Friday, December 30, 2011

Experiment in Free Part II

Well, I finally caved in to Amazon and added my novel No Cure for the Broken Hearted to Amazon Prime. This means that Prime members can borrow it, but it also means that I can make it free for Kindle for up to five days for everyone else, too. So I decided to make it free for the next three days. If anyone is interested in checking it out but hasn't picked up a copy yet, now's the time! Hopefully the exposure will give me a little sales boost when all is said and done. :-) It definitely helped last time around when Sweet Ophelia was free a few months back.

Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cheating Old Man Winter

As I sit here in Denver, looking out the window of my sister's house at a snow-covered landscape, with un-plowed streets and neighbors digging out their walk, I'm looking forward to flying back home to California this afternoon, where the temperatures are forecast to be in the 70's (20's C) all week!

Whenever I travel and meet people from other parts of the world, they often have the idea that the weather in Southern California is always warm and sunny. They assume that the climate is tropical. The truth is that winter temperatures are usually between 40-65 degrees (highs around 16 C are typical). Not cold, by any stretch of the imagination, but not beach weather either. Nights can be downright chilly, dropping below freezing on occasion.

Every now and then, however, we get a week in the middle of winter where it really is beach weather. To me, these are the best days of the year. Even better than a warm day in summer. On these warm winter days, the sky is bright blue, the winds light, the crowds gone, and best of all, when you go to the beach on a warm winter day it just feels like you're getting away with something. Like you're playing hooky from school, or skipping out on work.

This year it seems like it has been particularly warm and dry all over the northern hemisphere. My friends in Estonia are enjoying temps in the high 30's (+4 C), as opposed to the usual double digits below zero. Likewise in Budapest it has been unseasonably warm. Here in Denver temps are expected to be in the 50's this week, as they are at Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada, where I worked as a snowboard instructor for six years. In fact, after last years record snow amounts, this year Mammoth is having an epic bad-start to the season, with almost no natural snow on the ground at all.

So it seems everyone is having a warmer than average winter this year. Perhaps we can put it down to global warming. If so, this is a troubling prospect indeed, but for the next seven days I'll do my best to enjoy it. A notebook, a pen, a towel, a surfboard and me, sitting on the beach and cheating Old Man Winter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Boy, I've been a bit of a slacker lately when it comes to keeping up on my blog, but I just thought I'd take the opportunity to wish anyone who drops by a happy holiday season! I'm off to Colorado tomorrow myself to spend some time with my sisters and their families. With a foot of fresh snow in Denver over the last 24 hours, it looks like it will be a white Christmas! So merry Christmas and happy Chanukah, or whatever else anyone might be celebrating this time of year, have a great holiday!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Amazon versus the World

There was an interesting development in ebook publishing this week as Amazon introduced a new program for members of Amazon Prime. Basically, it is somewhat like a Netflix subscription service for indie books, where readers can pay $79/year and then "borrow" books that are a part of the service (and stream movies as well).

For indie authors like myself, Amazon is now giving us the option of taking part in this scheme. Every time a book is borrowed, the author gets a part of the pool of money that has been set aside from reader fees. The amount of the payment for each "borrow" depends on the amount of money in the pool divided by the number of books borrowed during the month overall. The catch? We have to remove our books from all other resale channels. That means taking our books down from Barnes and Noble, Apple's ibookstore, the Sony bookstore, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. To me this is a troubling development indeed. Anything this anti-competitive can't be good in the long run for anybody but Amazon. The Netflix model is an interesting concept. It might even work for ebooks, but even Netflix doesn't demand complete fealty from movie producers.

As the ebook revolution marches on, I'm sure there will be continuous changes for quite some time as Amazon dukes it out with the rest of the world. They are already far and away the dominant player, but apparently that's not enough. As far as their new program goes, I'll sit back and watch it for a while to see how things work out. I'm definitely not diving right in. As a writer, I'd rather concern myself with simply making my next book the best it can be...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wish I was here...

Congratulations to Janice Horton, who is launching her latest her latest novel today, Reaching for the Stars! As a way to celebrate, she's organized a "Wish I was here" blog tour. In her book, celebrity chef Finn McDuff takes off for parts unknown to escape the craziness in his life. So the question from Janice is, where do I wish I could escape to? I've opted for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Why not? A little bit of sun, sand and sea. That sounds pretty good in the middle of December. Here is a photo of St. Thomas:


And anyone who would like to check out Reaching for the Stars, you can find it here:

Amazon UK
Amazon U.S.

Good luck to Janice!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Sara Wilcox, winner of a paperback copy of Sweet Ophelia! I'll try to get it in the mail in the next few days, Sara. And thanks to everyone else who entered the giveaway! :-)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Making it in E-books

After a year selling my novels as e-books on Amazon and elsewhere, I’ve been doing some thinking on what it takes to really make it big in this endeavor. Actually, it didn’t take a whole lot of thinking, just a bit of observation. All one has to do is take a look at the writers who have thrived in this market and the pattern becomes clear enough.

Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke… They all write genre fiction of one type or another, and they are all very prolific, with numerous titles feeding off of each other. Locke has at least twelve novels out. Konrath ten or more. Hocking has around twelve as well. Both Hocking and Locke have sold more than a million copies of their books, and counting.

I could also compile a long list of lesser-known writers who are making a living with e-books and who also have these traits in common. A writer on the Kindle Boards forum posted just the other day that since she started putting her novels out six months ago, she’s already had 50,000 sales. She writes genre romance and has 15 titles up so far (including shorts).

Talking about sales figures at all is a little antithetical to the creative spirit of a writer, I have to admit, but it does deserve some consideration since I’m actually trying to make a living at it. What these trends I’ve mentioned tell me are that for me it is going to be quite difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.

Why? Because I’m just not the type or writer who can pound out the titles like the authors I’ve mentioned above. I take my time. I agonize over word choice. I go back and forth over paragraphs time and again, and when I am finished with a complete draft, I start from the beginning, over and over. Even now, I know that if I went over the books I already have out, I’d have plenty of changes to make.

I don’t have any qualms about my writing process. Sure, I wish I could motivate myself to work a little harder sometimes, but the truth is that I need to take my time. I can’t rush things. When I have problems sorting out a character, or a plotline, I often have to step aside and let my subconscious work it out. That’s just the way it is.

So no, I’ll probably never get rich selling e-books. I did manage to support myself with my writing this year for the first time in my life, but only by spending a good portion of the year in Budapest, where my expenses were less than $1,000 per month. With a third book due out in a few months and a fourth sometime later in 2012, hopefully I can keep it up, but after that I’m afraid my output is likely to slow. I’m running out of previously written works to revise and post.

This all leads me to the conclusion that perhaps the traditional publishing model might be the better option for me. Being involved in this e-book revolution has been a great experience for me in a lot of ways, but last week I went ahead and contacted editors at all of the “Big Six” publishers. Three of them wrote back right away requesting Sweet Ophelia.

Fingers crossed they’ll show some interest, but if not, I still won’t give up on writing as a career. I know it is possible for me to survive selling e-books, but perhaps I’ll have to learn to crank them out a little faster!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sweet Ophelia Paperback Giveaway

For those visitors from the U.S., I'm giving away one free paperback copy of Sweet Ophelia this week through Goodreads!  Anyone who wants to enter can do so here:




Goodreads Book Giveaway





Sweet Ophelia by Kenneth Rosenberg



Sweet Ophelia


by Kenneth Rosenberg



Giveaway ends December 11, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.




Enter to win


New Blog Title

Now that I've been at this "Indie" publishing for a year, I suppose it is time for a little introspection.  As such, I've decided a new blog title is in order!  So instead of "Kenneth Rosenberg's Blog" I'm going to try "A Writer's Life" for a while and see how that feels.  After all, the whole point of this blog is to trace my journey as writer trying to make it in this shifting publishing paradigm and traveling the world in search of inspiration.  Perhaps the new title is a bit more descriptive.  It is also the title of a memoir that I wrote several years ago, and as such I think I'll start posting some of the chapters here, from time to time.  Today, however, I need to get some work done!  I'm trying to finish a revision of my newest novel, Natalia, and I am finding it slow going.  So I'll sign off now for the day, shut off my Internet connection, and try to do some writing.  Wish me luck! ;-)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One Year Anniversary

It was one year ago today that I uploaded my first novel, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, onto Amazon.  I wasn't sure what to expect at that point, but if someone had told me that the book would go on to be a number one bestselling romance on Amazon UK, I would have been mightily surprised.  Perhaps even more surprised that it would crack the top 10 overall on that site, spending time as the #9 most downloaded book there.  I might have been equally surprised that my second book, Sweet Ophelia, would go though a six-week stretch with only one sale per week. Or that four days free on Amazon.com would result in 38,000 downloads.

I suppose that more than anything, this year has been quite a learning experience for me.  My goal at the start was to maybe, somehow, get to 10,000 downloads.  I figured that if I could do that, then I'd have something worth mentioning the next time I sent query letters to agents or editors.  It ends up that in the course of the year I've managed about 76,000 downloads overall.  Roughly 45,000 of those were free on Amazon and Amazon UK.  The other 31,000 were paid, mostly at .99 cents.  Despite very positive reviews and word of mouth, I've still found it extremely difficult to raise the price above that level.  Each time I do, sales go down the tubes.

So what does all of this mean?  Well, I suppose it means that I'm moving back to my original plan.  When my first book took off, I started to think I might make a decent living as an Indie author.  I still think it is quite possible, but I'm not ready to give up on the traditional model just yet.  This morning I finally broke down and started sending out those query letters.  After some consideration, I decided to skip the agents on this round and go straight to the publishing companies.  So far I've heard back from editors at at three of the "Big Six" publishers, requesting copies of Sweet Ophelia.  Fingers crossed.  If they do accept it, no doubt the ebook price will go up (perhaps to $9.99) once they put it out, but with the marketing muscle to hopefully make it work.  I'll keep a running commentary on here regarding how things go.

Of course, it is always the waiting that is the hardest part...  In the meantime, though, it's great to have my books out there being read.  This whole ebook revolution has definitely been a life changing experience for me.  It used to be that an author without a publishing contract would throw his or her manuscript in a drawer, never again to see the light of day.  Now whether I get a publishing contract or not, I know that if I write a book, I'll get it out there.  One year in and there's no looking back.  This is definitely an exciting time to be a writer!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet Ophelia paperback

Three and a half months after Sweet Ophelia went live as an ebook, I finally got the paperback version up on Amazon!  I received my proof in the mail a few days ago, and there is something about holding a physical copy of your book in hand that is hard to beat.  Just feeling the weight of it, and flipping through all of those pages of text, somehow make the accomplishment seem that much more real.  I love ebooks, and the whole digital publishing revolution, but I still hope that paper books never completely go away.  The smell of the paper, the smooth feel of the cover, and the presence of the book on my shelf are true reminders that I really did it after all.  I finished this book that I worked on for so long!  No matter how many copies it sells, or doesn't sell, that sense of satisfaction is one thing that nobody can ever take away...  :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on E-book Pricing

It is now one week shy of a year since I got into this e-book racket, and lately I’ve been thinking a little bit about my journey so far.  It was the last week in November 2010 that I uploaded my first book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, with an initial price of just .99 cents.

I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and seen plenty of online debates on what the “sweet spot” for Indie book pricing might be.   When I originally put my book for sale, it seemed that most independent authors were charging 2.99 for their books.  Amazon encourages this as a price minimum by doubling the royalty rate at that price.  Any book below $2.99 earns a 35 percent royalty.  Anything above earns 70 percent.

It seemed to me, from reading the online forums, that a surprising number of independent authors were making a decent living, mostly at that $2.99 price, and after a few weeks I raised mine as well.  In the meantime I saw authors bemoaning the “race to the bottom” on e-book pricing.  More and more authors, it seemed, were choosing the .99 cent price and sticking to it as a long-term strategy.  Fierce competition among authors was driving prices lower.  After my own sales stalled out, I too ended up going back to the lower price.  Only then did my sales recover, and I ended up selling over 25,000 copies.

When my second book, Sweet Ophelia, came out, I tried $2.99 right out of the gate.  Surely people who bought my first book and liked it would buy my second, right?  Well, not necessarily.  After an initial burst from friends and family, sales completely dried up.  Even after lowering the book to .99 cents I was only selling about one copy per week!  This went on for nearly two excruciating months.

For independent authors like myself, Amazon makes .99 cents the minimum price point.  Some writers, however, figured out how to game the system.  If you price your book for free on a competing site, Amazon reserves the right to “price match.”  So put your book free on iTunes, then have a few friends write to Amazon to tell them about the lower price, and “bingo,” your price goes to free on Amazon.

This has become the latest rage among independent authors.  The “race to the bottom” on e-book pricing has gone from $2.99 to .99 cents, all the way to free.  I, too, went this route with Sweet Ophelia when it wasn’t selling, and the strategy did work wonders for me.  Suddenly your book starts showing up on bestseller lists, and “also bought” lists, and in a little over a week I had about 45,000 free downloads.  When I went back to paid I sold about 1,500 copies in the first week.

Now I’m not sure what to make of all of this, except that the competition is indeed fierce, and growing.  More and more authors are uploading more and more books all the time, and it is getting harder and harder to stand out.  Low price (or no price) is one way to go, but in the end I’d like to think that quality will win out.  Positive word of mouth and good reviews are what matter most at the end of the day, in terms of both sales and also the satisfaction that comes from creating something one can feel proud of.

It has been an interesting year, and an exciting time to be a writer.  Whatever happens with pricing and competition is really beyond my control.  What I can do is create the best books that I’m capable of, and right now I can’t wait to get my next one out there, just to see what people think!

Update on Nov. 26:
Well, after I finished writing this last post I raised my price from .99 cents to $1.99.  I'd been selling 50-60 copies per day lately and figured that the higher price might not dent these numbers too much...  This turned out to be wishful thinking.  The day before I raised the price I sold 67 copies.  In the days after that I sold 36, then 26, then 13 and now I seem to be stuck around the 13-15 level, despite some excellent blog reviews this week.  Any momentum I'd previously had is gone...  Indeed the competition is quite fierce, but I'm not complaining.  I am still happy that my books are out there!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Circumnavigation

I never expected to fly all the way around the world, but that's how it worked out in the end.  After flight delays on the first leg of my journey, I missed my connection in Munich, so I turned around and went the other way instead!  Yes, they re-routed me through Japan.  So a one and a half hour flight was followed by a 12-hour flight, then a quick change in Tokyo and another nine-hour flight back to LA.  Talk about jet lag, I'm definitely feeling it!  Nearly 23 hours in the air, plus six hours in airports, but at last I'm back in good old California.  No sun and no surf at the moment, but still, it's good to be home. :-)

Monday, November 14, 2011

So long Budapest!

Well, nearly six months ago I came to Europe to spend some time soaking up the ambiance and writing in cafes.  I also came to visit friends, since I've spent a fair bit of time here before.  I wasn't sure how long I'd stay on this trip, but finally, alas, I am heading home!  Actually, I'm sitting in the airport in Budapest waiting for my flight (delayed an hour...). I figured I'd write a few quick thoughts about my trip.  I spent the first month in Tallinn, Estonia, where I reconnected with some friends I hadn't seen in nine long years.  Somehow it felt almost as though I'd never left.  Thanks to Aivar and Peeter for that!  After that it was four days in Finland, where I stayed with my exchange student sister and her family.  Riikka took me along to their midsummer celebration at a cottage by a big lake in the wilderness.  It was a weekend I'll never forget, with a great group of extended friends and family.  And then off to Budapest, where I lived for the summer in 2009.  Being back here felt a lot like coming home.  Somehow I've developed a real connection to this place, and all of the friends I've made here.  I also got a fair bit of writing done, and my next novel is coming along.  Now it is time to head back to California to finish the novel and figure out my next step in life. 

Ok off to my gate.  I hope I still make my connection! ;-)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some guest posts

Thanks to my friend Janice Horton for pointing out that I should add the links here when I have guest posts in other places!  In my previous post I mentioned the Ex Libris blog and Book Lover's Inc., where I was given the opportunity to post a few things earlier this year.  Better late than never I suppose, here are the links if anyone wants to check them out!

On the Ex Libris blog, I had these two posts:

On Unrequited Love
A Man Writing Romance

On Book Lover's Inc. I wrote about:

An American Abroad
Why Book Blogs Matter

Thanks, Janice! :-)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finally got to meet Stella!

Earlier this year, after I finished No Cure for the Broken Hearted, I contacted some book blogs to see if they might help me spread the word.  One blogger who really helped me out was Stella from the Ex Libris blog.  She let me put a guest post on her blog, as well as the Book Lover's Inc. blog.  When I came out with Sweet Ophelia, she graciously helped me out again with two more guest posts.  Somewhere along the way I mentioned to her that I was living and writing in Budapest for a while.  Well, it ended up that Stella lives in Budapest as well.  I had no idea!  For some reason I thought she lived in the U.S., but she was actually born and raised here in Budapest.  Of course, we decided that we must get together for some cake and coffee.

Well, busy schedules intervened, and after four months we still hadn't met.  Now I am planning to head back home to California next week, so we redoubled our efforts and today we finally got together!


It was really great to finally meet Stella.  Since I became involved in this e-book revolution last year I've made a lot of good friends online, but to meet one of them in person added a whole new dimension to this grand experiment.  Thanks Stella, and I hope our paths cross again before too long!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Quite a Boost

Well it has now been three days since Sweet Ophelia went back to .99 cents on Amazon.com.  (Though as of yet it is still free on Amazon UK).  In the six weeks before going free, I sold about five copies at that price.  The book was just hiding there amongst the multitudes and nobody seemed to be finding it.  During the week or so that it was free, I had about 45,000 downloads (and counting on Amazon UK).  The book climbed to #3 on the free bestsellers list.  Now, in the three days since the price went back on I've managed to sell about 900 copies.  Not half bad!  I would definitely say that this experiment was a success.  From 1 book sold per week to 300 sold per day is quite extraordinary.  Now I figure I'll keep the price at .99 cents for another week to ride the momentum before raising it up a bit more.  Thanks to everyone who downloaded the book and helped give it some exposure, and to everyone who is willing to pay a bit for it, too.  Your support is much appreciated!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Still free

Well, I'm still waiting for the Amazon computers to put a price back on Sweet Ophelia, so in the meantime it is still free to download in both the U.S. and UK.  During the week and a half or so of this experiment I've had a total of 39,815 downloads and counting.  I'm still pretty amazed at these numbers!  I hope people are liking the book. :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Experiment in Free: Update

Well today is the second day with my novel Sweet Ophelia available free for Kindle on Amazon.com.  So far it has been free there for 32 hours and I've had 12,490 downloads, or 390 per hour.  Not too bad.  It has gone from #35,000 on the free bestseller list to #4.  It is also free on Amazon UK, where it has had 7233 downloads in six days and is now at #5 on the free bestseller list.

I have to say, I find these numbers somewhat astounding.  Now comes the next part of the experiment.  Tonight I will switch my price back to .99 cents on some of the other sites and see how long it takes Amazon to match.  After that I'm hoping the momentum will carry through to some sales, but we'll see.  It is just an experiment after all, but so far it has been quite an interesting one!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On going free

Well, they always say that the most powerful word in marketing is "Free," so I decided to try out the strategy of going free on Amazon with my newest novel, Sweet Ophelia.  So far the results have been interesting, so I thought I'd share them here.

One thing about going free on Amazon is that they don't make it easy.  Publishers are allowed to post books for free, but independent authors like myself are not.  We are required to list our price at a minimum of .99 cents (or roughly.71 pence in the UK).  We also must agree that we will not price our books cheaper anywhere else, so that Amazon has the cheapest available price.  But, if we break this agreement and post our books cheaper someplace else, Amazon has the right to price match.  Is this confusing enough yet?

The bottom line is that if you post your book for free on some other sites, then Amazon may or may not match it and post it for free as well.  You can help your case by having friends click on a link to report a cheaper price to Amazon.  And then you have to cross your fingers and wait...

So now you might ask, why would I be so eager to give my work away for free?  Well, I will use the example of another independent writer to illustrate.  Like me, this other writer came out with a book in early August.  Like me, she was selling about 1 copy per week.  Then she put had her book listed for free on Amazon for the first ten days or so of the month.  She gave away 25,000 downloads during those ten days.

What happens in this case is that the book climbs the rankings of free books and starts to show up on various Amazon bestseller lists.  Once it is on these lists, you can put a price back on it, and with some luck it will now show up on the paid bestseller lists.  The author in my example sold 1,500 books in the two weeks after she put a price back on it.  Better than one sale per week...

So I'm hoping for a bit of the same kind of luck here.  Five days ago, my book went free on Amazon UK, and I've had about 7,000 downloads over there since.  This morning my book went free on Amazon and so far I'm averaging 500+ downloads per hour in the U.S.  Not too shabby.  Even if I don't get any sales boost out of it, I'd rather have people reading (and hopefully enjoying) my book than simply have it die in obscurity.

So there you have it so far.  The book has gone from #35,000 to #56 on the free bestseller list in just five hours.  I figure I'll keep it free until the end of the week and then see what happens.  Of course, you can't just switch the price back.  You have to switch it back on the other sites and then wait for Amazon to match it again, but for the time being, let it roll!  If anyone out there wants to pick up a Kindle copy, now would be a good time. :-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another cafe for the list...

As a fiction writer, one of the main reasons that I came to Budapest was to explore all of the great cafes.  I’m always on the lookout for good places to write; cafes with an easy-going atmosphere where one can linger for hours over a coffee without feeling like you’re simply taking up space.  There are cities I’ve lived in that are full of such cafes, both in Europe and the U.S.  San Diego, for instance, has a great number of independent coffee houses with tons of character sprinkled throughout the city’s more eclectic neighborhoods.  Seattle as well.  In Europe I’ve found Tallinn in Estonia to be particularly well-suited for a writer.  And Budapest is not half-bad either.

Historically, it seems that writers who frequent cafes have tended to pick one as their favorite and virtually set up shop there, visiting the same place every day.  At least that is the impression that I get from reading of the literary café culture around the previous turn of the century.  Writers here in Budapest were known to literally write for their lunch.  The grand cafes that hosted them would accept a poem or story penned in the establishment for payment.

Today several of these grand cafes still exist in Budapest.  I never go to them.  I just don’t feel comfortable in them at all.  These include the New York Café, Gerbaud, Lukacs, and some others.  For one thing, they tend to feel quite pretentious, with white table cloths and crisply dressed wait staff whisking through the room.  How could I possibly relax when I feel like they constantly have an eye on me, waiting to turn the table?  Then there is the clientele, seemingly consisting of nearly all tourists.  And lastly there are the prices, which are twice as much as an average café.

No, the “grand cafes” are no longer a writer’s paradise.  Sadly they are now more of a tourist curiosity, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t vestiges of elegance where a writer can still feel comfortable.  The Alexandra Bookstore café, which I’ve mentioned here before, is one such place.  And today I’ve found another. 


The Urania Coffeehouse is upstairs from the lobby of a majestic old movie palace.  This room itself is early 20th-century elegance defined, with an ornate ceiling and intricately carved pillars.  The coffee is cheap and good, and in the hour that I’ve been here today I am the only customer at all.  No rushing me out the door here.  True, a few other customers would add some life to the place, but I’m not complaining.

I’m not like those writers of yore who choose a favorite café and stick to it day in and day out.  I like to mix things up a little, having a string of favorite cafes that I visit once every week or so depending on my mood, but I’ll definitely add this place to the list!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Vienna Calling...

I first came to Budapest to spend some time writing a novel in 2009.  On that trip I stayed for about two months.  I'd always planned to go visit Vienna, which is less than three hours away by train.  I never made it.  This time I've been here in Budapest for more than three months, and I'm happy to say I finally made the trip over this week to check out the land of Mozart, Freud and Viennese coffee.


I have to say, it was an awfully nice few days.  One thing I'd heard ahead of time from several Hungarians was that Vienna was "too clean" and therefore "boring."  Definitely there is a marked difference between these two capital cities.  In Budapest the deterioration from 50 years of communism is still painfully evident.  It feels like an Eastern European city.  Vienna, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in the West.


In some respects, this had me feeling like I was taking a small step closer to home.  Maybe it was just my imagination, but the people seemed a little bit more upbeat as well.  I saw plenty of people smiling in public, which seems to me a rarity in Budapest.  Or course both cities have their own charm; capitals located on the Danube, three hours journey by train and yet in many respects a world apart.


Back when they were joined together as the Austro-Hungarian empire, Schonbrunn Palace was the center of it all.  Today this imperial palace and its extensive grounds are open to the public.  I spent the better part of a morning wandering around and taking a look at the place.  As the saying goes, it's good to be king.  Or emperor in this case.  Here are a few more photos of the grounds:




Back in Budapest now, the warm fall weather has finally given way to the first signs of winter, with cold, wind and rain.  In the market today I saw the first Christmas candies for sale.  Could snow be far behind?  And will I last here long enough to see it?  Or will the mild California winter draw me back home at last?  It's hard to say at this point.  To be continued...


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sweet Ophelia

Well, for those who follow this blog, you might have seen an occasional post in which I've considered different title and cover combinations for my latest novel.  The first title, Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues, along with the cover image of a heavily made-up woman's face, obviously didn't connect with readers.  In fact, I only sold one copy of this novel in the last three weeks, and that was with the price set at .99 cents!

I had tried changing the cover to put up an image of a broken heart, but that didn't fare any better.  In a week with that cover I didn't have a single sale.  I switched back to the original and then started advertising three days ago on Goodreads.  It ends up that my ad had 9,090 page views, resulting in a grand total of two clicks!  And zero sales.  Wow.  Talk about striking out!

So I woke up this morning and decided to try something else.  First, I've cut the title down to just Sweet Ophelia.  Second, I've put together a new cover, as follows:


Now I realize that it still doesn't tell the reader much about what type of book this really is.  To address that issue, I've added a clarification on the Amazon and B&N title pages.  When you see the title on those pages, it says Sweet Ophelia (A Romantic Comedy).  So will this all finally turn things around?  Only time will tell.  I figure if I can manage one a week I'll have tripled my sales!  Fingers crossed, anyway.  :-)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I thought that looked familiar...

Here in Budapest I'm fortunate to be living right next to the main city park, known as Varosliget (city park).  I go running and walking in the park often, and there is a statue that I pass each time that I never paid much attention to before, though I was vaguely aware that there was something familiar about it.  I think it was the eagle at the bottom, which looked so much like the image of an American eagle.


I figured the guy on top must be someone I'd never heard of from Hungarian history.  Yesterday, on a nice warm fall afternoon, I actually stopped to take a look.  Here is what the inscription said:


Who would have thought?  A statue to George Washington!  Ironically, it is not too far from the spot where a giant statue of Stalin was erected in the 1950's.  That one was torn down long ago.  So, I guess we really did win the cold war after all!  Woo hoo!  I can't help but wonder if my ancestors had anything to do with this statue, being that they emigrated to the U.S. ten years before it was erected.  Either way, it is nice to see a little tribute to America here so far from home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

One man's trash...

is another man's treasure.  This week was large item pickup day for the local trash collection here in my neighborhood in Budapest.  All of a sudden, piles of refuse began to appear in front of every apartment building up and down the street.


The piles grew and grew over the course of a few days.  Furniture, clothing, CD's, busted electronic devices, a box of slides, shoes, carpets... pretty much you name it.  It was like the buildings themselves were disgorging all of their garbage.


Apparently word got out and before long, gypsies started to appear, sorting through the piles and staking out their own little turf, leaving the women behind to guard their stash.  I saw two kids digging through a pile along with their families, finding all sorts of good stuff, and I have to say it looked like they were having a lot of fun.  It is enough to remind you, though, to be thankful for what you've got...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Land of my Forefathers...


I came to spend some time living in Budapest because I thought it would be a good place to write.  There are great cafes to work in, an interesting atmosphere to the place, and relatively cheap rent.  It also happens to be the case that a great-grandfather of mine actually emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary at the end of the 19th century.  He came from a tiny, isolated village on the border with Slovakia.  When I was here in 2009 I meant to go there for a visit but never managed.  Now, finally, this past weekend I went with a few friends to check out the village of Felsovadasz.

 

It ends up, the place hasn't changed much since my great grandfather left.  People still use water from wells out by the street.  There are chickens and pigs in the yards.  In the next village over I even saw some guys riding down the street in a horse-drawn cart. (Sadly, my photo of that one didn't turn out...)  It was fun to walk around the village and picture my great-grandfather running around these same streets as a child.  I couldn't help but wonder which house might have been theirs...



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Comrade Lenin

This past weekend I took a trip back in time to the communist era with a visit to Budapest's Memento Park.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, nobody in these satellite countries knew exactly what to do with all of the massive sculptures they'd been forced to erect, commemorating communist leaders and the ideal of the "workers of the world."  Most were melted down for scrap.  One American with a good sense of irony actually bought a Lenin statue somewhere and had it shipped back to the U.S. where he erected it in Seattle, where it still greets visitors in a public square.


In Hungary, they opted to create a statue park on the outskirts of town.  It is here that these sculptures now sit, relegated to the scrapheap of history.  As an added bonus, in a little museum space they showed actual secret agent training films from the time.  Where to hide your bugs, how to use a hidden camera, how to tail a suspect, etc.  What the CIA would have done to have seen those films back in the day!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Like No Place Else

I just thought I'd share some thoughts and observations today on why Budapest is like no other place I've ever been, and probably like no place else on earth.  The city really is beat to hell in a lot of ways.  It is dirty, and run down, and falling apart at the seams.  The population has dropped significantly in the past 20 years, as well as shifted to the outskirts, which means that a huge number of giant apartment blocks in the city center are simply vacant.  Here's just one of countless:


Often the buildings are just falling down and crumbling away.  It is not uncommon to see demolition teams finally getting around to clearing the debris away.  Here is a somewhat typical scene:


It is hard to make out with this picture from my camera phone, but in the center is a giant green excavator digging away at the building from the inside.  All of this disused space means two things to the local population.  First, it means relatively cheap rents (compared to Western Europe).  Second, it means a canvas to create upon.  Especially in the seventh district where I live, there are tons of what are called ruin bars.  These are created when some enterprising entrepreneurs turn an abandoned apartment building into a massive bar or nightclub, including the courtyard and individual apartments, sometimes going up several floors.

These ruin bars are all over, with more opening all the time.  They also promote the local art scene, as each place tries to outdo the next with interesting art and design elements hanging on the walls, from the ceilings, or set up in the courtyards.  It almost feels like a wild west, anything goes mentality.  In many ways, it is liberating.  Nobody could get away with this type of thing in the U.S.  There are far too many laws and safety codes to prevent it.

Perhaps the most interesting place I've seen is right on a major street, yet completely under the radar.  It is sort of an art gallery, created I was told by a group of artist-squatters.  Apparently, according to a friend of mine who knows some of them, they simply put their own locks on a vacant building, filled it with their art, and viola.  They added a ping-pong table and hang out there whenever they feel like it.  To me this epitomizes the spirit of the city.  The place is beat up.  It is falling apart, but it has character, and a great vibe, and the locals take advantage of all of the opportunities that provides.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Red Heart or Blue Heart?

Well, so far sales of my new book Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues have been underwhelming at best, with about one sale per day at .99 cents.  I've decided to try changing the cover to see if that helps.  If it doesn't I'll try changing the title, too.

In the meantime, I've come up with a few possible covers, so if anyone wants to help me out with a vote, let me know which you prefer, the red heart or the blue heart.  Once I decide and purchase the image, the little watermark swirls in the middle will come off.  Thanks in advance for your votes!




Saturday, September 3, 2011

And of course a Lada, too!

I can't show a bunch of funky little Eastern European cars without including the Russian-built Lada!

Who could ever have guessed these relics of the Soviet Union would outlast the system that created them?

Friday, September 2, 2011

More Funky Little Cars

I still love all of the funky little cars I see on the streets of Budapest.  These little work horses somehow just keep going and going, even as they slowly rust away.  Here are a few more.  Below is an old Trabant, built in East Germany (GDR) and a remnant of the communist era:


And this one is a Fiat.  They say that "Fiat" stands for "Fix it again, Tony," but obviously Tony has done a pretty good job of keeping this little beauty on the road. :-)


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Home Sweet Home?

Yesterday a friend of mine here in Budapest showed me a park I'd never known about before.  It is called Kopaszi Gat, and it is on the south end of the city, on the Buda side.  This place was terrific, and just developed in the last year or so I was told.  It is formed around a peninsula in the Danube and includes manicured gardens, lawns overlooking the water, a small bay, beaches, and a long string of nice little cafes.

One thing that struck me was the cafe pictured above.  The town I come from in California is Laguna Beach.  Usually when I'm abroad I tell people I'm from Los Angeles, because I figure they've never heard of this small town of 28,000 people.  Well, perhaps I'm wrong.  This cafe was actually named Laguna Beach!

Maybe I should go back and see if they'll give me a discount if I show my ID. :-)


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Unrequieted Love

A special thanks to Stella at the Ex Libris blog for letting me guest post over there yesterday!  Just in case anyone missed it, I'll re-post it here:


It wasn’t intentional that my first two novels both revolve around the theme of unrequited love.  I just wrote what came naturally to me, and somehow that’s what came out.  It was only later that I recognized the pattern.

No Cure for the Broken Hearted, my first novel, has to do with young love gone awry through circumstance.  The two main characters, Katherine and Nick, fall in love in their teens before they are separated for twelve long years, the heartache left to simmer but never really fade.

My second book, Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues, looks at heartache from a different perspective.  This time around there were reasons for the couple, Warren and Ophelia, to split.  As is sometimes the case, those reasons become less apparent over time.  Thinking back, one tends to remember the good times and forget about the bad.

It is only now after finishing my second book that I find myself contemplating the personal importance of this theme in my own life.  Why did I choose to write about it, twice?  I think that everyone has some doubts and regrets on some level regarding relationships from their past, and I’m definitely no exception.  There are always questions in the back of one’s mind about how things might have turned out if only they’d said something else, or done something else.  We have to move past these to get along in the world, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still there, lingering.

In this day and age, those questions are closer than ever before.  In previous generations, it was simply harder to stay in touch with people.  Today, with e-mail and Facebook, all of your past loves are really only a few clicks away.

When I was in high school, there was one girl in particular that I had a huge crush on.  After months of trying to get up the nerve, I finally called her up and asked her on a date at the end of my junior year.  She wanted to go, she said, but she had family commitments.  The next day I left town for the summer.  Sadly I never tried again.  More than ten years later I got an e-mail from the girl.  “I’m happily married now, with two young boys,” she wrote, “but I just wanted to tell you that I’ve never stopped wondering ‘what if.’  I think that everyone has a ‘what if’ person in their life, and I wanted to let you know that you were mine.”

I was floored.  I wrote back and we exchanged a few more e-mails to fill in some of the blanks in our lives and explained what we had been thinking all those years before.  And then we wished each other well and that was it.  I feel grateful that she reached out to me in this way.  It was cathartic somehow, to put some of these ghosts to rest; to let her know I’d cared, and to hear the same in return.

Obviously this experience goes a long way toward explaining why this theme of unrequited love appeared in my first two books.  To me it is personal, yet at the same time universal.  This is one of the strongest emotions there is, full of longing and poignancy, and tinged with the faintest of hope.  Sometimes it can lead to great beauty, and sometimes only pain, but in the end there is perhaps no other emotion that better describes what it is to be human.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fading Days of Summer

After a week with temperatures in the 90's (30's C), it is finally on the cool side today here in Budapest.  There is the sense that the days of summer are coming to an end, both in the temperature shift and the attitude of the people who live here and know that these hot and sunny days won't last forever.

Coming from Southern California, the concept of the end of summer is a completely different one.  Back in Laguna Beach, fall simply means the time of year when you can go to the beach without all of the crowds.  Even winter gives you the occasional balmy beach day.  Here there is the sense that one must take advantage of the summer days while they last.

In that spirit, I took a bike trip with some friends yesterday a few hours north of the city, where there is a nice sandy beach on an island in the Danube.

Closer to the city nobody dares swim in the river, but here the water is deemed to be relatively clean.  It was a beautiful afternoon and I did my best to appreciate it and store that memory away for the cooler days that inevitably lay ahead.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to the Beach!


Well, after weeks of cool and often rainy weather this summer, things have really turned around again in a big way here in Budapest.  The sun is out and temps are climbing back into the 90's (30's C).  This morning I stopped off to get some pastries and sat down on a bench to eat them on the way to one of my favorite writing cafes.  All of a sudden, a girl riding past on her bike stopped to say hello.  It ends up it was my friend Marti, who I met in Budapest two years ago and hadn't seen since!  We'd lost touch and while I'd considered looking her up again when I came back this summer, somehow I never got around to it.  Now here she was, right in front of me!  It was quite a nice surprise.  Marti runs bicycle tours in the city, but didn't have any clients for the day.  That afternoon she was heading to Palatinus Strand, the large swimming pool and thermal bath complex on Margaret Island in the Danube, and she asked if I wanted to come along.  How could I refuse an offer like that?!  It is times like this that being a writer is such a luxury.  I headed off to the cafe for a couple of hours, and then met up with Marti and some of her friends for an afternoon at the pool.  Ah, the good life. :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Price Drop! New novel now .99 cents (.86 pence)

Well, one week since Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues went live, and sales are definitely on the slow side.  So far, I've managed four sales on Amazon U.S., one on Amazon UK, and one on Barnes and Noble.  Most of those are from friends and relatives, I'm pretty sure!  So, I've decided to cut the price from $2.99 down to .99 to see if I can get some momentum going.  Thanks to those who picked up a copy at the higher price, I appreciate the support!  Here's the book's description:

Warren August is down and out in Hollywood, flat broke and living on the streets. When he stumbles onto a movie set in search of food, he sets in motion a chain of events that could finally turn his life around. He might even have a chance to win back his beloved Ophelia. Sweet, sweet Ophelia, who broke his heart three years before. But can he hold it together long enough to redeem himself? And will she ever take him back?

Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues is an off-beat romantic novel about discovering what true love really means.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues finally finished!

Ah, what a relief!  After months of revisions, I'm finally done with my new novel, Sweet Ophelia and the Tinseltown Blues.  I posted it to Amazon U.S., Amazon UK and Barnes and Noble in ebook form last night, and when I woke up this morning it was live!  Now I'm off to spend the morning at some of the thermal baths here in Budapest to relax in celebration... :-) 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Photo of the day: Chain Bridge


There is something magical about Budapest on a warm summer night, especially down by the Danube, where all of the city lights reflect up off the water.  Last night I took a bike ride with a friend along the banks of the river, from the Pest side over to Buda, past the castle hill, on down to the Citadel and then back across and up the other side.  This is a shot of the Chain Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks in the city, built in 1849.  This was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Budapest.  It is nights like this that make this city such a wonderful place to spend some time...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Library is Open!


Normally that statement probably wouldn't elicit much excitement, but for me the fact that the city library in Budapest is back open is kind of a big deal.  Every year they close the library for the month of July.  Since I arrived in late June, I hadn't actually had a chance to visit the library until this week, but last time I was here in 2009 I used to like to write at the city library regularly.  At that time I was living in the same neighborhood, so it was easy to stroll on over.


This time I live about a 25 minute bike ride away, which still isn't bad.  The Szabo Ervin municipal library is an amazing place to work.  The building is a former palace that was renovated and turned into the main library branch for the city.  The first few floors are fairly modern and look like any other library, but the top floor is stunning.  The rooms were kept intact, with work tables added and some comfy chairs by the fireplaces.


It is easy to lose oneself to imagination here, and pretend that you are royalty, living in luxury.  At the very least, it is the most spectacular city library I've ever seen, and now that it is open, it is back among my regular haunts for getting a bit of writing done.  And a bonus!  They charge for Internet, so as long as I don't pay the fee, that's one less distraction getting in my way!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cost of Living

Aside from the fact that Budapest is an interesting place to spend some time, one of the reasons that I decided to come over here this summer is that cost of living is lower than it is back home in California.  As a writer selling my work online, it doesn't really matter where I live as far as my income is concerned, so I might as well spend my time in a place where things are less expensive.  But how much of a difference is there?  I've been thinking about that a little bit lately, and the results are mixed.  Many things are actually more expensive here.  Others less.  Let's consider a few, keeping in mind that the average salary over here is considerably lower.  For instance, a teacher's monthly salary is only about $600.  Yes, you read that right, teachers employed by the state make about $600 per month.  The princely sum of $7,200 per year.  Someone told me that the average overall salary here is about $15,000 per year.  So, considering that:

Right now I am sitting in a Starbucks, and it is fairly busy, as usual.  A regular tall coffee at a Starbucks in the U.S. costs $1.50.  Here in Budapest, a regular tall coffee costs $4.25.  Nearly three times as much!  Who are all of these people spending their money so frivolously?  I rarely come here, but when I do I get a tea for $2.60, which is the cheapest thing on the menu.  Coffee in most places in town costs about $2 to $2.25.  Still slightly more than back home...

There is a California-style Mexican eatery here with a few locations.  It is almost exactly the same as a Chipotle or the many places like them back home.  I don't actually go to Chipotle much, but the places back in California that I do go generally charge $5-$6 for a burrito.  Maybe $7 at a high-end place.  Here the place charges around $7.50.

Most restaurants here actually cost somewhat less than I would expect them to back home, but not a whole lot.  A chicken Caesar salad at a place I like to go costs about $8.  I would expect to pay $12 back home for the same thing, plus taxes.  Here the taxes are included.  I figure for the most part restaurants are about 20-25% less expensive here.  Food at the grocery store is also a little bit less.

One thing that is definitely cheaper here is beer.  At a bar in LA I would expect to pay $6-$7 for a pint of decent beer.  Here a half liter beer in a bar costs about $2.50.  If only I was a big beer drinker, I'd be all set.

Now so far, it doesn't sound like I'm really making out so spectacularly well here in comparison to home, and perhaps that is true to some extent, but the one thing over here that is far and away less expensive than California is accommodation costs.  Last time I was here I rented a room in a shared apartment in a great part of town and paid about $275 per month plus utilities.  In LA one would expect to pay $800 and up to rent a room.  This time I'm renting a studio apartment from a friend of mine and paying $330 including utilities.  A studio in LA would cost $900 and up plus utilities.  So in general, housing here costs about a third of what it does in LA or Orange County.  Part of that is because in my opinion it is extremely expensive in LA, and it is also extremely cheap (by comparison to lots of places) here.  So that $600 per month I save in rent can actually pay for a Starbucks coffee or two and I'll still be a fair bit ahead!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Buda Hills

One nice thing about Budapest is how quickly one can get out of the city.  It really is quite compact, and with a population of less than 2 million, it doesn't take long to get out into a rural setting, especially on the Buda side.  Budapest was actually two cities at one time, with Pest on one side of the river and Buda on the other.  The Danube flows between these two halves along a fault line (or so I've been told).  The Pest side is flat, while the Buda side is made up of rolling hills, with some great views of the city below.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to have been invited by my friend Alla for a hike up in the Buda hills.  Just a 20-minute tram ride from the city center and it felt like we were a world away.  It was also lucky that we were spared from any rain for a day.  So far this summer it seems that rain has been a near constant companion here in Europe, and indeed it is back again today.  Ah well, it makes for good writing weather anyway!