More Jean-Luc Picard? Make It So!

Delightful news (via io9):

CBS announced today that Sir Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean Luc-Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, will be reprising his role in a new series that will explore “the new chapter in Picard’s life.”

Hurrah! I’m a big fan of Star Trek: TNG, and for me Picard will always be the quintessential captain. It’s also intriguing to wonder what the creators of the new show–and Patrick Stewart–will do with the character, with such a long time having (presumably) passed. Will he be a Star Fleet Admiral? Jaded and retired, tending a small vineyard in France? Borg again? (He won’t be Borg.)

Unfortunately the show appears to be coming to CBS All Access, the network’s streaming service that approiximately twelve people have signed up for. Hopefully it’ll prove popular and gets at least reruns on the actual CBS network at some point.

And finally: “Show me Picard’s flute!”

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…And Back To It

It’s been a while. When I last posted–an unseemly four months ago–I was still eagerly awaiting feedback from my editor, Misti, on the first draft of Causal Nexus. She got back to me not long after, but unfortunately for my long-suffering readers, Life Intervened©

Without getting into tedious detail, it’s been a busy time: Mrs. Dan and I have bought our first home, had several house guests to stay, been on a few of our own trips, and finally got our green cards. Hurrah!

All of which meant Misti’s diligent and insightful edit was left untouched until just last week, when I blew off the metaphorical cobwebs and got to work.

After a scrub, a polish, a fine tune, and the addition of a tantalizing prologue, the new draft is in her inbox, meaning we’re looking at an August publication. Double hurrah!

Stay tuned, for I will return–and not in four months.

Back Soon: Westworld!

Season two of the brain-twisting, whiskey-drinking, robot-sexing HBO series arrives in just a few weeks, and the first full trailer has just landed.

How exciting!

If you missed season one last year, there’s still plenty of time to binge the ten episodes. Going through them at pace might actually be the optimum way to watch, as I found the middle part of the season dragged at times as storylines were slowly developed and pieces moved into place. The final few episodes were tremendous, though, and I highly recommend it overall.

If you did catch the first season, and need a refresher, check out ‘We recut all 10 hours of ‘Westworld’ into a single, chronological timeline‘ over at The Outline:

…a completely chronological re-edit of the whole show, based on the timeline which was eventually revealed in the final episodes. That’s right, a very troubled member of the staff (we’re getting him help) recut 10 hours of content into one continuous, rearranged masterpiece (we removed intros and credits for the sake of time). So we thought we’d share it with you — or at least, share a remotely digestible version. What you see below is the full cut, with the “normal” parts of Westworld sped up… because honestly who has another 10 hours of their lives to spare?

Madness. But, at a brisk 94-minutes, it’s an efficient way to remind yourself what happened to Bernard and Dolores.

“Everything in this world is magic, except to the magician.”

Dirty Nine-Letter Words, Or: Why I’m Trying KDP Select

Whisper it: ‘marketing’.

Gross, right? Well, it depends. Sleazy popup ads using scantily clad women to trick you into downloading a tedious castle building game? Absolutely.

Shameless, I tell you.

But trying to put a product you’re proud of in front of an audience that you think would enjoy it? Seems… reasonable.

Up to now I’ve been treating writing as a hobby, by and large. Don’t get me wrong, I do my very best to produce high-quality novels: I work on my craft, I edit thoroughly, I use beta readers, I employ a professional editor and cover designer, and I use the best available software to produce a well-formatted and professional-looking final product that I can be proud of when I hit the ‘Publish’ button and see my books go live.

Then I squawk happily about it to you–the fine readers of this site–along with my friends and family, and…

That’s about it.

Not so professional.

The reason is pretty simple: right now, I’m not actively trying to be a full-time writer. I’m a full-time customer support manager for a telecoms software company who, in his spare time, channels his wildly overactive imagination into writing action-packed, mildly amusing and not-terribly-scientific science fiction novels.

But long term? Sure, that’s the dream. And I (think I) broadly know how you go about getting there.

  • Write a lot of good books. The more you have, the more chance readers have of discovering you (then buying all your other books).
  • ‘Do marketing’.

Hmm. Maybe I don’t know. It’s that second part which is a bit of a black art. Luckily, there are a whole bunch of friendly, helpful and successful indie author-publishers who are willing to share their expertise and experience, and chief among these is the author of the excellent Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You ShouldDavid Gaughran.

Snazzy.

With the imminent publication of Causal Nexus, I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the whole launch process, what I might try to achieve, and how there’s no time like the present to start getting the hang of the part of being an indie author-publisher that I’ve been completely ignoring.

All this pondering naturally led me to David’s site, and two articles in particular.

In ‘A Tale of Two Marketing Systems’, David discusses the always contentious (among indies) topic of ‘wide or exclusive’. Which will mean nothing to most readers, but in essence means deciding whether to publish your work at all available retailers–Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iTunes, etc.–or enrolling your work in Amazon’s KDP Select program, which requires you to make the ebook edition exclusive to Amazon in exchange for some tasty benefits:

  • Your book is added to Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library catalogs, earning ‘page read’ revenue;
  • Every 90 days you can run special promotional deals to either make a book free for five days, or discounted for seven–which, in theory, leads to a boost in downloads, a shot up the charts, and bigger sales when the price reverts to normal.

The obvious downside is that any readers who prefer to get their ebooks from non-Zon retailers are out of luck. At least until you unenroll that book from KDP Select and ‘go wide’ again, which can be done after any 90-day period.

In that post David links back to another article of his, ‘The Visibility Gambit’, which digs into the gritty details of how indies these days might go about maximizing the benefits of being enrolled in KDP Select. The key chunk–for me, at least–of which was this:

A more complex example: let’s say you are launching Book 4 in a KU-enrolled series, and are wondering how to build a decent launch. A good approach might be to make Book 1 free for 5 days, and run a concurrent 99¢ Countdown deal on Book 2, and a $1.99 Countdown on Book 3. Maybe load all the ads on sites like ENT and Robin Reads on that free Book 1 and then give the whole series a push with a carousel ad on Facebook.

That’s already a pretty aggressive launch but further boldness is likely to be rewarded. I’d also suggest launching Book 4 at $2.99, even if you normally price and launch at $3.99 or $4.99, and also throwing all sorts of ads into the mix at places that might normally not give you the best ROI.

Because KU is all about visibility.

Me.

‘That seems straightforward enough,’ I thought. ‘I could do that.’

*scratches nose, frowns*

‘Why don’t I do that?’

*coughs, looks out of the window, distracted by a bird, scratches nose again*

I’m going to do that.

And just like that, I have a Launch Plan™ for Causal Nexus. 

  1. Delist Ascension Point and Venus Rising from the non-Amazon stores. (Done.)
  2. Enroll both in KDP Select. (Underway as soon as I’ve confirmed step 1.)
  3. Finish Causal Nexus, upload it to Amazon at a discounted launch price of $2.99 and enroll it in KDP Select.
  4. On launch day, make Ascension Point free for 5 days, run a concurrent 99¢ Countdown deal on Venus Rising, and advertise both on Ereader News Today.
  5. See how it goes!
  6. At some point, revert all three to the usual price of $4.99.
  7. Profit?

Who knows. This is all a bit of an experiment to start finding out how it all works, but I’m quite excited now that I have an actual plan. I’m still expecting to have Causal Nexus ready to go in April, so there’s not long to wait.

Longer term, I expect I’ll experiment again and unenroll my books from KDP Select to share them more widely, perhaps dipping back in for launches of new books, or not, as I see fit. The exciting thing is that as an indie author-publisher I have these options at my disposal, and all the time in the world to try different approaches and see what works best.

What a time to be a writer!

#Fusion2033

Nuclear fusion, the always-just-over-the-horizon technology that will solve humanity’s energy needs forever, may be a step closer. Over at Nature:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge will work with a private firm to develop technology for producing energy from nuclear fusion within the next 15 years. If successful, the multimillion-dollar effort could help to unlock a virtually limitless source of pollution-free energy…

“It’s about scale, and it’s about speed,” says Robert Mumgaard, chief executive officer at CFS. The company — a spin-off from MIT — has attracted $50 million from Italian energy giant ENI, and plans to invest $30 million of that sum in research and development at MIT over the next three years.

Massive public funding for theoretical research such as this would be a hard sell for any government, so attracting private-sector investment has long been thought key in making fusion a reality. The free market showing faith that investing in the science will have a positive return will likely attract further investment in the field.

So how does it work? (Broadly.)

Fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium releases massive amounts of energy, which can be harnessed to produce carbon-free electricity. But sustaining the extreme temperatures that are required for this process in a confined space remains a daunting challenge that has defied most hopes and expectations to date…

The first challenge will be to transform a commercially available superconductor into a large, high-performance electromagnet, which could take around three years. Within the next decade, the team hopes to develop a prototype reactor that can generate more energy than it consumes. Then, they hope to develop a 200-megawatt pilot power plant that can export electricity to the grid.

Not actual size.

Exciting stuff.

It’s The Final Countdown… To Book Three!

After many posts about random science and technology news, it’s nice to get back to writing about writing, i.e. The Original Point of This Blog. Excitingly, we’re into the business end of the creation of my third novel, Causal Nexus!

I sent a reasonably polished draft to my beta readers a week before the holidays, and after two months of this…

Impatient bunny.

…the feedback arrived!

Pro writer tip: don’t give a draft to beta readers a week before the holidays and expect to receive prompt feedback. You won’t.

The happy news was that I appear to have written a solid, entertaining story with compelling characters that flows well. (Their words, honest.) Hurrah!

Happy bunny.

I had a chunky slate of minor changes to make, to tighten language, clarify points, and improve flow, but overall I couldn’t have been happier at the positive reception.

Thus it was with great enthusiasm that last night I submitted my revised draft to my editor, the charming and eagle-eyed Misti Wolanski (http://mistiwolanski.com/), who I also worked with on Ascension Point and Venus Rising. The typical cliche would be to say that Misti has forgotten more about the English language than I’ve ever learned, but as far as I can tell she hasn’t forgotten anything. On top of that, she’s also deeply versed in science fiction and fantasy, being both an author and avid reader of those genres herself.

I should receive her first edit in 4-6 weeks or so, then we’ll have two to three rounds of back and forth to polish the novel into sparkling, publishable shape. If the process goes as it did for the first two books, we’re looking at a May publication date.

Watch this space!

Falcon Heavy: The Biggest Thing Since Saturn V

Regardless of how many you’ve seen before, there’s always something magical about watching a launch–and even more so when it’s this damn big.

SpaceX successfully launched what is now the world’s most powerful rocket Tuesday, a towering behemoth known as the Falcon Heavy that tore through the sky with the thundering force of 18 747 jetliners.

Lifting off at 3:45 p.m. from the same launchpad that sent the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon, the rocket sent up a mountain-sized plume of smoke and a rattling roar across Florida’s Space Coast, where thousands gathered to watch. The mission represented the first test of the massive rocket, powered by 27 engines in three, first-stage boosters that are essentially strapped together.

Well done, Starman.

Full write up at WaPo here.

Salamander? Wolverine, More Like

Boffins have discovered that the secret to Logan-esque regeneration may be in having an absolutely huge… genome. Meet the axolotl!

It has 32 billion base pairs, which makes it ten times the size of the human genome, and the largest genome ever sequenced.

Badass. What does this baby do?

It has the remarkable capacity to regrow amputated limbs complete with bones, muscles and nerves; to heal wounds without producing scar tissue; and even to regenerate damaged internal organs.

This salamander can heal a crushed spinal cord and have it function just like it did before it was damaged.

You don’t say? Who does that remind me of…

Well done boffins! Hopefully we’re now one step closer to a whole range of exciting medical advancements.

Keep on regenerating, little wolverine salamander! Just watch out for Hulks.

Ooh, It’s Been a While. Also: STAR WARS

Hey gang. Apologies for the recent silence, but it’s been a hectic week or so: I’m getting ready for a month-long trip back to the UK for work shenanigans and family fun, so lots to do.

But hey: IT’S STAR WARS WEEKEND. Tickets have been booked for months, so Mrs. Dan and I will be seeing The Last Jedi in glorious IMAX on Saturday at noon. Then a mere six hours later I’ll be jetting eastward to the motherland.

Based on what I know of my readership, I’m pretty confident that if you’re reading this you’ll also be seeing the movie this weekend. Altogether now:

Catch you soon!