Sunday, July 30, 2017

Become a Pokemon-Go Demigod in Three Weeks by Spending One Hour a Day

After hitting level 26 with my family Pokemon gang (the Wild Eevees) in 3 weeks, I thought I would write a jump-start guide for newbies. Disclaimer: this is my experience only; your mileage may vary.


A few ground rules to begin with:
1. Realize that Pokemon Go is the glitchiest piece of software I've ever seen. As a programmer for 37 years, that's saying something. If it freezes, white screens, or generates a random error, just close the app and start it back up again. If it happens during a raid battle, you may have just been screwed out of your 99 cents purchase price for the battle pass. They don't fix bugs or satisfy customers. What do you expect from a free app? Be prepared to write off any time or money you invest in it. In the best case scenario, avoid spending any real-world money.
2. Pokemon will KILL your phone at the rate of about a percent a minute. On settings, turn off sounds/music and turn on battery saver. Always have a wall or car charger handy, preferably with a splitter so your navigator has power too.
3. Only log in as you on one device at a time, or the game will give you strange errors like "no more room in gym."
4. Pokemon Go is not a solo venture but a gang activity.
5. The game ostensibly is to cultivate walking/physical fitness in players, but you can bike or ride in a slow car (under 20 mph) through town. Every device registers distance incorrectly and differently. Sometimes the game checks its distance routines at odd times, and you'll have several eggs hatch at once. If you're driving, give your phone to a passenger to spin, etc. If they shout "Abra!", don't drive off the road or hit anyone. This sort of Tourette's is common among players. When a special event ends, they often zero all your distance counters (see rule 1 and more random vocabulary is shouted).
6. Everything increases arbitrarily with your level, from the CP value of Pokemon you find to the range of your Pokestop detector. Therefore, you don't want to evolve hard-to-find pokemon until you reach at least level 10, or you will regret it.
7. If your school/business has a cell-phone blocker, you can connect temporarily using WiFi, but walking your buddy, eggs, and lucky eggs all require your exact GPS location. The only thing you can do reliably with WiFi is weed your bag or catch local Pokemon you spotted before the GPS was blocked.
8. It's incredibly addictive, so limit your time to something reasonable like an hour a day.
9. If you're a child or a woman alone, don't accept rides to the next raid battle. They person behind the wheel may be trolling for more than pokemon, and you don't want to be the one caught.
10. Find some websites you trust for more tips. I like Silph Road.


You won't know what any of this means until you've played for a while, but by then it will be too late. Trust me.
1. Before starting, you need to find a mentor, someone who has played it for a while over level 10, the higher the better.
2. Install Pokemon Go on your phone (with GPS) and attempt to start it. If it crashes repeatedly, your device might not have the proper OS level. Make sure the clock is set properly and the GPS works, or weird errors will occur. Find another device if it doesn't start reliably.
3. Pick the same color as your mentor (Red, Blue, Yellow). Color is your team alliance, and it's permanent. They will help you with silly questions.
4. When asked to pick a starting Pokemon, walk away three times. The choices they give you (bulbasaur, charizard, and squirtle) are so rare, you'll never see another one, and your buddy will stay CP 10 forever. After the third rejection, you'll get a chance to catch Pikachu. You'll see lots of those later.
5. Make pikachu your buddy to start collecting candy.
6. Settings/sign out, and then sign in as 1 to 5 more people from your team so the password are on your phone. Why? If *anyone* finds something rare or a gym with too few people in it, everyone benefits.
7. If you can, start near an event period like Easter or the one-year game anniversary when rewards are doubled.


In addition to catching everything that moves in balls, you'll learn all the game basics today.
1. Ask your mentor where in town you can find four pokestops in close proximity, with at least one of them being a gym of your color.
2. Walk/bike/drive from one to the next, spinning, and catching everything that moves for an hour. You should get about 2 balls and 2 pokemon at each stop, plus one from the gym of your color. Most of this will be "everywhere" pokemon like pidgeys, rats, spineraks, weedles, caterpies, etc. I call this a garbage run. Don't transfer anything yet. Don't bother to catch any Murkrows/Standlers or other non-evolvers beyond the first.
3. If a pokecenter gives you an egg, immediately put it into your incubator.
At the end of the hour, you will have spun up to 48 times and caught 12 to 50 pokemon. We'll average this at 28, 8 of them pidgeys and 4 weedles. Typically you'll catch 9 different types, and earn about 12000 XP. You'll be half way through level 6!
4. For 12 candy (cheap) evolutions (pidgeys, weedles, caterpies) transfer all but your top 3 to the professor (candy of type /11). For others, transfer all but the best pokemon of that type to the Professor.
5. Starting with the highest CP pidgeot (weedle,caterpie) evolve that pokemon and immediately transfer it. You should be about to do about 3 of these. For evolving and adding to your pokedex, you should earn about 2500 more. Catch one more pidgey do the evolution trick again, bumping you to level 7. Keep your biggest pidgeot around for tomorrow.
6. If you have any eggs, put them in incubators (you should have two) immediately. Put the longest distance egg you can in the 3-use incubator, but put 2km eggs into the infinite incubator for now to get you hatching and pokedex bonuses.


With the basics mastered, we learn to work the system like a pro.
1. Make your initial pass at yesterday's four pokestops and catch the pokemon there (est 8)
2. Choose a NEW place with two overlapping pokestops or ranges a few feet apart. Spin at both and catch everything in sight, say 5 cheap pokemon. Catholic churchs are excellent for this because they are gyms and have a statue of Mary or Jesus nearby that merits a stop. Sports complexes with multiple ball fields and playgrounds also work for people who feel wrong about spinning Mary during church services.
3. drop your incense. For the next thirty minutes, spin at both stops and catch everything that shows up, say 15 more common pokemon.
4. At the end of the incense, weed your bag and evolve the same as yesterday.
5. Ask your mentor to show you how to take down a gym. Find a weak gym of another color, spin first, and then battle. Tap until you win. Place your strongest pokemon in the gym (not your buddy). As pokemon return each day, you get up to 50 poke coins. Buy a new incubator as soon as you can and fill it with eggs.
6. Spin at the gym after taking it for a bonus, and then hit your usual four on the way home. Catch a few new pokemon.
You are now level 8.


Repeat yesterday's exercises, but today, you and your friend put lure modules at the two nearby pokestops. When you clean out your bag, you should be able to evolve your first rattata and ledyba. Don't transfer them yet, but use them for the gym. You should have hatched a new pokemon and registered it to your pokedex about now, too. You should be hovering on the edge, almost to level 10.


Now we mix things up a little in preparation for your key to world domination--the lucky egg.
Visit a nearby town or another part of your town and hit as many stops as possible (say 12). If you find a gym of your color with space (under 6 guards), put one of yours in. Catch whatever you find at the stops or in the road on the way. (say 36 total) Don't transfer ANYTHING until your bag fills up. Then keep one more than the number you need for evolving with the candy you need, two more for sentrets, rats, spineraks, and cheap evolutions.
Each day, you'll be making about 8K in XPs, not much compared to earlier rates, but be patient. You have about 22 evolutions built up by now. Resist the urge, unless you can evolve a Tediursa into Ursarang--they are awesome for gym battles. You can also evolve ONE eevee for gyms. You should be almost level 13 by now. When you put things in gyms, get in the habit of picking your 7th strongest so you have your six best guys for taking gyms.
As you weed your bag, take notes about things you need that you're just shy of for an evolution.
At night, when pokemon come back from gyms, revive them and heal them so you can send your little money-makers back out tomorrow, Fagin.


By now, you're progress seems glacial by comparison. Hold the line. No evolutions, even if you can. You may run out of balls at this point. A good tactic is to only catch one at each pokestop (where you get 2+ on average) until you build up a surplus. For cheap pokemon, don't catch anything over your level times 10. Why do you need a 350 CP pidgey? He'll only bust your balls and waste them.
Make sure the target pokemon are your current largest.
Do the insence trick again as you troll your stops.


Do the two-stop lure trick again for half an hour. Maybe you can loosen up on that hour a day thing. It's the weekend, right?


Catch them all. At the end of this period, you'll be about 5K into level 15, and you have about 60 evolutions queued up. Write down every evolution you're planning to do. Put the cheap evolutions/rats/sentrets at the start of the list, and battle monsters like Tediursas/Eevees the end of the list. Name the biggest two "Tamao" and "Sakura" so they will evolve into rare eevees.
At this level, you are given (as a leveling up bonus and from pokestops) a new berry called a pinap. It doubles the candy get from each successful capture. Here we have a philosophical debate. I try to only use them for rare pokemon. My son laughs at that. "Now you only need 67 magicarps to level up." His strategy during the last event was to pineapp every pidgey. Why? Because then EVERY pidgey you catch can evolve! But be sure to only catch the ones under 150 CP or you're wasting ammo and berries. My daughter pineaps eevies, ponytas, and oddishes for bellossom. In short, cute but deadly things. The kids swayed me to use a *few* on weaker Teddyusrsas and Eevees to speed building my second line of gym bullies.


At home, with GPS on, drop your luck egg, and do all the evolutions. You may need to drop a second if it takes longer than 30 minutes. With 40 new evolutions you'll earn about 100K XPs. This should carry you to level 20. Spend the rest of your hour weeding duplicate furrets, etc. Then order the list by CP and power up your top 6 fighting pokemon with stardust. Flareons get the biggest bang for the buck. You should have purchased and burned through about four incubators by now.


Now you have a serious front line and can begin the next level of operation--raid battle. These give you rare candy and attack power ups. Practice on two-star bosses with your friend. Collect rare pokemon you need from places they've been spotted around the city.  Raid battles give your rare candy to evolve a few of your rarest pokemon and new attacks to teach your front line. When you run out of rare candy, walk the rarest ones as your buddy. My daughter walks Jigglypuff because he only costs a km per candy. My wife walks Pupitar because she needs 100 candies before it can evolve again. Here I am walking my legendary to be able to pump it up more.

Regardless, you decide your course now. You're the one with the ultra balls. On the second day, use your excess coin to buy a premium pass for a five-star boss. You may have to join a Facebook group to track the group battles with 10 people or more. You're gathering evolutions for another lucky egg.


After trolling for a few odds and ends, you drop another egg and hit level 23. You've just caught your first legendary at 2000 CP, and it takes the lead for battles. Only now it takes 100K a level, many days of effort, and raid battles take precedence over work. After beating Lugia five times, you still don't catch him. If only your boss hadn't buzzed in during your final attempt and ruined the throw! Someone tells you about a stretch of highway in North Minneapolis called Victory Memorial with over 20 pokestops and roving gangs you can join in with.


The 13-year-old who mentored you worries that you've become obsessed. She's just whining because you're already a level above her, and she has to go to school. They have one of those cell-phone blockers there, and she can't compete. She's just holding you back now. A level-35 player teaches you to buy raid passes in bulk. You hear rumors of a level 40 master who's Blastoise rides into battle on Articuno, and you must have one. Your kid will have another birthday next year, but this legendary will only be available for another 24 hours. That's what she gets for telling mom about my "disturbing addicted behavior" just because she missed her swim class at the Y.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

cover reveal "Glory Point"

Finally, I've finished the Gigaparsec space opera series. The fourth and final book is entitled "Glory Point." A fleet of cold-bloods has been in cryo-sleep for 125 years. Their goal is to take over the Banker homeworld before the Goat loans are due. Reuben Black Ram finds out at the last minute that the invasion could trigger the collapse of the Union and the deaths of billions of his people. Now, he and the other members of his crew must stop the fleet before it's too late. If they can convince the Magi to let them borrow the only ship fast enough, and if they knew where the phantom fleet was. Their only clue is a cryptic reference to a place known as Glory Point. Did I mention that the Bankers are trying to kill them? So many deals, so little time.

Told from the point of view of the Saurian mob accountant, Kesh, who needs a glorious death to redeem his family name. Along the way, he finds that he's a better politician than warrior. Sometimes building the legend is more important than the truth.

Release expected 7/31, combined with an Amazon countdown sale on book one, Void Contract.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

5 years in the writing business -- revised advice

One of my first blog entries was advice to new writers. Writers and editors keep asking me, but a lot has changed in five years. It's a *lot* harder now to succeed.

The primary goal of a writer is to write … but if you want other people to read it or to pay your editors/artists, you need to invest time like any other small business owner. Between books and on weekends, I spend a lot of time doing something we’ll broadly call marketing.

+ The best marketing is a satisfied customer. If someone likes your work, they will tell their friends and often buy every book in your series or in that genre. Unfortunately, unless a series isn’t selling anything that month or the same person leaves multiple reviews, this sort of wonderful experience is impossible for an author to see. If one book does well, you’ll see a draft effect pulling up all your sales up.

Optimizing your keywords can help bring in people searching for particular topics and interests, and even put your book into a specialty category, like Space Military or Sword and Sorcery. Reaching the top 20 (first page) of a specialty sublist can help your book. Publishers can use twice the tags we can and end up on all sorts of inaccurate categories. I think Game of Thrones dominated about seven. Beware of reaching too far. I had a transgender character in the K2 Virus, so I added the transgender tag. I hit #8 on that list and my “people who bought this” list got pretty hard-core, scaring away my military fans. It’s a fine balance.

Know your target audience. My first two series sold best to IT professionals trying to avoid work on Monday afternoon. I spiked 40 percent of my sales that day. Weekends and Tuesdays were dead. On the plus side, I know exactly what day to target my sales on for the biggest surge. However, fans are creatures of habit and tropes. You may not mesh best with every group. My 10 sci-fi novels outsold my 10 fantasies over 2 to 1.If you take out one fluke success, the ratio is 6 to 1. That tells me where I should be concentrating my future efforts.

+ Writing a book in a new genre is even more labor intensive and tends to garner only half the sales of a comparable book in your “known” field. I saw this when I tried YA, horror, and medical thrillers. The little scribbler in my head doesn’t always list to business advice. When you don’t have any hits or new books for 6 months, all sales decline, and your engine starts to stall. That’s when I spend extra time marketing and offer sales, promising the next book will be more interesting.

How do you start this engine initially?
People are reluctant to fork over $2.99 and hours of their life to an unknown. A sufficient number of positive reviews can induce someone to take the risk. My first reviews came from exchanging reviews with a pool of indie writers. Use this sparingly and only with someone you know for quality writing. As an indie, I’ll have to admit that 80 percent of what I read from fellow wannabes I couldn’t endorse. About 10 percent of the time, correcting grammar or spelling got my head ripped off. Romance writers are the trickiest because as a confirmation teacher and husband to a medical provider with whom I share an Amazon account, I can’t publicly rate gay dungeon porn. Find a small group of writers you can trust, and rely on most of them for feedback to improve the quality of your work.

+ One book with a bad reputation can kill the entire series and depress all your sales. Excellence must come before you expose the work to the world.

When I first started writing on Amazon, free giveaways were the best way to bootstrap reviews for a new book. Half the Amazon chart is still Indie books. Although, so many classic titles and permafree first books in a series clog the top of the list (90 percent in science fiction), that this is now much more difficult. Unless your cover art rocks and you already have about 5 glowing reviews, though, people won’t even take it for free! This is the most painful phase of any non-sequel book. In my experience, it takes 2000 free downloads to get 1 review. This means you need to hit the top twenty and hang there for days. By a perverse sense of logic, unless you already have at least 20 ratings with over 55 percent of them 5 stars, a new book isn’t likely to make the top 20 free in sci-fi. This is like getting a bank loan—you can only get it if you can prove you don’t need it. My professional friends have warned me against devaluing my work by pricing books for free on Amazon. Last time I did this, two people outside my target audience rated me a one-star because the book wasn’t what they expected. “It’s all about science.”

+ The best hidden effect of a free giveaway is linking yourself to other popular free books offered that day. You now have a slew of “People who bought this also bought” recommendations on books that could be best sellers!

When you are successful, some of the other aspiring trolls who are also on the free list can get spiteful. I’ve had one-star reviews, my best reviews marker unhelpful, and books customer tagged with “S&M”—all to knock me lower on the list so they could climb over me. Once you are mistagged, Amazon will never remove it. You have to find more friends than people who agreed with the tag to disagree before it becomes invisible. However, the graffiti will always be on the wall.

+ A series book will outsell stand-alones 10 to 14 to one, with considerably less effort. Marketing is almost nothing for series books because the gateway book does all the heavy lifting.

An average first book in the series will ensure a buy rate of half for each successive novel. A 4 book series where the first book sold 2000 copies will sell about 4000 total. Better novels will have higher follow-on rates. Even if you take a small loss marketing book one, you can still make a profit overall. For this reason, keep book one price lower, and don’t use Amazon’s price suggestions, which tend to choke your volume by 40 percent to increase profit by 10.

How can we use free books to boost sales in a series? If you just set book 1 to free, only 1 out of 200 downloaders will ever buy book two in your series. To maximize leverage, I reduce book 1 in a series to 99 cents and drop the brand new book 2 to free. Then one in 14 downloaders is willing fork over the money for book one to be able to enjoy the freebie—a much better model.

+ For sales connect rates, nothing beats reaching your target audience with a good cover and pitch. A brief period of free or reduced price can be a worthwhile expense to help you test and refine this.

Giving away a handful of books (3-6) on Goodreads gives you the same indicator, plus puts your name on a lot of user shelves so they get notified of your later events. Half the people will even leave reviews or ratings. Half of those might post on Amazon. Be warned, however, that an increasing number of people on Goodreads sell their prizes immediately on the used market. Despite all the news releases, Amazon only allows big publishers and their own imprints access to the secret e-book giveaways.

What do we do instead? Amazon won’t let my wife review my books because she “stands to gain financially.” (Here is where all spouses of authors of any kind may snicker.)

I often had a core of friends and followers who regularly read my books, and asked them to provide a jump start. Not everyone will like every genre, so have a big list. In my experience, only half of those who promised a review will do so. Also, using the same people repeatedly will burn them out and make them less likely to respond next time. Many of these people are also too timid or polite to provide feedback. The result? In my overeagerness, I prevented a guaranteed sale and got nothing in return. A much better method is to give away a sample and teasers ahead of time to induce them to buy and pick a few individuals for constructive criticism. I still have my wife, my editor, and three others beta-read every book before posting. Some of these become seed reviews.

+ Every author needs access to a large list of loyal fans to get the word out, even if they don’t buy the book or write reviews.

What about bloggers? About 1 in 100 blogger emails without a prior relationship will result in a review. The average blogger isn’t likely to ever buy the rest of your books, because they get their fix for free from others. However, someone who rated book 1 of your series well should be willing to review book 2. Bloggers and top Vine Voice people can be very prickly to approach. Spamming once will get you blocked forever. Don’t send a mobi until they agree. Call them by name and chat a little like a human. Never expose someone’s private email to the whole list in an open group mailing—they go through great lengths to avoid junk mail. Most have a specific submission format or web form they want you to use. Unfortunately, too many are “in hiatus”, don’t take indie books, or charge a fee or donation. Amazon has strict rules forbidding that; any such review will get pulled. To send out 400 invitations for one ebook, I scanned through lists containing 2000 sites. I guarantee at least two of those sites were infected with a virus. I can’t use my writing PC for this sort of searching.

+ Ultimately, it’s not the size of your blogger list, but the quality of the relationship you have with a chosen few. These will become your foundation. They are people with lives of their own, not review machines.

How about other fans—people who bought books similar to yours on Amazon? You can glean one candidate email address for every 50 reviewer profiles you read. A high percentage of people who post their emails are other authors or bloggers. About 1 in a 100 of these email requests results in a review. Collecting prospects and sending a personalized mail to each can be very time-consuming. However, you need to be very careful. Too many emails will get you sanctioned by Amazon for spamming. If you go beyond the Also Bought list, many reviewers will rate your book “3” because it isn’t what they’re used to.

+ The best reviews come organically from satisfied paying customers. The rate of these reviews averages about 1 per 100 sold. My highest-rated book hit 1 per 50 while my lowest hovered around 1 per 400.

I wouldn’t do presales again. It locks you down for two weeks for no good reason, and people can’t rate your book or see the preview. The short burst does help rankings if you can get 7-10 the first day, you can shoot onto the top 100.  Months later, you have to sell over a hundred in two days to achieve the same rank.

+ Without advertisement and sales, books don’t tend to hit the top 20 in a category.

25 percent of the books on the paid top 40 have temporarily reduced pricing. That can spike sales for a few days and give you nice halo sales on KU. Unfortunately, without advertising or a loyal following, a book older than 30 days isn’t likely to see a benefit from lowered price.

Where should you advertise?  Tweets have been utterly useless in my experience. I even caught Bargain Booksy taking my $10 without sending any tweets! Check every single time you pay for an ad, it’s up to you to confirm it happened. Mailing lists like Reign of Reads cannot be confirmed by non-members. As a general rule of thumb, small-time ads will get you one download per dollar spent – 70 cents on the dollar return. Ereader News performance depends on the genre. I received 50 downloads K2 advertised as sci-fi, but I got 80 when I recast it as a medical thriller. I recommend doing both at once. Even older outlets like Book Barbarian and Digital Book Today seem to draw fewer readers than they did a few years ago. Over the course of a year, repeated exposure to the same list, like Fussy Librarian, can have diminishing returns. Mix the venues up if the same book goes on sale again. Beware of using too many sites at once. Many won’t let you know your schedule slot until a couple days before, and you need the freedom to move the sale. ENT can be picky and won’t let you schedule more than a month out, but many other fill up before that window. Another advertiser insists on 3 verified Kindle reviews – which equates to about 30 regular reviews. If I can get that in the first 90 days of a book, why do I need ads?

Read earned me 5 downloads for $10, perhaps because they’re primarily a romance-driven channel. ManyBooks proudly offered 20 downloads for $24. Effective mailing lists (many aren’t) only have a connect rate of about 1/670. Which means $50 for 50k mails, will get you 75 sales, earning exactly what you paid. Ripley’s This may still a useful tactic for the first book in a series, because follow-on sales for the sequels should earn another $150.  What we’re hoping for is to hit the charts in the top 100 and stick there for a while. Even holding at number 70 on the hard sci-fi chart is enough for a book to pay for itself in a few months. To reach that level for a non-sequel, we need to have over 20 reviews. Otherwise, strangers tend to be shy. In a genre where I’ve already established a following, I’ve gotten by with as few as 10, but it doesn’t stick. On average, expect a top 20 book to be over 60 percent 5 star ratings. The lowest bar seems to be for Amazon’s imprint 47 North, which can skate by with as little as 30 percent.

+ Good or bad, people are drawn to successes, perpetuating this success.
1/4th of the books on the top 40 are by the same authors as other books on the list.
1/8th of the books have TV or movie tie ins.
Near 50 reviews, I’ve heard Amazon sends people recommendation emails, giving you a further boost.

Amazon giveaways of your books (as opposed to setting the price to free) suck. In theory, you give away 50 books in exchange for following you on Amazon. In theory, giving each contestant a 1 in 100 chance to win means you’ll have five thousand new followers. Sounds great! However, about 25 percent of the contestants will drop you after the event. This isn’t possible to track because Amazon refuses to tell you how many followers you have. Also expect no added reviews based on this investment. Most recipients won’t even read the book. If they’re not readers, having them on your list is useless. Worse, if they’re not fans of your genre, a review is almost certain to harm your rating. How much does this dubious “buzz” cost you? You pay full price for the books plus taxes they don’t tell you about until the giveaway has commenced. This is over $150 for anyone getting 70 percent royalties. After the fact, they also tell you the special new ebook-only rules. If there are any books leftover after the event, you don’t get a refund like any other product would. Why would there be any left? Because it’s not open to the public by default. All the people get the link via direct email, tweet, or Facebook from you. If you recall, Facebook stopped showing your posts to all your friends years ago. That means I have to know over five thousand people who are willing to do something to get my product beforehand or I’m burning money. If I have that list, why do I need Amazon? I hit the cancel on my giveaway before a single person saw that link. Only after I phoned in to complain did they give me the money back on a gift card.

+ Having your own newsletter mailing list is a far better and cheaper solution.
I’ve started mine at 180 people. For each sale, around 12 will respond favorably and another 3 will drop. Therefore, you need a way to constantly grow this list. I used my beta readers (with permission) and a NoiseTrade giveaway. Be careful because you can’t have the book you’re giving away on Amazon or they will permafree your book. How do you build the list? Be aware that a second NoiseTrade giveaway with a newer book nets you the exact same people. You probably need to do a blog tour and give away some paper prizes.  Several friends of mine have used Rafflecopter successfully with two caveats. One, they gave away a Kindle, not books. Two, the Rafflecopter Facebook app is buggy and didn’t get me a single contestant (and people tried). In all the successful cases, you need to collect from a pool other than the one you’ve already fished out.

In closing, I’ll point out that a few reviews asked for gift copies through Amazon. AVOID THIS. Amazon takes full price plus tax, and it doesn’t even show as a sale until after it gets claimed. A third of recipients, even those who asked for it, don’t claim them. That means no sales rank, no author share, and no money back. Worse even redeemed, it is not counted as verified purchase. I’ve even had people return them to Amazon for the cash to buy something else. In six years, I’ve never had one Amazon gift result in a review. Mailing them the mobi or PDF is better.

I tried my first Facebook post boost. I paid $15 to reach 2-3000 fantasy fans with news about a free book giveaway on Noisetrade. The tool link Facebook sent back to record progress of the boost was broken, so I had to rely on the page statistics. One tool on the page said 1100 reached, while the other said 980. Neither came close to what they promised. Of those reached, only 66 engaged. I got 10 likes on the post and dedicated book page, but NOBODY clicked through to the giveaway. Maybe no one wanted to give Noisetrade their info. Result, I paid people $1.50 a piece for likes on a web page I post on once a year. I'll try again on a sci-fi book with a better cover when it goes free on Amazon.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Free Book and a Sale for December

I'm planning on releasing my next novel, "Quantum Zero Sentinel," in one week. My newsletter subscribers got a three-chapter sneak peak.

Meanwhile, I'm building my newsletter base this month with free copies of the second edition of "Contagion of the Gods." If you like sword and sorcery or The Clash of the Titans,  click here to download. Warning: contains adult content.

I polished it up with my Java tool, lowered the reading level to seventh grade, and removed 5500 words. I'm hoping to do the same overhaul with all the books in my catalog over the next few months. Tell your friends!

The revision I'm most excited about was for "Scarab," the first book I ever published. After a thorough scrubbing, I think it still works today. I had a lot of fun on the video-game racing adventure. It's only about 60 copies away from becoming a "success," so I decided to put it on sale this week for 99 cents. Click to view details.

Tell your reader friends about both deals!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How I Wrote my own Pre-Edit Tool in Java

Here's the manual, which describes why I set off on this quest and the features I chose.

PreEdit version 1_0_5

User Manual

copyright 2016 by Scott Rhine

Copyright 2016 by Scott Rhine

This software may be used on an “AS IS” BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either expressed or implied. None of this is considered a replacement for hiring a human editor to correct your work. You can report problems or request new features by sending correspondence to

1.0 Introduction

This tool analyzes fiction text to help eliminate problems before sending it to an editor. It’s based on the automated checklist I use before submitting my own work. To use it, bring up the graphical user interface (GUI), select text from the desired document (control C), and paste (control V) into the top window. Sometimes, I tweak the text by getting rid of the table of contents at the start or the notes at the end of a draft. To generate a report, click the Analyze button. The results will appear in the text window below in a few seconds. (See screenshot.)

The summary provides an overview of items like grade level and counts of elements you may wish to polish. It also shows a list of difficult chapters which are significantly higher than the average grade level of the rest of the novel.

1.1 Radio Buttons

By clicking the eight radio buttons, you can include or exclude six subreports:
  • adverb – Lists all adverbs in your document ordered by use count. Aim for under 13.5 per thousand by fixing most of the first four on the list.
  • thats – List of “that” occurrences that could be removed, with a count of each.
  • compound – Lists side-by-side or hyphenated words which may be combined to form a single compound word, such as pickup. Note that often the spelling choice depends on intended meaning and context (to lift vs. a vehicle), which is why human examination of each is necessary. The most common compounds such as onto, into, and upon have been filtered out, as I trust an author to recognize these differences already.
  • weak – Lists weak words and phrases which could be shortened or replaced: lift up, attempted to, begin to, grow in size, almost, and so forth.
  • phrases – List of three-word phrases repeated throughout the document.
  • long – Lists any sentences over 55 syllables, ordered by length. Aim to eliminate all of these.
  • hard – Lists sentences 10 words+ and 1.75+ average syllables, ordered by GF grade level.
  • repeat – Lists all words (other than common nouns which may be the subject of the paragraph) that repeat within a 30-word span. Some are intentional echoes inside dialogue, but most are legitimate mistakes and all should be checked.
Once a report is generated, you can still adjust what appears by clicking the radio buttons. Not every report is useful for everybody. I like to repeat the checks after correcting the contents of the initial report.

1.2 Printing

The results may be selected and copied to a file or email of your choice. They can also be printed using the Print button. The Print button will not activate until an Analyze has been done. Note that default Java print function has 38 lines per page while WordPad uses closer to 60. Which one you use depends on how you like documents formatted while editing. I recommend printing the list in some fashion because shortening sentences feels easier for me with pen and paper.

1.3 About

The About button pops up a version of the introduction to give people the basics.

2.0 Motivation

I looked at a lot of tools before building this one. This is a partial list to give a feel for my frustration. These are only my opinions.

Word 360
The latest Word’s grade level seemed inaccurate and wouldn’t work until after a complete spell-check finished. Having lost the recent version I owned when a laptop crashed, I refused to pay a monthly fee for something I have a working, free 2007 version of.
The Hemingway app and others demos seem overly concerned with passive voice, although it allows up to 20 percent of the document to be written that way. If I’m under 3 percent, I don’t want to hear the complaints, especially in dialogue. People talk that way, and a program should be able to shut features off inside quotes. Their adverb count is very low and misses a lot of them. Their grade level seems to be a simple Flesch-Kincaid, though their word count is low, which makes me suspect the accuracy. Worse, the program has a bug that gets the level wrong when you paste in a text file rather than a Word file. I also wanted to see reading levels to the nearest tenth of a grade so I know how far I have to go in my smoothing efforts. They want $10 for the desktop version.

Only allows a demo of one chapter. The code is extremely slow and sometimes never finishes. It only gives one sample per person before you have to buy. But I noticed everyone has a similar Java interface.

This site will give you just the FK readability level.

Offers to send you a free sample of your output if you give them your email address. After about 40 seconds, I got rated between good and great for my adverb usage, a meaningless metric. It displayed a histogram of my adverbs by highest usage but undercounted my adverbs by a factor of two. On the flip side, they highlighted my 7 uses of “directly” in 80 thousand words as too many. They want $30 a month. I wasn’t impressed. If I joined premium, they offered a wide range of fancy features similar to that sounded cool but had little practical use. I don’t need someone to check for clich├ęs. If my character used one, it was intentional. I also seriously doubt a computer can tell where you need more description.

After the Deadline offers free tools for spelling and grammar. It’s grammar/style suggestions were horrible and the spell-checker flagged all names and legit compound words.

I tried this a while back but didn’t like the Premium Word plug-in. The number of false positives is incredible. It was right about twice per chapter. Again, proper names, hyphens, and compound words confuse it. I would recommend checking on a per-chapter basis with their free Chrome plug-in, but don’t pay for it. A chapter takes about 8 seconds to process in Gmail.

In short, I was willing to boost my spell-checker, but everything else, I was better off writing a tool for myself. I started with my own checklist and added a few features that others asked for.

3.0 Detailed Usage Example

The best was to see how it helps is to use the tool. I’ll give detailed examples for each feature. This process is to be done after the draft is complete. To apply this kind of chainsaw to a work in progress could stunt the creative process. Also, you’d only have to repeat the process later. The numbers below are from my upcoming book “Quantum Zero Sentinel.”

3.1 Summary

Most of these metrics are the sort that Word prints when you do a Tools/Word Count on the pull-down menu. I made sure these values matched Word’s very closely. For now, my tool ignores numerals. I played with a lot more metrics and statistics, but they turned out to be less useful.

The summary gives you a fair idea where your weak points are.  I included average words per chapter and the length/name of the biggest chapter. If the maximum is over twice the average, consider splitting it if there’s a natural scene break. The part-of-speech density goals appear beside the metric and are calibrated from the last twenty books I wrote. The Gunning Fog goal between 7 and 8 is a well-established range.

syllables 118209
words 82180
sentences 8183
paragraphs 3179
chapters 67
average words per chapter 1227
longest chapter 2138       29. The Hanging Judge
adverbs 1301 per thousand words 15.83    (goal <= 13.5)
thats 325 per hundred sentences 3.97     (goal <= 3)
weak phrases 377
Flesch-Kincaid grade level 4.9
Gunning Fog grade level    7.8    (goal 7 - 8)

Difficult Chapters
   9.2   Prologue–Sales Pitch
   9.7   5. Adventures in Babysitting
   10.3   12. Business as Usual
   9.9   14. Memory of a Lifetime
   8.9   25. Disruptions
   9.1   36. Old Money
   9.3   38. Snowball Fight
   9.0   39. My Weird Meter Goes to Eleven
   8.8   47. Industrial Pollution
   9.0   64. Hero’s Welcome
Flesch-Kincaid is the best metric for readability. The FK Grade Level test gives the approximate US grade school level of the document. A score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. The formula is:
(.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59
Where ASL is average sentence length in words and ASW means average syllables per word. Counting syllables can be difficult, as English is a language full of special cases. For example, “Wicked” could be two if it means evil, or one if it refers to liquid soaking through fabric or string. There are weak points in this model. Every second grader knows the word “vocabulary” (5 syllables) but not the one syllable “pith.”

To balance this, I also give the Gunning Fog version of grade level. Average sentence length is the same; however, it has a much simpler syllable method, calling a word “hard” if it’s 3 syllables or more. The value PHW is percent hard words.
.4 * (ASL + PHW)

Notice that GF is usually higher than FK. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Why does this work? Think of someone who has a name over three syllables: Virginia, Jonathan, or Gregory. Unless they’re the king, does anybody use that full name? No. People are inherently lazy. They give a nickname like Ginny, Jon, and Greg. What else triggers this filter? Adverbs like unfortunately or five dollar words like ascertain. The majority of young readers still subvocalize, and they will tend to skip over these words. However, even the most thorough word-choice comb would lower the score by less than one grade. The best approach is to work on your outliers, chapters that score more than one level above the average. These problems are more structural in nature and usually indicate a boring chapter.
  1. Too much techno-babble that needs to be thinned.
  2. Lack of dialogue.
  3. Lack of action, which is normally conveyed in short, direct sentences.
  4. Too small a sample. The model breaks down under 500 words.
The list of outliers reveals something critical, the prologue. The first thing the user reads shouldn’t be on the hard list! The first three chapters should be the simplest and slickest.

After a pass of aeration and trimming, it looked like this—a vast improvement. Oddly, lowering the overall average made new chapters pop up. These are close enough to one grade level from the average to stop.

Flesch-Kincaid grade level 4.7
Gunning Fog grade level    7.5    (goal 7 - 8)

Difficult Chapters
   8.6   5. Adventures in Babysitting
   8.6   14. Memory of a Lifetime
   8.6   20. Miss Direction
   8.6   21. Board Meeting
   8.5   35. The All-Seeing Eye

3.2 Adverbs

This section was the most embarrassing. You can tell what words you’re addicted to in a hurry. I only print the words that are over 5 percent of our goal line. Who cares about the ones you’ve only used a few times? The reader won’t even notice them. Adverbs are extremely easy to whittle down by addressing the worst abuses first. Once you see how many you’ve used, guilt will help you to be merciless.

adverbs 1301 per thousand words 15.83    (goal <= 13.5)
Adverbs by Popularity
176 only
140 just
89 now
68 already
68 here
66 never
54 well

adverbs 952 per thousand words 11.89     (goal <= 13.5)
Adverbs by Popularity
108 only
68 just
54 now

Since it is now below the desired threshold, I would turn off the radio button for this subreport.

3.3 Thats

One can’t simply go on a rampage against all uses of “that.” There are too many and most of them are necessary. This tool helps you find specific instances that are likely to be fluff.
Often it takes the form of a “feeling-verb” that or “noun that pronoun verb.”
thats 325 per hundred sentences 3.97     (goal <= 3)
Removable Instances of That
18 that the
14 that she
8 know that
7 that he
6 that they
6 that we
5 that a
5 that her
4 fact that
4 so that
4 that I
4 that it
3 afraid that
3 realize that
3 sure that

F. Scott Fitzgerald said to “murder your darlings.” That’s too vague. This specific list allows me to target the dark minions hiding among us. To quote the movie They Live, “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”
thats 204 per hundred sentences 2.48     (goal <= 3)
Removable Instances of That
5 that she
5 that the
3 that a
3 that he
3 that it
3 that we

3.4 Compound Words

One of my biggest flaws is not recognizing simple, two-syllable compound words while I’m writing. I always wanted some magic button in Word to check for possible compounds between nearby words. Now I have that magic want. I assembled about 3000 candidates from my last twenty novels and added a few from various English for beginners websites. Check them in Webster’s yourself. The one flaw in this feature is that they often depend on the part of speech. Nouns are the most frequently combined. The adjective would often be hyphenated, while a verb is kept separate. For example, “I pick up my wife in a pickup, and she responds with a pick-up line.” Note that these are only right about a third of the time, but there were so many that I feel I have been saved a great deal of embarrassment.

Possible Compound Words
6 pickup
4 comeback
4 lookup
4 makeup
3 shutdown
2 holdup
2 longtime
2 sometime
2 takedown
1 backdoor
1 backseat
1 backup
1 barstool
1 birthplace
1 blackballed
1 blackmail
1 boardroom
1 bookends
1 buildup
1 carwash
1 chokepoint
1 darkroom
1 doorframe
1 drugstore
1 ductwork
1 facedown
1 fireproof
1 flagpole
1 flatlined

3.5 Weak Words and Phrases

This section is probably the most subjective. People have asked to add their own personal favorites to the list, but that’s difficult to do while keeping the product install simple. However, I think the results speak for themselves. This is one of the longest reports, with no lower threshold for the number of occurrences, but you can sharpen your story as much or as little as you want. The word “about” happens in so many contexts, I had to restrict it to specific cases, like vague numbers.
weak phrases 377
Weak Phrases
130 know
22 sort of
21 area
18 this is a
16 all of
12 rather
10 at all
9 and then
9 get to
8 which is
7 find out
7 individual
7 quite
7 somehow
5 kind of
5 show up
5 try to
5 about one

weak phrases 278
Weak Phrases
121 know
10 rather
9 find out
9 this is a
8 area
7 and then
7 which is
6 has to be
6 kind of
6 quite
5 have to be
5 somehow
5 sort of

3.6 Repeated Phrases

When I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I marveled at how much he repeated himself over the span of a book. “I found in my opponent no mean swordsman.” As for me, I tend to repeat dialog tags. Use of any given phrase isn’t wrong, but repeat it ten times and it will rankle someone. Often the crutch phrases are weak or inaccurate. I only check outside dialog for clusters of three words in common. To scale it, I make the threshold based on the total number of triples in the document, with a minimum of two.
Globally Repeated Phrases
18 shook his head
16 in front of
13 shook her head
11 be able to
11 for a moment
11 raised an eyebrow
11 side of the
10 reminded her of
10 the rest of

I cringed every time I recognized the truth of one of these. Afterward, the document didn’t trigger the threshold for this report.

3.7 Long Sentences

How long is too long? When I narrated my first audiobook, I found out exactly how long. If you can’t say it in a single breath in a single take without stumbling or passing out, fix it. Why? Because many people still read aloud under their breath. It’s a hard habit to break. You don’t want your customers falling over. I set the bar at 55 syllables. Beyond that level is too complex and blows your grade level score, too. The only time I allow myself to exceed this limit is when I have a rare semicolon separated list. In this case, I could take a breath during a pause at the semicolons. Check out the sentences below to see if you agree.

Longest Sentences by Syllable Count
66 All of our automated factory lines utilize third generations to perform quality control inspections as well as assemble the computers with molecular layering techniques and microwave-laser precision no human being could duplicate
64 Given the driver’s ethnicity type of vehicle a certain radio station bumper sticker and distance from owner’s home I could design a program which would guarantee that a sizable fraction of traffic stops find drugs or a gun in the glove box
61 Provided a female human comes from a rare subgroup of black-haired black-eyed people with more than 5 percent Denisovan genes one in thirty-six fertilizations from a male Denisovan could result in a viable non-sterile offspring
58 “Because the memory log will record the Aeon signature of every user and victim together with a timestamp similar to the history feature in police Tasers” Maia ordered in her best older-sister voice
57 In this state a nonviolent felony of that class might earn Antreou a year of prison plus a five hundred dollar fine but with proper representation and the lack of hard evidence he’d probably end up with probation
55 The gun would lock onto whatever image you locked into the crosshairs and continued to fire every time that image drift back into the scope—even if the soldier carrying died or became incapacitated

Again, once you scrub the offenders, this report no longer appears. It can take a few passes for some of them.

3.8 Difficult Sentences

This is a tricky area. I seldom agree with the opinions highlighted by other software. Why? Because syllable-based methods are statistical and break down below about five hundred words. For example, the sentence “Esmerelda wept” was an astronomical 28th grade level because the percentage of hard words was over half. If a sentence is below ten words, I assume that someone won’t have problems reading it. I also established a minimum average syllables per word through trial and error. Then the program reports anything over 20th grade level. I haven’t had false positives since, but use your own judgment.

Difficult Sentences
25 Unfortunately this meant inviting Doctor Antreou to attend because he was the designated medical supervisor
24 Relieved Esperanza chatted with gentlemen from the Colombian Agriculture Department
24 Your official salaried position will be secretary in charge of Legacy press releases
23 Engineers need natural gas and several explosive expensive poisons to make the same fertilizer
23 Pharaohs are particularly difficult because the family tree goes straight up
23 You can apply this mechanism to designer drugs encryption or even predicting particle interaction in a supercollider
22 Lifted from the radio project’s interface a couple of monitors displayed vital statistics for six individuals identified by their initials
22 Mom taught violin at the prestigious Juilliard Academy and frequently performed at Lincoln Center in both classical and electronic genres
21 “Because of the unique microscopic broadcast methods the quantum resonance frequency is customized to each person

In a few cases I could use a shorter nickname for someone, but usually I decided I was trying to stuff too much into one sentence.

3.9 Locally Repeated Words

My pet peeve when reading popular YA fiction is how under-edited it can be. I cringe every time someone “suggests a suggestion” or admires the “long length of a leg.” To avoid such jangling prose, the code scans every word within the last thirty. I tried as high as fifty but it reported far too many. I think we can agree that using a rare word within three sentences or a paragraph can trigger a user’s gag reflex, especially on the same line. I thought I was immune to this, but I did it all the time! I was horrified how juvenile it sounded. The biggest trick was weeding out false positives. Clearly, we can already filter adverbs and thats. Any word four characters can easily go undetected. Short, sarcastic echoes in dialog should also be ignored. Lastly, nouns that are the subject of the paragraph should be filtered. This took the longest to train. I left in weak words like “started”, “wanted”, “needed”, or “going” because they should be pulled like weeds. Gerunds are tricky. I left them for the reader to decide because one might be used in verb form like “computing” below. I also matched different forms of a word like “managed by a manager.” This had the interesting side effect of triggering on rhymes as well. I removed one instance of “clicking” and “licking” to avoid sounding like an Edgar Alan Poe poem.

Locally Repeated Words (marked with *)
    Instead of turning toward the Manhattan ferry he steered the opposite direction toward* a sea of warehouses
    Gravel spit as he spun the vehicle toward* the Holland Tunnel
    As Maia rode through town she passed the boarded up Wal Mart a reminder of how rough* times were and how much she needed this job
    How did you feel when Beijing started* dumping US debt
    It’s going to hurt for a while but we’re all going* to survive
    The archaeology department needed* a tech to run their magnetosonic probe equipment for a dig site this summer
    They draft plans manage* budgets and oversee all the contractors to bring their vision to life
    You can’t possibly judge* her work qualifications from trivia and pretty eyes that bat their lashes at you
    Parallel computing* is like harnessing a hundred bunnies for the same task
    I can’t thank you enough* Greta
    We need to suppress this until we can have a plan to deal with the dislocation it’s going* to cause
    Who could afford* not to

There are still a few false matches left to ignore, but the ugly ones it finds are well worth the effort.

4.0 Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed writing and using this tool on my latest story. I even went back to “The K2 Virus” to trim the repeated words and fix compounds. I felt much better about the quality of my writing when I was finished, and I think any novelist would benefit. I decided to give it away for beta testing to people during NaNoWriMo this November and perhaps charge $5 a copy after that. Since I don’t have a Mac and they don’t support executable jar files, I can only support it on Window 8 and above.