About J. A. Self

J. A. Self is the pen name of Elipsimuth Archibald Vallimasque, though most people just call him Jim. Being forced to read child detective novels at a young age forever set him on the path of the librophile. These days he usually finds himself with a fantasy novel of some sort on his eReader. He enjoys all manner of nerdly activities as well as weightlifting, running, sports, hiking, swimming... well, all manner of physical and outdoor activities as well. If you were to visit James K. Polk's hometown, you might bump into Jim on the street.

Into Ruin is now finally (finally, finally, finally…) out!

Yes, book 3 of the series is now live. It was a heck of a long time in the finishing, but that struggle is now over. Feel free to buy it as many times as you like. Here’s the story description.

IR smallPrince Kyloth of Salentia and his companions are preparing themselves for the assault on
The kingdom of Salentia is preparing for war with a race who call themselves “metalgods,” machine creatures whose power comes from the blood of their human slaves. Prince Kyloth is training himself in the magic he learned from the tribal survivors in the metalgods’ lands, and Prince Reginald is hurrying to manufacture and refine Salentia’s powerful war machines.

Prince Kyloth and his companions have already fended off an attack by one of the fiendish metalgods, but only one alone, one with no army to speak of. What will happen if the entire metalgod City turns its attention their way?

Unknown to any of them, an army of metal creatures is already approaching the shores of Salentia…

It’s up at Amazon and Kobo right now. B&N will be right along, as soon as they iron out things on their end. Can’t wait? Don’t want to risk a whopping $5 on an author new to you? Contact me and let me know you’re interested in a review copy, which I’ll gladly trade you in exchange for an honest review.

The New(ish) Nook Press Interface

So I haven’t been over to Barnes and Noble’s self-pub platform for a while. A long while. I was pretty unhappy with them because they were my worst seller. (Clearly ALL their fault! Of course!) But Into Ruin is about to come out, probably in the morning, and so I was over there…

The new interface looks really, really good. It’s clean, intuitive, easy to navigate, and is processing pretty quickly. I heartily approve. I have to say, I’ve been on the B&N failure schadenfreude bandwagon, but I actually hope they manage to pull through. They still have the best chance to keep Amazon competitive here in the US, and one has to assume they actually do like books. Hugh Howey’s statement that they do just as much business in self-pub books (proportionally) helped a lot.

Just one teeny little problem… It’s not letting me change one of my older covers. Yeah. It’s been 2-3 days now, and the file hasn’t updated. I can appreciate that they don’t want to let me toss any random image of my choosing onto their professional website. That would be stupid of them. It only takes about $0.15 through a service like Mechanical Turk to get that checked, though. Oh, right, that’s owned by that other book retailer. I can also appreciate that the cover image is by far the biggest file the site has to handle for me. Still, my website can get the same image uploaded and into a post on the fly in a few seconds. Sigh.

As long as I can get this cover thing resolved, I’ll be able to give a tentative two-thumbs-up to the new Nook Press site. Tentative, until I see how sales compare to Amazon and Kobo.

Covers? Covers!

New covers! I’ve been running my brain through the gristmill to learn how to make better covers for my books. I also got honest with myself and rebranded the first book from “Sunshells” to “Shadow on the Eclipse”. The new name fits the book and my target reader MUCH better. Here’s a look at the new SotE cover:

SotE Small

Not bad, eh? GoMB is getting a new cover, too. I have one 99% done, which is now in the “endlessly tweaking” phase. The third book of the series is DONE, HUZZAH, with only some error checking left to do. The cover, however, isn’t done. Still trying to figure that one out.

The big rebranding and whatnot is going to roll out all at once. SotE is going to be republished as a “new” book to help it get some visibility, and the third book will come out at the same time, a la Hugh Howey’s recent advice.

The website will get some tweaking to help build my email list and just look better in general. One example: the email signup at the bottom of this post.

Big stuff happening. Cross your fingers.

Not on the list? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? Get on the Story List and I’ll send you the shorter stories I write for fun, and I’ll let you know when something big comes out.

Get on the Story List!

The New Marketing

I’ve been listening to David Wright’s walking podcast, which he calls The Walking Dave. Today (-ish) he got onto the subject of connecting with fans as a means of marketing, and since my wheels have been turning in that direction lately, too, it gave me a lot to think about.

The days are gone when you ran an ad on TV and watched your sales go up. Ignore TiVo, Netflix, Hulu, etc. People don’t respond to ads the same way they used to. It’s a fact backed by data, and a lot of it has to do with how the internet is changing our relationship with media. And, the internet is definitely NOT like traditional media, and doesn’t respond as well to it.

The new reality of media is that there’s a vast ocean of free content of all kinds that you can dip into whenever you want. Want to play video games for free? Or buy cheap games? When I was a kid, getting a new game meant dropping $60. Now you don’t have enough time in a 24-hour day to play all of the REALLY FUN free games out there. How about books? Amazon has an uncountable number of free books, and enough of them are good that you could read forever, without stopping or spending a dime. News media? Music? How about expensive Hollywood-style fight sequences? Surely you can’t see those for free… except you can.

It’s a kind of golden age of media, except most of the media has a grayish-pink tint, standing out no more than anything else. This is the new quandary for the people producing that media; among this ocean of stuff, how can I catch enough attention to be able to make a living? And  the second question alongside it, in this ocean of free stuff, how can I convince people to spend money on me instead?

In the past, it was enough to produce something of great quality. After all, the store shelves only held a certain number of books, and if a customer spent time at that shelf, there was a reasonable chance that they’d at least stop and consider your book before moving on. Now, the shelf holds millions of titles. On the smaller shelves of genre lists, they hold tens of thousands or more. Being on the shelf no longer guarantees anything at all. This is the new truth of selling anything, but especially media. You must, MUST spend some time capturing attention, because otherwise you’re hoping that readers will stumble across you instead of the millions of other options.

I think the question of how to get people to spend money is simpler to answer. Simpler, but not easier. You convince people to spend money on something instead of using a free solution by convincing them it’s worth the money. In other words, you offer quality. It’s the same kind of decision people make when buying a coffee maker. Is this nicer model worth the difference in cost? Is this $5 ebook worth $5 more than the free one I downloaded? If your work is good, their answer will be yes, and they’ll buy your book. If you fail to convince them of the value, their answer will be no.

A third variable enters into the equation at this point, though, the same point that Dave was talking about on his podcast. We can now boost our sales by selling ourselves as a brand. Not so long ago it was almost impossible to “get to know” the personalities behind your favorite television shows or music or whatnot. Now the channel is smooth and easy. What’s more (and better), it’s more available to people like writers than to large organizations. There is no single personality behind Coca-Cola, regardless of their Twitter feed or Facebook page. As a writer, though, I represent the whole work; I can tell you exactly why Reggie has those headaches, should I decide to share it with you. I can tell you what I was thinking while writing that certain scene, and, even better, you can change the future of my books by what you say to me.

That third variable is the one that is the newest, least researched, and least perfected. I’m still not finished with the marketing books I’ve gotten recently, so hopefully there’s some advice about building connections in there.

Flirting with Ubuntu

So I came this close to ditching Windows in favor of Ubuntu last night. I already had it installed, completely overwriting Windows, and I was loving it. (I booted into Ubuntu so I could get online and download the files I needed to repair my Windows installation. Experimentation led to installing it over Windows as a step toward that solution.) The ultimate problem was that Scrivener wasn’t running well. Apparently it doesn’t play well with Wine; about the bottom third of the screen was left uncovered when I maximized Scrivener’s window. That, and the text looked like I was running it on Windows 95. Very hard on the eyes.

I saw that the folks at Literature and Latte are working up a Linux version of Scrivener, but I’m not quite brave enough to exchange my Windows license for a Linux version. I like how Dropbox allows me to access my work no matter what happens, and tying my work to Linux would threaten that. It’s already tied to Scrivener, somewhat.

So here I am, back to Bill’s bloated, unimaginative GUI software. At least everything runs.

That’s Highly Annoying, TradPub

So I’m shopping for a good book on writing descriptions, and here’s what I see:

Delayed Description Book

Oh cool, there’s a new edition of the book I wanted. Wait, there’s no Kindle edition? That’s annoying. Wait, December 12, 2014? It’s not even out? YOU’VE ALREADY FINISHED THE COVER!!! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE AND NOT WANTING TO MAKE MONEY???


Le sigh.

(This came hot on the trail of Google refusing to show me an Amazon link to the book page, showing me screens of Google Books results even when I searched for “word painting Rebecca Mcclanahan amazon.” Biased much? Also, after reading a lot of reviews, I’m not planning to get the book. Don’t take the picture as a recommendation.)

Mindmaps! You should make some!

So I was just tinkering around with XMind, a freemium mindmapping program. I was throwing notes together for the next project in my pipeline, and I discovered something very cool. When adding notes together, you automatically start grouping them according to their relationship with each other. What I found myself doing was this:

XMind Example







As I began throwing different factors in the plot onto the map, they naturally represent the different pieces of the conflict and the resulting outcomes from each. I had not set out to do an outline, but one started to come together anyway.

This looks like an easy, organic, and visual way to develop a story, while being able to look at all the parts at the same time. And it’s not just a single set of nested brackets, either; I have four main branches going in different directions for different purposes. Note, this all happened within the first 15 minutes or so of me using the program, and there are tons of features I haven’t touched even in the free version. I’m planning to use a mindmap to start this project, convert it into a more traditional outline when it’s ready, and see how it goes. I’ll share my results, too, of course.

(And since I’m using Scrivener, it’ll be easy to staple all of this to the book project and keep everything together for reference and safekeeping.)

North Korea, Humanitarian Utopia (yes, sarcasm)

Just read this article about a girl that won life’s biggest lottery: she escaped from North Korea. She talks about how the state propaganda affected her beliefs about the fat, disgusting, murdering dictator (FDMD) Kim Jong-Il.

The FDMD is the main blame, of course, but after that comes China. China props that little hellhole up intentionally, I imagine to keep a burr in our undies and to make themselves look relatively good. Side note: I’ll never forget the day I sat in China watching a documentary on NK with an older Chinese friend, who looked at me and said “That’s exactly how it was here 15 years ago.” (That was back in 2007.)

Well, the girl had to learn things like why her opinion mattered (yes, really) and what freedom and rights really meant. I want to give this girl a big Star-Striped Fistbump of Liberty, even though she’s living in SK now (I gather).

One thing that really roasted my goat, though, was the fact that she met South Korean missionaries… who told her and her mother they’d be fine if they could get to Mongolia. So then they had to walk to Mongolia. Little geography lesson: Mongolia is on the opposite side of China’s borders from NK. It’s at one of the thinner sections of the Chinese territory, though, so they only needed to walk about 400 miles. In the winter. In the longitudinal equivalent of Maine. Apparently the missionaries weren’t on a mission to save poor, brainwashed women fleeing the worlds worst oppression. Kinda reminds me of James 2:15-16:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Yeah… bit of a fail, guys. Just saying, I would have driven them to the border, rather than make them walk 400 MILES WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Marketing for Writers

So I’ve exposed myself to a couple of bits of media recently that have pushed me to a new perspective on writers marketing their work… again. Yes, I know, it seems like every other day I’m “adjusting” my opinion on this. And that’s highly irritating to me. In fact, it’s another variable in this formula; I’ve realized that my wishy-washiness is probably a sign of not knowing for myself what I’m talking about in the “Do Good Books Sell Themselves or Not?” debate. So, I’ve come to a kind of resolution, which I’ll get to in a bit.

The first media that help shift me this time was this blog post by Russel Blake. Especially his first two of eight points:

1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…

This myth is the one that’s always been frustrating to me, and yet somehow has managed to infiltrate my own thinking over and over. After all, I’ve found my new favorite indie writers on Amazon, not through some clickthrough advertisement or spam mail or tweet, so the cream must be rising above the crap, right? That thinking breaks all kinds of logical rules, though, such as incomplete comparison (did those authors promote themselves into Amazon visibility, which led to me finding them?) as well as rules of salesmanship (don’t assume that everyone buys the same way you do). If you think about it, everything else besides books is sold through active and passive marketing and sales efforts. Is it really true that books are some kind of exception?

No way. Book contracts are a way of promoting your work, as that will get it in front of bookstore shoppers. Endlessly tweeting about your book does the same, except in a sleazy and annoying and inefficient fashion. The question is not whether promotion leads to sales, but what kind of promotion will be most effective.

2) Just write the next one.

Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.

This one follows #1 logically, both for those that believe it and for refuting it. Emily Dickinson had drawers full of her work, and only a dozen or so were published during her life. How come people weren’t flocking to her drawer to get that wonderful rhyming goodness before then? Because they HAD NO IDEA IT WAS THERE!!! If you believe that you need to submit your work to a publisher or a storefront like Amazon in order to sell your work, then you believe in promoting your work. To say that promotion stops with the product (writing, editing, cover, blurb, sales copy on product page) ignores the fact that you didn’t take all that work and lock it in a drawer. Put your work in every place that will promote it enough to be worth your time, whether that’s a digital storefront or an advertisement site.

The second media that helped swing my vacillating pendulum is the recent episode of The Self Publishing Podcast, titled “Selling Your First 1000 Copies” with guest Tim Grahl. These guys are successful full-time writers that are doing a million things at once, from serials to novels to promo to podcasting and on and on. Tim said several things that made me nod my head or lock up in one of those thoughtful “OH!” moments.

One was the importance of separating yourself from certain decisions. He referenced Tim Ferriss’ method of choosing a book title (basically a series of double-blind testing of several possible titles), which resonated with me as I’m planning to retitle my first book. Back to point, some decisions can’t be made by us ourselves. “What cover will best grab sales?” is a different question from “What cover best encapsulates the story?” or “What cover satisfies my own personal aesthetics?” Also, as Tim Grahl said, we’re often far too close to our own projects to make a good decision. My takeaway is that any part of your product that involves other people making a purchase decision ought to be tested until you find the best alternative, not the one that you choose from a biased perspective.

Another point to the episode was to promo Tim Grahl’s new book, Your First 1000 Copies (who’d a-thunk it?) It was $3.99 as an ebook last I checked, and $1.99 as an audiobook (!!!) Go get it, because I doubt those prices will hold.

So I come away convinced of the need to do more promo work. What’s that going to mean? Paid ads? We’ll see. The first thing I’m going to do is read Tim Grahl’s book, then make more specific decisions. One thing he said that sounded very reasonable and occurred to me before was the need to be putting out material that draws people in, so that they go from not knowing you to knowing you. So more free fiction is going to be a part of the plan, I wager.

P.S. I’d appreciate a summary of KKR’s recent series of blog posts so I can decide whether to go back and read them. It’s a long series, which leads me to think she says more than “write the next book” this time.