Lúnasa Days, Writing

The Devil’s Balls

This is an excerpt from my book Lúnasa Days . It will be FREE for four days starting Monday. 

Emily had problems of her own.

It was a fine morning. Sunny. Dry.

She knew she had to go but she stared out the window. There were clouds—actual clouds. Clouds can bring rain. She had no hope for these clouds. They didn’t smell like rain.

They all heard the pitter-patter last night. Unlike anyone, she didn’t get up. She didn’t run outside. She didn’t sit nervous to know how much fell. She just listened to the sound, the comforting sound, and went back to sleep.

But the earth did not look dark and damp like coffee grounds. The grass was not matted nor dewed. It could have been a photograph of yesterday, or any day before.

And she really didn’t care anymore.

She did know, however, that something was going to break. And it would break hard.

She looked back at the cards in front of her. Every Sunday she drew her card. She read for the week ahead. Once it was daily, with a full spread. Then she fell in love, and it changed everything.

Love is not good for little girls. It is poison and intoxicant.

When Kore ate the seed she died for half a year. Real girls don’t die for half a year. Real girls die.

But this card had cock and balls on full display. And a grin. Red skin, princely horns, a lazy erection.

She looked out the window again. The face on the card kept smiling.

The Devil.

FREE BOOK

The Kindle version of Lúnasa Days will be FREE for four days: Monday, Feb. 3 — Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. I encourage you to grab a copy while you can! If you can’t wait or would rather have paperback, buy it now.

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Lúnasa Days, Writing

My Book Will Be Free For a Short Time

FREE BOOK

Starting Monday my novella Lúnasa Days will be free for four days only.

I wanted to announce that in advance here on the blog, because many of you loyal readers have already paid actual money to buy it, or even signed up as a patron to help fund it before it existed. Every sale has mattered to me a great deal, and I’m thankful to everyone who bought or funded a copy. I want to explain why I’ve chosen to do a free promotion.

Most indie books don’t sell a lot of copies, even in this fabled age of self publishing. At this point, the initial rush of sales is over. Quite a few of my regular readers (that’s you guys!) have already bought your copy (thank you), so sales have slowed to a trickle. This is normal.

However Amazon gives limited visibility to any individual book, and the exact amount of visibility you get depends entirely on your sales figures. If more copies have sold, the book is recommended to more people or shows up higher in search results. Without the marketing budget of a large publisher, most indie books quickly fall into obscurity.

To combat this Amazon allows an author to hold a “free book promotion.” For several days, the book is offered on Kindle for free—which means hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of readers download it. This has several helpful effects:

  • Amazon counts each free download as a “sale.” The downloads massively boost your sales figures, leading to greater visibility on Amazon.
  • These freebie readers are people who wouldn’t otherwise buy your book. Either they never would’ve found it or they only want free books. So you don’t actually lose any profit, but if your book is good you gain new fans.
  • After the promotion is over, the increased visibility and the sudden buzz mean you get a spike of actual sales—meaning the author finally makes some money.

I wanted to be transparent about this, because I don’t want anyone to feel cheated if you bought a copy of Lúnasa Days and now you see it offered for free. The book (and my writing career) would not exist if it weren’t for those of you who support good writing with real dollars. The free promotion can only exist because of all the support, encouragement and sales that come from my dedicated readers. Meanwhile the free copies make thousands of people happy and help me get my book in front of more readers. I’d like to think it’s a good deal for everyone involved.

Anyway, the book will be free only this coming Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday ONLY! (February 3-6, 2014) and I encourage you to tweet it, share it and tell your friends so they can read the same awesome book that you just read. Or that you’ve been meaning to read, so if you didn’t buy it before please grab a free copy!

I’m very proud of Lúnasa Days, including the work of my two professional editors and the beautiful, evocative cover. It has very good reviews so far (21 and counting!). I’ll post two excerpts over the coming days, or check out this excerpt that’s already available.

Don’t like free things? You can also just buy it:

L Days cover_front only_half size

Buy now!

Note: only the Kindle version will be free. If you want the paperback, you’ll have to buy it.

Thank you again for everything you do. From the helpful comments, to sharing my work, to just being there for me when I’m alone on the road. You guys are the best readers an author could ask for.

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Writing

On Being a Writer

Photo by MP Clemens.

I have failed at many things in life, but I did become a writer.

This is, perhaps, in spite of myself. Early in Rogue Priest’s history, I produced a lot of posts that weren’t very good, and some that were downright combative. I judged my progress in terms of site traffic. But that is the same metric that guides the direction of low-quality news and entertainment sites. It’s equivalent to the metric used to guide television programs, and it is very easy to become the daytime TV of the internet.

Pandering to large numbers has a predictable effect (“large” being relative to your platform). It changes how you title your work, how you open your work, the tone that you take and to some extent the very topics you choose to discuss. “5 Ways to Be a Hero” with an open ending will attract more eyes than “Heroism Is a Spoken Song” with a definitive closing thought.

Literature is hard to eat.

Then I began to use my website as a place to sell things. I would market other people’s products and get a sales commission. If I were a business, that would be fine—although the bloggers who head down that highway do not seem to know how clownish it makes them look. Your conversion rate is the inverse of the number of people who see you for what you are.

The essential problem is this: I’m here to promote a philosophy, a way of life. I want you to try traveling away from familiar surroundings because I believe that journey will help make you a more whole human being. And if I have these products to sell you, maybe it’s because they’re great products that will help you on that journey. But maybe they aren’t so great, and the whole thing is a sham. How can you tell?

This conflict of interest eventually overrode my desire to “monetize” and even my faith in the products I recommended. Less than one year after starting, I removed all affiliate products and services from my website and I made an official policy never to promote them again.

ISBNs

I do believe in selling my own writing, and my book will be available on this website (release date: “soon!”). Lúnasa Days began as a wild idea, a series of daydreams as I biked through a blighted landscape. But readers believed in it and slowly, painfully, I made it real.

The bun is in the oven.

Learning to manage myself as a writer has been hard. Smart and encouraging bloggers—with helpful affiliate products nested on their sites—report that this is the age of the Indie Author. If that’s so then authors everywhere must be developing a new sympathy for giant publishers, who speculate real money on potential losses.

Not that I’d give it up. It’s nice to be the one speculating, and far nicer to be independent. But to give an example of how it’s been hard, let’s talk about ISBN’s.

Every book should have an ISBN. It’s a long number that you’ll never notice or care about, unless you happen to work in the library or publishing worlds. A book isn’t required to have one, but it makes some vague difference in your sales figures, that no one can ever explain well. Perhaps all those chain bookstores rushing to stock self-published novels won’t know where to shelve you if you don’t give them the number.

Alright.

There is only one authorized ISBN agent in each country. They sell you the number, you register it and put it in your book. Kind of like registering a domain. Domains cost around $8. An ISBN costs $125.

I’ll need two of them—one for print, one for digital.

Graciously, you can buy them in bulk to save money. For $250 you get ten. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the entire cost of having my book professionally laid out by a printer.

Or you can go to a reseller. Resellers buy them thousands at a time and sell them for between $10 and $100. But the reseller’s company name will forever be locked into the ISBN, and they appear as the publisher of record for your book on some industry catalog.

That causes bad things, but they are vague and hard to explain.

This week was my ISBN Learning week, just like last week was Cover Art Learning week and the week before was How to Format an eBook. There is always one more hurdle, it seems, before I can make my book go live—and simply go back to the business of writing the next one.

Lúnasa Days, I’m proud to say, creaks onward.

Words

It’s an honor to work as a writer. I spend most days writing articles, but then, so did Hemingway. What gets me is: if he hadn’t needed to eat (and drink) when he lived in France, if he hadn’t spent his work days on newspaper dispatches, would he have created more great books?

Or would he not have created any at all?

Increasingly I view myself as a writer on sojourn from one typewriter to another. My journey provides me with all the literary and philosophic wool that I need—but until I reach a quiet place to work, it cannot be spun. Sanctuary is spending two days or a month completely buried in writing.

Last week’s redesign of Rogue Priest is part of that change. The new look puts the focus squarely on the written word. The change in voice to a more philosophic tone—oddly closer to my in-person tone—is intentional, too.

While there are many things I have yet to discover on my journey, there is no longer any doubt what my art form must be. I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t a likely career; they say it’s impossible to succeed. Some days it feels like they’re right. But I make my living that way now, and it fuels me.

I want it to be something more. I’ve learned to combine words, and if there is a way to hold that before me like a sword—if there is a way to use words to change our species—I count myself armed.

Armed, and wandering the earth. Penniless as a ronin. But just as ready to struggle for the right lord.

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André, Spotlight, Writing

How to Format a Guest Post

Photo by Michael Donovan

I had no idea what I was doing. My head was stuck in the age of the Word doc. I was happy just to see 20 page views; the science of blogging—and it is a science—wasn’t even on my radar.

But I saw that some things worked better than others. And by “worked” I mean led to more readership, farther sharing, and more reader engagement in the form of comments and response posts.

Every good blogger develops their own unique style, and we don’t need to be slaves to marketing advice. But I believe there are such things as “best practices”—especially when it comes to formatting—that make your blog more readable and more user-friendly. As a side effect, that also increases shares and traffic.

This is particularly true around guest posts. Most bloggers, including established high-profile bloggers, format guest posts in a way that’s awkward and hard to read or share. It basically kicks sand on the guest author’s face. Bad formatting means less clicks to the guest author’s site. Why did you even invite them?

Here is how I format a guest post to get the best results.

The Title Never Says “Guest Post”

The first line is in italics and says: This is a guest post by So-and-So. 

The very next line is their actual post. It dives right in with no prelude or commentary from me.

Their post goes on to say many great things in a snazzy, well edited style because I took the time to edit it before publishing. And since I’m not a jerk I made sure they were okay with the edits.

At the end, in italics again, is the complete byline or bio for the author: André is a philosopher who blogs about adventure. It always includes a link to their site and it can be as long as they want; chances are they wrote the blurb themselves.

This kind of post gets results. Again, “results” means traffic and sharing, but in this case it also means clicks through to the guest author’s work. Clicks are always low but should be as high as possible; your guest essentially wrote you free content. Hook a brother up.

The Reasoning

There are specific reasons for each of the steps I recommended. They are:

  • In the title, I never mention “guest post” because it reduces traffic. It does this twice over. First, because your audience likes you and doesn’t necessarily care what some other person has to say. Second, because most of your traffic is determined by how good your titles are. There are several ways to write a good title or headline, but none of them involve adding administrative clutter like “Guest Post.”
  • The first line is just one sentence for a reason. It’s a barrier between the reader and actually reading the post. The more blah blah you put here, the less people actually end up reading the article. Honestly I wouldn’t put anything here, except then people would think it’s my own writing.
  • Editing their post should be self explanatory, but often it’s skipped. You are a publisher. Make their post look the best it can.
  • The bio goes at the end because that’s where it’s most effective. At the beginning, no one cares who this person is. Let the post speak for itself. At the end, if the post was good, the audience wants to know more. Now you can put in their paragraph-long bio with links to their work.

Anytime I submit a guest post, I expect the blog owner to be professional enough to format it like this, or very close. And I always do it for the guests that I invite on my blog, because it helps lift up their great ideas and carry them to the most readers possible.

If you have improvements on my best practices, or if you do it differently, I’d love to know. Please leave a comment and share.

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Lúnasa Days, Writing

Why aren’t the words right, cut deeper, are the words still there?

Image by Alex Campos

If it’s late and I’m alone and the mood is right, I’ll take a knife to my own skin and push. Sometimes I chicken out. It hurts so it’s hard to keep going.

That’s how I write.

Lúnasa Days was supposed to launch a month ago. Computer failure impossibled that. I was so relieved.

Many of you believe in this story, so much that you’re helping back it. That terrifies me. The story is in me, but to get it out—how? How much do I need to bleed? There’s just me and the keyboard. Sweating, wishing for a way out.

The manuscript is one-fourth done. Only one fourth, after so much time. There was more but it wasn’t right.

In a word document are a stack of notes I call the Whiteboard. Here is a cutting:

Our character is this 28 year old who feels lost. He can’t stand working at his job anymore and he feels like he lost his youth to it. Or like he will lose it if he doesn’t get out. He is casting around for any way to strike out and just be himself. Really, he values freedom more than anything else.

So he remembers how he used to do magic rituals. It was an exciting time of his life. He was never 100% sure if they worked or they’re just in his mind but he was doing something that really felt full of meaning. So he wants to see if he can make his living that way. It seems mysterious and exciting and fun.

But he also has this guilt about it. He doesn’t know if the spells will work. He’s concerned not only about his own freedom and success but wants to help others too. Maybe he doesn’t realize that at first but then his conscience kicks in. So he is in love with this cool lifestyle that he imagines, but he’s scared to start living it.

But then he starts to have real effects on people’s lives and it causes both him and them to panic. He didn’t really expect to make a difference, which is why he felt guilty, like a scam artist.

So does that make him a fraud at the beginning? Why should we like him? Why can he deceive people so readily? He has a background in marketing so maybe he was used to spinning things. But he has to hesitate if we the audience are going to like him. Maybe this is the first time he’s ever felt guilty about spinning something. Maybe it surprises even him. Also, everyone can relate to doubt. We all doubt our abilities.

I doubt mine right now. I sit down to write this character, this week of his life, this novella—and I doubt.

I will finish Lúnasa Days. I don’t know how quickly. I sent my patrons a short story as an apology gift; I hope you liked it. There will probably be more. Short stories are easy. They don’t take so much blood. But the book cuts deep. She drinks deep.

Thank you for believing in me. I don’t know why you do it, but thank you. I find the words, here and there, and when they come you make them matter. Thank you.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Business, New Orleans, Writing

Adjusting to a New Life

Image by Lucia Whittaker

I don’t usually talk about finances.

It seems too personal, and for me it changes so often it’s hard to know what to say. But travel and adventure bloggers need to be honest about this topic. A lot of blogs exist just to convince you how easy it will be to travel the world—if you buy their product.

By policy, I no longer run affiliate links on Rogue Priest. I have no product for you.

I’ve worked on a freelance basis for over a year. I last had a full time job in August 2011. I don’t regret leaving my job, but it hasn’t been all mojitos and lattes, either.

The way I make money is by writing ad copy, PR pieces and press releases. This is surprisingly fun work. I’m fortunate to be able to do it.

But it’s not consistent.

A Penny a Word

When I started I was paid $4 per article. These were short articles, but still—you have to write a lot to make a living wage at that rate. I ate into my savings, chalked it up to “getting started” and soldiered on.

As my reputation grew, so did my pay. It’s not uncommon for me to earn $50-70 an hour. That sounds fantastic, but how many hours a week do I work? If clients slow down, maybe four. Maybe none.

While bicycling I set aside 2 – 3 days per week for writing. Often, people were amazed and impressed that I worked on the road. I guess they figured only wealthy people can travel like that. When they discovered I worked for a living, it changed their attitude toward me—sometimes substantially.

(I continue to find this unsettling, by the way. What if I was rich? I wouldn’t be worth talking to?)

During those 2 – 3 days I had to do client work, blog posts, columns, and work on my books and personal projects. My total income declined, but it wasn’t a problem: expenses were so low while living on a bicycle that I actually came out ahead.

Then came New Orleans.

I knew I’d need to work more to cover the cost of rent, groceries, utilities, and all the other realities of having a fixed home again. But while expenses rose sharply, my income hasn’t. It takes time to build up a strong client base, and some reliable clients are in a slow spell of their own. Is this is the life of a freelancer?

I think many travel bloggers find themselves in this circumstance. Most don’t talk about it, because it’s bad for business. They’re supposed to look successful and carefree. But whether they do freelance work of their own or promote product after product, it’s a tenuous and unstable line of income.

In this case, it’s landed me somewhere scary.

Clouds of Worry

November is one-half over. I have exactly one-half of what I need for monthly bills December 1. That is too close to the edge.

So this is what it means to arrive in a bohemian lifestyle. Adventure isn’t just travel. If adventure means facing fear—maybe this is it.

But an adventurer’s art is to overcome challenges, not just suffer them. One of my objectives for my time in New Orleans has to be smoothing out the business side of what I do: finding some combination of freelance and creative projects that will be reliable anywhere I go.

For the present I’m reaching out to more clients, feeling out local venues to sell my artwork, and working like mad on my novella. Want to help? You can become a patron of my work, which comes with some pretty cool benefits.

I feel like I’ve joined a long and storied lineage of writers who suffered for their art. It’s not something I chose, but it’s not something I’m afraid of either—not entirely. Amid the clouds of worry there are sometimes flashes of certainty, a strange certainty that it will all come together exactly as it should.

Is that crazy?

Or, more accurate, I should ask: is it rational?

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Walk Like a God, Writing

Why My First Book Will Be No More

Photo by Spencer Finnley

Imagine knowing exactly what spirituality is.

Picture a world where it doesn’t come from scripture, church, or doctrine. A world where it doesn’t come from what your parents told you, or your pastor.

Imagine a version of yourself with a calm, self-assured confidence that comes from experiencing the sacred firsthand.

You can have that experience.

These words open my first ever ever book, Walk Like a God. They were written two months before I deployed.

Rich in photos, Walk Like a God expresses a way of spirituality that doesn’t follow religion. It roots the spiritual search in the act of challenging yourself, and the simple practice of walking.

It’s a love song to the natural world, to the human spirit, and to our ability to find our own way without doctrine.

And on Sunday, Walk Like a God will no longer be available.

Why?

Authors change.

In the paper-laden past, books went out of print. If all copies sold they became hard to find. Only a huge demand could conjure more.

In the digital realm authors can ride a product forever. But I don’t want to. I’m no longer the person who wrote Walk Like a God. My journey changes me, and I want my work to change too.

Digital publishing is supposed to free writers from a corporate mentality. So instead of selling and selling till the sales run dry, I’m taking it off the shelf.

I want to be clear: I still think Walk Like a God is a great book. I’m proud of it, and when I read back through it I still feel happy with what it teaches.

So you have a little time left.

Whether you’ve been putting it off, just heard of it, or simply want to have a “complete” Rogue Priest collection:

grab Walk Like a God here

But only through 11/11/2012. At the end of Sunday, it’s gone.

Many thanks to everyone who bought, read, enjoyed, or reviewed my first book. The big question is: what do you want in my next book on spirituality?

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