J.K. Rowling’s Second Novel Problem

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowlings

J.K. Rowling’s newest novel, “The Casual Vacancy,” has received mixed reviews. Mostly because it’s not a Harry Potter novel and has very naughty words that you don’t expect a children author to use. Never mind that the new novel is for adults, read by adults, and spoken by adults who tend to use very naughty words when they don’t think the kids are around (“Oh, fudgemuffian!”). The real issue is that Rowling’s has a second novel problem.

Wait a minute! Didn’t the Harry Potter series have seven books?

Yes. Seven books in one series. Obviously, Rowling got over the second novel problem in the Harry Potter series. If the second book wasn’t published, books three through seven wouldn’t exist, the movies wouldn’t be made, and we fanboys wouldn’t be ogling Emma “Hermione” Watson on the October 2012 cover of Glamour magazine.

However, if you view Harry Potter as being one massive novel, than “The Causal Vacancy” becomes the second novel. Like any author who has a wildly successful first novel, the high expectations for the second novel will determine if Rowling has a successful writing career after Harry Potter.

If the new “adult” novel sells out the two million copy print run, she can continue to write more novels and put Harry Potter on the shelf for good.

If the print run ends up on the remainder table at bookstores, she will have two options: keep writing what she wants to write but not publishing it, or return the world of Harry Potter like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did after killing off and bringing back Sherlock Holmes from the literary graveyard to satisfy popular demand.

I suspect Rowling will become the next Stephen King and write whatever she wants. God knows that King had put out a lot of fudgemuffian in between his more notable novels over the years. The forward momentum from his past successes guarantees some success for his newest novel. Even though his once formidable audience has dwindled away as he went from horror meister to literary master in honing his craft and staying fresh. A day may come when he too might continue to write but not publish.

Then again, even King went back to his Dark Tower series to add an eighth novel, “The Wind Through The Keyhole,” to his seven-novel magnum opus. Not as the sequel to the old series and the beginning of a new series, but a new story among the stories already told. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rowling does the same with Harry Potter. Someday.

The 75th Anniversary of The Hobbit

This week is the 75th anniversary of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. I actually had to check the Wikipedia article to confirm that the publication date for “The Hobbit” was, in fact, 1937. (“The Lord of The Rings” wasn’t published until after World War II in the early 1950’s.) Since the trailer for the new movie has been airing on the big and small screens, I also had to check to see that “The Hobbit” had 13 dwarves with so many similar names. I have read “The Hobbit” once as young child and again as a teenager, and LOTR once as a teenager, but that was 30 years ago.

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As an eight-grader, I read “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography” by Humphrey Carpenter for a book report. My Language Arts instructor warned me that it was a difficult book to read. And it was, but not because of the language. (I would later be tested that school year to have a college-level reading comprehension even though the school system had me classified as being mentally retarded and an idiot to boot.) I had no historical framework of the early 20th century to put everything into perspective. When I read the biography again a few years ago, everything fell into place as I’ve been reading extensively about history and literature in that time period. My instructor gave me an A-grade even though I only reported on the first one-third of the biography.

Would I read the books again now that they are available as ebooks? Maybe, maybe not.

I was never a serious J.R.R. Tolkien fan. Perhaps the language was high-brow for my taste. I’m more of a David Eddings fan, having read “The Belgariad” six times and “The Malloreon” three times. The language in these two series are low-brow for sure, especially since I want to take a red pen to cross out all the adverbs in the early books. I like my fantasy down to earth and away from the ivory towers of academia.

The 99-Cent Business Model For SHORT eBooks

Everything 99 Cents Sign

Some writers on Twitter were discussing about other writers who priced their full-length ebooks at $0.99 USD, therefore ruining the market for ebooks priced at $2.99 USD or higher. I kept reading that pricing ebooks at $0.99 USD doesn’t work. Actually, it does work—for SHORT ebooks featuring short stories and essays. The $0.99 USD price point appeals to IMPULSIVE SHOPPERS who want a quick read for a buck.

I stumbled upon this pricing scheme by accident when I became frustrated that the short story reprint market was dead. My short stories saw print once and only once. Placing my reprints elsewhere became too much work. All the editors wanted new content. The few editors willing to consider reprints were so damn picky I’m not sure why they bothered. Unless you’re selling books like Stephen King, a traditional publisher won’t even look at a short story collection.

My reprints found new life as short story ebooks in late 2010. Due to the short length (my minimum word count is 1,000 words), these SHORT ebooks could only be priced at $0.99 USD. Since then I started adding more short story and essay ebooks to my catalog. My income from Amazon and Smashwords grew with every little sale to become a predictable income stream that was larger than my first serial right sales.

My current business model is to add a new SHORT ebook every other week. I should have 40 SHORT ebooks for sale by the end of this year. Most will be at $0.99 USD, some will be FREE, and the omnibus ebooks will be $1.99 USD or higher. The more SHORT ebooks I have for sale, the more sales I’ll have.

This business model isn’t risk free. I’m putting time and effort into a business model that is nothing more than throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. I really don’t know what will work and what doesn’t work. From what I learned so far—reprint sells better than original content, essays sells better than short stories—I can make reasonable readjustments over time to gain more sales.

The serious downside of having too many ebooks available for sale is when the newest generation of ebook readers require high-resolution covers to take advantage of the high-definition displays. Updating the ebook covers over the summer put me into the hole for $300 to $400 USD (still working on this project), wiping out what little profit I had for this year. The uniform covers and formatting should spur an increase in sales.

What annoys me the most with having too many ebooks for sale are the whining reviews that the SHORT ebooks are TOO SHORT. Never mind that word count listed in the description. Never mind that the SHORT ebooks area available for FREE. (I have yet to see a whining review about a paid SHORT ebook.) This is almost as bad as writers complaining about how other writers are pricing their ebooks too low.

Slimming Down The eBook File Size For Publication

As I finished preparing my newest ebook, “Once Upon An Albatross… Volume 1 (1999-2005),” I looked forward to being done. I wrote this batch of blog posts from my personal blog long before I became serious as a writer, when the concept of blogging didn’t quite exist, and my grammar usage was horrible.

In short, this wasn’t my best writing.

The process of cleaning up individual posts for the ebook became a laborious task as I had to update the website with the revised content (a little side project that I put off for the last four years). Many early posts got deleted as irrelevant or nonsensical, broken links updated or eliminated, pictures re-sized and moved to the portfolio section. For a website that started off as a dial-up Wildcat! BBS in 1995 before something called the Internet became popular, I still have seven years of content to go through.

When I uploaded the completed ebook file into Amazon and Smashwords, they both presented me with a different technical issue because the ebook file size was too big. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry for being dinged from opposing sides.

Amazon refused to allow me to set a minimum price of $0.99 USD. The price was meaningless as my blog postings ebook was FREE. (Amazon will price match to FREE when my Smashword titles are available on Barnes & Noble and iTunes for FREE.) Clicking through the various info links that Amazon provided, I had to set the minimum price to $1.99 USD because the ebook file size was greater than 3MB. That I couldn’t change without removing all the pictures from the ebook.

Smashwords refused to upload the ebook file because it exceeded the 5MB file size by a half-megabyte. Using Microsoft Word to compress all the pictures in the ebook file didn’t work because I made all the adjustments in Adobe Photoshop. I ended up deleting eight pictures that were visually redundant to get the ebook file size under 5MB.

The file size is something to keep in consideration when incorporating pictures into an ebook. If this becomes an issue again, I might select a handful of pictures for each blog post and provide a link back to the corresponding portfolio page.

Do You Have Klout As A Writer?

Klout LogoAlmost every Sunday afternoon from 12PM to 3PM PT, I’m tweeting about writing and ebook publishing with the #writechat hash tag. Last week, after a spirited discussion about a variety of issues, @domynoe tweeted that she gave me a “+K” about writing on Klout. That left me stumped. I’ve heard about Klout before but I didn’t have a Facebook account for the same reason that Facebook went public: I couldn’t figure out the privacy settings.

After I mentioned this tweet out aloud, my roommate informed me that I needed a Klout account first. I searched for the website and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I didn’t need a Facebook account at all. I could sign in with my Twitter account. That was good enough for me. Low and behold, my Klout score was 44 out of 100.

My roommate was upset that I had a higher Klout score than him. He muttered darkly about me being a Republican and all the far right-wing conspiracies I’m involved with as being the main reasons for why I have a higher Klout score.

Whatever, man.

I’m a moderate conservative in California, which is an endangered species in this very blue state, who supports President Barack Obama. Besides, most Californian Republicans stayed home from the GOP convention in Tampa, Florida, as a hurricane is real weather that is scarier than a swarm of earthquakes.

About 75% of my Klout score is writing. Not surprising since that’s biggest soapbox that I stand on week in and week out. The other subjects that I have influenced on are all offshoots related to writing. Except for the odd assortment at the very bottom, which are the topics from my personal blog.

What good is Klout to a writer? I’m not sure. Again, I had frequently heard about Klout but never got involved with it until now. May be more useful for me as a blogger on what non-writing areas I need focus my influence—or, lack thereof. Beyond that, I’ll let you know in a future blog post when I find out more myself.

Do You Have A Literary Doppelnamer?

Paper PeopeWhen I became serious about being a writer in 2006, I did an Internet search for variations of my legal name and found another “writer” using a short version of my name. (I added quotes since he haven’t published much of anything in the last six years.) The author name that I came up with was the initials of my first and middle names combined into a first name. All the search results for my author name pops right up without any competition.

The word for finding an identical or similar name as your own on the Internet, according to Carrie Kirby of the San Francisco Chronicle, is doppelnamer (a play off the German word, doppelganger).

At least [Norb] Vonnegut’s name is linked to someone [Kurt Vonnegut] with a good reputation. Not so for Michael McAfee, an Ocean Beach (San Diego County) podcast producer who had an escaped convict for a doppelnamer. Tara Murphy, a recent law school graduate and blogger in Minnesota, has been dogged by a whole pack of Tara Murphys with overdue library books, DUI arrests and sexy pictures.

The only problem that I have with my author name is that certain ebook websites don’t handle abbreviated names properly in their search results and return all the ebook listings by last name only. (My family name, Reimer, is supposedly the German equivalent to Smith in the United States.) Back in the snail mail submission days of six years ago, ebooks publishing wasn’t on my radar. If I were starting over as a writer today, I would pick a different author name without the abbreviations.

As for my legal name, I embraced all my dopplernamers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the search results. The dopplernamers helps preserve my secret identity as a writer from my non-writing job in Silicon Valley. But my legal name has the opposite problem when hiring companies conduct a social media search as my anonymous alter ego ceased to exist in the late 1990’s. Most computer technicians leave behind an Internet trail as wide as the debris field of a crashed airplane. By the time that a lack of Internet presence becomes a problem, I’ll be making a living as a full-time writer.

Molly Ringwald As Literary Novelist

Molly Ringwald in Greece (Wikimedia Commons)Like many teenagers in the early 1980’s, I fell in loved with Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”. Six years ago she appeared in “Sweet Charity” at the San Jose Center of Performing Arts, giving an excellent performance of a dance hall girl with an endless string of boyfriends. Although still working as an actress, she has a new career as a literary novelist with the recent release of her first novel, “When It Happens to You.”

Ringwald explains in an interview for The New York Times that acting and writing went hand in hand when growing up as a child. Her literary pedigree is impressive.

Q. Who are some of the writers you most admire or feel inspired or influenced by?

A. The writers that inspired me the most as a young person are the same writers that resonate with me today. I discovered Raymond Carver as a teenager, and although I don’t think you would necessarily be able to see his influence in my writing, he has always moved me and deeply inspired me as a writer — the same with Joan Didion, Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Toni Morrison, Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert and Georges Perec. In the past decade, I’ve come to admire Carol Shields, Doris Lessing, Jonathan Franzen, Robin Black, Lauren Groff and most recently Jami Attenberg, whose [upcoming] “The Middlesteins” is a marvel. I have always believed that the only way to be a good writer is to be a great reader.

I’m looking forward to reading her novel. I just hope it doesn’t put me to sleep, as so many literary novels tend to do. Beautiful language about ordinary life can sometimes be very boring, which is why I don’t write literary short stories. I keep the language plain and simple, but add a speculative element to spice up the ordinary life that I often find twisted and absurd.

21 August 2012 UpdateAn opinion piece in The New York Times by Ringwald, “Acting Like A Writer,” explains how acting and writing are closely related to each other. I find that interesting. I consider writing and web comics are closely related to each other in terms of production (read my review of “A Drifting Life” by Yoshihiro Tatsumi).

The Rock Bottom Remainders Final Swan Song

This week on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, the literary rock band, The Rock Bottom Remainders, played their final performance. Following the death of Kathi Kamen Goldmark, who founded the band with some really famous authors—Stephen King, Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Dave Berry and many others—20 years ago, they had their final concert at the American Library Association convention this past June.

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The outsized personality of the band has always been Stephen King. A biography about him quoted a band member saying that if the tour bus ever crashed and everyone died, the headlines would say, “Stephen King and 30 Others Dead”.

The first guest being interviewed was Stephen King, promoting his newest book, “The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel” (the eighth book in the series). This book better be good. Like many readers of the Dark Tower series, we were finally relieved to finish the series with book seven. The circular ending that links the seventh book to the first book was an interesting but not satisfying ending for a great quest.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUuatA_mZdg]

He talked about a short story called “The Lady’s Room,” where husbands are left stranded outside as their wives disappeared inside and were helpless to do anything about, that he left unfinished because he couldn’t figure out what went on inside the lady’s room.

Seriously, the literary master can’t finish this story? His mother never took him in the lady’s room when he was a small child?

Having been forced many times by my mother into the lady’s room at Gemco in the early 1970’s, sometimes kicking and screaming as she took my hand to force me through that sinister door, I know exactly what goes on in the lady’s room.

  1. For little boys, your eyes must always be on the worn black-and-white floor tiles to avoid seeing fat bearded ladies do makeup and/or smoke cigarettes.
  2. You must turn your back on your mother to study the flaking lead paint on the stall door before she can mount the ivory throne.
  3. You MUST ignore all sounds as a tentacle monster from deep inside the toilet bowl sexually assaults your mother. If you cry or throw a fit, a squishy thing will press you flat against the stall door.
  4. You exited the lady’s room in a daze, wondering if your mother was still your mother and not a monstrosity in disguise.
  5. Unless you become a writer as an adult, you will NEVER EVER REMEMBER what happened inside the lady’s room and stand around clueless when your wife takes your little boy into the lady’s room.

If Stephen King can’t finish a story like that, I might as well. Heck, I might even submit it to The New Yorker and win an O. Henry award.

The Month-Long eBook Promotion That Wasn’t

Promotion and key concept

Smashwords had their July Summer/Winter Sale last month, where I offered a 50% off discount on three omnibus ebooks and a half-dozen ebooks were automatically enrolled as they were already FREE. (See the new free ebook page for list of titles.) The results are in—drumroll, please—it’s, meh.

That’s not surprising. Nearly all my ebook sales from Smashwords are through the third-party distribution network (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, etc.). Sales through the website itself are very rare events. The 50% off discount went over like a lead balloon. The FREE ebooks, however, went flying off the virtual shelves. The Post-It note with the pre-sales numbers disappeared, so no breakdown of how well the FREE ebooks did for this promotion.

July was such a distracting month that I couldn’t do any active promoting.

I spent three weeks trying to get a small business checking for my intellectual property holding company (IPHC). US Bank didn’t like my anonymous limited liability company (LLC) from Wyoming, or the supporting documents provided by my registered agent to represent me in Wyoming, because my name wasn’t officially listed anywhere. After three trips to the branch office and several heated arguments, the manager denied my application.

This isn’t an uncommon problem in the post-9/11 era. The stricter banking standards are to thwart terrorists, organized crime and Wall Street from opening accounts for money laundering. Not that this actually prevents that from happening. The practical application is to prevent the little guy from getting a leg up on big business. I’ll have to shop around until I find a bank or credit union that will accept my out-of-state LLC.

US Bank, however, had no problems opening a business checking for my writing business with a California LLC as my name was on all the documents. Providing a copy of my DBA statement also proved that my writing business had existed since 2006. Opening a new account still took two more trips to the branch office to get it done. The manager became shocked—shocked!—to find out that I wasn’t kidding when I told her that I was operating a “small business” with lowercase letters. I hope that will change next year.