it comes to accounting and finances.  It was hard going, with a weeks-long before hearing back to find out whether I'd filled out the damn things correctly.  So far everything seems to be legit, and I am clear to do business in the US.  Still, there's always that element of nervousness when it comes to the IRS...

The last few nights I've been doing research on marketing and pricing.  The current consensus seems to be that $2.99 for e-books is the sweet spot, so that is what I will probably go with.  It's also the point where Amazon's royalty rate jumps from 35% to 70%, which works in my favour.  As for marketing, my budget is zero.  I'm okay with this, because what I've been reading suggests that the effects of paid advertising and publicity on sales is virtually zero.  I always suspected that any sales bump from paid advertising wouldn't be enough to cover the cost of the ad, so I'm fine with ignoring that option.  For the moment my promotion will remain here, on Facebook and on Twitter, and I'll try not to spam any of those too hard.


As my job affords me a lot of time on my own with a minimum of human interaction, I listen to tons of podcasts and audiobooks.  Since I discovered librivox.org I've been getting through a lot of audiobooks, taking the chance to sample some supposed classics.  Currently I'm slogging my way through 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

I say slogging, but that's not entirely fair.  When the book focuses on the mysteries surrounding Captain Nemo, and the efforts of the three main characters to escape their captivity on the Nautilus, it's rather good.  The problem comes in the chapters that focus heavily on the "wonders of the undersea realm".  Beware any chapter that is named after a sea or an ocean, because you're in for page after page of descriptions of fish.

It reminds me of a story I wrote when I was ten.  When it came time to describe the Black Wizard's army, I literally named every evil creature from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.  Terrible stuff, but I had an excuse: I was ten.  I suppose that Jules Verne has an excuse as well, because part of the whole point of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an exploration of the awesome stuff that's in the ocean, exotic fish included.  It makes for bloody tedious reading, though.

Moby Dick was much the same.  There's a lot of fascinating material in that book, and a masterful command of language, but it often gets side-tracked with the minutiae of whales and whaling.  There's a whole chapter devoted to listing the books that have illustrations of whales, and discussing the accuracy of each.

The thing is, I can see where all of this is coming from.  People in 1850 didn't have TV (no shit Sherlock).  How would most of them know what a whale looked like?  Books would be the only possibility, and Herman Melville used that to provide his readers with the most accurate depiction he could, pointing the reader to specific volumes for the most accurate depictions.

Older books and stories tend to have too much description and exposition for modern audiences; just listen to the constant complaints about the dialogue in Silver Age comics.  Or my complaints about classic works of literature.  No doubt there are examples of stories that did exposition badly even at the time they were printed.  Just as some stories that seem over-expository now were perfectly pitched for the audience back then.  I suppose the lesson I have to learn is to think about this stuff, and where it's coming from, so that I can look past it and take the good elements from those stories.

For my own writing, I need to think about my audience and what needs to be explained and described for them to understand the story.  Jack Manley is quite terse, which is something I did on purpose.  I didn't do long descriptions, because I wanted the book to be about action.  If it's not necessary to move the plot forward, I cut it out.  I took a similar tack with exposition.  Alternate universes are central to the book, but I didn't bother explaining the concept.  Modern audiences are savvy, they know about these things.  But if I was writing, say, Moby Dick for a modern audience, I wouldn't include the lengthy descriptions of whales, or talk about books with whale illustrations.  There are photos now, and videos, and aquariums.  I would keep all the stuff about whaling ships, though, and harpooning, and how the whales are carved up once they've been caught; chances are very high that a modern reader doesn't know that stuff.  So what I've learned today (and it's not exactly a profound lesson, but it is an important one for any writer) is to know your audience, and what they do and don't need explained.


What I'm Reading
Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos by Terrence Dicks
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Marvel Comics circa 1964

What I'm Listening To
Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin

What I'm Playing
Hot Wheels: Beat That! on the Nintendo Wii

Friday, August 9, 2013

Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity


Jack Manley - soldier, adventurer, traveller of the Wild Multiverse and veteran of the All-Worlds War - has quit.  After years of endless fighting he has seen too much death, and taken too many lives.  But an interdimensional emperor known only as the Warlord has pledged to destroy Jack Manley for his crimes, and even Manley is not certain of his innocence.  With the might of thirteen Earths at his command, the Warlord is a danger to all of reality, and Jack Manley must fight through soldiers, dogs with guns in their mouths, manticores, the dreaded annihil-apes and more before he can face him.  It's cover-to-cover pulp sci-fi action adventure, as Manley battles his enemies, and confronts his bloody past.  The Warlord is coming, and only death can stop him.  But how can Manley defeat him without sinking back into a life of blood and destruction?

Coming to the Amazon Kindle store on Sunday, 18th August 2013.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Greetings and Salutations on the Eve of My Triumph

Hello.  My name is Nathan P. Mahney, and soon I will be a writer.

Not that I wasn't writing before, of course.  I write every day, whether it be fantasy, science-fiction or just plain old blogging.  It's what I love to do, and I've been doing it since I was able to grip a pencil.  I've been calling myself a writer for almost as long.  So why write that opening paragraph?  Because, dear reader, soon I will be a published writer.

Of course I've had things published before.  A few short stories here and there, a microscopically small press children's picture book, an essay or two.  I've been around.  I've been published.  The difference is that soon I will be self-published.

This is a big deal and a significant step for me, so I'm starting up this blog on the vague chance that someone reads my book and wants to know more about me and what I'm working on.  So here goes!


Jack Manley and the Warlord of Infinity is a sci-fi action-adventure novel that I've been writing, shining and polishing for about eight years now.  Manley is the quintessential action hero, but he's been worn down by years of war throughout space and time.  He doesn't want to kill any more, but an interdimensional emperor known only as the Warlord is hunting him down to avenge a murder that even Manley's not certain he didn't commit.  And nothing short of death will stop him.

The above description makes it sound a bit heavy, and it does deal with some darker themes, but it also has dogs with guns in their mouths, and a fist-fight with a giant lizard.  And the Annihil-apes.  The tone I'm going for is that of a universe that is full of absurdity, but where the events are played straight.  Doctor Who is the closest thing to it that I can think of, albeit my protagonist is much more likely to punch his way out of a problem.

I'm launching the book on Amazon's Kindle store to begin with.  I also have my eye on other e-reader formats, and another eye on getting the book in print further down the track.  I'm taking this slow, as I am not particularly capable of functioning in the real world.  I don't want to rush things and end up in crushing debt, or suffocated under a pile of unsold stock in my garage.  I have a child to feed.  I think that the book will launch around the end of August, but I don't have a firm date yet.  Watch this space!


I'm about to start my second novel, a fantasy book that has nothing to do with Jack Manley.  I have a tumblr - Comics Odyssey - in which I post images from Golden Age DC and Marvel comics in some semblance of chronological release order.  Mostly it's images of people getting punched, or wrestling giant animals, or engaging in egregious racism.  I also have a gaming blog - Save or Die! - that deals primarily with Dungeons & Dragons and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.  I'm blogging my way through the Fighting Fantasy series right now.  Please drop by my other blogs if they sound like they're up your alley.


What I'm Reading
Deathtrap Dungeon by Ian Livingstone
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Marvel Comics circa 1964

What I'm Listening To
Led Zeppelin's fourth album that doesn't really have a title

What I'm Playing
Hot Wheels: Beat That! on the Nintendo Wii


I'm on Twitter:  @NPMahney.  At the moment I'm posting a lot about gamebooks and Marvel Comics of the mid-1960s, so fair warning.

I also have an e-mail address, which is npmahney@yahoo.com.au.  Please feel free to drop me a line.

To anyone who has read this, thanks for stopping by.  I'm planning to post every week, with an update on what I'm writing and whatever else is getting me excited that day.  It might be about writing techniques and ideas, it might be a review of the latest novel I read, or it could just be me banging on about Spider-Man or Ian Livingstone for a couple of pages.  Mostly though, it will be me shilling my upcoming work.  It's only fair that I warn you in advance.