The Empty Story

Speaking of things I didn’t realize early in my writing career, did you know there is more to a story than a simple gimmick? It’s easy to break my novels down into gimmicks (Xronixle – VR, Veneer – AR, Perion Synthetics – Robots), but those don’t really encompass the totality of those stories.

For every novel I publish, there are dozens that never get past a handful of chapters. I used to wonder why that was, and I was able to put a name to it the other night while watching the Westworld premiere.

Every story that stalls out… is empty.

What does that mean?

Suppose we start with an idea: a tornado full of sharks is making its way up the coast of California. Well, as undeniably awesome as that idea is, it is nothing without real human drama added to it. Imagine you made a movie about that very idea, but you didn’t add any humanity to it, didn’t give the characters feelings or identity or motivation. That’d be a pretty shitty movie, wouldn’t it?

The idea of a theme park full of pseudo-artificially intelligent robots is a gimmick plain and simple. It’s nothing more than a setting. If you want to make a good story out of it, you have to add something more to it. Make no mistake, I enjoyed every minute of the Westworld pilot, but it didn’t click for me until Anthony Hopkins was interviewing Dolores’ dad.

The dad says something along the lines of you’re living in a prison of your own sins.

Suddenly the story is about more. There’s something LARGER than the story INSIDE the story. There is more to Westworld than a superficial gimmick. At least, that’s the promise.

Por Vida is a novel about synthetic transcendence, obsession, friendship, mental health, y más y más, but I struggled for a long time to write it. Initially, it was just a guy and a girl in a bunker at the end of the world. Just that idea alone makes me think oh that’s neat, but how do we change that to oh that’s compelling?

A great example of what I’m still failing to articulate is the movie Inception. Without the Cobb-Mal subplot, I don’t think that movie would have worked as well. As it is, once that twist is revealed, subsequent viewings of the movie become less enjoyable. The dreams are an interesting idea, and the visuals are stunning, but without those core human emotions of betrayal and love and regret… it’s not the same movie.

It’s hard to enumerate the steps that take you from superficial to deep while writing a story. For me, it has only happened four times in 16 years. I try not to worry about it, and instead choose to focus on my ability to recognize when a story is empty

Ah, the life of a writer: knowing you suck, but not knowing how to fix it.

But at least we’re self-aware, right?

Further reading: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

BSIY Mirror Frames

Because your girlfriend said it would be easy

When Dom and I built a new home last year, we had this idea of using pre-framed mirrors in our bathrooms. We asked the builder not to put anything on the wall, so of course we spent a month staring at a blank wall while brushing our teeth. The problem, we discovered, was that there were no mirrors available in both small and large (for my sink and hers) with the same style of framing.

The only solution was to buy naked mirrors and build the frames ourselves! At least, that’s what she told me. So we got some mirrors from Lowe’s and some supplies from Home Depot. We looked at some plans online, but that’s not really my style. They don’t call it Bullshit-it-Yourself for nothing.

I drew up a plan.

I know, it’s really complex. But, the plan was only to figure out how much molding we needed for the frame.

Now, I could tell you about the first mirror frame I built (it took a month), but I know your time is valuable, so we’ll skip right to the second mirror, which only took a day.

1. Gather Supplies

Here’s everything you’re going to need and why.

  • A mirror (optional — you can choose to print a 30×36 poster of Jeff Goldblum if you wish)
  • 1/4″ x 2″ x 4″ sheets of plywood to act as backing
  • Crown molding or baseboards, whatever floats your boat
  • Liquid Nails
  • Caulk
  • Sliding Miter Saw (Confession: I only accepted this project because it would allow me to purchase this.)
  • Small screws (for securing backing to molding)
  • L-brackets (for larger mirrors, as extra stabilization)
  • Mounting hardware
  • Painting Supplies (paint, brush, tape)

2. Arrange backing

Lay out your plywood to create a base. We’re going to arrange them to make the minimal amount of cuts later.

Do your best to eliminate any gaps between the plywood.

3. Set mirror on backing

Get your girlfriend to help you carefully place the mirror on the backing.

Let’s assume you’ve already messed up a frame or five before tackling this project. Use some scrap molding to carve out the plywood by placing them right at the edge. Use clamps to hold them in place while you push the mirror into the corner.

Use EVEN MORE MOLDING to mark cut-lines on the plywood (left pic). Cut the plywood down to size and use molding to confirm it is close enough (right pic).

4. Cut and glue the molding

Without letting the mirror move, remove all the scrap molding.

If this is your first time using a sliding miter saw, you’re in for some fun! Pick a side to start on and cut the first piece of molding. Use 45-degree angles and eyeball (you can measure if you are one of those DIY weirdos) the placement.

Glue it down with some liquid nails and use clamps to make sure it stays up.

Work your way around the mirror in this manner until you have three sides completed. DO NOT GLUE ALL FOUR SIDES unless you enjoy starting things over.

Note: For whatever reason, I had little luck measuring and cutting. Instead, I carefully made a cut, tested the fit, and repeated until it was perfect. Get it as close to perfect as you can; we’ll fix the tiny gaps with caulk later.

5. Glue the mirror down

If the mirror is sufficiently large, ask a friend, neighbor, or pastor to lift the mirror as you apply liquid nails to the plywood.

You should probably use a lot of glue. Like, a lot. You wouldn’t want this thing falling off the wall onto your sink and then your bathroom floor. That’s seven years bad luck.

6. Complete the frame

Using the skills you learned in Step 4, cut the final piece of molding and glue it to the plywood. Give it some time to set.

7. Add some bracing (optional)

The smaller of our mirrors didn’t seem to need it, but because of the size of the larger one, the entire frame felt kinda flimsy. To ensure a uniform shape, add some L-brackets to the back of the frame.

This keeps the two pieces of molding in each corner steady so you can caulk them.

8. Secure those panels

Use some of those small screws to secure the plywood to the molding. What size screws, you ask? I don’t know, man. Just a small one that won’t poke up through the molding.

At the very least, add screws to the joints between the plywood panels. Add them along the border at regular intervals. I’m sure there’s a scientific method for determining the maximum distance between each screw but we’re gonna leave that to the science nerds.

9. Clean up your mess, you animal

Depending on how the mirror is going to be mounted, you may want to clean up the rough edges of the plywood, since they’ll be visible from the side. Use a file and some sandpaper to smooth those out.

Admittedly, this is the worst part of this BSIY design. It’d be nice if the plywood could somehow be recessed into the molding so that it’s hidden, but I’m not Chip Gaines and neither are you.

10. Fill the seams

Use a caulk gun (or brute strength) to fill in the seams at the joints.

You might as well tape prior to caulking since there is a seam that touches the mirror.

11. Sand, prime, paint, and hang

This part doesn’t involve a single power tool, so I won’t go into much detail. Make the frame look nice. Take frequent breaks to show your girlfriend and make sure she’s pleased.

Final Warning

Do not attempt to craft the frame without the mirror in place. Doing so will inevitably lead to the mirror not fitting in the hole. Then you’ll have to cut the backing, fit the mirror, and redo the backing. It will look horrible. Like this:

This project doesn’t take very long, so don’t worry about being without a mirror. If you start in the morning, it can be on your wall by dinner.

And then, dinner!

The Broken Promise of Synthetic Transcendence

by Aiden Haefer | Banks Media Productions | 01.15.2035

There’s nothing special about the Plummer Tower on the corner of Fountain and Gardner in Hollywood, California. It has a modern design of black windows on a gray grid and stands fifty stories tall. From the outside, you wouldn’t be able to tell it houses one of the biggest lies of the twenty-first century.

Since the technology was developed twenty years ago by Perion Synthetics, more than 78,000 Americans have bought into the slick marketing campaigns of companies like Vitra Synth.

Their message isn’t subtle: by transferring to a synthetic body, you can live forever.

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Prospective clients are told their consciousnesses are moved to a synthetic body, but how is that even possible? A synthetic body doesn’t have an organic brain. Just because you read out of one book and write to another doesn’t mean it’s the same book.

This is hardly a new question:

In Reasons and Persons, [Derek] Parfit asks the reader to imagine entering a “teletransporter”, a machine that puts you to sleep, then destroys you, breaking you down into atoms, copying the information and relaying it to Mars at the speed of light. On Mars, another machine re-creates you (from local stores of carbon, hydrogen, and so on), each atom in exactly the same relative position. Parfit poses the question of whether or not the teletransporter is a method of travel — is the person on Mars the same person as the person who entered the teletransporter on Earth? Certainly, when waking up on Mars, you would feel like being you, you would remember entering the teletransporter in order to travel to Mars, you would even feel the cut on your upper lip from shaving this morning.

Then the teleporter is upgraded. The teletransporter on Earth is modified to not destroy the person who enters it, but instead it can simply make infinite replicas, all of whom would claim to remember entering the teletransporter on Earth in the first place.

Using thought experiments such as these, Parfit argues that any criteria we attempt to use to determine sameness of person will be lacking, because there is no further fact. What matters, to Parfit, is simply “Relation R”, psychological connectedness, including memory, personality, and so on. [source]

The method of transcendence offered by Vitra Synth is similar to Parfit’s teletransporter idea. A wealthy subject’s brain is copied bit-for-bit into a synthetic chassis. According to VS representatives, the process is “destructive” and leaves the subject’s brain non-viable. Thus, the original human dies while the synthetic human lives on.

But, as Parfit points out, is the new synthetic you really you?

More to the point, by electing to undergo a procedure that renders our brains non-viable, thereby resulting in our own deaths, are we not committing some form of suicide?

For the rich and powerful, the prospect of immortality likely outshines any philosophical questions of self, but for the rest of us, we have to ask ourselves: who are these synthetic humans? Do they share our goals, values, and beliefs?

Is the process of transcendence truly destructive? Or does it simply need to be to prevent Parfit’s paradox (or more likely, uncomfortable questions)? There won’t be any risk of waking up on the wrong table if the original human is killed, right?

* * *

It’s not hard to understand why First Humans groups like Tru Organa and Stop Synthetic Proliferation were created. By allowing companies like Vitra Synth to offer Personhood-as-a-Service, we are setting a precedent that devalues human life and raises synthetic life to a level matching our own.

The kicker? None of it would be possible if customers were more informed.

2015 gave us the dawn of synthetic humans. In 2025, Joseph Perion championed a synthetics rights campaign started by his father, resulting in the granting of personhood to fifteen hundred synthetics. Today, there are almost 80,000 synthetic humans walking around as if they are just like us.

They’re not.

If you’re considering synthetic transcendence, consider this:

  • Your organic body will die, thus you will die
  • A copy (screw what the marketing says) of your consciousness will awake in a synthetic body. You will not be human. You will not be you.

Pottery Barn? More Like Desperate Barn.

All I wanted to do was buy Dom a skeleton. It seemed simple enough. She saw it in the store and really liked it. I thought, huh, maybe I’ll order that online and surprise her? So I did just that. But, in order to get a 15% percent coupon, I had to enter my email address.

I know. You’re thinking: you brought this on yourself, Daniel. And sure, I wouldn’t have minded an email every week from Desperate Barn (not their real name, but lots of people are saying they’re desperate, lots of smart people. I don’t know, someone should probably look into that), but what I got instead was just… disappointing.

That’s just way too many emails. And a lot of them were the same damn email about 15% off my first order.

So yeah, I know what the solution is, but did it have to come to this? Did I really have to write a blog post about it?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is that Por Vida work has dried up until the book comes back from the proofer, so I’m really, really bored. So this is what is has come to.

TL;DR

You’re doing email marketing wrong, Pottery Barn.

Page 340

Today, I finished what will be my final proofing read-through for Por Vida. I still have to go back and accept the changes (making sure everything I added or deleted needed adding or deleting), but the last of the readthroughs is done. In a few days, I’ll send the manuscript off to a professional to make 100% sure there are no grammar / spelling / stupid errors. 

So close to the end. It’s amazing. 

On the cover front, my graphic designer friend Lauren has started working on turning my cookie cutter Canva idea (the Por Vida cover on the front page) into a unique, kickass cover. Why even bother? Good question. First, I don’t own the copyright for that photo of Sarah Shahi, though I wish I did. Luckily, I’ve got a friend who is going to step in and play the part of Sepideh Ahmadi. Second, as Canva grows in popularity, we’ll probably see hundreds of the same covers polluting the Kindle waters.

It’s always better to have something that stands out in the crowd.

While Por Vida is out of my hands, I’ll be working on the million other things that go into publishing a book, things like descriptions, synopsiseses, blurbs, ads, marketing strategies, rear cover art, witty Facebook posts, and the like.

Or, you know, stupid stuff like this:

 Kodi Smit-McPhee did not give me permission to use his likeness but I'm sure he'd be a total dude about it.

Kodi Smit-McPhee did not give me permission to use his likeness but I’m sure he’d be a total dude about it.

 Same thing goes for Chris Pine, though I imagine he'd be less of a dude and more of a bro.

Same thing goes for Chris Pine, though I imagine he’d be less of a dude and more of a bro.

It passes the time. What do you do to pass the time between my books?

Xronixle Reloaded

Por Vida is currently in the proofing stage, which means I open the Word doc, place a cursor, and hit PLAY on the text-to-speech program. Then I watch and listen to my story. It catches a lot of errors, but it is a slow process, and there’s only so much of it you can take each day.

To pass the time and still feel like I’m writing, I’ve started a rewrite of Xronixle. I hope to have a new version ready by the end of 2017 to coincide with the 10 year anniversary. I’ve always thought Xronixle was an awesome story, but I was not an awesome writer when I published it. Ten years have taught me a few things, so I’d like to beef up that story, add some punctuation, fix the blatant errors, and generally just tone down the nonsense.

Today was a good example of that. Consider the passage:

His fingers moved in small circles around her warm skin, twisting and winding their way higher and higher. X’s hands went flat against her flesh, moved up the sides of her breasts, came together in the middle, and then back down again. He moved his head next to hers and watched the side of her mouth, listening for the quickened breathing that he knew would never come.

And the rewrite

His fingers moved in small circles around her warm skin, twisting and winding their way up her body. He cupped her breasts, squeezed.

No acknowledgement from C.

No quickened breathing.

2004 Daniel had a bad habit of not being direct, and it permeates throughout the story. Cleaning it up just feels like something that needs to be done.

 Less an actual cover and more an example of my lacking graphic design skills.

Less an actual cover and more an example of my lacking graphic design skills.

How to Publish a Book

Carl from America writes:

Hey, man, how’d you get all them dang ol’ robots and explosions in my electronic book? I wanna do that with my pappy’s farm stories ‘fore the harvest come.

Well, Carl, publishing your book of allegorical farm stories is actually pretty easy, if you know the true secret. But, can the true secret just be told to anyone, especially someone from America, a country that is not known for keeping secrets? My research says yes, yes it can. So, Carl, let’s take a look at the steps involved in publishing and maybe, just maybe, learn the true secret of publishing.

Step 0: Finish Your Book

Let’s assume you’ve already written your book, because like it or not, you can’t publish a book if you don’t have a book to publish (not the true secret). And when I say finish your book, I mean your book has been rewritten, revised, edited, and proofed. Alpha and Beta readers have all given feedback. You’ve pored over it for months or years, making it just as perfect as it can be.

If it’s December 1st and you just finished your 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, you don’t have a book to publish. Yet.

Step 1: Talk Yourself Out of Traditional Publishing

The first thing you’ll want to do is research publishing houses and literary agents. There are hundreds of websites on the world wide website collective that list where you can send your unsolicited manuscript. Visit enough and you’ll start seeing common requirements, like:

  • a cover letter hyping the book and yourself
  • a spoiler-filled synopsis of 1, 5, or N pages
  • an outline of the story
  • the first N chapters of the story, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 or Courier, name and title at the top of every page, page numbers centered, no adjectives as the final word of any line, paper smelling vaguely of peaches, bound in human flesh
  • the entire goddamn manuscript printed and mailed via “media mail”
  • a self-addressed stamped envelope
  • a self-addressed stamped postcard
  • six to twelve months to allow for a response

You may be tempted to actually start producing the above materials, especially the synopsis, because really how hard can it be to write a synopsis of your own story? Answer: rather difficult. Writing a synopsis is like writing technical documentation — there’s no soul in it and at the end you want to die.

At this point in the process, just say to yourself:

What’s the point? They’re just going to say no anyway. I should just skip this part, go straight to self-publishing, and get on with the next book.

Congratulations! You’ve just learned the true secret, which is to lower your expectations.

Step 2: Choose Your Format(s)

If you’re old enough, you’d probably like nothing more than to hold your book in your hands and watch as your tears blot the pages. While there are many options for turning your Word doc into printed pages, you can save yourself some time by choosing between two on-demand publishing services: Createspace and Lulu.

Before Amazon stepped in and ate their lunch, Lulu was the only player around the time I published my first book of short stories. They revamped a few years ago, and though I haven’t used their services since Xronixle, they should be a pretty safe bet.

If you’re looking for the easiest path into the Amazon ecosystem, then Createspace is your best choice. Once you “publish” your book with them, it automatically becomes available for purchase at Amazon.com. And though the process is not perfect and still requires manual intervention, they also have push-button conversion to Kindle format.

As far as ebooks go, the question is not which digital format will I choose, but rather, will I publish any formats other than Kindle?

You see, there are plenty of digital marketplaces out there, from Nook to Kobo to Smashwords to ZipperStories to Fish&Metaphors. There was a time when I published to every marketplace that would have me, but after a while, I realized that Kindle copies were accounting for 98% of the digital pie. That may just be my experience, but keep in mind that not all digital platforms are equal, and you may end up doing extra work for each marketplace.

My Recommendation

Stick with Createspace and Kindle. If your book takes off like you know it will, you can expand into the other markets. For now, focus your energy (and reviews, customer discussions, photos, news, etc) on a single product page.

Step 3: The Cover

As famed literary critic Earnest Darby once said:

Your cover sucks.

If you’re anything like me, then you were blessed with a mediocre talent for story-telling and absolutely no talent for graphic design. Some things are better left to professionals, and since your cover is the first thing a potential reader is going to see, it needs to be engaging.

Note: There is a trend in self-publishing to invest as little money as possible into the process. Choosing on-demand printing makes sense, but when it comes to the cover, prepare to open your wallet.

By all means, go ahead and mock up a few covers of your own (it’s a lot of fun), but then turn those over to a pro and let them create the final product. Make friends with artists and graphic designers so you can get friend rates; if you just choose any rando on the internet, it may cost you between $50-$100 per hour.

My original mockups for Perion Synthetics, with artwork found randomly on the net and on atleastwedream.com

If you can’t afford a professional like Lauren Ellis (laurenellis.me) or Justin Pérez (justinperezdesign.com), then head over to DeviantArt or your digital art repository of choice and find some artwork you like. Slap your title and name over it, realize it looks terrible, and then try to pick up some extra shifts down at the plant so you can afford a professional.

Do not make the cover yourself if you cannot art. Spend the money. Do not not spend the money. Mortgage your wife if you have to.

Step 4: Format for Print

Your book is done, the last of the edits have been made, and now it’s time to format that sucker for print. If you’re publishing with Createspace, here’s what you need to do:

Under Layout / Page Setup / Margins:

  • Top: 0.75″
  • Bottom: 0.75″
  • Inside: 0.75″
  • Outside: 0.5″
  • Gutter: 0.15″

Make sure Apply to is set to Whole Document.

Under Layout / Page Setup / Paper:

  • Paper size: Custom Size
  • Width: 6″
  • Height: 9″

Apply to Whole Document.

Under Layout / Page Setup / Layout:

  • Section start: Odd page
  • Different odd and even: checked
  • Different first page: checked
  • From edge: 0.35″ for both header and footer

The Layout options exist so you can get headers, footers, and page numbering correct. You need to divide your story into sections in Word, especially between the front material and the “first page” of the book. Different odd and even allows you to have the book title and your name alternate positions in the header. Different first page gives you the option of omitting the header on the opening page of a new section (useful if starting a new “part” set halfway down the page).

Clean it up

Once you save these options, your story will repaginate and you’ll need to go back through and make sure you’re happy with the line and paragraph breaks. Word does its best to keep paragraphs together (google widow and orphan control), but if you’re a perfectionist, you may want to add in some word-breaks like they did in the olden days to make sure the text flows perfectly. Make sure you enable Track Changes before you start and then review each change before saving and exporting to PDF.

Head over to Createspace and follow their instructions for uploading your PDF. Expect to spend some time reviewing, fixing, and re-uploading until it looks perfect. Even after that, you’ll order a proof before it becomes available for purchase.

Step 5: Format for Kindle

It’s 2016, so obviously you’re well-versed in HTML. Even so, this is going to take some work. As complicated as the Word formatting was, HTML is just the opposite. The goal is to minimize as much as possible.

The easiest way to get started is to simply upload your Word doc to the KDP website and let them convert it for you. Download the HTML, open it in Brackets (or your HTML editor of choice), and learn how to search and replace.

Word leaves a lot of garbage in the initial conversion. Where possible, you’ll want to convert paragraph tags (with their complicated styles or classes) to simple <p> tags.

<p class="first">“In virtual reality, the ether is as dark as a raven’s feathers. It is the color of emptiness, of nothingness. But the smell, the smell is just the opposite. It is the smell of potential, of possibility. It’s the entire spectrum of scent compressed into a single wavelength. Ether is everything, the spring from which all is born and all returns. It is the beginning... and the end.”</p> 

<p>Echoes of a drunken conversation flitted past Kenneth Barnes in the dark emptiness of the construct. He vaguely remembered the face of Wade Something-or-other from Nixle Chronos sitting next to him at a bar, trying to sell him on the potential of augmented reality. It was actually Wade’s second pitch of the day, but it lacked the formality of the one he had given in the rented conference room at 823 Congress. There, he had stood in front of Kenneth and three other Vinestead employees and extolled the limitless wonder of bringing virtual reality out into the real world. He’d spoken with confidence and gusto, as any CTO would if he thought he was pitching to the advisory board for Seraphim Capital.</p>

To mirror the design of the print version, I use two types of paragraphs:

P
{
direction:ltr;
text-align:justify;
widows:2;
orphans:2;
margin-top:0;
margin-bottom:0;
padding-top:0;
padding-bottom:0;
text-indent:.25in;
}
P.first
{
text-indent:0;
}

Essentially, the only thing P.first does is eliminate the indent. Those two statements are the entirety of my CSS. Not much else is really needed unless you’re trying to get fancy. And you’re not trying to get fancy, are you?

The Hunt

You are the hunter, and conversion artifacts are your prey. Certain characters just don’t translate well, so here’s your loop:

  • Make edits to HTML file
  • Use kindlegen to convert it to Kindle format (on your computer)
  • Use Kindle Previewer to preview the content (on your computer)
  • Take note of the mistakes (things like ellipses, quotes, accented characters, etc that may need to be replaced with &larr; or whatever)
  • Repeat

During this process, you are going to click through your novel page by page several times. Don’t shortcut it. Just put in the time and work. There is nothing more jarring than an error in a digital book.

Remember: as a self-publisher, your readers are already looking down their noses at you. Don’t give them a reason to judge you by slacking on the digital conversion. You want them focused on the story, not your formatting.

Step 6: Consider Another Career

With the print and Kindle versions ready to go live, it’s time to take a minute to consider whether you really want to go through with this. If it’s your first time publishing, this may only take the space of a heartbeat. If you’re a seasoned vet, you’re in store for a drunken weekend of wondering:

  • What if no one buys the book?
  • What if my Facebook friends hate me for spamming them?
  • What if no one likes the book?
  • What if James Taylor finds out I used his lyrics without permission?
  • What if no one buys the book?
  • What if all those people who promised to buy my book don’t buy my book?
  • What if Luba Shumeyko finds out I wrote a book about my obsession with her? #porvida
  • How much money am I going to lose on marketing?
  • What if my mom reads the sex scenes?
  • Am I really a writer?
  • Is this real life?

Your questions may vary. Stay strong, get drunk, and you’ll come out fine on the other end. You wrote a book, you soggy son of a bitch. That’s art where I come from, and all art is valid, even if it’s terrible or Hey, Soul Sister. Even if your metaphors suck and your imagery smells like a screeching guitar riff. If people don’t like it, they can write their own goddamn Picket Fences fanfiction.

Step 7: The Marketing Machine

Nothing makes me want to shove my face into the ceiling fan like thinking about marketing my book. Much like graphic design, I’m completely hopeless when it comes to getting my book in front of people.

My fourth novel is coming out early next year, and it’s pretty clear that I’m completely unprepared for the launch. I have a few ideas, but my mileage has varied from 0 to 1.

In the months leading up to release

  • Spam Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Medium / Etc with posts tangentially related to your book. If you write a book about synthetic humans, constantly retweet anything by Davecat and add your hashtag. Decrease the subtlety the closer you get to launch day.
  • Buy space on ebook announcement newsletters and websites. If you get the feeling that most of these sites feel like scams, rest easy, because they are. Strangely, they do generate traffic, so put your bank’s fraud detection department to the test and punch in those credit card numbers.
  • Send regular status updates to your newsletterYou do have a newsletter, right?
  • Tell your mom. That’s one sale right there.
  • Enable pre-orders for the Kindle edition. I haven’t gotten a chance to use this yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
  • Write a blog post about how to market your book and mention the book you’re trying to market over and over and over.
  • Line up Advanced Reviewers who will read the book ahead of time, purchase it on the day of release, and (honestly) review it within 1–2 days. (You will be sending potential readers to the product page; make sure there are reviews by Amazon verified purchasers.) DO NOT in any way, shape, or form reward/thank/compensate your advanced reviewers through Amazon. If you send them a gift card, their reviews will likely be pulled.
  • Run a giveaway promotion on Goodreads. Specifically ask the winners to write their review on Amazon (and Goodreads, but Amazon first).
  • Create a Facebook event that will remind everyone to buy your book on launch day (to inflate the sales numbers in a small window of time). Invite everyone you know and cross your fingers they pass the SPAM-buck to their friends too.

The day before launch

The plan is simple:

  • Freak the F out.

The day of launch

Stay active on Social Media. Make sure all of your promoted posts are running as planned. Post in your Event telling people to go buy. Make sure your newsletter ads actually went out. Ask for reshares. Ask for likes. Do everything you can to get your book noticed. Call in to local radio shows and pretend things from your books are real. Call your mom, make sure she bought your book.

Freak out a little more.

Black out for two weeks.

Step 8: Aftermath

Time to face the music. The book launch didn’t go exactly as planned. A lot of people bought your book, but statistically, no one did.

Your biggest job at this point is to convince yourself that none of it matters. You don’t write to make money; you’re an artist! You’re compelled to write, even if no one reads your books.

Revel in the initial surge in sales; ignore the leveling off.

Revel in the good reviews; ignore the bad ones (and all of Goodreads)

Have conversations with people who actually read the book and enjoyed it. Listen to them talk about characters and events you created. Listen to the feelings they experienced while reading, feelings that you put there.

You published your story so you could share something with other people. Even if your mom is your only reader, you still succeeded. Next time, you can try doubling your audience. And if you don’t, no big deal. Your NFLX investment made more money in the last year than any of your books did. Take solace in that.

Afterword

Obviously, this is my own personal experience translated into a sarcastic blog post for my American friend Carl. There are a lot of independent publishers who enjoy great success with their marketing, cover design, and yes, even traditional publishing. I envy their use of social media (see Ingrid Sundberg and Esther Dalseno on Instagram). I envy the community they’ve built around themselves. But I don’t dwell on it.

You see, marketing is the shitty side of publishing. Your book, good or bad, needs to get in front of people. If you can’t market, that’s not going to happen. And if that doesn’t happen, you may get discouraged and not write your next book.

And that would be a damn shame.

Hope this information helps, Carl. If not, too bad. I’m a self-proclaimed Science Fiction author, not a blog writer.

You wanted to know how to publish a book and avoid common mistakes.

Well, your first mistake was coming to me.

The Last Stop on the Road to Fatsville

A few years ago, while waiting around for class to start at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do, I got the bright idea to try doing an iron cross on some hanging hand ladders (I don’t know what they’re called, not even enough to google a picture). So there I was, my face three inches off the ground, with my arms straight out to the side, when I felt something give in my left shoulder. It hurt for a few days, and that was it. I forgot all about it.

This past March, I started Camp Gladiator, and by April, I was at my doctor’s office getting a steroid shot in my shoulder. It felt better for a few days, and then the pain came screaming back whenever I moved my shoulder in certain ways. So I went to my good friends at North Austin Sports Medicine, who put me in a boot that time I fractured my foot kicking Lauren to death.

Here’s what you’re looking at but can’t see because you’re not a doctor:

Supraspinatus/lnfraspinatus: Moderate or high-grade partial undersurface tear involves the anterior infraspinatus tendon at the insertion. Tear measures roughly 6 mm AP dimension. Mild bandlike muscle edema in the infraspinatus just inferior to the musculotendinous junction related to muscle strain.

Labrum: Posterosuperior labral tear. At the superior labrum, sublabral recess versus superior labral tear is present. Given the irregularity of the signal along the base of the superior Iabrum, superior labral tear is favored .

Whatever that means. Actually, I know what it means: surgery.

Count backwards from 100…

My first thought when I heard the word surgery was I’m going to die. I knew it with 100% certainty. After all, I had just finished reading Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time over at io9.com. They talked about how people used to die and no one knows what is happening and chaos and old people and then tried to make it better with a quote from the Mayo Clinic:

Most healthy people don’t have any problems with general anesthesia. Although many people may have mild, temporary symptoms, general anesthesia itself is exceptionally safe, even for the sickest patients. The risk of long-term complications, much less death, is very small. In general, the risk of complications is more closely related to the type of procedure you’re undergoing, and your general physical health, than to the anesthesia itself.

Yes, but very small is not zero. As anyone with generalized anxiety will tell you, it’s boring to imagine all the ways something could go right. Instead, we focus on the image of going to sleep and just never waking up. How the hell are you going to suspend my consciousness and not really understand how you’re doing it? Where do I go?

With my luck, I’ll wake up in hell where I’ll spend eternity at my front window shaking my head at all the cars parked in the cul-de-sac while AWOLNATION blares from unseen speakers.

Stop rolling your eyes at my dramatic response to surgery. If you subscribe to the Multiverse theory, as I do, then that means there are an infinite number of universes in which I die on the operating table next week.

INFINITE! NOW WHO’S CRAZY?!

The Real Danger

Before I met my bride-to-be, I was all about P90X, Insanity, and Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb diet. I was 30 years old and determined to be fit at least once in my life. Since then, I’ve gotten older, exercised less, and eaten more. As you can see from my weight and BMI log, I’m entering a danger zone. Until now, I haven’t really been scared of it, since I “know how to turn it all around.”

But now, surgery.

My biggest fear now is that this will be the point of no return. Once I come out of surgery, I won’t be able to run for 6–12 weeks. Run. As in, “bounce jauntily down the street at a steady tempo.” I already don’t exercise enough, which makes me worry that this will be the ultimate excuse to sit on the couch and binge watch Orange is the New Blacklist. As if I need more excuses.

My doc estimates it will be 5–6 months before I’m back to my regular exercise (JKD and CG). That’s a long time to be doing very little, especially if I can’t get my diet under control.

Again, imagining how it all turns out fine is boring. I like to imagine the worst and see just how far down the fat-hole we can go.

Day 40: Shoulder gave a slight tingle today. Ate a pint of ice cream to numb the pain. Hurt my back a little trying to plug in my electric scooter. Also my extendo-grab-pole thinger stopped working. That’s the third one since the surgery. Skyped with a company in Norway that has a toilet attachment for my scooter. Also Dom left her engagement ring at the bottom of a bag of chips where she knew I would find it. I’d go after her, but the scooter only has like a one mile range.

Basically your worst case scenario.

The Joys of a Sugar-based Diet

If I’m the first person to tell you sugar is bad, then you, my friend, must be new to life. A quick google search will tell you everything you need to know, so I won’t repeat it here.

 Before sugar

Before sugar

 After sugar

After sugar

According to Wikipedia, sugar is a “sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrate composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.” What they don’t mention is that sugar is life. Sugar is happiness. Sugar is everything that is good in the world.

Try to imagine a world without sugar. Hard to read with tears in your eyes, isn’t it?

Thirty days out from surgery, I gave up sugar completely. Cold turkeys. That lasted two weeks. Then I had carrot cake, lemon chess pie, and ice cream. And again the next day, but then I stopped. Cold turkeys.

That lasted a week because when mom makes chocolate chip cookies, you eat the damn chocolate chip cookies. And brownies. And ice cream. And a smoothie.

A week out from surgery, and I’m back on the no-sugar train, which I’m sure is set to derail any day now.

I’ve convinced myself it won’t be my fault if I treat my shoulder pain with Ben & Jerry’s. My only hope is that I’ll be confined to the house and Dom will refuse to bring me sugar.

Speaking of…

The Finite Well of Willpower

There’s some argument about whether willpower is finite or not, but most people agree it is hard to always do the right thing. The way I see it, my list of “right things” for the second half of 2016 includes:

  • Eating a minimal amount of sugar
  • Reducing carbs
  • Eating more vegetables and fruits
  • Exercising however and whenever possible
  • Physical therapy
  • Not going insane

So many people have had arthroscopic surgery and come out fine on the other end. They didn’t drift into the great unknown of the afterlife, they didn’t skip their PT, and they recovered nicely. But how did they do it? Through willpower alone?

I use most of my willpower to write. Every day. Put in the work. Write the novels. Make the dollars and cents. Spend it at Whataburger. Double Whataburger with cheese and jalepeños, hold the onions. Fries. Strawberry shake. I bet Heaven smells like a Whataburger.

That was a delicious tangent.

I worry that I won’t have enough willpower to do everything I need to do to recover as fast as possible. I need to get back to JKD. I need to get back to CG. And I don’t want to sacrifice my writing willpower to make that happen.

The Summary of All Fears

In short, I’m scared that trying to recover from this surgery will be the final nail in the coffin of my physical fitness dream. My diet may start out good but will soon return to its sugary roots. Lingering shoulder pain will keep me from running, fighting, and doing boot camps. Fear of further injury will keep me from pushing myself back into weightlifting.

Everything will go downhill except the graph of my weight, which will climb steadily towards the heavens, never to find its way back down.

All is not lost though.

I’ll have a physical therapist to whip my shoulder back into shape. Dom will continue to plan healthy meals and threaten to make me watch Scandal with her if I eat so much as a single M&M. Forrest will show me how to fight with just one arm. The CG family will continue to applaud my efforts at camp for absolutely no reason.

I guess that’s the solution. If you don’t have enough willpower of your own, draw from your friends and family.

Of course, none of that matters if you don’t wake up after going under.

See you on the other side.

Hopefully.

BSIY (Highway to the) Drop Zone

As mentioned at the end of BSIY Elevated Garden, Dom and I have been working on a Drop Zone for the area just inside our garage door. When we built the house, there was supposed to be a diagonal nook that connected the oven/micro to the wall behind it. We asked them to build a valet / drop zone instead, and they said blah blah no blah blah fire code. So we said, fine, leave out the nook; we’ll build the drop zone ourselves.

Our requirements were simple:

  • A place to hang jackets for the two months out of the year that it’s cold in Texas.
  • A bench because we’re getting old and can’t put on our shoes standing up anymore.
  • A place to store said shoes so we don’t track dirt into the house.

Dom put in months and months of Pinteresting to find designs we liked, and then we set to building!

Step 1: The Tools

Even with my ever-increasing arsenal of tools, we still had to stop by the Home Depot to pick up a new toy.

I don’t believe in any tools that can shoot nails into my eyeballs, so I left this guy to Dom’s steady hands. Much like the dogs, I ran and hid in the other room anytime she used it.

Step 2: The Design

We went for the simplest design we could find: MDF over bead board. Here is Dom’s initial sketch.

You can get all of the materials from Home Depot. Choose your bead board based on how wide you want the slats. As for the MDF, you’re going to need a few different widths.

  • Large — to form the baseboard
  • Medium — for the sides and horizontal braces
  • Small — for the shelf that will overhang the top of the wall

We also got:

  • Liquid nails
  • Caulk
  • Electric sander
  • Paint

Step 3: Prepping the Site

Luckily, the wall we were working with had no outlets and no light switches on it. The only teardown we had to do was for the shoe molding and baseboards.

This was pretty simple, and since we had plenty of leftover molding in the attic, we didn’t need to salvage what we removed. Okay, yeah, we were just lazy with the whole reuse recycle thing.

Step 4: Cutting the Bead Board

Dom really wanted to do most of the work for this project, so I just sat back and helped where I could. Although her circular saw form needs some work, you can’t argue with results.

Step 5: Attaching the Bead Board

For reasons I can’t remember now, we decided to mount two sections of bead board, leaving space for the middle horizontal brace. If we had to do this project again, I think we’d leave out that unnecessary step and just stack the second row of board right on top of it.

This part took way longer than it should have thanks to the cheap-o caulk gun I’d had for years. We bought a better one from Home Depot right after we finished this stage.

Why no pictures of Dom using the nail gun to secure the boards? Because I was in the room hiding with the dogs. We went over that already.

Step 6: The MDF Cometh

I don’t know what it is about MDF but they cut like they already want to fall apart. We sized the boards and used liquid nails to attach them to the wall. Once they were dry, we drilled holes for the cross braces and secured them with screws, since they will be supporting the weight of the hooks.

Step 7: The Shelf

We used a smaller MDF board to lay across the top of the wall to act as a shelf. Home Depot sells white cove molding, so we used that on the underside to break up the right angle. We don’t expect to put anything on the shelf, but it looks damn good. That was all Dom’s idea, by the way.

 The cove molding is hard to see with the caulk and paint already done.

The cove molding is hard to see with the caulk and paint already done.

Step 8: Make it Pretty

Now that all the easy work has been done, it’s time to crack a bottle of wine and prepare for two months of finishing working. We filled in all the nail holes and joints with caulk, waited for it to dry, and then sanded. And sanded. And then we bought and electric sander. And sanded one more time.

I could write an entire other post about the hoops we had to jump through to get the right paint for our drop zone. We really wanted it to match our interior trim. Easy, you say, just ask the builder what paint they used. Yeah, it sounds simple. After multiple trips to Sherman Williams, half a dozen people all telling us different names of paints, it took Andrew from CalAtlantic (formerly Ryland) to come over with his painter and then just straight give us paint from a current build down the street. He didn’t have to do that at all, so it was a nice ending to what was weeks of head-shaking torment.

Still, Dom did a great job with the finishing, often staying up until midnight while I slept soundly in a soft bed.

Once the paint had dried, we reinstalled the shoe molding and door stop. Again, Dom had to use the air gun and I can still feel the echoes of that terror.

Step 9: Hook it up

We couldn’t figure out what color we wanted the hooks to be, so we went ahead and mounted them as-is to see how black would look. If we decide later that we want another color, we can just unscrew them and paint. Drop Zones vary in the number of hooks they use. We went back and forth between 7-across and 5-across. I think we made the right call with the less-cluttered look.

Aren’t you done measuring yet?

No matter what your future wife tells you, take your time with measuring and spacing out the hooks. All of this work will be for not if they aren’t distributed evenly or aren’t pointing straight up. Measure first, measure second, drill third.

Finished Product

After we were done, Dom and I shared one of our classic high-fives and looked in awe upon that which we had created. We both acknowledge that this took much longer than it should have, mostly because we’re still learning. One day, we’ll graduate from BS-it-yourself to Do-it-yourself, and then we’ll be unstoppable. We’re going to take a week or two off and then figure out what we’re going to do next.

Dom wants crown molding. I’d like a sliding barn door for the master bath. We’ll see.

Send us pics of your drop zone if you end up building one!

 Carrot wreath, because May.

Carrot wreath, because May.

BSIY Elevated Garden Bed

When it comes to making decisions at 36, I typically opt for the choice that doesn’t require me to bend or kneel. Thus, when it came time to think about building a garden at the new house, I didn’t want to repeat our last mistake of a raised garden bed, i.e., that it was still on the ground. So, after Dom showed me a few pictures of elevated garden beds, I looked at my wall-o-tools and decided I can build that.

I can’t remember where she saw the original picture, and I didn’t feel like downloading plans, which meant it was time for a good, ol’ fashioned Bullshit It Yourself project.

If you’re a Master Craftsman, you can already see from the picture above how simple this design is and how easily it will be to build. For the rest of us, we’re just gonna wing it.

Step 1 — The sides

Since the legs will be sitting directly in the dirt, you’ll likely need some weather-treated wood. This is just a guess, since I didn’t bother to look it up first.

Cut two 8′ 2x4s in half. Cut the ends at 45 degrees to level with ground and top of bed. Mark the center point on each leg; this is where you will join them together. Because of the way we’re going to attach the slats, you’ll need a shim at the join point.

I used wood glue and exterior-grade screws to put everything together. The slats aren’t weather-treated, so I’m guessing this will fall apart within a year or two.

Since there are no plans, you’ll need to measure, cut, angle, and attach each slat individually. I used two 8′ 1x4s; you can save some wood if you cut it down on 45 degree angles. If you mounted the legs completely perpendicular, you should be able to make 45 degree cuts on the slats and have them line up. Keep adding smaller slats until you reach the shim. If you’re not lazy, maybe fill in that last bit between the slats and the shim with a triangle piece. I’m lazy, so I didn’t.

Obvious tip: pre-drill the holes to keep the wood from splitting. Also, if the wood is soft, be careful not to sink the screws too much.

Step 2 — Connect the sides together

If you’ve got time, you can continue to use 1×4 slats to make the front and back of the garden. I’m sure it would look very nice. If you’re lazy, just use larger slats! I can’t remember the exact measurements of the boards I used, but they were 6′ long and 1″ thick. I needed 2 for each side.

You can choose any length you want, depending on how big you want the garden to be. Note that because of the way the legs are positioned, you may have to notch one side to get it to sit right. In the picture above, I notched the other side of the board unnecessarily.

See in the foreground how my slats don’t sit flush with the other boards? That’s just shoddy craftsmanship. Do a better job than me.

Step 3 — Bracing

It was at this point that I realized just how much dirt the bed was going to hold. At six feet long, I knew I need some additional bracing to keep the longer panels from bowing out.

I started with some inner bracing to connect the panels together.

The 2x4s are joined to the legs, and the panels are secured from the outside in. See that metal bracer on the right? That’s because I didn’t have an extra six foot 2×4 and damned if I was going to go back to Home Depot for a fifth time that day.

I actually started staining and sealing the wood before I decided to add even more bracing. With most of the weight centered over the gap at the bottom, I needed something behind those panels to keep them straight. Two 8′ weather-treated 2x4s cut to size did the trick.

Step 4 — Mind the gap

I’ll admit that I really had no idea what I was going to do about the bottom of this garden bed. Even with the sealing and the plastic sheeting (later), I didn’t want the brunt of the wet soil sitting on wood. I settled on using PVC to form the bottom. I could put some holes in it to let the water drain freely, or just use it to force water to the sides. Unfortunately, Home Depot only had 4″ diameter, and the gap was just a little bigger.

Time for some teeth!

I cut up some 1×1 pieces to form the teeth. And now, as I sit here looking at it, I realize the PVC will be bearing the weight for the soil, and the teeth will be bearing the weight of the PVC. Luckily, those teeth are secured with 3″ screws going through the panels and 2×4 brace. We’ll see how long they hold!

The PVC does fit nicely inside now, and there are more channels for the water runoff:

Step 5 — Pictures

We placed the elevated garden bed next to the fence just outside our dining nook windows. It’s high enough that we’ll be able to see the plants through all stages of growth, and should be more pleasant to look at than the boring fence.

What Did We Learn?

Here are some of things I learned while working on this project:

  • You should probably have plans before starting a project.
  • The more tools you have, the more options you have for accomplishing a task. I used a circular saw, hacksaw, multiple drills, shavers, sanders, clamps, a t-square, a quick square, line chalk, etc., etc. Buy more tools!
  • Two days of woodwork equals three days of lower back pain.
  • Safety goggles save eyes.
  • Point a fan at your workbench when you’re cutting with the circular saw and blow all that sawdust to the side.

Dom and I are putting the finishing touches on a valet project that we are also BSIYing our way through. It looks much better than my garden.

Comments are open below. What did I do wrong? How long do you think this garden bed will last? If you build a better version, link to the pics!