Sticking the Landing – the Lost Finale


It has been more than two years since Lost came to an end and I believe to date, I haven’t yet given a proper opinion on the ending. If I am honest, I’m not certain what my real feelings are toward the ending.

Lost came to an end… so what?

At the height of its powers, I freaking loved it. The first season was slow going but from the second season on it just ramped up as the mysteries became more and more.

My favourite season was a toss-up between season three and season four. I suppose that should show just how much I liked the show – I had a favourite season. I had my favourite characters and the characters that I despised. I’ve always taken the characters as a gauge for how well a series is written – if I can relate to characters and they make me want to root for them, I like the series. The characters in Lost were what made the show – remember that bit, it’ll come back into play later.

My interest in Lost started to wane after season four until it finally became the kind of show that I would tape and when I had the time to watch it later I would. The first four seasons made me schedule everything else around them. The last two could wait until I could fit them in. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse had decided to put John Locke in the coffin at the end of season 4. Terry O’Quinn was still in season five and six, but instead of being the man of faith as cast in the first four seasons that character had been snuffed out and the mysterious man in black had taken his resemblance.

In that instance, when they killed off Locke they ended the Man of Science versus the Man of Faith struggle which had been the underlying basis for the first four seasons. They let the Man of Science win by default simply because the Man of Faith “kicked the bucket”. The Man of Science had won and the last two seasons were really focused on Jack Shepard and his attempts to get back to the island and then save it. I suppose you could say that my connection with the show was destroyed in that instance because if there was any character that I wanted to be grabbed by that mysterious smoke monster it was the better-than-thou Jack Shepard. For me, he had always been the villain in the story because there was never any fair play – it was his way or no way. A spoiled brat who threw his toys out of the cot whenever he didn’t get what he wanted. Suddenly after the real John Locke was killed off, I was supposed to root for this guy.

Here’s where that character reference from earlier comes in. I couldn’t give a damn about whether the man character (and his love interest, Kate) lived or died. Actually, scrap that – they could have been sacrificed to a great volcano and I would have been more interested in the show afterwards.

The series ended with everyone getting together again, happy as clams as they move out of a purgatory they had created and which all of the side flashes in the final season had been showing. There were little or no answers shown in the final series for all of the questions raised during the course of the six seasons. The huge uproar after the finale aired was that none of those answers were there and I can understand the angst, although some of the answers were answered obliquely and required some thinking to get there.

The final scene in that finale was Jack closing his eyes (although you only see one) and then it’s credits. It was a nice bookend to the series because it started with Jack opening his eye in the pilot. It certainly made me happy – Jack the self-righteous had finally died. It had only taken six seasons of wishing for it to happen.

So did they stick the landing to series’ finale?

Definitely not… for me they missed the landing strip completely and crashed in the jungle with no survivors. They had so many interesting characters that they built up and killed along the way (they must have taken a course from GRRM – not that it’s a bad thing) and when it all came down to it, we all had to root for one character – Jack. Yes, Hurley became the guardian in the end but he was almost a secondary character in how they treated him – a little bit of comic relief.

Thank You Lightspeed


I just want to thank John Joseph Adams and Lightspeed.

 

I submitted my story, Necromancer, to them on Tuesday and I had my reply by Thursday – a two day turnaround. The story was rejected but the story has been rejected by other publications with similar policies against dual submissions where they took almost three months before responding. By having a standard two day turnaround it helps the writer know where he stands and he can then submit it to another publication to try find a home.

 

So once again thank you very much John Joseph Adams and Lightspeed.

The Cost of eBooks

The Cost of eBooks

There has been a lot of debate over the last few years over how much publishing houses should charge for their e-books. Some people are adamant that the e-books should be significantly less than the physical copies of the same book. Being an accountant (blah), I’ve sat back and tried to think of how much should a company (or an individual) charge for their electronic books. The days of an author writing a novel, submitting it to the publishing house and walking away are long gone along with the dodo. The advent of electronic publishing has helped to establish a new market for authors and companies to explore.

There has obviously been some difficulty in the formative years, as there will be in any new ventures or markets. I won’t bore you (or me) with a lengthy explanation of business practices or breakeven points which is important in any sort of business decision. As an author/business, you need to make a decision whether you want to publish for fun and maybe make some money out of the venture or if you want to take it seriously and want to make money. At this point, everyone is screaming at me that of course they want to make money. Am I retard? No, I am not. But that decision plays a key role in everything else which follows.

Skin in the game
If you want to produce a quality product, you are going to have to put some skin in the game. By skin in the game, I mean that you’re going to have invest something into the novel in order to give it the best chance out in the wild world of publishing. The first step is to obviously write the best damned book you can. But people can only do so much by themselves and you’re going to have the manuscript looked over by an editor or maybe two. Then you’re going to have to get someone to do the perfect cover for it. Some of us are gifted with the ability to this for ourselves, but the vast majority of us will need someone who can do it for us.

Then there is still the advertising you will have to do for it. Some of it, like virtual blog tours, will be for free but if you want to do any sort of marketing for it you’re going to have to fork out some cash to do it. All of this adds up to the capital investment in the project.

As below, so above
The same costs described above are all costs that are covered by the bigger publishing houses. But they also carry other costs which a self-published author won’t necessarily factor into their calculations of how much it costs to develop a book. Publishing companies have to pay things like rent and salaries, something which the average self-publisher won’t have to think about – unless they really want to go big with staff and a separate office to do all of their writing in.

Variable expenses
There are some variable expenses which can be eliminated when the transition is made to the electronic format which can be removed from the equation. But they are not the largest expenses in the whole process. I have worked out an example using “actual” figures. They’re actual so far as you can see their effect, they are by no means actually how much any publishing house pays for anything. If you assume it will cost $0.50 to ship a book and $3.50 to print a book, a company’s costs to produce a hundred thousand books will look as follows:

Office rental

$200 000.00

Salaries

$500 000.00

– Editors

$100 000.00

Other fixed expenses

$100 000.00

Shipping costs

$50 000.00

Paper costs

$350 000.00

Total costs

$1 300 000.00

 

I’ve highlighted the variable costs for ease of reference. If you look at the above figures, it works out that it will cost the company $13 to produce a single book. If they charge $15 per book, they will have to sell 86,667 just to cover their expenses. If you remove the variable expenses:

Office rental

$200 000.00

Salaries

$500 000.00

– Editors

$100 000.00

Other fixed expenses

$100 000.00

Total costs

$900 000.00

You can see that it will cost the company $9 for a hundred thousand books without any actual books being prepared. Therefore, if you look at electronic publishing there are a few additional expenses the company might have to expense before they produce electronic books. In the table below, I’ve only included the salaries for the additional employees who will be needed to set up the books in the electronic format. You could probably look at training some of your existing staff to do it, but then you’re going to have to pay them additional money because their job role has increased… along with their knowledge base. I have highlighted the additional cost.

Office rental

$200 000.00

Salaries

$500 000.00

– Typesetting

$100 000.00

– Editors

$100 000.00

Other fixed expenses

$100 000.00

Total costs

$1 000 000.00

In this example, it’s difficult to say that it costs the company x amount per book because electronic books don’t have to have a specific print run. It is their advantage.

However, it has to be assumed that you’re not going to sell any more copies simply because the book is in electronic format. The market for any book is only so big. So let us assume that the electronic book will also sell 100,000 units (that would mean the market for electronic books is as big as the demand for physical books, but let’s just assume). We’re also going to assume the company is going to sell either physical or electronic and it isn’t going to mix the types.

Taking that into account, it would cost the company $10 per electronic copy. That means that if it sells for $12 a copy, the company will have to sell 83,333 copies just to cover its costs. Admittedly, it is a little smaller. But in auditor’s parlance, it’s not material.

If you split out the costs for electronic and physical into separate streams but you assume that the TOTAL books sold will still be 100,000 but with 80,000 being physical and 20,000 being electronic. The total cost will be:

 

Total

Physical

Electronic

Office rental

$200 000.00

$160 000.00

$40 000.00

Salaries

$500 000.00

$400 000.00

$100 000.00

– Editors

$100 000.00

$80 000.00

$20 000.00

– Typesetting

$100 000.00

$0.00

$100 000.00

Other fixed expenses

$100 000.00

$80 000.00

$20 000.00

Shipping

$50 000.00

$50 000.00

$0.00

Printing costs

$350 000.00

$350 000.00

$0.00

Total costs

$1 400 000.00

$1 120 000.00

$280 000.00

       

Volume

 

80 000

20 000

       

Cost per unit

 

$14.00

$14.00

I’ve split the costs that can be allocated to both 80/20. Both costs per unit of expected sales is exactly the same.

I know I was as shocked.

 

Picking up the pieces and Moving On


It’s been about a year since the memory stick where I had stored the book guide to my project ‘Spoil the Child’ disappeared. It means that to use a cliché, a lot of water has passed under the bridge and that a lot of other work and writing has been done. To use another cliché, there is no use crying over spilled milk, but there are days when I wonder what might have been different if that memory stick had not gone missing. I’d basically finished the whole outline, all the character summaries, the setting and history. The only thing which needed to be done was to sit down and write the actual first draft. It was going to be the project that I would plan everything meticulously before I even started and was going to be the complete opposite to Pecan Hill, which was my pantser novel.

I would probably have finished the first draft and maybe even finished going through it a few times as well to polish it as well as possible before I sent it out into the world to fend for itself. Would it have been self-published or gone down the traditional route? No idea. I never got far with planning the ultimate destiny of the novel. I just wanted to write it.

Do I still want to write it?

Yes, but that fire has cooled down a little. The story is still there in the back of my mind but there are other ideas waging a war for my attention and I’m more excited about these than my old story idea. Maybe one day I’ll write it, but for now I’m happy forging ahead with the first novel in my Lords of the Apocalypse duology, War’s Regret. I’ve taken Pecan Hill about as far as I can take it without another major rewrite and I just don’t think I can go through all of that again.

War’s Regret is my baby at the moment and I want to see it all grown up. It’s a fantasy novel, although I’m not sure if it will be a real epic fantasy. It’s scope is epic, but I’m not sure I want to scale it that high. I think I’ll be fine with it being seen as a heroic fantasy. It’s also my attempt to write a fantasy throwing all of the old tropes out the door. It isn’t in a medieval world, there are no dragons, no goblins, no knights or magical swords.

It’s going to be different.

Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future


Those of you who have been following this blog know that my writing group and I tried to put an anthology of our short stories together earlier in the year.  Unfortunately, due to some things which were really out of our control.

I suppose you could say that the project had a positive spin-off.  Writing the short story for the project changed a gear or something in my head and after finishing the first draft for the group project I wrote another short story which I called Necromancer as a way of taking a break from the other.  

In the end, it was the second short story which I enjoyed more than the first and after polishing the story I decided to take my chances and submitted to the Writers of the Future.  I thought nothing more of it and actually thought it had done nothing with the judges.

But this morning I got an email from the contest administrators saying that I had received an Honorable Mention for the story.  It feels strange but it's a little bit of validation telling me I'm on the right path.

Stuck between Drafts


Who would have thought that I would be stuck in the middle of spreadsheets while trying to finish my novel?

I certainly didn’t see this coming.

I have finally finished my reread of Pecan Hill and I can say that it is heinous. Maybe I should view it as a feather in my cap that I can recognise how bad the writing is, but it’s incredibly cringeworthy. You could say it was one of those situations where you’re trying to find what’s wrong with your project and the list of what is right is shorter.

The positive to take out of the situation is that I know what I have to do to fix the manuscript. I only have to work my way down the list, fixing everything as I go down and it should be presentable at the end of the day. Of course, when I’ve finished going down the list, it’ll be time to read through the manuscript again and find out what’s wrong with the new draft and then fix that. I wouldn’t say it’s a thankless task, because this is what I enjoy. Writing. Besides it’s supposed to be easier to fix a page than it is to fill a blank page.

My problem is that Pecan Hill was my discovery written manuscript. Now, after the dust has settled and I’ve pulled myself through the finished draft I can see that I’m going to have to sit down and make sure everything is there. I call it ‘planning on the backend’. And it’s at this point where I’m now “stuck” (I’m not really stuck I’m making progress but I’m not writing). I am going through the manuscript and making a detailed scene-by-scene outline of what’s already there. When I’m done with this little task I’m going to have to see what I’m missing in the manuscript and where it should go and then insert new scenes to make sure I cover all my bases.

Once I’ve finished with these spreadsheets I can finally go back and do some writing. Although the writing won’t be too much (hopefully). Then it’ll be the editing phase.

I can’t help but think it might have been easier if I had sat down before I had written the project and done a scene-by-scene outline. It would shorten my current phase by half. Not to mention, it would have cut out those times when I was wondering what should come next.

My next project (maybe all of them in my future) will have a HEAVY planning element in the beginning.

Lost the Plot??


One of the many projects I’ve been busy with lately has been trying to do some retro-planning for my completed manuscript Pecan Hill. I’ve found it to be a frustrating and joy-sapping exercise to say the least. If I could compare it to anything, it would probably be like building a tent. You put the tent out and then have to put the tent poles in so it can stand. There was a certain degree of joy to be had as I was free-wheeling through the manuscript building the ‘walls of the tent’ by the seat of my pants with no proper or completed planning. I knew the ending I wanted and tried to work towards it. But now I’ve finished and have to go back and make sure there’s no gaping holes in the plot and to make sure it all flows together.

I believe it has been this process which has pulled the love out of the project and now it’s just some more work. I actually walked out to the car yesterday morning to go to my real job and found myself thinking that my free-spirited, seat-of-the-pants discovery writing days are behind me. I don’t want to have to go back at the end of the story again and try to figure out whether everything has been put in and if there are any holes in the story. I believe that in my future projects I am going to sit down and outline the crap out of the story before I even start. It might mean there is less ‘freedom’ in my approach but it’ll also mean less work at the back-end.

Tied in with the thoughts about never discovery writing again was the thought that the writers of the television series Lost really buggered it all up (My mind can be a very weird place at times – I recently got the final season on DVD and have been watching some episodes). Maybe I was thinking of how to plan a story and that’s always to start at the end. I can’t imagine that the ending they gave us was the ending Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse and maybe J.J. Abrams thought of when creating the series. Sure, there was the reverse scene where the final thing you see was Jack closing his eyes where the opening scene was him opening his eyes on the island. But essentially the end was all of the characters going into the bright light and leaving their version of purgatory (*SPOILER ALERT*). There were dozens of questions they left unanswered and a part of me is fine with that, it was a story about the characters and not the plot of the island after all. The thing which got to me though was the fact that they had broken a promise to me the viewer. Admittedly it was never of screen that the promise was made, but the theory that they had been in purgatory had been floated around since the first season and the writers vehemently denied they were in purgatory. The end of the series rolls around and let’s be honest, the final proper scene was the characters leaving purgatory and not Jack handing the power over to Hurley. I felt cheated and it felt as though I had wasted the last six years of watching the series because of a big fat lie.

I suppose you could say that my thoughts were that I did not want to end any of my projects in a similar manner, breaking promises to the reader.

My purpose going forward is then crystal clear: PLAN EVERYTHING and DON’T BREAK PROMISES (SPOKEN OR NOT) TO THE READER.

EVER