Saturday, July 16, 2016

It's Worth the Risk

Usually when I get up, before I check my emails, pop onto Facebook or Twitter... hell, before I even grab breakfast, I open up my browser to see what's going on in the world and find out the latest news. I didn't do that this morning. I didn't want to see the latest stories of killings, shootings, bombings, or anything like that, since lately those have been the top stories.
 
It's bad enough that things like that are going on. There's so much hate in the world today, and as I look at one of my kids (who fell asleep on the couch last night watching TV), a part of me can't help but wish my wife and I hadn't had kids. We love them more than anything, don't get me wrong... but a parent's greatest hope for their kids is that when they grow up, they'll have things better than we did, and it hurts to see that with all that's going on in the world, that hope is looking to be next to impossible.
 
How did it come to this? How have we allowed things to get to this point? Quite simply, because we've let things continue to spiral steadily downward.
 
Oh, we can toss blame around easily enough. We can blame the media for suffocating us with the negative stories they throw at us each and every day, rather than report on the good things that happen throughout the world. Why wouldn't they report on all the bad that happens and for the most part ignore the good things? Negative stories are what get them their ratings, after all. Reporting a story about one of the many groups who go out and rescue abandoned pets that have been left to fend for themselves, or spotlighting a homeless shelter that provides food and a place to sleep for those out on the streets doesn't garner nearly the ratings that the latest shooting, violent protest, bombing, or attack gets. People generally think their lives suck, but seeing those kinds of negative stories in the news makes their lives suddenly seem far better.
 
We can blame the governments, with all of the corruptions, the scandals, the weak promises politicians make that they damn well know are like a fart in a strong breeze and will never see the light of day. They make those promises of a 'better tomorrow' because they want to get elected - and giving hope to the masses with such things is how they get there.
 
We can blame the 1% who have more money than half the country. We can blame the poor for not trying to better themselves, while conveniently overlooking the fact that the cost of returning to school in order for them to do so is next to impossible at best for them.

We can blame extremist groups and call them terrorists who want to destroy our way of life, and yet never even give a passing thought to what was done to the American Indians less than 200 years ago - how their way of life was destroyed when America expanded westward to California.

We can point the finger of blame at a thousand different things, but looking into a mirror and pointing a finger at the reflection is never one of them.
 
There's the real root of the problem. The blame doesn't lie in one person, or even a group of people. The blame lies with each of us - because we continue to allow those problems to exist and don't do a damn thing about them. The truth is, we can't solve those problems until we take a cold, hard look at ourselves, realize that we all play a role in their existence, and start to work together to solve those problems: hate, discrimination, intolerance, selfishness, and greed.
 
There isn't a single one of us who can claim that we haven't contributed to these problems. We allow them to keep festering, rather than do something about them. Why? Because we think that one person can't make a difference? Because we swear that we're not part of the problem, someone else is? We're quick to point the finger at someone else, but refuse to point it at ourselves.
 
Well then, start pointing fingers. Point them at me because I'm not religious. I'm a human being like you, but since everyone seems to insist on putting a label on everything (which takes the individual and places him or her into a group), then because I'm a humanist and I don't believe in God, Allah, Buddha, or any of the other figures that are the focus of other religions, I'm obviously one of those 'faithless' people and thus part of the problem, aren't I? Funny thing about that is, I do have faith - in people.
 
Now, have you have had your life traumatically altered in any way by knowing that fact about me? How many people is that fact going to affect in the slightest bit during their everyday lives from here on out? Not a single damn one. Oh, I'm sure there are some out there that won't ever pick up a thing I've written now because I don't share the same beliefs as they do. Hell, there's probably quite a few that find my faith in humanity rather than religion 'offensive' and have stopped reading at this point.

Personally, I find it a bit disheartening to think that someone may have stopped reading just because I came out and mentioned that my own personal belief is to put my faith in every other human being rather than a religious viewpoint, but to each his or her own. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and their own choices, after all.
 
Besides, I've already been down a similar road already. A family member on my wife's side posted a story on Facebook last year about a Muslim woman who was visiting a church. Wanting to make the woman feel welcome, the pastor had asked if she would like to give the call to prayer. A lady in the congregation stood up and made a scene, raising all kinds of hell about it. This family member posted the story on her page, saying "I would do the same thing that woman did if a Muslim came into my church!"
 
While I don't share her religious views, I respect everyone's right to believe in whatever they want. It's not my place, nor anyone's for that matter, to tell another person what they can/should believe. Normally, I didn't comment on any of the religious or political posts she put up, but in this particular instance I had to say something, because by claiming she would do the same thing in that situation, she was flat out being disrespectful, just as the lady in the congregation had been toward the Muslim woman. And that's exactly what I commented.
 
She snapped back with a ridiculous reply, claiming that all Muslims are taught that they're supposed to behead every Christian. That's a bunch of crap. There's like 3 million Muslims living in the USA, and they certainly aren't out in the streets cutting off heads like a massive Highlander episode. I remained calm and replied back with that statistical statement (the number of Muslims in the US, not the Highlander part) and then challenged her to point out where in the Quran it states that every Muslim's duty is to 'Kill all Christians.'
 
She made a few other disparaging remarks toward Muslims, to which I pointed out that every religion has bloody hands from things that have been done throughout history in its name, including Christianity - such as The Crusades and Salem Witch Trials. She went ballistic at that point... didn't want to discuss it calmly (not that she had to begin with) or acknowledge the fact that those events I pointed out had taken place.

She fired back another heated remark, which amounted to basically saying that anyone who didn't believe what she did was wrong and going to Hell, blah blah blah... at which point I'd had enough and said there was no point in having a mature, calm discussion with someone who was as shallow and intolerant of other people's beliefs as she was being.
 
She sent me a personal message that said: "I have my beliefs and I follow them. I don't have time for someone who's just trying to cut them down and doesn't believe in anything. By the way, that's worked out real well for you so far, hasn't it?"
 
I never cut down her beliefs. Not once. I merely stated simple facts about a few documented historical events and pointed out the fact that her post was disrespectful by commenting that given the same situation, she'd do the same thing the lady in the congregation had done. And that question at the end? That was a blatant stab at me about my wife and I having tragically lost our youngest son in 2010. Yeah, that was really Christian of her. *sarcasm*
 
She blocked me immediately after sending the message so I couldn't reply back, and then proceeded to block my wife, my kids, and about half of the rest of the family (on both sides) from her Facebook. Guilty by association, I suppose. Real mature.

Now, is every Christian like her? Of course not! Is every Muslim hell bent on decapitating the entire Christian faith as she claimed and insisted was true? Certainly not! There are extremists in every religion, but they're the exception, not the rule. More often than not though, the many are judged by the actions of the few.
 
Should I assume that because of her attitude towards others who don't share her exact beliefs, that everyone is so intolerant of other people's personal choices on what to believe? Absolutely not, and I don't. I take people one at a time, and I respect every single person's right to believe in whatever they want. I may not agree with the beliefs others have, but it's not my place to tell them they're wrong. And quite frankly, they're not wrong. No one is. If what a person believes brings them comfort, enriches their lives, and helps them to be better people, that is what matters! That's what being a humanist means to me.
 
And truthfully, I actually enjoy learning about the various religions. I had a pair of Jehovah's Witness stop by my house a few years back, and we stood outside for almost two hours having a very pleasant conversation. I would say something about how there were days that I struggled with my faith in humanity because of all of the horrible things that continued to go on day after day throughout the world, and they would say something about their beliefs, quote a verse or two, that kind of thing. I asked some questions, they asked some questions. Neither of us interrupted the other - not once. It was the highlight of my day to talk and listen to them for those few hours, to be perfectly honest. Knowledge comes from asking questions and a willingness to listen and learn about different things, after all.
 
On the flip side, hate comes in the same way - making snap judgments, listening to others' hateful remarks and believing what they hear without question, or simply being taught to hate. We fear what we don't understand, and fear leads to hate many times, along with once more lumping the exceptions in with the rule. Look at what's happened lately with all of the shootings, violent protests, attacks, etc. How many innocent lives need to be lost in retaliation for an exception making headlines in the news that only serves to cause further hate and violence? One is already too many, and it's gone far past that.
 
I'm not perfect. No one is. I've made my own mistakes, some of which have been hard lessons that I've had to learn from. That's part of life. I've looked in the mirror and pointed my finger at everything except that reflection just like everyone else. It took the loss of my youngest son almost six years ago for me to realize back then that I wasn't the good person that I should be, who I could be. But my son was.
 
He was only three when he died. Still innocent. The world hadn't darkened his spirit yet like it eventually does to all of us, because he didn't know a thing about hate or discrimination. He didn't know about selfishness or greed. Those are things that we learn as we grow older, what we're taught as the world around us steals away our innocence. The only emotions he knew were of love and happiness. I still remember seeing it in his beautiful blue eyes every time he looked at his mother, at his brother and sisters, and at me.
 
It shouldn't have had to take losing him to open my eyes and make me see those dark things that I'd never truly seen before. I understand now that I had gotten so used to those problems that surround us every day, I'd accepted them as being part of life, something that I couldn't do anything about. Without going through that tragedy, I don't think I would have ever really seen that as strong and overwhelming as those problems are, every darkness can be driven away by light. It's a matter of finding what form that light takes.

In our grief, the small town community where we live came together. People sent cards, flowers, balloons... they brought meals over to our house over the course of several weeks so that my wife or I wouldn't have to cook. I saw honest caring from complete strangers. That was how the light took form - but it required a tragedy to do it.
 
My son had still seen the world through innocent eyes. It took losing him for me realize where the problems with our world were - to look in the mirror, stop pointing my finger at everything else, and point it at the reflection in the glass. In that moment, I began to see the world once more through innocent eyes, as he had. And I promised him that I would do what I could to make a difference.
 
I'd always had a gift for writing. I discovered it when I was a kid, but as I got older, that gift was forgotten. It took a heavy price to remember. I can't help but wonder sometimes if I was destined to go through such a loss, because that gift I was given was how I was meant to make a difference.

I wrote the Exiled trilogy in the hopes of doing just that - making a difference. I wrote it because I want my kids to live in a better world. I want your kids to live in a better world. I want us all to live in a better world, no matter where it is each of us calls home. But to do that, I had to push the boundaries. I had to drag our problems out of the dark and into the light. I had to show that those problems don't continue to exist because of the things around us, but because we point our finger everywhere else except at the reflection each of us sees in the mirror. That's where the problems lie - and that's where we need to look to solve them.
 
I think most people who read the books' blurbs assume that because the storyline involves angels and Lucifer's attempts to escape his prison that it's some kind of religious story. It's not. Sure, those things make up the baseline for the story, but that's it. Nothing more, nothing less.
 
Between the action and suspense, the touch of horror and other bits and pieces, the truth is that the heart of the story is about us... about humanity. It's about those very problems which darken our world and steal away our innocence as we grow older.... and attempts to teach how we can get that innocence we all once had back again.
 
For those who want to keep turning a blind eye to what's wrong with our world, who want to keep pointing fingers everywhere else and don't want to face the ugly truth, don't bother picking the story up on Amazon. You won't learn a damn thing, because you don't want to point that finger at the reflection in the mirror.
 
It's not for the intolerant, or for those who can't see past the baseline of the story and look underneath at what the story's really about, either. And it's certainly not about trying to change your own personal beliefs. I don't want you to change those, because they're part of what makes you such a unique and special human being. It's about trying to help make our world brighter by showing what's wrong with it, in the hopes that it will inspire those things to get changed - for the betterment of everyone.

While the story is fiction, it takes a brutal look at a lot of the real problems in the world along the way, like this:

     “Humanity separates itself by race, sex, nationality, religious belief, and a thousand other ways. Humans fight with each other constantly, and you use all of these so-called ‘differences’ as excuses to try and justify the fighting. What only a few of you can see is that no matter what you look like, what you believe, or where you live, you’re all part of humanity, which makes every one of you a part of the same family.
     “But you don’t look at the broader picture. You only see each other’s differences, and you use those differences as excuses to try and justify the fighting. We see you as you are - brothers and sisters fighting against each other. Perhaps one day all of humanity will see each other as we see you.”

                                                                     -- Celeste, from The Exiled (Book 1 in the Exiled trilogy)

Even fiction has truth within it.
 
There's a lot of hate, discrimination, intolerance, selfishness, and greed in the world today. Those are things that won't go away easily. To be honest, I've thought a few times while I've been writing this blog that I'm taking a huge risk by publishing it. I thought doing so could very well kill my writing career. But I made a promise to my son to do what I can to try and make a difference, and I won't break that promise. It's worth the risk.

Some people who read the story will come to the conclusion that it's nothing more than a story written to entertain. Others won't read it in its entirety because they think the storyline is offensive and not see the real purpose behind it. There's even going to be people who just read the book samples or blurbs and don't even bother to see what lies hidden behind the veil.

I have no reservations about these things. It's like every other written work: some will love it, some will hate it, others will never even give it a chance. Everyone is different, everyone unique... everyone has their own likes and dislikes, after all. Those too, are what help shape each one of us into the unique, special individuals that we are.

But there's that hope as well that there are those who will enjoy it, who will see the purpose behind the trilogy and be touched by the story and the lessons scattered throughout the pages. And perhaps that will help to light a spark, which will light another, and another... until one day there is no more hate, no more discriminations, no more selfishness, and no more greed in the world. In a way, I suppose it's a lot like the Star Trek universe Gene Roddenberry envisioned.

Things need to change. The problems in the world need to cease to exist, and we can accomplish that. But we need to stop ignoring them, stop thinking we can't make a difference, stop putting it off until tomorrow, and start working towards that goal today. We need to stop pointing fingers everywhere else and accept that the only way things can change is if we acknowledge where those problems truly lie, point the finger at the reflection in the mirror, and play our part in getting rid of them together.

If you're interested, the entire story is told throughout three books, which are available on Amazon in digital (Kindle) and paperback. It's available in a Collector's Edition as well, which bundles all three books in one. They are also all part of the Kindle Unlimited program. For those who don't have a Kindle, there's a free app you can download on the book pages. The books are recommended for mature readers, due to strong language and some sex (though that's not the focus of the story, it is paranormal romance, after all).
 
 
Feel free to retweet, share, reblog, etc. And if I may ask, make it a point to do something nice for someone every single day, no matter how insignificant it may seem. The smallest kindness can not only brighten up a person's day, it can be a spark as well that spreads to others who pay their own act of kindness forward to someone else. That's how it begins.

It may seem like an impossible goal, and there are those who will scoff and make that claim that we can never get rid of the problems that darken our world and steal away the innocence we all once had when we were children. But I disagree. I know that together, we can make this a better world for ourselves, our kids, and each other... because I have faith in all of us.  


 
 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reach For Your Stars

There's a well-known phrase which says nothing worth doing is ever easy. There's another that says no risk, no reward. And I'll even throw in one from the first book in my Paranormal Romance trilogy, The Exiled: When you doubt in yourself, you create the one barrier that is impossible to overcome. The only thing that can stop you from reaching your goals is yourself.
 
Throw those all together, and you have the basis for pretty much anything you want to accomplish. Maybe it's rising up in a company, for example. Or maybe it's taking a dream vacation. It could be something like getting a college degree.
 
The point is, we all have things that are important to us, things that we want to accomplish. Think about it for a minute. Not goals that someone else wants you to do, but things you want to do for yourself. Now look at those phrases again.
 
Whether it's getting that promotion at work, taking that dream vacation, getting that college degree, or some other personal goal, it's something which is important to you. It may seem like a lofty goal, but nothing worth doing is ever easy. It will take hard work, dedication, and not giving up on yourself. Working longer hours. Saving as much as you can for a period of time. Studying on the weekend rather than going out to the club.
 
Those goals can be daunting. Will working harder pay off, or will it go unnoticed? What if something comes up and everything that was saved needs to go for that instead? Will you forget everything you studied when the test is given? Perhaps... but no risk, no reward.
 
No matter what goals you set for yourself, no matter what dreams you want to work for, there are always two initial options. Think of it like buying a scratch ticket. My father always used to say "You can't lose if you don't play!" While that is true, you can't win if you don't play, either. So you can buy that scratch ticket with the understanding that you may win or you may lose. Or you can back down and choose not to take your chances.
 
Taking that second option is the 'safe' route. Not putting in those extra hours. Telling yourself you'll never be able to save enough for that vacation so why bother trying? Thinking that class is your worst subject and you'll probably fail the test anyways so you might as well go out and have fun during the weekend and not bother studying for it.
 
What happens though, is that afterward, in the back of your mind, you'll always wonder what might have happened. Could those extra hours have been noticed and helped you get that promotion instead of someone else? Could you have saved that money up and taken that dream vacation? Could you have aced that test if you had studied all weekend? They're questions that will never be answered because the chance - the risk - was never taken.
 
Think again on those goals you have for yourself. They're worth doing, worth striving for. They won't be easy to reach, but nothing worth doing ever is. They may seem impossible, but no risk... no reward. Don't let those unknowns stop you from trying.
 
And the next time you look in a mirror, think about the goals you want to accomplish. What you'll see isn't just your reflection. What you will see is the one person who can stop you from reaching those goals. When you doubt in yourself, you create the one barrier that is impossible to overcome.
 
No dreams are impossible to achieve. They're like your own stars up in the sky. The first step is easy: Just reach up.
 
 
 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Words, Pages, and Prices

Very recently there was a discussion posted on one of the Author groups I'm a member of. An author had posed a question, saying the book she was currently working on was finished, that it had clocked in at 160k words, and asked if she should split the book - making it 2 books instead of 1.
 
This group of authors is very supportive to each other. We freely ask for advice and opinions among each other, inquire about any successful promoting tools and tactics, share reviews that we've received... the list goes on. And there are always several of us who chime in with answers to those inquiries that are as varied as the genres each of us writes in, give our congrats on those reviews, etc.
 
Many suggested she split the book into 2, saying 160k was too long. Some said leave it. Some took the middle road and said depending on the genre, it could go either way (fantasy books tend to be longer, for example.)
 
I was one who suggested keeping it as one book, reason being that word count should never, NEVER dictate a story... ANY story. I went on to say that it doesn't matter if a story takes 50k words to tell or 200k, that the focus must remain on the story itself.
 
Now, the 'experts' may disagree. I use that term very loosely, because I think a lot of the time when those people are saying a story should remain around 70-80k, or that anything over 100k is 'too long'... they're focused on the wrong thing. They're focused on word count, on a statistic that tells them books in the range of X number of words sell more copies. But a good story isn't defined by word count. A good story is defined by the story itself.
 
The problem with letting word count define a story is if we aim for a certain length, we're already not giving that story our best. We're not giving readers our best. If it ends at 60k (after editing) and the target was aimed for 70k... 10,000 words of 'fluff' which do nothing to add to the story and can often take away from it would have to get added to hit that mark. If it ends at 80k (again, after editing) pieces of the story would have to get cut out in order to hit that mark - once again, taking away from the story.
 
A story is done when it's done. The story defines the word count, not the other way around. To do anything else is not giving either readers or the story what they deserve: the very best. That's my personal opinion from an author's point of view. Others will disagree, and that's perfectly fine. We are all entitled to our opinions on the subject, after all.
 
Another subject that was discussed was from a reader's view. Yes, I'm an author, but I'm just as much a reader. In order to continue to improve at my job, reading is a requirement, one which I love to do. I doubt there is a single author who doesn't love to read.
 
The issue was the number of pages in a book, which is basically word count, but readers don't count words, they count pages. Someone had mentioned that they don't read anything over 300 pages, which was just that person's personal preference when choosing what to read.
 
Here again, the focus is not on the story, but on its length. How many books have been written that are 350, 400, even 500 pages long? Limiting oneself to books of a certain length comes with the possibility that there is a book out there that could very well be a reader's all-time favorite book - but it's never realized because the book exceeds that page length, and thus that enjoyment is never discovered. One of my favorite books is It, by Stephen King, which my wife will most likely frown at me for because... well, clowns. She does not like clowns.
 
Word count for that particular book: 444,414. Number of pages: 1,138.
 
Granted, that's Stephen King, an established (very well established) writer, but the point remains that had I limited myself to page length, I never would have read It, let alone read the book about a dozen times more over the years. Again, this is just my personal opinion and others will disagree, but from a reader's viewpoint, the length of a book doesn't matter. It's the story within those pages that does.
 
Lastly, I'm going to hit a subject that, quite frankly, bothers and frustrates me. It has for some time, and I feel that it's time someone put themselves out in the open, even knowing that the flak and the bullets will likely start flying for talking about it. Regardless, I shall do so because it needs to be talked about: Pricing.
 
Before digital books came about, we only had paperbacks and hardcovers. Trade paperbacks could be picked up for anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99, hardcover books were pricier. That hasn't changed. When digital books came about and indie authors first came onto the field, opening up a plethora of books for readers to enjoy, it wasn't long before a pricing battle began, with the argument coming about that digital books shouldn't be priced the same as paperbacks because there were no printing costs involved. Fair enough, I can certainly agree with that, and I do agree with that.
 
The problem however, is that this thinking has gone far beyond that initial fair argument to the point that people want something for next to nothing. It's inflated to saying  that digital books are overpriced and either shouldn't cost more than $0.99 or they should be free. Why? Because they're digital? Indie authors put just as many hours, pour just as much blood, sweat, and tears into their books as any other author. The fact that those books are available digitally doesn't take any of that away.
 
I'm not saying digital editions should be priced the same as a paperback, because that printing cost is taken out. But saying that digital books shouldn't cost more than $0.99 or should be available for free is essentially saying that  all of the countless hours, the numerous headaches and frustrations, and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that we pour into our work is worthless. And to be perfectly blunt, it's saying we're worthless.
 
What bothers and frustrates me is that people will run to Starbucks to get their daily overpriced latte without batting an eye. They'll hand over the cost of theater tickets and pay the inflated prices of popcorn and snacks. They'll purchase tickets for concerts, ball games, waterparks... the list goes on. All of those things are bought and then consumed, watched, or done within a matter of minutes or a few hours, while reading a digital book can take days or sometimes weeks, since rarely do any of us have time to sit down and read a book from cover to cover. That's days/weeks of entertaining, of bringing readers to new worlds, introducing them to countless characters and firing their imaginations in endless ways. And here's the real blow: the pricing argument that digital books shouldn't cost more than $0.99, when you take a brutally honest look at it, is saying an indie author's hard work - those hundreds of hours, the headaches and frustrations, of pouring everything they can into their books... is worth less than a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
 
Those tickets get thrown in the trash. Those lattes and coffees don't care if they're enjoyed. But authors do care. We write our stories because we want to entertain others. We want to fire readers' imaginations. That's our job. We put in those long hours, we give our blood and sweat and tears for readers in order to be as good as we can be at our job without hesitation - because our readers deserve our very best. For us, our readers are worth everything that we go through in order to entertain them.
 
Everyone wants to be appreciated at their jobs, no matter what those jobs are. Sure, with any job the occasional mistake happens. And for the most part, every worker does better at their job when the work they do is appreciated. Usually that appreciation is shown with promotions, raises, even simple 'Nice Going!' paper awards.
 
 
Authors are no different. We make the occasional mistake, be it a typo or a missed punctuation. Personally, I'm an extreme perfectionist when it comes to my writing, to the point of it probably being considered obsessive because I want my work to be as close to perfect as possible. It's an impossible goal, as nothing is perfect, but I reach for it nonetheless - because my readers are worth striving for perfection. I'm not joking when I confess to uploading an update to one of my books about a year ago to fix a single typo I came across from one of the first books I wrote that Word's grammar checker hadn't caught - a single word which said truck instead of trunk. Yes, I actually uploaded an update that fixed a typo - a single letter changed in the entire 87k novel. If that's not the definition of obsessive perfectionism, I don't know what is.
 
We don't get promotions. Our job title begins as 'author' and no matter how many books we write, it remains 'author'. We don't get raises. If a book is priced at $3.99, it doesn't automatically go up with the 100th sale of that book, and unless we change it ourselves (which when we do, it's usually dropping the price, not raising it), it remains constant. The appreciation we get comes in the form of reviews that readers occasionally leave. Sometimes they're good, sometimes not. That's the nature of the job... we can't please everyone, and we don't expect to. But we look forward to those reviews nonetheless. I'm sure most authors will agree that they wish more readers posted honest, thoughtful reviews of their books. Sometimes the appreciation comes from emails that readers take the time to send us, and from the comments they leave on our Author pages. All of those things can turn our worse day around in a heartbeat.
 
Anyways, back to getting the flak attack and hail of bullets about the whole pricing thing. Look, I'm not saying digital books should be overpriced. $2.99-$4.99 per book is a fair price, perhaps a bit cheaper if it's less than novel length (50k words). Short stories that are like 10 pages long - yeah, those I agree should fall under that $0.99 price. Bundled packs are out there too, which put 2 or more books into a single digital set, with a lot of those basically at a 'Buy 2 Get One Free' price.
 
But that argument that digital books are 'overpriced' and should be $0.99 or free has made many authors put their hard work at that price point. Mostly because they feel they have to price it there in order to hope to have any chance whatsoever to get noticed. While the initial argument began as a fair observation about cheaper prices due to digital books not having printing costs, it's become a 'get something for nothing or next to nothing.' Fair price used to be $3.99-$4.99, then it dropped to $2.99, then $1.99. Now it's gotten to $0.99.
 
 
So here's the hard truth. For a book that's priced at $2.99 on Amazon, the author receives a bit over $2 (70% royalty). Anything priced less than that (even dropping a single penny to $2.98) and the royalty amount an author receives from a sale is cut in half, to 35%. So that whole 'digital books shouldn't cost more than $0.99' argument means that an author who's poured hundreds of hours of labor into a book that they set at that price gets about $0.35 per sale.
 
So what, right? Well, in a nutshell, it means that when an author prices a book at $0.99, they have to sell 7 copies for every 1 copy if they were to price it fairly at $2.99. And that's not factoring in all of the extra expenses that come with the job - like cover design, editors, and running ads to let people know that work is out there. The writing part is easy, compared to trying to promote ourselves and our work. When you look at any other job, I seriously doubt a single person would want to be told they have to do 7 times the work in order to make their hourly wage or salaried pay that they have now.
 
Authors give up far more than I think people realize, but we do it willingly because our readers mean that much to us. And yet, for all of our hard work, for all of our efforts to give nothing but our best to our readers, the argument that digital books are overpriced and shouldn't cost more than $0.99 coldly reminds us that despite doing everything we can to give readers their next favorite stories, we're less important than a cup of coffee from Starbucks.


 
 
 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Dawn is Coming... Mistral Dawn!!



I love getting the opportunity to help out fellow authors. So when Mistral Dawn asked if anyone would like to help her get word out about her upcoming release, I jumped at the chance. I love this girl (in a purely plutonic way). She is always willing to help out other authors, and she's an awesome writer herself! So it is my great pleasure to help her plug her upcoming release. Take it away, Mistral!!
 
 
 
Hey Everyone!!! :-)

 Guess what? It's finally here!!  Rainbow Dreams is now available for preorder from the following merchants:

 




 

What's it about?  I'm glad you asked!  Here's the blurb:

 

Have you ever had a terrible secret you didn't want anyone to know? Petri does and it may get her killed. Life is hard on Upworld, especially for the residents of Under City, and it's even harder for those who don't fit in. Petri has alway been different and now those differences may cost her life. Her one hope is to leave the only home she's ever known while evading the mob that's calling for her blood. But Petri has never been outside of her sector of Under City, never mind off the planet. And the laws of Upworld forbid people like her from leaving. Will Petri overcome the odds and make good her escape? Maybe...with a little help from her friends.

Sound interesting?  Good!  And get a load of that cover!!!  It's courtesy of the FANTABULOUS Julie Nicholls!!  If you'd like to see more of her incredible work, check out her website here:
 

 

I also want to let you all know about an Amazon Giveaway I'm running for Captivated By The Winter King.  It's free to enter!  Rainbow Dreams won't be released until April 19th, so in the meantime you can get your sexy romance fix with some dreamy Fae! ;-)
 


 
Okay, okay, I know, enough stalling.  If you're as excited as I am about this story, I know you're all ready for a peek:
 

Rainbow Dreams Chapter One Excerpt

 

Lightning bolts of fire and ice shot up and down Petri's spine as she moved over the human man on the bed. Her short, slender body bowed with the sensations that washed over her. His lust was like a fountain of cold water on a hot day, and she was parched. It had been too long; she needed this. Desperately.

Looking down at him as she slid her body onto his straining cock, she smiled. This client had wanted to be blindfolded; he said he enjoyed the mystery. There was more mystery in Petri than most humans would know what to do with, so that was fine with her. With him blindfolded, she didn't need to be careful to keep her own eyes shut. This was going to be a good feed, and there was no way she could have kept her eyes from glowing.

The man moaned in pleasure. Being fed upon felt as good for humans as feeding did for Petri. None of her clients knew she sipped from their energy, their life force, when she fucked them. All they knew was that she was one hell of a talented dolly. A win-win for all involved.

This client was a regular; Petri had shown him many times how good it could be with her. Some of her regulars came to crave her, almost like the dream dust that was sold in the club below. They were guaranteed repeat business, and she always made sure to show them a good time. After all, that was her job.

The energy of the man's lust filled Petri as she glided up and down on top of him. She shivered. It was renewing, rejuvenating. She couldn't get enough. A few grains of dust remained on his upper lip as evidence of his earlier indulgence in some of the chemical delights that were available at Abracadabra.

It was clear her client was high long before Petri started feeding. Before she blindfolded him, she had noted the man's dilated pupils and the flush of pleasure on his face. She had no doubt the management of Abracadabra would go to great lengths to make sure he received the maximum enjoyment possible during his visit. There was a reason it was the hottest nightclub in this part of Under City.

The club specialized in hedonism in all its forms. Drugs of every description, games, gambling, and other, darker pleasures could be found within its walls. House dollies, little more than sex slaves, waited to fulfill the customers' every desire. Freelance dollies, like Petri, rented space to ply their trade as well. The house allowed it because the dollies offered the club's clientele more variety and were motivated to attract business. Once a patron had satisfied their lust, they often wandered downstairs in search of other entertainments.

Leaning down, Petri pressed her cat-like mouth to her client's lips in a sizzling kiss. Their tongues tangled as he responded, and she undulated her hips against his, faster and faster. The drugs he had consumed tainted his energy, giving Petri a pleasant buzz. She never took dust herself since it interfered with her ability to control her power, but she enjoyed the effect when one of her johns indulged. As their sex intensified, Petri drank deeper, swallowing down the man's whimpers and sighs of ecstasy as she swallowed his desire.

Lost in the haze of feeding for the first time in days, Petri didn't realize it at first when the man suddenly went still underneath her. His penis remained stiff and eager inside her, and she continued to ride it, draining his energy. It was only when the cold, clamminess of his skin penetrated the pleasurable trance she often sank into when feeding that she realized that she had gone too far. Her heart skipped a beat.

Swinging her leg over him, she clambered off his body and knelt beside him on the bed. She grabbed his shoulder, shaking him, but there was no response. He was as still and cold as death.

Petri's breath froze in her chest as she tried to suppress her rising panic. She slapped him, hard, across his face, trying to provoke a response. There was nothing. Leaning down, she put her ear against his chest, listening for something, anything. Any sign that a spark of life remained in the man. She wasn't sure, but she thought she might have heard a faint fluttering within.

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and put her hands on his chest, fingers splayed. She had never done this before, but her instincts said it might work. The process of drawing energy from others had come automatically when she reached physical maturity. It was as natural as breathing to her. But reversing the flow of energy… That was something else altogether. She forced herself to focus; all she could do was try.

Reaching down into the well of energy within her, Petri tried to snag a wisp of it. It was like trying to catch fog. Gritting her teeth, she concentrated and managed to grab a small piece of the mist and tease it up, out of herself and back into the man. It flowed at a slow trickle, but it did flow. The man took a deep breath and Petri slumped in relief.

Before she could stop him, or even turn away, the man reached up and snatched the blindfold from his face. When he saw her glowing eyes, he shrieked, "Mgeni!"

Petri swore. She knew she didn't have much time. Sitting up, she sucker-punched her client hard in his stomach. The man folded over, clutching his gut, just like she knew he would. As her former client coughed and wheezed, Petri scrambled into her tight, red mini-dress and stiletto pumps and clambered out the window. She couldn't risk trying to make it through the crowded club below; she needed to be gone before the man recovered enough to sound the alarm.

 
 
Whoo! I guess she's in some trouble!  Want to find out what happens next?  Reserve your copy today so you'll get it without delay on the 19th! ;-)  Thank you all for stopping by today and for your interest in my first foray into the sci-fi genre!!  Have an awesome rest of the week!


 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The BORGman Collective


This won't be a long blog, so I hope you'll take the few minutes to read it. I try to do what I can to help support other authors, causes, charities, local area fundraisers... just to name a few. On April 30, 2016, I'll be taking part in Walk MS: Marshfield. And I would like to ask for your support.
 
 
Having been diagnosed with MS myself late last year, this is something that I am doing - not only because it's a for a good cause, but because I know personally how it has affected both myself and those closest to me. There is no cure for MS. Much of the disease is not even understood because of how randomly it effects those of us who have it. How random? Anywhere from a few months to ten years or more between 'fits' as we call them.
 
It's a waiting game, more or less. You wake up every morning and go about your day as you always do, but in the back of your mind, there's the thought: Is today the day another fit is going to strike?
 
I found out I had MS rather brutally. What started with tingling in my fingers one day, which I initially assumed had been because I had simply slept weird, spread to my palms within a day. A few days later, my left leg went dead. I literally had to drag it around. Walking was nearly impossible. It lasted for almost a month before the fit ended and I could walk normally again. For now.
 
You see, there are several different forms of MS that have been discovered. Mine happens to be Progressive Relapsing MS. The simple explanation for PRMS is that it gets progressively worse with each recurring fit. Which means the next time it hits, it will likely be as bad or worse than the last fit. Each fit leaves a permanent scar on the brain, kind of like a sick, demented 'I was here' tag. The MRI that I had done revealed that it had not been the first fit for me - it had been the seventh. 
 
So I'm taking part in Walk MS: Marshfield while I can, because the next time it hits, I may not get the use of my leg back, or worse. No one - not even my specialist, who has studied and devoted the last twenty years of his life to studying the disease and trying to understand it - knows what will happen.
 
MS is like lightning during a thunderstorm. Others like me who have MS know the lightning will strike, but none of us know when, or what will be affected. That's what makes it such a difficult disease, not only for us but for our loved ones. 
 
My wife, Nyki, has formed a team of us who will be walking on April 30, 2016 in Marshfield, WI. As I'm a Star Trek geek, I came up with our team name, The BORGman Collective (I thought it was rather clever!)
We would like to raise funds for the National MS Society, which is what this walk is for. Any donation you make goes directly to them.
 
From left to right:
DeAnna, Michael, Jhessica, Scott, and Nyki Borgman
Here is the link, which will take you to the team page:
 
 
I hope you will make a donation, no matter what amount, and help spread the word. Bloggers: please reblog. Tweeters: please blast the Twitterverse. Facebookers: please click that share button.
 
As an author, my job is to bring out the emotions of my readers. I hope I have succeeded in that endeavor with this blog. Thank you everyone.


All My Best,

Scott A. Borgman

 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

What Once was Gold

I don't blog often. When I do, it's because I have something important to say. What I want to talk about today is something that, quite frankly, has been under my skin for a few months now, and I'm not going to bite my fingers any longer. It needs to be said. I know others have already talked about it themselves, because they feel the same way I do about the subject: Titles.
 
These used to be gold. If an author had an 'Award Winning' or 'Best Selling' title, it meant something special. Those were coveted titles, things that really made an author stand out. They were titles that every author dreamed of having, but not everyone succeeded in obtaining.
 
Now those titles have dulled. Why? Because authors (some, not all) have lessened them. What once was gold has become copper. It used to be a milestone to be able to add such titles to a bio. They were an immense achievement, something worthy of recognition. They've gone from gemstones to colored glass.
 
How did such things become commonplace? Simple. Instead of earning those titles, authors created their own contests for best looking covers, best fantasy, romance, and sci-fi books, etc. Such contests were nothing more than he/she-who-has-the-most-friends-wins contests. And when they 'won', they slapped that Award Winning title to their name.

They put their books up for free, and the instant that book hit #1 in the free store (not too difficult of a thing to do, since everyone loves getting something for free) they added that Best Selling title to their name.

Or they called themselves a business and after selling a single book they put the Best Selling title to their names. Why not, right? After all, they're obviously the best selling author - in their business of one. Cue the Darth Vader voice: "The sarcasm is strong with this one."
 
In doing so, such authors have lessened the worth of those coveted titles. It's a shady loophole cloaked in deceit that they willingly abuse, just so they can increase their book sales and put themselves on a pedestal - one that they build themselves.
 
In short, it's a piss-poor tactic that quite honestly, I find repulsive. It's a dishonest ploy that readers are the unknowing victims of, because those titles do draw attention. Readers are our customers, and whether they like our work or not, whether they leave us glowing reviews or not, they are to be met with nothing less than the utmost respect and held in the highest regards - not conned by using titles that were never truly earned. Because what happens afterwards is that those titles are no longer glorified as something great or worthy of seeking out like they were before.
 
Not every author does this. There are those out there who want such titles but refuse to stoop to those levels just to obtain them. Personally, I am among that (sadly, it seems an ever-shrinking) group. Believe me, I would love nothing more than to add those titles to my own bio. Those are milestones that I am striving to reach, not only for myself but as something that my family can be proud of me for achieving. But those are titles that I must earn.
 
That's what upsets me about the whole thing. I see those titles as they were always meant to be - achievements that are sought after by many, but obtained by few. They're titles that are earned through contests that are recognized by thousands, like the Reader's Favorite Award Contest that is held every year. Sure, there's an entry fee. Official contests always have one, because the awards one can receive can't be made in a few minutes on the computer or purchased in a store; they can only be obtained through the contest itself.
 
Cover image used with permission from CK Dawn
CK Dawn (www.ckdawn.com) is an author who, while I don't know personally, I am acquainted with through an author group we are both members of. I'm mentioning her and plugging her website because Cloak of Shadows won such an award.

The 'Award Winning' title she now carries wasn't obtained through some most-friends-wins popularity contest just so she could slap that title onto her name... CK earned it. And though I've never met her, I'm damn proud of her for that achievement. She's one of the authors who didn't give herself a copper title - she earned the golden one.
 
Flashy covers and well-written blurbs aside, those awards and titles are coveted by authors because they're golden. Readers are drawn to them because they've been earned. Readers don't want or deserve cubic zirconia. They want and deserve gold. The award says it all: CK Dawn is a golden author.
 
 
And honestly, it goes beyond just these titles. When I was growing up, like many kids, I played sports. Teams worked hard and did their best, because they all wanted that first place trophy. There was no 'participation' trophies to be handed out. Either you won or you lost. The winning team got the trophy. The losing teams went home with nothing. Was it harsh and cruel that those losing teams did their best and didn't get anything for their efforts? No. What it did was instill the desire to work harder, practice more, reach higher... to strive for improvement in order to obtain that which was so highly sought after.
 
But then what happened is those kids who never earned a trophy grew up and had kids of their own. Some of them remembered never winning any kind of trophy and decided that wasn't fair. So they raised a fuss because they didn't want their kids to go through the same thing. When enough of them made enough noise, along came 'participation' trophies.

I bet those parents feel real good about themselves now that it doesn't matter if their kid is good or not, they'll get something regardless. Congratulations, you've lessened the worth of such achievements. It no longer matters how well a kid plays. They don't have to try as hard, practice as much, or stretch any further than they feel like stretching, because they know that they're going to get a trophy regardless now. What once was gold has become copper.
 
Some time ago, I submitted one of my books, Province of a Thief, to Reader's Favorite for a review. It was given the Reader's Favorite 5-Star Review award. When I received it, I was ecstatic - because that is the only way one can obtain the silver seal that now adorns that book's cover. And yet, my bio does not contain the Award Winning title. That award was an achievement, and I'm proud of that achievement... but that award is not to the height that I feel honestly warrants being able to add that coveted Award Winning title to my name.
 
Am I losing out on book sales because I don't have any such title attached to my bio? Perhaps. But some things are more important than book sales. Like honesty. Integrity. Respect. You can't buy those things, no matter how much money you have or what shady tactics you use in order to give yourself those titles. When 'Award Winning' and 'Best Selling' adorn my bio and my books, they will be there because I covet those titles for what they were always meant to represent.

What others choose to lessen and obtain as copper, I will earn and achieve as gold.
 
 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Let's not beat around the bush. We do it. When we walk through a bookstore or are browsing for something to read on Amazon, we're looking for something specific: a book with a kick-ass looking cover, because that's what attracts us and calls out to us to check out the description and maybe flip through the first few pages or read the book sample. That's what the cover is meant to do, after all - make us pause for a moment and investigate further.
 
Herein lies something that we've unconsciously programmed ourselves to do throughout the years: we've taught ourselves to quite literally, judge a book by its cover. In response, cover artists have had to push themselves to almost superhuman capabilities, because if they can't deliver a kick-ass looking cover, the author's book won't get noticed, it won't even have a chance to sell, and both will face an almost uphill vertical climb: the author trying to get his/her book noticed, and the cover artist struggling to find work.
 
How did this all begin? I'll take a guess and say that somewhere along the line, someone created a cover that completely blew other book covers out of the water. I imagine it was like the scene from Dumb and Dumber: in a room full of black tuxedos, in walks Jim Carrey wearing an orange tuxedo. Among everyone in the room, in a sea of black was a splash of orange, which stood out.
 
Today, that room of black tuxedos no longer exists. Instead, it's a room of vibrant colors that stretch from one end of the color spectrum to the other. What once stood out in a sea of black no longer does - because there is no sea of black.
 
We've gotten so used to seeing those amazing covers, that we've come to expect it. As the artists and the technology becomes even more mind-blowing, our expectations for them have increased to the point of looking for something that goes beyond superhuman and risen higher, to the point of expecting them to be almost god-like.
 
I'll admit that I put cover designers and book artists on high pedestals. I am awed every day by the covers I see designed when something new comes out, and I have the utmost respect for those people for the amount of talent they have. I have zero talent in the drawing department myself, which is part of the reason why I have such a great respect for artists. Seriously, if you ask me to draw a person, what you'll get is a stick figure with a big round head. That's the limit of my artistic ability in the drawing department.
 
There are other artists that are just as amazing with digital drawing and painting too, it's not limited to physical paint and canvas. But our expectations have become so high now that we basically require every book to have a god-like cover in order for us to stop. If not, we pass it by and move on, never bothering to even read what the book is about.
 
And here is where the real tragedy that this line of insanely high expectations has gone to now: we judge books by their covers, not by the story within. There are some absolutely amazing stories out there that are only discovered by a small handful of people. Why? Because the author is just starting out, or couldn't afford to pay for a professional artist to design that god-like cover that might increase the chance a book will be read by a few handfuls more.
 
In a sea of color now, its a crap shoot. And for those just starting out or on such a tight budget that they can't afford to pay for advertising, which like anything else is really the only way to reach masses of potential readers... even with a god-like cover, it's difficult at best to get noticed - no matter how good of a storyteller you are.
 
So what is the point of all of this? Why go over any of this? To illustrate, let me provide a few images. I'll use my first fantasy book as the example, as it's gone through several cover changes from when I first published it to what it looks like today:



Original cover
 
 


First redone cover
 
 


Second redone cover (artwork by Mat Sadler)
 
 
 
Looking back, I see that first cover and I think "oh my God, that was horrible!" And then I look at the second one and think "well, that was better than the first one, at least." The last one I still love to look at. It's gorgeous. The artist who created that has more talent in the tip of his pinky finger than I have in my entire body.
 
I had submitted the book to Reader's Favorite last year for a review, and when it came back, I admit there were some tears, because the reviewer gave it a glowing 5* review, and I was given - along with the review - a sticker that I could add to the cover image to show it, which I did. This is the cover today:
 
 
 
 
 
Why show that off? To brag that Province of a Thief received a 5* review award? To get you to say "Holy shit, that is awesome!" and open up a new window to pull the book up on Amazon and discover that it's gotten almost a dozen more 5* reviews from readers on top of that?
 
No. It's to make my point. You see, except for some edits that I've put the book through to fix a few typos and make some minor changes (because I'm overly critical of myself and I strive for perfection, even knowing it's an impossible task but I shoot for it anyway), from that first book cover to the current one - the story has not changed.
 
When I first started writing as a career, I couldn't afford to hire a cover artist. So I designed the cover myself, using (you probably guessed it already) Word. Yes, I know... go ahead and shake your head in disbelief, it's alright. I was a newborn to the whole published author scene then. It took time to learn there was more to this thing than just writing.
 
Obviously that first cover needed to be changed. My sales (or rather, lack of) clearly showed that, so I spent a bit of money and found a stock photo that I liked, and along came cover #2. The title font and how it was displayed wasn't exactly a good choice, but it was a better image than the first. Still not good enough, however. Luckily tax season came around and with a bit of my return I looked for someone to redesign the cover again. I was lucky enough to come across Mat, who designed the cover at an affordable price and made it look like that first cover was done by someone with no drawing ability whatsoe... oh wait - it was, haha.
 
But through those redesigns, the story within didn't change. And that is the main point of all of this. The covers didn't change the story. Had I kept that first cover, I would still be waiting to get an actual sale from the book.
 
Covers need to be attractive. Everyone will agree with this. But they do not change the story within. When we're looking for something to read, we're not reading the book descriptions. We're looking at the cover image. And if it doesn't leap out at us, we're moving on to find one that does. That's the problem. We've become too reliant on the cover images. We've let them dictate our choices, and don't even bother to take a few minutes... a few minutes... to see what a book is about.
 
Not every author can afford to hire a cover artist or book designer. It's a simple fact. So they do their best to design their own covers using GIMP, Photoshop, (I use GIMP myself to create my Twitter images... that at least I have a greater ability in doing) or some other program to create book covers themselves. And then they cross their fingers and hope their skills are good enough that the cover will catch enough eyes and they'll make enough pocket change to be able to afford a professional artist/cover designer for their next book, or to redesign that one.
 
We've become a society that judges based on what we see. So let me end this with one final book image and a quote from one of the books in my Exiled trilogy, because they drive home my point:
 
 
 
 
 
"It is not what you see on the outside, but what lies on the inside that matters."