Archive for category writing

2013 Retrospective

Now that we’re entering the final hours of 2013, it’s time for my usual yearly wrap-up!

I was generally pretty happy with 2013. Other than a bunch of work-related stress, an unreliable car, and a health scare near the end of the year, things worked out quite well. I met some of my goals and didn’t do so great on others. I released a few new Mac apps this year and tonnes of updates for my iOS apps, began the arduous task of learning to write PC apps again, and restarted my fiction writing, among other things.

About 10 years ago I started seriously writing fiction with the aim of submitting for publication. In the years prior I’d messed around with a bunch of stories, but more for fun and to see if I could revive a childhood dream. In the past five years I found myself drifting away from fiction writing, other than participating in NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2012. These efforts produced a pair of incomplete novels which I haven’t returned to since. I still kept a handful of short stories in submission, but mostly focused my efforts on app development instead.

Then something cool happened a few days before Christmas last year. A short story I’d worked on with Samantha Henderson found a home at Lovecraft eZine, a fantastic short fiction market and promoter of all things H.P. Lovecraft. Our story, The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester was eventually published in the April 2013 issue. This issue is also available in podcast form and on Kindle or Nook. Check it out if you’re into Lovecraftian tales, or short horror fiction in general.

The story publication renewed my interest in getting back to writing fiction, though with all my app-related efforts, I didn’t get stuck into writing again until later in the year. It took the discovery of some writing lectures by Dean Wesley Smith to really kick things into gear. I’d been reading his Writing in Public posts for several months, where he’d post about his day and what he accomplished. At some point he mentioned he’d put up a new writing lecture, which led me to find he’d actually been doing these most of the year. They’re not free, but I think anyone serious about writing fiction would find them worthwhile.

I also happened to come across a new Podcastle short fiction contest toward the end of August, so I got back into writing fiction with a few flash pieces for that. Neither story won, though both were well received. After that I briefly started writing a short story per week, until the urgent need to work on iOS 7 app updates and some health problems derailed the effort. Despite the setback, I had more stories out for submission than I’d had in years. On the down side, that also meant a hefty boost to the rejection count which is rapidly approaching a total of 200!

I would’ve liked to have done more reading this year, but it’s always one of the things to get cut back when I’m busy. Still, it’s a decent amount more than last year:

Alex Jordan: Architect of His Own Dream by Doug Moe
The Last Revelation of Gla’aki by Ramsey Campbell
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas
Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran
Wool (Omnibus) by Hugh Howey
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron
Jay Lake’s Process of Writing by Jay Lake
Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant
Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

The reading list was heavy on non-fiction and writing books this year, so I’m itching to read more fiction next year. For the first time I read more in the form of eBooks than in paper.

This year I spent my daily commutes listening to stacks of short fiction via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. If you’re into genre fiction, you can’t afford to miss these. They put out some excellent work from great writers past and present, and the podcasts themselves are free. That said, they rely on donations to keep things going. If you like what you hear, send a few bucks their way and spread the word.

I’m admittedly a numbers junkie, so now it’s time for some stats:

2013 Stats:

New apps released: 2
App updates released: 34 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2013 Word count: 23,894
Stories written: 6
Stories published: 1
Total submissions: 16
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 11
Waiting for response: 5
Books read: 10
Comics read: 38

This year was a busy time for new apps and updates. Not only did I need to keep on top of a bunch of large updates for my existing iOS apps, Story Tracker, Artwork Tracker, and Bonsai Album, but I also worked on a few new ones.

In April I released Bonsai Album for Mac via the Mac App Store, with a trial version and direct purchase also available via my website. Like the iOS version, this one is localized into six languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Portuguese. Thanks again to the app localization services of iCanLocalize and the Linguan app.

Artwork Tracker for Mac came out in early August via the Mac App Store, and also with a trial version and direct purchase available via my website. In November I realized I hadn’t released a new iOS app in over 2 years, so I began brainstorming app ideas. Later that month I announced a new iOS app, Cactus Album, for cacti and succulent enthusiasts. I’m making good progress on that, and there’s a post with an early screenshot.

Not to forget, I’m still puttering away with some PC apps. In January I announced Story Tracker for PC, and in April, Bonsai Album for PC. Work on these is progressing with painful slowness, since I have to start from scratch and learn how to develop everything for the PC. Unfortunately I’m finding PC app development to be a great deal more difficult than for the Mac, despite once being fairly proficient in PC development over a decade ago. Things have changed a lot in the past ten years!

I’m still a member of the Midwest Bonsai Society, but I don’t think I made it to a single meeting this year, due to them coinciding with overtime at work or vacation plans. I attended the two shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as several workshops (Cork-Bark Maple, Japanese Black Pine, and Hornbeam) and visiting bonsai artist Bjorn Bjorholm’s exhibit critique of the August show. I also added a few other new trees to my collection (Shimpaku Juniper and Dwarf Crape Myrtle), along with a nice Sara Rayner pot for my first bonsai. And thanks to working on Cactus Album, I seem to have caught the cactus bug again!

This year we made a bunch of short trips throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. We spent some time at the Wisconsin Dells, and spent 5 weeks with my parents (from Australia), who were visiting in Spring. The definite highlights were our visit to The House on the Rock, a riverboat cruise down the Illinois River, and our gastronomic tour of the region. We also spent some quality time with some other guests from Downunder, including my youngest sister and her husband, and my best mate.

I was doing great with my personal fitness until about April, when I ate far too much and exercised far too little. I resumed the exercise routine later in the year, but that was soon derailed by health problems and travel. Finding time for regular exercise continues to be a struggle.

So that was 2013. On the eve of the New Year, I’d like to come up with a few personal goals for 2014…

I’m planning to ease back into the exercise routine in 2014, with running and possibly adding some weights back into the routine. This is probably going to be the toughest thing to stick with throughout the year!

With my apps, I’ll be releasing Cactus Album to the App Store early in the year, with a possible Mac version to follow if the iOS app does well. While I expect I’ll still need to release some updates for my other iOS apps, I’d like to devote more time to getting the PC apps up and running. With the way the app market is these days, it’s becoming increasingly difficult (and expensive) to justify continuing to update older apps for free. I’m not sure what to do about that, other than to spend more time working on new apps.

As for writing, I was all set to post some insanely ambitious goals, but instead I’ll keep the goal simple: write more. That pretty much covers everything I planned to say anyway 😉

Have a happy and productive 2014!

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Story Tracker v2.6 update now available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Story Tracker v2.6 is now available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Story Tracker

This update contains the following changes:

  • Added search bar feature on the Stories, Markets, and Submissions lists
  • Improved Bluetooth keyboard support
  • Added “character” pay rate unit for Markets

If you like what you see, please spare a moment to rate or review the app on the App Store!

You can learn more about Story Tracker at my website or on the Story Tracker Facebook group.

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The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester

The Lovecraftian horror tale I wrote with Samantha Henderson, The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester, is now online in the April 2013 issue (#23) of The Lovecraft eZine.

In addition to the free online issue on the website, it’s also available for purchase for Kindle and Nook, as well as a podcast. I’m particularly pleased with the fantastic narration in the podcast. It’s well worth a listen.

Our story is also accompanied by a great illustration by Lee Copeland.

I hope you enjoy our curious blend of Egyptian mythology, Australian history, and the macabre!

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2012 Retrospective

As 2012 draws to a close, it’s time for another retrospective blog post!

Personally, I don’t have too many complaints about 2012. I accomplished some of my goals for the year, fell short in others, and learned a whole bunch. Work at the day job was interesting and challenging, yet I still managed to carve out time for my after-hours hobbies. I finally released my first Mac app, released a heap of updates for my iOS apps, learned even more about Bonsai than I’d hoped, and came to terms with some truths about my writing. I’m disappointed I didn’t accomplish some of my goals, but that just gives me something to strive for next year.

For many years I’ve drifted in and out of fiction writing, since my first efforts in 2003 where I changed from a mindset of writing for my own enjoyment to writing for publication. Over the past 4 years my efforts have dwindled to the point where I’m really just keeping stories in circulation, and not actively writing much new material. I spend most of my spare time working on apps these days, leaving little time for fiction writing.

Last year I took part in my first NaNoWriMo and learned a lot about the craft of novel-writing, despite not reaching the 50,000 word goal. What I ended up with was two-thirds of a novel and a decent outline for the rest. It was the longest single piece of fiction I’d ever written, and I was understandably chuffed and looking forward to finishing it in 2012. Due to apps eating my spare time, I never got around to it. As November approached, I again decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, and in keeping with the spirit of the thing, I planned to work on my 2nd novel. Unfortunately I didn’t get started until a few days into November, and progress was painfully slow. It took a further week before ideas started to gel, but by then I’d begun to get discouraged and felt little motivation to plow ahead for the rest of the month. It didn’t help that I still had some urgent app updates to work on, along with a strong desire to get started on a new Mac app.

So writing-wise, 2012 was a huge disappointment. That said, a few days before Christmas I received a nice email: an acceptance from an editor of a cool online fiction market for a short story I’d collaborated on with Samantha Henderson. We were both pleased our little tale found the perfect home. I look forward to announcing the story and venue closer to actual publication.

I’d planned to do a lot more reading this year, but this didn’t work out too well, as you can see from the extremely short list below:

Horns by Joe Hill
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

All were fantastic reads, so I’m pleased that what little reading time I had was well-spent.

I made good use of my daily commutes. I found myself drifting away from the comics podcasts I’d typically listen to, instead switching to a regular dose of short fiction through a wonderful trio of podcasts: Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. It was like revisiting an old friend after a long absence, finding them to be just as delightful as you’d remembered. If you’re an avid genre fiction reader with time for podcasts, I recommend these three wholeheartedly. Not only do they showcase some excellent work, but they’re also free, operating on a donation model. Throw a few bucks their way, if you can. You’ll be helping to fund some of the best short fiction produced today.

No retrospective would be complete without some stats:

2012 Stats:

New apps released: 1
App updates released: 28 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2012 Word count: 4,382
Stories written: 0 (novels still in progress!)
Total submissions: 3
Total acceptances: 1
Total rejections: 2
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 3
Comics read: 42

My app plans for 2012 were fairly aggressive. I planned to release my first Mac app, Story Tracker for Mac, along with releasing a bunch of updates to my three existing iOS apps: Story Tracker, Artwork Tracker, and Bonsai Album. For the latter, I planned to localize the app into several languages.

The Mac app took longer than expected, but I finally released it for direct-sale and via the Mac App Store in September. You can read all about the trials and tribulations of Mac app development here and here. It’s already received some good reviews from AppStorm and AppModo. Having gained a good feel for Mac development, in mid-July I announced a Mac version of Bonsai Album. That’s coming along nicely. I’ve posted an early screenshot, and I’m on track to release the app in spring 2013.

From May through October, I localized Bonsai Album into six languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Portuguese. While it wasn’t a trivial exercise, the process was made much easier by using the app localization services of iCanLocalize and managing the translated strings using the superb Linguan app. Feedback from customers was fantastic, which was one of the key reasons behind my decision to bring the app to the Mac. If you’re curious about what localization can do for your app, consider this: over 60% of the sales of Bonsai Album come from outside the US, and over 40% are from non English-speaking countries. The app market is global, and your customers definitely appreciate localization efforts.

In addition to putting a lot of effort into the user interface on Story Tracker for Mac, I tried to improve my icon design skills. I found the Icon Resource videos to be quite useful, and spent many hours translating what I’d learned into designing icons in Inkscape. While it’s by no means perfect, I’m pleased with how the icon for Story Tracker for Mac turned out. I’ve come a long way from my first effort on the iOS version of Story Tracker! I took what I’d learned from the Mac icon and gave the iOS version a much needed update, too.

This year I attended a handful of monthly meetings of the Midwest Bonsai Society, along with the shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This year I visited 3 Bonsai shows, two of which were at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I attended more workshops than in years past (Satsuki Azalea, Kingsville Boxwood, Bring-Your-Own-Tree, and Ponderosa Pine) and added a new tree to my growing collection (a Brazilian Raintree). I especially enjoyed Andy Smith’s Ponderosa Pine workshop – he really has an eye for great material and knows how to bring out the best in any tree of this species. For the Bring-Your-Own-Tree workshop with visiting master, Peter Warren, I brought along my Bald Cypress, and got some great hands-on tips and styling advice. Peter Warren’s exhibit critique of the August show was interesting and informative, which you can see here. While looking for bonsai pots online, I came across Iker Bonsai Pottery and found some great hand-crafted work. I ordered a nice pot for my new Boxwood there. This is one of those aspects of the hobby I haven’t paid much attention to until now. It’s like a whole other hobby in itself!

Things were pretty quiet travel-wise this year. We made some short road trips to Michigan and spent some time in Milwaukee and Door County in Wisconsin. Closer to home, we stayed at the incredible Ravenstone Castle B&B in Harvard, Illinois.

As usual, my personal fitness varied throughout 2012. I was off to a strong start, keeping a regular routine until May or June when I began putting even more time into the apps. I returned to my regular workouts in late November and again learned why it’s always better to avoid long gaps between workouts.

Though I always seem to have trouble meeting my personal goals for the New Year, I just can’t help myself from coming up with more. So here I go for 2013…

I got a bit out of shape later in the year, so I want to try to avoid that in future. I intend to maintain my workouts in 2013, but most definitely do not plan to participate in any marathons or other extreme contests of strength or endurance!

For apps, it goes without saying I’ll need to work on updates for my existing apps. In particular, I have some cool stuff in mind for Story Tracker and Bonsai Album. Bonsai Album for Mac will be my first priority, though. I’d also like to come up with something new. The financial return from my huge time investment in apps is still very modest indeed, and it’d be great to come up with some app ideas that really take off.

I enjoy working on the app stuff, but would like to dedicate more time to writing in 2013. I also need to read more than a paltry handful of books! At this stage I can’t see myself participating in NaNoWriMo next year, since I have more than enough on my plate with two novels to finish. I also plan to write some new short stories and get some of my inventory out into circulation again. It’s going to be a tough juggling act, for sure.

Best wishes for 2013, and I hope you have a happy and productive New Year!

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Return to the Word Mines: NaNoWriMo 2012!

November is fast approaching, and that means a whole bunch of people will shortly be embarking on another insane quest to write a whole novel in 30 days (or less!) for National Novel Writing Month.

I’ll be tackling NaNoWriMo again this year, hoping to actually finish an entire novel this time. Last year’s effort, Plague Magic, hit 35,769 words by the deadline, which is the longest single piece of fiction I’ve ever written. After giving the writing a rest last December, I’d planned to get back into it sometime in the new year and finish the novel. I had a decent outline for the whole thing, and had a rough idea of how it would end. Another month or so of writing, and I’d have a completed first draft. Right?

It didn’t work out that way. If you’ve had a look around my site, you may have noticed I also write iOS and Mac apps in my spare time. My big goal app-wise for 2012 was to finally finish work on Story Tracker for Mac, a submission tracking tool for writers. It took me until September to finish it. There were also a heap of app updates I had to work on, including localizing Bonsai Album into a further 6 languages and updating all my apps for the iPhone 5. All of this ate-up nearly all my spare time this year!

So, last year’s novel remains in limbo. I’m still excited about the premise, but it’ll have to wait until next year to complete. Why not work on it this November too? I suppose I could but it’s not really in keeping with the spirit of NaNoWriMo. Besides, I still need to prove to myself that I can write a novel start-to-finish in 30 days.

Righto. A new novel, then. What’s it called? No idea. I need to think of something in the next 24 hours. I’m off to a great start already! Last year I came up with an idea late on Halloween night, but it took me a further week to outline the general plot, in-between frantically trying to meet the daily word quota. I don’t recommend this. It’s rather stressful and I swore this year I’d have things planned out well in advance. History repeats itself, alas. So much for that!

I’m currently experiencing terror mingled with a sinking feeling of dread, along with maybe the slightest hint of excitement. Cranking out fifty thousand over the coming month is going to be a damned tall order. Then again, where’s the challenge if you don’t ever try to bite off way more than you can chew? Eat the elephant one bite at a time, say the wordsmiths. I’ll be giving it my best shot!

To celebrate my descent into madness, I’ve put Story Tracker for Mac on sale at 20% off for NaNoWriMo. There’s a trial version available if you’re curious and want to check it out.

I’ll probably be scarce around here over the next month, but might rant and rave a bit on Twitter – I’m @andrewnicolle. If you’re joining in on the madness, you can check out my NaNoWriMo profile. Feel free to add me to your writing buddy list, if you’d like.

See you at 50K!

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What Can Writers Learn From The App Store Gold Rush?

You’ve all seen the breathless media reports covering the stunning success of writers like J. A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and John Locke in the eBook market. You might even agree with the indie eBook pundits who tout self-publishing as the one true way, endlessly proclaiming the imminent death of traditional publishing. There’s a self-publishing revolution, no doubt, but haven’t we seen this somewhere before? You don’t need a crystal ball to guess at the possible futures. All the evidence points to eBooks and self-publishing heading down the same path recorded music and software have in the past.

From my perspective as both a developer of mobile apps and a fiction writer, I’ve seen first-hand how the market is likely to pan out. I think there’s some useful knowledge to be gained by taking a closer look at how the app market works currently, and seeing what we can apply to self-publishing. In this post I’ll be covering a potpourri of topics comparing eBooks and apps, with a particular focus on Apple’s iTunes App Store, since that’s what I’m most familiar with.

Farewell, Dinosaurs?

I’m firmly in the camp that believes traditional publishers won’t die out completely, but will continue to adapt to the changing marketplace, even if they never again maintain the dominance they once had. We’ve already seen the steadily decreasing advances paid to writers and back-list eBook rights grabs indicating the big publishers will fight tooth and nail to stay in the game. In the long-term their value might be proven more as back-list aggregators or fixed-price service providers, though it remains to be seen whether they can move quickly enough to make it to that point.

In the early days of the App Store (before Angry Birds!), independent developers ruled the roost. Games and apps like Trism, iShoot, Doodle Jump, and Brushes promised a burgeoning app marketplace where even a lone coder could hope to strike it rich, or at the very least make a decent living writing and selling apps. It didn’t take long for the big game studios to take note. Now the corporations clash head-to-head with indies on the App Store charts. Don’t count the big publishers out yet!

Packaging and Pricing

By now everyone is accustomed to the rock-bottom prices on the App Store. It’s also becoming increasingly common with eBooks, with 99 cent or free eBooks giving thrifty readers no shortage of options. This still seems to be a viable way of climbing the top-seller charts on Amazon and elsewhere, but for how much longer? As we’ve already seen with the app market, at a certain point even free or 99 cents isn’t enough to attract eyeballs and open wallets. You’ve also got to consider the signal this sends to readers. You can’t necessarily expect those readers to follow you to higher price-points when they consider your work cheap and disposable entertainment. Value your work, but keep the lower price-points in mind as part of your promotional activities.

How do you survive when even 99 cents is considered an excessive price? Freemium! This is the latest buzzword among the app community. You give the app away for free, but include in-app purchases (IAP) as a means of generating revenue, typically with consumables rather than one-time purchases. This is the direction the App Store seems to be heading now, with premium (i.e. paid) content becoming increasingly rare. If you’ve been paying attention to the Top Grossing charts lately, you’ll see it can be a highly effective strategy.

The obvious equivalents to the freemium approach with eBooks are free samples and serialization. In addition to the short description on an eBook’s sales page, readers can typically download a free sample of the work before deciding to buy. Just as with apps, giving customers a free taste of your work is almost essential in such a competitive marketplace. Selling individual installments of a longer work is another option, though this may mean settling for a lower royalty rate (due to the lower sale price) and might give readers the impression you’re nickel-and-diming them. Your mileage may vary. Giving away the first novel in a series (as a loss-leader) also seems to be a common, and often successful, approach.

You’d think packaging eBooks as apps would be an interesting idea, but I think the time has passed where you could just slap your eBook into a text-browser app and expect great results. It was probably an effective strategy before the App Store became cluttered with them. For an eBook app to be successful, you need to add value over and above the text itself. A great example of an eBook app done right is The Three Little Pigs popup book for the iPad, designed by Game Collage. Not only do you get the story itself, but there’s also the engaging popup aspect and the behind-the-popup X-Ray feature. However, development of such an eBook involves considerable investment which the writer or publisher is unlikely to recoup.

Needle in a Haystack

How do you make an app or eBook stand out in such a crowded and competitive market? Without any effort to promote your work, it’s unlikely a significant number of customers will ever notice it. At a minimum you need a well-designed website to showcase your work, along with download links. Be sure to include affiliate links, which can be a nice income supplement. The products themselves should contain links back to your website and possibly also contact details, with links to your presence on social-networking sites like Twitter or Facebook.

You should value editing and good cover design. The cover is the first thing a reader sees, and it needs to be especially eye-catching at the postage stamp sizes it’ll be shown as online. This has been proven time and again in the app world, with attractive icons standing out from the crowd. If you skimp on the cover or editing, expect readers to notice. It’s all too easy to develop a reputation for sloppy typos, poorly crafted sentences, and a lack of attention to detail. Don’t expect to be able to do it all yourself, particularly the editing. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch advises in her post Common Sense And The Writer, you should prefer fixed-price quotes for editing, rather than offering a percentage of revenue.

Assuming you have a great cover and you’ve hired a top-notch editor to look over your work, the next hurdle is reviews. Reviews are hard to come by for both eBooks and apps, though I tend to think reviews by big publications, review sites, or critics are a little over-rated these days. While I’m not completely familiar with the review sites for eBooks, app review sites are springing up like weeds lately, and far too many demand payment for reviews. It’s hard to trust a site’s objectivity when their reviews are more akin to paid ads. Like apps, eBooks usually have reader reviews on the sales page to help prospective buyers make a decision. There are also social networking sites like Goodreads and Librarything that can help with word-of-mouth.

What about paid advertising? That’s a sure-fire way to attract eyeballs, right? If eBooks are anything like apps in this respect (and I believe they are), you’re unlikely to get a return on investment from paid advertising. The margins simply aren’t there when you’re selling your product for five dollars or less. If your prices are higher and you have some room in your budget for paid ads, I’m still not convinced they’re effective in driving sales. I talk more about my experiences with paid advertising and review sites in my Six Months on the App Store post. For traditional publishers this will be less of a concern, since ads are typically an integral part of their marketing efforts.

Your app or eBook may be able to stand out better if it fills an under-served niche. While less competition can be helpful, don’t expect to make your fortune in a niche. All of my productivity apps fill particular niches in the App Store, but as I’ve outlined in my Year on the App Store post, I’ll be lucky to break-even, despite minimal development costs. I’ve heard it said many a time that there’s money to be made in the long-tail of the market, but you have to consider this is over the long-term, and the concept is more applicable to aggregators with a lot of product to sell, like Amazon. Making sure your app or eBook is easily found via search is particularly important with niche products, since you typically won’t get exposure from the top-selling sales charts. The App Store currently relies on the app name and a short list of keywords to locate apps via search, ignoring the descriptive text entirely. For this reason it pays to choose your category and keywords carefully. eBook sellers don’t seem to be quite so limited search-wise.

If there’s one thing that attracts attention like nothing else, it’s featuring on the App Store. I don’t mean the smaller category features, but the big banners or staff picks that showcase apps on the main screen, either on-device or within iTunes. Likewise for eBooks, if you can gain a position high in the sales charts or get featured by your favorite eBook seller, sales are likely to shoot through the roof. Getting featured or rapidly climbing the charts is difficult though, and tends to be short-lived. There’s not much you can do here short of putting out a quality product and hoping you get noticed.

At the end of the day, you’ve just got to keep on writing. Don’t focus on promotion to the extent that you neglect your writing. After all, do you want to be a full-time marketer and promoter, or a writer? Without an ever-increasing body of work, readers who love your work will become frustrated that you don’t have more available, and new readers are less likely to find it. I particularly like the investment mindset suggested by Dean Wesley Smith in a recent post.

What’s next?

Just as with the app market, the eBook market continues to grow at an incredible rate. In 2011, estimated U.S. eBook sales grew by 131%, and are forecast to rise even higher in the coming years, with estimates of total mobile eBook sales of almost $10 billion by 2016. Thankfully we’re not yet at the saturation point for apps or eBooks, and for the foreseeable future we can rely on a steady stream of new devices coming online. This growth will eventually taper off, however I don’t see this happening anytime soon, particularly for eBooks.

I’m going to refrain from speculation about the Apple announcement later today, but I suspect whatever they announce will have game-changing implications in the eBook market. We’ll see soon enough.

Where do you see eBooks and self-publishing heading in the future?

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2011 Retrospective

During the first few minutes of 2012, it’s time to cast one final glance back at 2011 for my traditional year-end retrospective.

Overall I’d say 2011 was a good year. While there was still some overtime at the day job, it didn’t seem to be quite as insanely busy as 2010, and I was able to devote a fair amount of time to after-hours pursuits. I released a new iOS app and tonnes of updates for all of my apps, attended more Bonsai meetings and workshops, visited Disney World, and wrote two-thirds of a novel. Not bad at all.

Since 2008 my fiction writing has essentially been non-existent, with only minimal effort devoted to submitting stories to various markets and keeping them in circulation. Even this died down to nothing in 2011. The bulk of my spare time was devoted almost entirely to app development and marketing. Writing and maintaining apps, dealing with customer support, and somehow trying to get the word out in a crowded marketplace all takes a huge amount of effort. I think this is something many writers would agree applies equally to writing, especially now that many are finding their way in the eBook market and exploring self-publishing. By October it was looking like yet another year would pass without any new activity on the writing front. And then in the final week of October, I got caught up in the excitement of various blog and Twitter posts talking about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short). In years past I’d toyed with the idea of participating, but quite frankly the idea scared the hell out of me, and it was always easy to dismiss it and use excuses like the massive time commitment required, or not having a novel-sized idea in mind. In that final week of October, the idea that I should finally throw my hat into the ring and participate became steadily more insistent. So without having a clue about what to write, in a brief blog post I announced my insane plan to try to write a novel in a month. As the last of the trick-or-treaters left our front porch on Halloween night, I threw together some rough ideas that would soon snowball into a novel. While I didn’t meet the 50,000 word quota, I wrote consistently throughout November and learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to write a novel. By the end of the month the novel-in-progress had become the longest single piece of fiction I’d ever written. The momentum came to an abrupt halt in early December when I felt burnt-out and decided to relax and spend more time with family. That, and some quality time with the Portal, Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead games 😉 After all, I’d spent most of my evenings and weekends in November hunched in front of the computer working on my novel…

If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I wasn’t able to read more fiction. Even my comic reading took a back seat to the writing and app work. Here’s my paltry list of reads for 2011:

Drawing out the Dragons
Elephantmen, HC Vol 1 – Wounded Animals
Invincible Ultimate Collection, HC Vol 3
How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months
No Plot? No Problem!

Audio books used to be how I kept myself amused during workouts and the daily commute, but this year I continued listening mostly to music or podcasts. Among my favourites were the Comic Geek Speak podcast, and the Comic Book page podcasts (The Mayo Report and Spotlight episodes).

Here are some of the various statistics I’ve been keeping track of each year:

2011 Stats:

New apps released: 1
App updates released: 24 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2011 Word count: 35,769
Stories written: 0 (novel still in progress!)
Total submissions: 0
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 0
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 5
Comics read: 89

When 2011 arrived, my app plans for the year were fairly hazy. I knew I’d be updating my two existing iOS apps, Artwork Tracker, and Story Tracker, incorporating feedback from customers and generally adding more polish. I knew the Mac App Store was to be announced early in the new year, but I wasn’t yet committed to developing for the new platform. That soon changed when I had a chance to play around with it and download some apps for myself. The ease of use was astonishing, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this would be a fun and viable new platform for app development. I posted some thoughts, including the announcement of Story Tracker for Mac. So began several months of study and initial development on the new app. Unfortunately this proved to be more complicated than I thought, and several new developments conspired to make life difficult: iOS5, iCloud, and OS X Lion. With iOS5, I would have to re-test and update my iOS apps, and the impending arrival of Lion and iCloud would mean I’d need to either upgrade my slow, aging Mac to Lion (and not be able to test on OS X Snow Leopard, the other Mac App Store platform), or buy a new Mac. Finances being what they were, the latter was not an option in mid-2011. Meanwhile, I’d had an intriguing idea for a new iOS app. I’d been looking for an app to keep track of my Bonsai collection and various related activities, but there were slim pickings on the App Store. As soon as I’d wrapped up some updates to my existing apps, I wrote up some requirements for a new app called Bonsai Album and wrote a quick blog post about it. I put everything else on the back burner and spent the next three months working on Bonsai Album. On October 6th, it landed on the App Store. Initial feedback from the Beta testers was promising, and since then I’ve been very pleased with how well it has been received. Bonsai Album has been reviewed by App Advice, and even got a mention in the Midwest Bonsai Society newsletter (my club!), among others. While the app has had only modest success so far, it’s doing far better in its first few months on the App Store than either of my other two apps did. While I’m still yet to recoup my overall development costs for all three apps, 2011 is the first year in which I’ve made a small profit.

I continued to attend the monthly meetings of the Midwest Bonsai Society in 2011, along with the shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This year I again visited 4 Bonsai shows, three of which were at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I also attended 2 workshops (Satsuki Azalea, and Pomegranate) and added a new tree to my growing collection (a Bald Cypress). I’ve learned a little more about the art of Bonsai this year, unfortunately mostly related to the impact of pests and long-delayed repotting. Like most things, I anticipate this hobby will involve a lifetime of learning.

We didn’t plan much travel this year. We’d intended to just make some short road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin, but that was about it. What actually ended up happening was a totally unexpected trip to Disney World in Florida with my wife’s parents. We decided to make a big trip of it and spent a few days at each of the parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. We also made some side-trips to visit SeaWorld and Cape Canaveral, including catching up with some Florida-based relatives. We had an absolute blast, and our trip was definitely the big highlight of the year. For Thanksgiving this year we spent some quality time in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

One of my goals for 2011 was to get back into a regular workout habit. I managed to keep at it for about half the year, until hurling myself back into app development and writing the novel. I returned to it in December and promptly realized exactly how out of shape I’d become. Ouch!

Sadly, I wasn’t able to make much of a dent in our massive photo backlog this year. I’m still over a year behind! I think it has helped having to at least keep ahead of my wife’s scrapbooking. When she needs the photos, I make the effort to get them organized in time.

As is usual in the waning hours of the year, I like to come up with goals and hatch devious plans for the New Year. So what’s cooking for 2012? I’m glad you asked 😉

I’d like to at least reach my previous level of fitness and build on that for 2012. I’m probably not going to bench press 170 lbs again anytime soon or start running marathons, but regular workouts and a decent level of fitness are definitely achievable. The pain of having to start all over again from square one should be sufficient motivation!

For apps, I’d like to put out more updates for my existing iOS apps, possibly including those much-requested language localizations for Bonsai Album. If the app continues to do well, that’s definitely on the cards. The big one, of course, is to finally launch Story Tracker for Mac. I know a lot of people have been waiting patiently for this one, and I hope they won’t have to wait too much longer. I finally bought that new Mac Mini, and I’ve spent the last few hours getting it all setup for app development. After I get Story Tracker for Mac out the door and have a few updates under my belt, then I’ll think about what comes next.

In 2012 I’d really like to get back into writing in a big way. Starting a new novel in 2011 was a good start, but now that I know what it takes, I’d like to build on that and finally break the writing drought of recent years. Task one will be to complete my novel, Plague Magic. You can track my progress on the sidebar on this blog. Task two is to get back into writing short stories and start submitting again. I may do some dabbling in self-publishing. I also plan to ramp up my fiction reading, not only for enjoyment, but also in support of my writing efforts. You can’t be a writer without being a reader, right? And though it’ll be a stretch, I plan to write at least one more novel in 2012.

While I intend to update the blog periodically, I spend most of my social networking time on Twitter these days. I mostly follow other iOS developers, writers, and Bonsai fiends. You can look me up at @andrewnicolle.

I wish everyone the best for 2012, and hope you have a happy and productive New Year!

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Plague Magic excerpt

The novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo is coming along well so far, especially considering I just came up with a title and rough idea for the plot the night before the event started! Here’s an excerpt from the story so far:


George’s tongue flicked out briefly, moistening his lips. Suddenly, his whole body began to tremble violently. Stan recoiled. Both Jack and Frank rushed toward him to hold him down and stop him from falling from the hospital bed.

He began to speak, hesitantly at first. Then his voice gained power and deepened with each passing syllable. “Nocte. Nocte cadet!

Jack called for a nurse. Carmen began sobbing, and Sophia led her from the room. The others stood back, stunned. The heart rate monitor beeped with an ever increasing cadence, the display filling with a series of jagged spikes.

Nocte cadet! Mortui resurgent!” His brow furrowed, eyes gaining a manic intensity. “Mortui resurgent! Mortui! Mortui!

Jack and Frank struggled to hold him down. He kept trying to lift his arms, to loosen their grip. Despite his frailty, he seemed possessed of superhuman strength.


For those interested, you can follow my progress here. I’m lagging a bit behind my word quota right now, but that’s what weekends are for! 😉

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An Insane Plan: NaNoWriMo!

Every year since 1999, thousands of writers around the world decide that a novel isn’t something that should take many months or years to plan and write. It should only take 30 days! And to keep things consistent, they agree that a novel is defined as 50,000 words of fiction, from beginning to end. That’s the premise behind National Novel Writing Month, held every November. While not all of these would-be novelists are successful, they have at least made the attempt to complete a noble and quite possibly insane goal.

I’ve known about NaNoWriMo as far back as 2003, although I’ve never seriously given thought to participating until this year. In previous years I’ve been content to write a little more than usual, focussing on short stories. This year? Well, I’ve finally decided it’s time I threw my hat into the ring and to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time!

Why would I plan to write a novel now? The truth is, my fiction writing efforts have suffered terribly over the past few years with my focus on writing apps in my spare time. I’ve spent well over one thousand hours writing code instead of fiction, and while it has been an enjoyable and sometimes frustrating experience, I’ve been wishing I had the time and energy to devote to my writing on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean I’m not working on more apps in the future. I still plan to update my existing apps and to complete work on Story Tracker for Mac, as well as work on many more apps in the years to come. But for November 2011 I’ve decided I can spare some time out of my busy schedule to work on my first novel.

With November being a day and a half away, you’d think I’d have my novel all planned out, with detailed character studies, a cracking plot, and exotic locales at the ready. Do I? Not yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to me in a hurry. This will truly be a seat-of-the-pants effort.

Will I make it? I have no idea. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified! Writing fifty thousand words in a month implies a daily word count of 1,666 words. This is far in excess of my typical daily word count when I was regularly writing fiction. It’ll be a stretch for sure, but if there’s anything I’ve learned about myself over the past few years, it’s that I’m capable of surprising myself with tremendous bursts of productivity. This’ll be an interesting experiment, if nothing else. I’m curious whether writing a novel in a month will spark an explosion of creativity thereafter.

I’m not sure if I’ll be making many blog posts during the month, so if you’re interested in following my progress, you can check out my NaNoWriMo profile, or follow along on Twitter – I’m @andrewnicolle.

Fifty thousand words, or bust!

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Story Tracker v2.1 update now available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Story Tracker v2.1 is now available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Story Tracker

This update contains the following changes:

  • Bug fixes for iOS 5.0
  • Fixed crash when deleting stories or markets in a large list
  • Fixed crash during CSV import when either stories or markets are missing
  • User interface improvements

If you like what you see, please spare a moment to rate or review the app on the App Store!

You can learn more about Story Tracker at my website or on the Story Tracker Facebook group.

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