Category Archives: Sean Golden

Misconceptions About Transportation

A Guest Post by Sean Golden

Unless you are writing a short story about someone stuck in a prison cell all day, there’s a good chance that your story will have to deal with transportation. Transportation can be the thing that quite literally carries your story’s plot from place to place. If it is important to you for your story to get things right, you probably should be aware of some common misconceptions about different types of transportation.

Let’s start with horses. I’ve read many stories where characters treat horses like automobiles. Horses are ignored until the character needs them, when they appear fully rested, fed and saddled, and then gallop madly from place to place at a pace that would kill an average horse. What many authors seem not to understand is that the typical pace of riding a horse isn’t a gallop. It’s a rhythm that sort of alternates between a walk and a trot. A day’s ride is roughly thirty miles, or roughly the average daily commute of an American office worker. Horses also need to be tended, and they are smart enough to know when they are being mistreated. A person traveling on horseback needs to spend an hour or so each day doing nothing but tending their horse, or they won’t have a horse for long.

Now let’s talk about sailing. First, you don’t set a new course by turning the wheel. A sailing ship is a finely tuned machine that turns wind into motion, and the gears of that machine are the sails and the keel. All the steering wheel does is control the orientation of the keel. To set a new course typically requires a complex re-positioning of the sails to produce thrust in the direction desired, and a re-alignment of the keel to stabilize the ship in the new configuration, or in the case of tacking, to create a thrust vector that travels into the wind. Of course if you’re sailing upwind, you have to repeatedly reverse tack in a zig-zag pattern to go in anything like the direction you desire. Sailing a tall ship is brutal work. Teams of sailors haul huge, heavy, wind-tossed sails, tying and untying ropes to reset the sails every time the wind changes, or any time a new course is chosen. Turning the wheel is the most trivial part of that endeavor.

Second, sails rarely are used to catch the wind directly from behind. Circumstances that allow a sailing ship to “run before the wind” are unusual enough that doing so is considered remarkable good fortune. Sails are actually airfoils that produce thrust more or less the same way that an airplane wing produces lift. That’s why modern racing yachts have wings instead of sails, they are more efficient at producing thrust. The trick to sailing is learning how to position your sails in such a way that the wind blowing across them produces the optimum thrust in the direction you want to go, which is generally not directly at your intended destination. Instead a series of course changes taking advantage of the wind conditions takes your ship to port like a converging geometric series of lines and angles.

In science fiction, perhaps the most common misconception about space travel is the idea that it is very similar to flying an airplane. It’s not. Flying an airplane is as different from piloting a space ship as it is from sailing a ship. There are two major reasons for this.

First, ignoring orbital mechanics and considering movement in “deep space,” every change in position of a ship requires an expenditure of fuel. That means if I’m in a ship traveling in one direction, and I need to turn around and go back the other way, every inch I go off the direct line I am traveling is wasted fuel. And when fuel is your most important commodity, you don’t want to waste it. Any ship navigator that “swoops” their spaceship around in a big looping arc will probably find themselves on latrine duty the next day.

But more important than that, and what virtually every space scene in movies and most sci-fi books get totally wrong, is the reality of orbital mechanics. In space, when dealing with gravity wells, (like in orbit around a planet, for example) you don’t point your ship at your destination and hit the throttle. In fact, doing so is likely to be suicidal. Moving around in a complex and dynamic collection of gravity wells can be compared to sailing a ship. The most efficient way to reach a destination is usually to follow a complex path that requires constant readjustment to exploit any local gravity wells. A space battle in orbit can be viewed as a sort of dance, where the ships follow orbital trajectories that cause them to separate and then come back together over and over again as each ship maneuvers to gain the best advantage against the enemy as they sweep past.

Finally, the biggest misconception about space travel is the sheer immensity of distances involved. The Milky Way Galaxy is a hundred thousand light years across. That means a ship going one hundred thousand times the speed of light, would still need a full year to cross the Milky Way. And that’s before we even start to think about the crazy relativistic effects that come into play.

But there is good news. The good news is that most readers have no technical understanding of these things, and are more interested in a good story than in realistic handling of the details of transportation.

Joss Whedon was once asked how fast the Firefly class freighter, “Serenity” traveled. His answer was a brilliant one. “She travels at the speed of plot.”

That works too.

Sean Golden:

Sean Golden is many different things. Father, husband, writer, programmer, project manager, gamer, crafter,fisherman, amateur astronomer and too many other things to bore you with. He took a year off from the grind of corporate cubicle farms to write “Warrior” and “Warlock,” both available on Amazon.com. The third book in the series, “Warlord” is in the final stages of writing now. Sean has a BS in physics from Louisiana State University and had the second highest rated rogue on his World of Warcraft server after taking down the Lich King, and then retiring from raiding.
Read more from Sean Golden at Www.seandgolden.com

 

Taking Strides in Character Development

A guest post by by Sean Golden.

I was probably twelve or thirteen years old when I met him. So many years ago. Yet I remember the moment vividly. Harsh laughter rang through smoke-filled gloom, in a room packed with intimidating strangers. Mugs of beer and tankards of ale banged on the tavern’s rough-hewn tables.

He leaned back into shadow, travel-stained boots crossed at the ankles in the flickering firelight, his head shrouded by a weathered hood. A sudden glimmer of burning tobacco reflected from dark, brooding eyes as he drew on a humble pipe. A palpable aura of danger and strength surrounded him. Even in the crowded, noisy tavern, his mere presence quieted those near him. At that moment I knew I had encountered someone special, someone I would never forget.

And I never have. Strider rapidly became my favorite character in Lord of the Rings. In a book filled with memorable characters, Strider was the one that resonated with me, and still does to this day, over forty years later.

When I first heard that Lord of the Rings was going to be made into a major motion picture, my biggest concern was how any actor would be able to bring the Strider in my head to life. I had low expectations, especially when I saw who was cast. The Strider in my mind was going to be a difficult thing to capture on film. That Strider was no Hollywood hunk. Far from it, his visage was rough and intimidating. He was dangerous, mercurial, and tortured by an ancient legacy of unbearable shame.

In the end I thought Viggo Mortensen did a fine job in the role, and I enjoyed the movies greatly, but the movie Strider was a pale shadow of the Strider in my head. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to come up with an actor today who could remotely portray the man I met that memorable day so long ago. Perhaps the closest would have been Clint Eastwood, at the height of his Spaghetti Western fame.

There are many reasons Strider struck such a chord with me. His ambiguous introduction, his raw, animal presence, his mysterious past, his wit and wisdom, all of that factors in. He is heroic, but in a reluctant, almost surly way. He struggles with self-doubt, a mere mortal man in a world filled with demigods and monsters.

In short, he is a complex and multi-faceted character who is on a personal journey of self-discovery in a dangerous and confusing world. His plans are frequently thwarted by powerful enemies, and even by betrayal. He falters. He worries. He doubts. He takes chances. And in the end, he finds himself.

Having said all of that, what did I learn from Strider that I’ve applied to my own writing? Have I been able to create any character as compelling? Probably not, after all, Lord of the Rings is rarely missed in any list of the greatest stories ever told. But I did learn a few things that I hope have informed my own creation of characters. Here are some of them:

  • Conflicted characters are interesting. Self-doubt is something we can all relate to, and we tend to like characters with whom we can relate.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Strider may be conflicted, but he never wavers in the face of danger. When he does make a decision, he is fully committed to it.
  • Compassion and empathy can be as compelling as combat. In fact, as shown when Strider, Legalos and Gimli relentlessly pursue the orcs who captured Merry and Pippen, compassion and empathy can be downright epic.
  • It can help your story if the most interesting character isn’t the protagonist.
  • Every character deserves a story arc of their own.

There are other memorable characters I could have chosen as the subject of this article. Some of them aren’t heroic. In fact some are the opposite of heroic. Holden Caulfield, for example. Others I could have chosen include: Elizabeth Bennett. Fivver. Katniss. Peter Parker. Ahab. Meg Murry. Atticus Finch. Scarlett O’Hara. Tyrel Sackett.

But I chose Strider for many reasons. One reason is because most people I know, when asked who they thought was the most memorable character in Lord of the Rings, would choose Gandalf. A few might pick Frodo. And both of those are definitely memorable characters. Tolkien had a gift for creating memorable characters.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to why Strider stuck with me in such vivid ways. I’m not sure I can identify why even today, forty-plus years later. Since it is my goal to create similar characters, it’s a consequential question. The best I can come up with is that something in my image of Strider resonates with me. I like him. Every time he came on the stage, I was thrilled to see him. And he never let me down.

So that’s what I want to do in my own writing. I want to create characters who evoke such strong emotional responses from my readers that their eyes light up whenever that character is on the page. Maybe they love the character, maybe they love to hate the character. But either way, they love to read about the character. And reading is what it’s all about in the end.

 

SeanGolden-pub-shot-2Sean Golden is many different things. Father, husband, writer, programmer, project manager, gamer, crafter, fisherman, amateur astronomer and too many other things to bore you with. He took a year off from the grind of corporate cubicle farms to write “Warrior” and “Warlock,” both available on Amazon.com. The third book in the series, “Warlord” is in the final stages of writing now. Sean has a BS in physics from Louisiana State University and had the second highest rated rogue on his World of Warcraft server after taking down the Lich King, and then retiring from raiding.

Sean Golden: My Year as a Writer

A Guest Post by Sean Golden

DollarKeyboardDec 15, 2014. That was the day I started my journey to live as a writer for a year, to see how I could do. After being laid off from my corporate job with a reasonably generous separation package, I calculated that I could spend a full year “writing.” So I did.

My very first monetary decision was to attend the SuperStars Writing Seminars, in February. That put me roughly $1,000 in the hole before I even published my first book. But I figured if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to learn from experts.

From Dec 15 to Jan 18 I focused on whipping my first book, “Warrior,” into shape. That included doing my own editing, artwork, and cover. On Jan 19, 2015, I hit the “publish” button on Amazon.com’s Kindle Select program and became a “self-published” author.

My first month, I sold roughly sixty books. At $2.99 a copy, that meant I had pocketed the princely sum of approximately $104.31. But then I was buying gas, meals and a hotel room for the conference. By the time the conference was over, I was about $1,500 in the negative column in my writing account.

In February and March, I did some free-lance work, which helped. By the end of March, when my first Amazon paycheck from January came in, I was back down to a negative $1,000.00 in the balance sheet. Yay!

Warlock, my second book in the series, was coming along. Of course, during all this, Warrior was still on Amazon, and sales were trickling in. In February I made another $140, so that put me at roughly -$840. I must admit that, by the end of February, my enthusiasm was drastically declining, after making less than $300 in six weeks of sales.

Then, in March, something happened. Warrior started to sell. From my perspective, it was suddenly selling a lot. My total sales in March hit $1,010. I was actually in the black now. That was huge. Then April came in at $1,040. I kept plugging away at Warlock. I figured I’d publish in June, and then I’d be making REAL money.

May brought in $1,230. Woohoo! I’m +$2,000 now! Maybe I should get a real cover for Warrior and Warlock, and hire an editor for Warlock! So I did. My covers for Warrior and Warlock cost me $1,100. Editing cost me $2,300. So that was $3,400 committed (but not paid yet). I figured “What the heck? I’m selling books!”

Then I hit the downside of the Warrior sales curve. And when it went down, it went fast. June brought in $785. Not even enough to cover my editing and book cover costs. I had to dip into my personal income to pay them. And so, after six and a half months, my great writing adventure had netted me a net negative $515.

I hit the free-lance route hard in July and August. I pulled in about $1,500 in free-lance work those months. Warrior sales in July were only $680. But I was $1,700 in the black again.

In August, the bottom fell out. $440 in sales. But I also spent $350 on cover design, so ended up netting only $90 in August. September was $209, and I did no free-lance work. But I did manage to get Warlock finished. On October 8, I published Warlock. Just a few weeks after my brother passed away from cancer.

I had been a “writer” for almost ten months. Had written two books, published one and had “done well” with that first book by most people’s estimation. I had made a grand total of $2,000 in profits. Not even enough to pay for the covers and edits I would need on “Warlord” the third book in the series. And I had to pay $500 to reserve a slot for that editing, bringing me down to $1,500.

As I hit the publish button on Warlock, my spirits were low. My finances looked horrible. My year of writing was coming to a close, and my grand dreams of proving I had what it takes, were clearly demonstrating exactly the opposite. Those were dark times, I’m afraid.

And then Warlock started to sell. Which also triggered renewed interest in Warrior. I raised my prices and sold both Warrior and Warlock at $3.99 instead of $2.99. I thought that would potentially kill sales, but it didn’t.

October sales from Warlock and Warrior combined came in at $1,800. My biggest month by far. My enthusiasm soared, and I started hitting Warlord pretty hard. My balance book put me at $3,300. But one thing I haven’t mentioned, is that Amazon pays out sixty days after sales, so that big October payday wouldn’t come in until December 31, just in time to pay my editor. In an attempt to rev the sales engine even higher, I poured about $400 into advertising. Maybe it paid for itself. I don’t know.

November was, again, my biggest month, at $2,010. $4,900 in the black, and, hopefully still rising. But reality was also setting in. $2,000 a month might sound like a decent performance for a couple books, but it didn’t come close to covering my bills. It was time to admit that this grand adventure was a failure, and to start looking for a real job.

You can probably guess the rest. December sales were down to $1,400 and falling fast by the end of the month, promising a very disappointing January. My first free-lance jobs were coming in but those also tend to pay out 60 days or so from submission, so that wasn’t going to help much. After getting my December payout from Amazon, on Jan 1, 2016, more than a year after my adventure began, I had $6,300 on paper, but only $1,500 or so in the bank. And a big editing bill coming due, plus a book cover to purchase for Warlord.

So, I started looking for a job, and am now back in the ranks of the gainfully employed.

To summarize:

Thirteen months after being laid off, and a full year from hitting “publish” on my first book, my total “profit” from writing existed mainly in deferred payments from Amazon.com in the amount of roughly $3,400, and a bank balance in my writing account of $185. I’m sure I could have worked harder and been more productive, but I did get two books out and was very close to my third, which is a decent output for an epic fantasy author, I think.

I’ve learned a few things, about writing, and about myself:

  1. I don’t write well when I am in terror of ending up homeless.
  2. I don’t write well when I focus on the economics.
  3. I write well when I’m able to think about my stories without feeling like every single word has to make a profit.
  4. My success so far, in having made any profit at all on my first books, seems to be unusual for self-published, unknown authors. I’ve had a lot of other writers tell me they wish they had sales similar to mine. To which I can only say, “wow.”

The thing is, for pretty much my entire adult life, I had told myself that I could make it as a writer. And despite the fact that I’m back at a regular job, and made a pittance of “real money” in my year of being a “pure writer,” I think I learned a lot, and what I learned will help me to keep on writing even as I’m working a day job. And now I will never have to go to my deathbed wondering what my life would have been like if I had only had the courage to follow my dream.

I followed it. And because of what I learned by doing so, I’ll be following that dream for the rest of my life. And there’s another thing. Based on the success I had with “Warrior,” I applied for and received a membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) organization. I am now, literally, a card-carrying writer.

I had wanted to become a writer. And I succeeded at that. And that’s more important, really, than the balance book in the end.

End Note: Someone asked me a while ago how much money they could expect to make as a self-published writer. I wrote a blog post to answer that, based on my own experience. The post was, by far, my most popular post. “My Year as a Writer” is a very condensed version of that blog post. To read the full post, please click here.

 

Sean Golden:

Sean Golden is many different things. Father, husband, writer, programmer, project manager, gamer, crafter, fisherman, amateur astronomer and too many other things to bore you with. He took a year off from the grind of corporate cubicle farms to write “Warrior” and “Warlock,” both available on Amazon.com. The third book in the series, “Warlord” is in the final stages of writing now. Sean has a BS in physics from Louisiana State University and had the second highest rated rogue on his World of Warcraft server after taking down the Lich King, and then retiring from raiding.

Getting Noticed

A guest post by Sean Golden.

WarriorYou’ve done it. You’ve finally finished your first novel. After months or years of tears, sweat and blood, your baby is about to meet the world. But if you are self-publishing, or have an Indie publisher, you may find yourself not only the author, but also your book’s primary marketer and promoter. So what do you do?

No matter how brilliant your novel is, if nobody sees it, nobody will buy it. How do you break out of the gray mass of obscurity and catch the attention of potential buyers? My first novel didn’t break any sales records, but if a couple thousand sales in the first four months sounds interesting to you, here’s the approach I took, broken into three main areas:

  • Proper presentation (cover, blurb, categories, etc.)
  • Social media
  • Reviews

 

Proper Presentation:

Presentation starts with the categories and keywords you associate with your book. Categories and keywords determine the genre lists and search results in which your book will ultimately appear. There are few decisions you will make that will ultimately impact your sales more than which categories and keywords you choose to associate with your book. Paradoxically, the more you sell, the more important this is due to the algorithms online book sellers use to present readers with purchasing options. Choosing the wrong categories and keywords is like presenting a selection of shoes to a shopper looking for hats. Amazon.com provides this excellent guide to categories and keywords.

Once you have your book appearing in the appropriate lists and search results, the next thing a reader will see is your cover. A good cover is more than nice artwork and title text. To get your cover to stand out, I suggest that it accomplish three specific things:

  • Be readable in the most common online thumbnail sizes
  • Match genre expectations
  • Have dynamic, eye-catching artwork

The purpose of your cover is to encourage a reader to click on it. Nothing screams “self-published” like an amateurish cover. If you can’t create professional quality art yourself, find someone else to do it for you. Keep in mind that your art will be scaled down in the thumbnails. Once a reader clicks on the thumbnail, they will be presented with your book’s summary page, which is where they will (hopefully) read your blurb. If the blurb catches their imagination, there’s a chance they’ll click “Buy.” It’s beyond the scope of this post to explain how to write a good blurb, but here’s one article with excellent advice.

Your book’s presentation should be viewed as the bedrock of your strategy. Everything else you do will drive people to the page with your book cover and blurb. Even if you can tease them with an online ad, if they get to your book summary page and the cover is lackluster, not genre specific, or the blurb doesn’t sell them, they won’t click “buy.”

Social Media:

Let’s assume that you have that foundation in place. The next goal is to get people to land on that summary page. This is where social media comes in. And social media means more than just Facebook and Twitter. My daughter, Sarah Golden, is my social media guru. When I first self-published Warrior, I did a short post on Facebook letting my friends and family know that I had a book out. I dragged my Twitter account out of mothballs and started Tweeting. But that only gave me a small boost in sales for about a week.

Then Sarah jumped in. She either created, or had me create, accounts on multiple social media platforms including an author page on Facebook. Here’s the page she created for my novel on Pinterest. I also joined Goodreads and created an author and a book page there. Then I joined other reader or author blogs, such as KBoards. The results of Sarah’s social media campaign were striking. My sales went from a few per day, to twenty per day and higher. Pinterest allows me to give my readers content that lets them see a lot more about the story than I can squeeze into a Facebook post. It also allows others to post their own content.

The real value of social media is that it allows readers to get to know the author. I try hard not to use my author blog as merely another way to ask people to buy my books. I try to give them an idea of who I am, what I enjoy, what I’m doing and how I write. The more human and approachable I am to readers, the more likely they are to be interested in what I write. I also try to interact in the reading/writing community, attending conventions, writing blurbs for other authors, etc. Kevin James Anderson gives a lot of great advice, but perhaps the best advice he has given me is “Don’t be a jerk.” And that means online as well as in person.

Reviews:

While reviews don’t immediately get you noticed, they are part of your book’s presentation whether you like it or not. Self-published books have a reputation for poor grammar, plot holes and other ills that traditional publishers work hard to avoid. If your book has reviews warning about those things, savvy readers will shy away even if you have a great presentation. Reviews that are critical of your plot or story are painful, but readers expect that. What will kill your sales are reviews saying the book is difficult to read due to poor writing or editing. If you get such reviews, revise and re-publish your book.

Final Thoughts:

If there is one thing that you take away from reading this, I hope it is the importance of presentation: cover, blurb, category, and keywords. All the effort and money spent on driving readers to your book’s landing page will be wasted if the reader gets there and isn’t convinced the product is worth their money. Good luck!

Sean Golden Bio: Sean Golden
I’ve had a long and varied career outside of writing, starting as a construction worker putting glass in high-rise office buildings while I was working my way through college seeking a degree in physics. After graduation I ended up writing Macintosh programs and creating a Mac software product for a software company. Eventually I took over as Publisher of all of the software products before leaving to become a project manager of software development in a Fortune 500 company. That led to a 20 year career in corporate software development that ended in December of 2014 when I decided it was time to retire from the corporate rat race.During all of those years I wrote and published technical articles and stories for the local newspaper. But I never published my first novel until January 2015. Now I am writing full time and intend for this to be my last career. I have had stories half-written or outlined in my desk for decades, and now it is time to get them on paper and out to the public.I am happily married, and have been for almost 30 years now, and have raised two kids. My literary interests are varied, but I primarily read and write science fiction or epic fantasy.