Monday, January 28, 2013

How I ended up doing artwork

Hot dogs and alien women--it is going to be one of those weird stories, isn't it?
Besides being a writer, and a photographer of pottery, lately I have also been doing some artwork for a pagan/Wiccan friendly children book series. Now, I will admit that it mystifies me how that happened.

For one thing, I do not have any formal art teaching--or at least, no education beyond an art class that I failed in high school (me and the teacher did not get along very well). Oh, I did take three continuing education classes at the Colorado Institute of Art, but I do not think that they actually count.

In other words, any skill as an artist that I might have was self-taught and developed.

For me, art has always been a hobby. Something to do on a job when I was busy twiddling my fingers. Yes, I know the restaurant rule "If you have time to lean, you have time to clean." No one actually does that unless there is an inspection coming up within the next couple of days.

The only art that I have done "professionally" before the current project is that I have done some of my ebook covers. Why? Because I started writing ebooks while in university (where I did not take a single art class)--even a twenty dollar photo was beyond the limits of my starting budget.

And that is what landed me the gig of doing children book art--my own cover art for erotica short stories. Scary, isn't it?

Even scarier (at least to me) is the fact that I am only about a week away from the first ebook of the series (Turtle Monkey) being uploaded to Smashwords. We are about to see if customers accept me as a children book artist.

I will admit that if the ebooks sell well, I will be even more mystified. After all, it is not like I am a real artist with actual training. No, all I have is the heart of a child and a big box of colored pencils.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How ebooks could slump during Xmas

The other day, I talked about the fact that my ebook sales slumped on Barnes and Noble during the Christmas shopping season and have yet to recover. Now, this sounds odd when you look at the news that ereader sales were still strong with some outlets reporting record sales of ereaders sold (whether dedicated ereaders or other devices with ebook reading capabilities). So how could a writer's royalties slump during the Xmas shopping season?

Two things to keep in mind about my royalties for fourth quarter 2012. One, despite the slump at B&N, fourth quarter was still my best quarter ever as a writer (thanks to Apple). Two, I was not surprised by the drop in my ebook sales.

My ebook sales were normal until Thanksgiving. And Apple's expansion played a big part in fourth quarter being the best for me so far. Likewise, I did have some new erotica available under one of my other pen-names.

It is after Thanksgiving, and up to January tenth (and maybe beyond...I am waiting for the latest sales update), that my Barnes and Noble's sales slump.

There are at least three possible reasons for this slump. Two reasons tie into the fact that most of my royalties come from a single item (yes, one item is accounting for about 80% of my current income). One, I did not put out anything new for awhile under the pen-name that is credited for that item (different pen-names for different fetishes). Two, I might have hit the saturation point for that item. But I would expect to see a gradual decline in sales, not a sudden drop like my figures show.

The third possible reason, the one that I believe is the real cause, is also the reason that I was not surprised by this slump. In fact, I was expecting a slump in my royalties.

Now, bear in mind that I spent twenty years in the restaurant business (ten as a manager), plus my father owned a produce business (he started out in deliveries, and moved into sales). Restaurants, unless they are located close to shopping centers, tend to have decreased sales during the Christmas season. Why? Because people are spending money on other things, mainly Xmas shopping.

And that is the golden reason that a writer's ebook sales could slump during the Christmas shopping season, and into the post-Xmas season--people are spending money on other items.

In this case, ereaders and other associated devices.

Ebooks are not physical items. You cannot wrap an ebook. And do you really want to buy a friend or family member an erotic novel or short story?! Probably not. (Remember that most of my income comes from erotica of a particularly dubious sub-genre.)

On the other hand, ereaders and other ebook reading devices are physical items. Therefore, you can put them under the Xmas tree.

And I believe that is the real reason that my sales slumped during the Xmas shopping season. This slump is probably a pattern that I need to get used to, and budget around.

If I am right, about February, as people's wallets start to recover from Xmas shopping, I should start seeing my royalties return to normal.

(And why no corresponding drop in Apple sales? Well, it was the first quarter for many people to buy ebooks in Apple's expanding global market...this might not be the normal buying pattern for those customers.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

And it is Apple for a surprise win

Looking over my year-end figures, it is Apple that ended up selling the most copies for me this past year (2012). This surprised me. During the first three quarters of the year, Barnes and Noble was the outlet that I was selling the most copies though.

Then during the fourth quarter, Apple pulled ahead of Barnes and Noble. And this is despite the fact that several of my ebooks do not get past the manual review for acceptable content...and I am too lazy to write cleaner, sweeter, vanilla versions for Apple (just like I am too lazy to write versions that Amazon would approve of).

[For those of you who are confused by this, and think that I should be writing watered-down versions to get past the censors, just remember that I have learned the hard way that it is best to crank out new material and save the "Oh dear, I am offending people" rewrite for those time periods that I am horribly blocked. My best return for time and energy spent is to write new material--after all, it is not like I am writing the Great American Novel.]

I am guessing that the sudden increase in my Apple sales is due to the expansion of the iBookstore to fifty countries. I understand why Mark Coker of Smashwords believes that Apple is a quiet giant--my last quarter sales really surprised me.

Then again, it might not be the expansion. My Barnes and Noble sales slumped during the final quarter; and based on the first ten days of this year, have still not recovered. No surprise that an erotica writer would discover that Xmas shopping season is his slowest season--or at least, I am not too surprised by it.

So I am going to be watching to see if Apple remains the best outlet for me this coming year, or if Barnes and Noble retakes the lead.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fourteen percent off jewelry and pottery (Celtic Soul)

(And I just realized that there is a cat in this video--Studio Kitty strikes again.)

My wife is having a Valentine's Day Sale over on her Etsy shop, Celtic Soul Jewelry and Pottery. You can get fourteen percent off your purchase (including already discounted items) by entering VALENTINE14 at the check out. This discount code is good until February 28th.

For those who are curious, she currently has three different mortar and pestles available, three different dog bowls, as well as her jewelry.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Writing lessons from the American Idol auditions

Last night, I was watching the auditions for season twelve of American Idol...because I could.

Now, personally I am too old to be on American Idol, despite the fact that I have a singing voice that makes angels cry (my god-daughter informs me that they are crying for different reason than the one that I am thinking of). But I still learn lessons about being famous and doing something creative while watching the show.

The five lessons that I saw last night:

Number 1: Dont expect others to determine the way that you develop.

There was one young lady who did not know what genre of music she wanted to specialize in. She told the judges that she expected to be guided into whatever her future focus was going to be. Needless to say, the judges were not impressed by that answer.

And the scary part is that I have heard "writers" say this type of nonsense. "I really want to be a writer." What do you write? "I haven't decided yet. I figure that a publisher would be best at helping me determine what I should write."

That statement is just one step removed from "I will focus on whatever is currently hot in the marketplace."

Unfortunately, if you embrace such nonsense, you will never actually develop enourgh skill to get an publisher interested in your work. It is not in publishers' best interests to risk attention on people who have not been interested enough in writing to pick a speciality.

Number 2: Singing on the subway is not a fall from grace.

There was one young man who has been picking up extra money by singing on the New York City subways. Good for him, I say. But his friends consider this to be an indication of him falling and failing. It is not. Thinking that one can only perform their craft in ideal conditions ensures that one will never find those ideal conditions.

At least, the singer is practicing his craft.

I have also encountered people who think that a talented writer should not write erotica, science fiction, and fantasy. College writing programs tend to enforce this idea; in college, the only proper type of writing is the type of work that one finds in literary magazines--you know the type of stuff that no commerical magazine will pay you for.

Sure, writing stuff that sells is less noble than writing the Great American Novel...but it might prevent you from having to flip burgers for a living; plus, you actually get to practice your art without having to make it worthy of Shakespeare.

And by the way, Shakespeare was a hack--he wrote plays for money.

Number 3: Get input from outside your inner circle.

There was one young lady last night who had never sang in front of anyone other than her parents. And yes, her mother thought that she was a great singer...she was not.

This is something that I have seen every season of American Idol: singers who have only gotten feedback from friends and family. Of course, your inner circle is going to tell you that you are the next American Idol. They love you, and may have to live with you.

Real feedback comes from outside your own personal fan club. And it is better to get it early before you make a damn fool of yourself.

And we all know the person who is a "great writer" according to their mother.

Number 4: Know that you will have more chances to succeed.

One of the things that the judges last night talked about is the fact that so many people think that they only have one chance to be successful. All the judges noted that they had numerous doors slammmed in their faces, and that one continues to get new chances as long as one continues to try.

I sometimes run into writers who seem to believe that they will only get one chance at fame. If they do not get the right publishing contract, or the right agent, or what-not, they feel that they will never succeed.

I have spent over twenty years getting to where I am as a writer. I could wallpaper a room with rejection slips. If I gave up when I recieved my first rejection, I would not be writing today.

Number 5: Personality matters.

In writing, we refer to this as "voice."

Last night, the judges let though one young man, who had a voice that was not as good as other singers, because he actually had a personality. When you start looking at stars, more often than not, they have personalities.

And there is always someone more talented than you are.

Perfect paragraphs and sentences help sell your writing; but without the voice, you might have well be writing technical manuals for a living. And one would be surprised at the number of less than perfect drafts that writers hack out during the course of their careers--it is why we employ editors.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Finally, Bad Monkey has a cover picture at B&N

Bad Monkey is available online at Barnes and Noble.
Barnes and Noble finally put up the cover image for Bad Monkey, the ebook that I collected the second year's worth of newsletter articles that I wrote for Hearthstone Community Church. I am not sure where there was a delay for the cover to appear there; I guess that B&N has some manual vetting and approval process for covers. What I do know is that my little ebook spent the whole Christmas shopping season without a cover picture. I can't imagine that helped its sales any. Oh well, B&N now shows that it actually has a cover picture of a very bad monkey armed with a hammer, breaking up pottery.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What an art day is like for me

Art?! No, this lap is made for Kitty.
First, one cat decides that my lap is not meant to be used for an art pad.

Can I eat these?
Then another cat debates eating my color pencils.

My turn in the art area.
Then a third cat decides that my lap and attention is better focused on a kitty.

At least, I am making some progress.
But despite it all, I swear that I am making some progress on some artwork.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why you want to hire a real artist to do your illustrations

And I learned here that my cheap crayons are better than some of my oil pastels. 
Looking around the vast regions of ebooks being published, one cannot help noticing the artwork of the book covers being trotted out. In some case, the artwork is like "Wow--who is the artist? I so want them on my team." And in other cases, it is "God, I hope that you did the artwork yourself because you paid too much otherwise."

There are reasons to hire a real artist even if you can draw a straight line and/or modify photos in Photoshop. Just like there is a whole bunch of rough drafts and technical knowledge involved in being a writer (also applies to formatters, social media pros, and editors...perhaps even publishers), there is also a whole bunch of technical knowledge and puttering around involved with being an artist.

Just take for instance, the technical knowledge of various art materials. Oil pastels sound so much better than colored pencils, don't they?

But in practice, you could end up with a piece of bad art like the above development piece. It turns out that some oil pastels are worse than the cheapest box of crayons.

Oh, maybe you say it is just a bad artist. Ok, the blue scary monster below is by the exact same artist using the exact same paper. The difference? Oh, he used colored pencils instead.

Of course, to figure out that colored pencils are a better option (at least, compared to this particular set of oil pastels), he had to spend some time doing a rough piece of artwork. This is why artists do not necessarily work at the speed that one thinks that they should.

And if you do not want to spend a lot of time developing your art talent and learning a lot of stuff about various art materials, yet want decent artwork, you are better off hiring a professional artist.

Same artist, same paper, different medium. 
The original pencil sketch (changed color filter for contrast).