Category Archives: BY THE MAD GENII

A list of our perpetrators.

An interesting endeavor

I’ve always steered clear of anthologies, having heard stories of the difficulty writing for them. You write up a tale tailored to that particular one, they don’t take it, then what do you do with a story about a purple top-hatted steampunk kraken? Anyway, on top of this, whilst I was at an impressionable age as a writer – just a couple of years ago in other words – I watched someone I know can write a novel at the drop of a hat being forced to gut and rewrite a story, and struggling with it because the editor of the anthology wanted to make more room for someone else’s story but couldn’t expand the size of the whole book.

So I just did my own thing. There was an anthology edited by a friend (you can find the Kickstarter here) that looked like fun, but I couldn’t come up with a story idea that fit into the corporate world and involved Chthulhu in time for it. But around the time I was writing Snow, I checked in at one of my daily blogs, and was surprised to see a call for authors… And I immediately responded.

I’d read the kernel novella JL Curtis had written, that he now wanted to spin off into a collection of tales by different authors, and I liked the central idea, but what struck me was more than the big story, there would be a lot of small stories going on. And I write small stories. In this one, a boy becoming a man in a time of turmoil. It’s a tale as old as time, but worth telling again and again, for my son’s sake.

I have had the great pleasure of not only getting to know this editor and a gentleman online, but in person, so I knew I could trust him with my work. One thing about us Indies (or maybe it’s just me) we’re particular about where our babies go. Also, his guidelines for word count and content were clear and easy to work with. The whole process has been terrific, especially when I got to see the draft and realized what great company I was hanging out with.

 

So to sum up: clear guidelines, light editing touch (he didn’t do much, but it was very helpful), and frequent but not onerous communication. If I do take part in another venture like this, he’s set a high bar! I’ve enjoyed the whole process, although I suspect that it has been an enormous amount of work and investment on his part. Hopefully it hasn’t held up his writing on other series too much (you should check The Grey Man out if you haven’t already).

I’ve read the draft, and there are some wonderful stories, and mine least among them. But mine I can give you a sample of, to whet your appetites.

The Carpetbaggers

Ryan sat at the top of the stairs, and listened hard to the conversation below him. It felt faintly ridiculous – he was, after all, fifteen — nearly sixteen — and technically almost an adult, not a toddler to be sitting here while the adults discussed stuff he wasn’t supposed to know. But what he did know was that if he went downstairs, the conversation would shift, and they wouldn’t be talking about what they were.

It wasn’t the political. He could hardly escape knowing that he was no longer a resident of the Beaver State of Oregon. He was now residing in the bright shiny newness that was Jefferson, a product of the messy split of California from the United States of America. That tear had left ragged edges, like ripping a sheet of paper from a notebook, and the inhabitants of the southern part of what had been Oregon, and the northern part of California, had banded together against all others, and formed the territory. It wasn’t a state yet. According to his social studies teacher, it just had to be ratified into statehood by congress. But according to one of the lively conversations that took place below him in the big great room of his parent’s ranch house, being a territory meant more independence from the Feds, and that was a good thing. They might vote to pass on statehood.

Ryan wasn’t sure where he stood on the issue of independency, to use a word from his mother’s favorite movie. In theory, he liked it. He was looking forward to becoming an independent adult, unlike his friend Brynna whose family had stayed behind during Calexit, and who had just found out that driver’s licenses were no longer available to minors. She wouldn’t be getting hers for two more years, while he would have his in just two months. California had decided that kids could get hurt, driving too early, and it was part of the sweeping Nanny Laws they had passed following their leavetaking from the good ol’ USA. Ryan had been driving since his feet could reach the pedals while he could see out the windshield, on the ranch. The license was just a formality. He remained indignant on Brynna’s behalf, though. She’d been quite vocally unhappy in the group chat they both belonged to when she found out she was going to have to wait. She couldn’t get a job, either. Child labor…

But politics was not the central part of the low-voiced and urgent conversation under him. That, he’d have been down there for. No, this was far more disturbing, and he strained to make it all out.

“… the Wilman’s place was hit hard.” His father’s low voice was gravelly, and hard to hear.

His mother’s voice was higher, and clearer. “I offered Vi and the girls a place, but they are going up to her aunt’s in Portland. There’s a hospital there, although she did finally give in and let the SANE nurse collect samples from them at Medford General.”

Ryan knew Pat – she purely hated Patty – Wilman. He went to school with her. She was a good kid, not girly at all. He was worried about her; he had texted her earlier and no reply yet.

“It was an atrocity.” And that voice, cutting through the murmurs, was Doña Marguerite. She wasn’t formally a Doña, but everyone called her that. Ryan thought he understood. She was regal, a real Lady.

She kept talking. “These Brownshirts are a plague on our land. They think they can come in, and take, and the Law matters not at all to them. My great-great-grandfather would have hunted them down and shot them. Or perhaps strung them up on the routes out of town. He did have a flair for the dramatic. He was also a law-abiding man, and would be horrified to see his race represented so.” She snorted. “La Raza, indeed.”

Ryan still felt a little cognitive dissonance – he rolled the word around in his mind, liking how it sounded – at hearing the tiny Hispanic lady talk about the formerly illegal immigrants who now made up the majority of the California Border Patrol.

“It’s not just the Brownshirts, although I think Don Miguel would indeed be rolling in his grave. It’s the carpetbaggers.” His mother was very close to Doña Marguerite, and Ryan thought it was weird both of them referred to a long-dead Mexican-Californian Don like he was still alive and in the room. He guessed that was what came of having a historian for a mother.

The next morning, Ryan seized the opportunity when he was alone with her. “Mom?”

She looked up from the tortilla dough she was kneading like it had done something to her. “What, Ryan? Is this about riding out on the south fence? Because both your father and I have told you that you cannot do that one alone already.”

Ryan felt a twinge. “I’m not a baby, Mom.” He was taller than she was by half a head, and still growing, she said.

“You’re always going to be my baby.” She looked up at him, her hands stilling and her face softening. “I know you’re near a man grown. But we want everyone to be riding in at least pairs, for now.”

“That’s not what I wanted to ask. What’s a carpetbagger?” He grabbed a piece of the dough, and she made like she was going to swat him.

“You haven’t heard that before? Oh, your school. Bleah.” She sighed, and he could tell she was about to go into the rant he’d heard before.

Ryan held up his hand to stop her. “I know, I know, I’m getting a very watered-down biased view of history and they don’t even call it history any more, it’s social studies…”

She laughed. “I guess I’ve said that too many times. A carpetbagger is a term for people who descended on the South after the Civil War. They preyed on folks who had lost everything, and they forced them off their farms, because they’d been on the losing side. They were like a cuckoo’s egg.”

“What?” Ryan was confused.

“The cuckoo lays their eggs in other bird’s nests, and when they hatch, they push the other nestlings or eggs out, until they have the parents feeding them and only them.”

“So what does that have to do with carpet bags, and farms?”

She covered the dough so it could rest. “Well, the South had spent a lot of money during the War. They weren’t material rich like the North was, so after the war ended, there were a lot of people who were flat broke. It wasn’t about slaves – we’ve discussed that before – it was sheer economic disruption.”

“Ok. What does that have to do with Jefferson? And cuckoos?”

She came and sat next to him at the table. “You overheard us last night.”

“A little. Not all of it.” He was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to have heard any of it.

She sighed sadly. “Jefferson isn’t very rich, yet. We’re trying to abide by regulations put in place when we split off from the FedGov, but they will be ending soon. We had a three-year restriction on mining and five on logging, for instance. Once we can tap into our own resources, then we’ll be able to defend ourselves.”

“From the Brownies?” Ryan used the slang term for the Border Patrol, who weren’t as upright as their title made them out to be.

“And from people who are coming in, offering pennies on the dollar to buy ranches and farms, and desperate folks are taking them up on it. The cuckoo is pushing them out of their nests. But if the rancher doesn’t take the offer…” She shrugged. “Something bad happens.”

“Like their house burns down.”

“Oh, baby…” She put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, but that’s the least of it.”

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: ART

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Pacing

Kate got caught up by real life and asked me to post this for her. This is the second in her “Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide” posts. You can find the first one here. — Amanda

This chapter is the first of several covering various aspects of plotting and characterization technique from the extreme pantser’s perspective. The thing to remember here, is that this is stuff that matters, and if you as an extreme pantser don’t ‘get’ it free, you’re going to have to work a lot harder than a plotter would to get there – but not necessarily work in the same way.

One of the more interesting things I’ve found as I’ve developed as a writer is that I typically have a vague, not terribly clear feel for the techniques, but I’m not applying them with any sense or consistency because I don’t understand what the heck it is I’m trying to do, much less what my subconscious is throwing at me. Those unfortunate enough to have read some of my early stuff know what I mean here. You can see the shape I’m after but it’s kind of like a small child trying to color inside the lines.

I still color like that, but at least I’ve got better at writing.

So, pacing. This is what makes a story feel fast or slow. Unless you’re planning on writing literary fiction, you’re going to want a variety in your pacing – enough fast sections to drag your readers along with you, and enough slower ones that they have time to breathe. SF and Fantasy, particularly recently, tends to want to start fast, then have something of a slowdown before a series of increasingly sharper accelerations until the climax of the piece. Most – but not all – authors will give a chapter or three of wrapup after that at a nice, gentle pace. Sarah refers to this as the post-climax cigarette.

Pace is partly influenced by vocabulary: short, sharp verbs with minimal assistance from adverbs, action verbs in the sense that someone (preferably your protagonist) is acting… these tend to signal ‘fast’ to readers. Polysyllabic with lots of descriptive usually signals ‘slow’. We as readers are remarkably sensitive to these – to the extent that a particularly fast-paced scene in someone else’s book is quite capable of having me breathing heavily and feeling as though I just outran a bear.

So… read what you can about pacing, but also read fiction with known pace. L.K. Hamilton’s first three books are close to perfect examples of fast-paced. Terry Pratchett’s pacing is generally more leisurely, but again, pitch-perfect.

What tends to happen is that after immersing yourself in well-paced books, the extreme pantser builds a feel for pacing that manifests as “Something needs to happen soon” or “My character needs a break” – also, “Slowing things down here will increase tension” has been known to occur. In my case, rarely quite that explicit, but I do still operate at this level.

I know this sounds very vague and almost – horrors! – frou-frou, but it does seem to work this way at least for me. I’ve had to learn to trust in the pants, not least because the bloody things know more about how this works than I do (As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I’m bloody dangerous when I’m over-tired. It’s not just the narcolepsy, although that doesn’t help. It’s that all the ‘this is not socially acceptable’ filters stop working – which leads to unacceptable truths being aired out, often loudly).

 

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Filed under KATE PAULK, WRITING: CRAFT

The delusions continue

Traditional publishers, especially the Big 5, have been dragging their heels, not to mention kicking and screaming in protest, from the moment the first e-book appeared on the scenes. For years, however, they knew they had nothing to really worry about when it came to the new format. After all, even though it was cheaper to produce and easier to distribute, there was no way for authors to leverage the platform on their own. Traditional publishers were not only the gatekeepers, but they were the sole guards of the industry. If they didn’t like your book for whatever reason, your only hope was to publish through a vanity press and that was a death sentence to any professional career as a writer you might have wanted.

They laughed at Jim Baen when he started offering e-book versions of the traditionally published books released by Baen. They told him the format was a fad and would die away.

They shook their heads and smiled when Fictionwise and Smashwords started giving authors a very small foothold into the market. There was no way anyone would take e-books seriously. After all, who wanted to read a book on their computer.Paper was king and would never, ever fall.

Then along came Amazon. Approximately 9 years ago, Amazon did something no one expected. They opened up a platform that allowed authors to publish their books as e-books and sell them directly through the Amazon store.  More importantly, Amazon created the Kindle e-book reader. Now reading the new format became easy. Better yet, readers could put dozens, no hundreds of books on their devices and carry them with them wherever they went. They could buy books directly from Amazon and the books would be delivered to their devices, making trips to bookstores unnecessary.

We all know what happened next. The Big 5 (then the Big 6) colluded with Apple and others to price fix the cost of their e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. The Justice Department and the courts were not amused. In the aftermath, the publishers have contracted with the various stores to set the price for their e-books and discounts are only applied with their approval. Once that went into effect, e-book prices for titles from the Big 5 increased and sales decreased.

And the delusion that e-books would not be major players in the publishing landscape set in. They point to the “re-invigoration” of the print market as a reason to believe e-books aren’t in as much demand as they once were. Of course, they forget to talk about how that re-invigoration happened. All you have to do is look at the pricing of books from the Big 5 to know they are doing everything they can to cannibalize the digital market in order to prop up their beloved print books.

Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown came out earlier this month. The hardcover version sells on Amazon for $17.96. The Kindle version sells for $14.99.

Haunted by James Patterson sells in hardcover for $16.38. Paperback is listed at $14.39 and Kindle is listed at $14.99.

The Shining by Stephen King has been out for years. The Kindle version sells for $8.99 while the mass market paperback version sells for $5.43.

Secrets in Death by J. D. Robb sells for the exact same price for the paperback and e-book versions.The price? $14.99.

These are just a few examples. All you have to do is go over to Amazon and you can find hundreds, if not thousands, more. So is it any surprise readers aren’t buying as many e-books from traditional publishers who continue to overprice their e-books? Instead of stroking their egos and congratulating themselves on stopping the trend, publishers should be paying closer attention to the overall sales of all forms of books by ALL authors and publishers. They should be paying attention to the information being complied by Author Earnings. They should look at the best sellers lists from Amazon — which, whether they like it or not, is the gorilla in the book selling market — and see how many of those titles come from indies and small press authors.

There is a reason readers are reaching out to indies to find their reading material. It goes to price, yes, but it also goes to the fact that indies are offering stories that traditional publishing is not.

Oh, but the delusions continue along that line as well.

Publishers, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle said, have a key role to play as curators of content. “Publishers stand for quality and perfect each product before it makes it to the market.” Of course, he doesn’t explain what he means by quality or the rest of it. If he is talking technical quality, I’d like to discuss with him the formatting issues, poor product quality (as in spines breaking much too easily, for example) and misspellings or other issues that should be caught by proofing that I find with traditionally published books. Sure, you can find those issues with indie published books but, when you are touting yourselves as the purveyors of quality, you should be able to stand behind that claim.

But we all know what he means, don’t we? Publishers are the gatekeepers of rightthink. If you aren’t presenting them with the fad of the day along with the proper tickler list of social issues, etc., they aren’t going to care about what the story happens to be. They have forgotten that readers of fiction want to be entertained. Sure, you can have a message in your fiction but the fiction had better be compelling and entertaining first and foremost or the reader isn’t going to keep buying your product.

But it gets better.

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy claims that nothing “went wrong” with e-books. It seems she believes people have gotten tired of reading on their screens. Again, a complete disconnect from reality. People don’t want to pay as much — or more — for an e-book as they will for a print copy. But the laugh out loud moment comes further down in the article when Reidy says she firmly believes “a new version of the book based on digital delivery will come eventually, though she does not know what it might look like.”

Blink.

Blink. Blink.

Hmm, wouldn’t that be an e-book? The bells and whistles might be a bit different, but it if walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?

And what about her argument that e-book sales have leveled off because we are tired of reading on our screens?

It constantly amazes me the way these folks continue to tie themselves into knots trying to explain how e-books are bad, or are a passing fad or a way for writers not good enough for traditional publishing to get their works into the hands of readers. All I know is that the real numbers, the numbers that look at more than the Big 5 titles, tell a different tale. As a reader, I know I find myself picking up more and more books from indie authors because they are writing stories I want to read and they are doing it at prices that allow me to read two or three or more books for the price of a single Big 5 title. When is the point going to come where an accountant who isn’t afraid of rocking the boat says they can actually sell more — and make more money — if they lower their prices to something reasonable?

Since I’m talking about reasonable pricing and I’m an indie author, I’m going to take a moment to tout my latest. The special edition of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) is now available in both print and e-book editions. (Hopefully, they will link the two editions shortly.) This new edition contains approximately 20k words of next material. It is only available through Amazon.

The original edition has been released on KoboPlayster, Tolino (link not yet available) and Inktera. It will soon be available on iTunes, B&N and Overdrive.

59 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Blurb Clinic

Okay, a bunch of you requested blurb clinics. And I was innocently sipping my coffee when I looked up and saw a swarm of fingers pointed at me, including one from Sarah as she rapidly ran away. I get it, I get it. The other people on this group blog write actual, y’know, books, and then try to write a blurb once a book. I write blurbs, and only every now and then try to write a book. So, blurb clinic!

To start with, I’m going to repost the text from the last blurb clinic, with three added notes:

1. Readers like characters with agency. This means the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

2. The first person introduced is assumed to be the hero. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

3. Lead with your protagonist. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

Links to prior blurb clinics:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/22/blurbs-ad-copy-and-cover-copy/
https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/01/10/blurbs-short-and-sweet/

Blurbs, Ad Copy, and Cover Copy: A blast from the past and present-day Blurb Clinic

First, let’s establish terms, because they’ve gotten muddled. “Blurb” used to mean a pull quote on the cover of a book. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread! –Famous Author in Same Genre.” Pull quotes are a journalistic device of lifting selective quotations out of an interview, article, or review, and highlighting them to make the article or item being reviewed sound really juicy.

Now, “blurb” has become a term for the Ad Copy, or Cover Copy, which means the one to three paragraphs of “What’s it about?” on the back of the book, on the website under description, and right next to the cover thumbnail on promotional emails.

Sarah tackled this subject, under https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/18/going-indie-for-dummies-but-what-is-it-about/. And then she tackled me, and said I had to explain how I do the voodoo that I do so well.

Now, I personally feel that’s about like asking all y’all “how do you write stories?” There are a lot of guidelines, but no hard and fast rules beyond it must be truthful about the contents, and hook the reader’s attention.

Interestingly enough, those of you who have written poetry will be at an advantage here, because you’re familiar with making every syllable, much less every word, count.

Like haiku, there are length constraints. Some promotional emails are very specific about the character limit (letters and spaces) you may use. Other places, like Amazon, will let you ramble on and on, but they cut the “above the fold” that browsers see to only 3-4 lines.

I recommend that you try to keep your blurb to the promotional length, so that you don’t have to come up with a new one for every promotion you want to run. Functionally, this means you’ll want to keep it within 300 characters. This will also force you to write long, then cut it down to something short enough to be exciting, picking and choosing each word for best effect.

Now, what words do you write?
First, We’re going to go to the heart, the core of your story, and break it down.

1.) A Character
2.) wants something
3.) But something opposes them.
4.) The stakes if they fail are: —-

Note: This should all be information the reader will have by Chapter 3.

But, you say, I have three people, and this one wants this, and that one wants that, and this other wants… Yes, true, most stories have more than the protagonist and the antagonist. However, unless you’re doing an epic fantasy, there’s one (or at most two) central protagonists whose actions and choices drive the plot. As Harlan Ellison says: Who does the story hurt? That’s who it’s about.

Epic fantasy breaks this guideline, because it generally has three to five separate viewpoints and storylines, not necessarily going on at the same point in history. Thus, you’ll end up doing a one-sentence-per-storyline to keep it in the limit.

Returning to that list, sometimes you’ll also add:

5.) What is the first plot twist?

And, especially for SF/F stories:

6.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them.

(This is because people tend to tune out after 3-5 unfamiliar terms. So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.)

Finally, the best piece of advice: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” at a party.

You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I need to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up.

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repayed in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

(And if you want to read something pretty nifty, Holly Chism has modern gods working together to stop Loki after he lost the last of his sanity! https://www.amazon.com/Godshead-Holly-Chism-ebook/dp/B00AGI1AGY/ )

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, PROMOTION, Uncategorized, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Reviews and Maturity

So this post is the result, as so many of my posts are, of a few conversations I’ve had recently about writing, and life. I’m constantly learning, but at this point, also trying to share what I’ve learned with others who ask me about stuff. Like whether they should ‘un-publish’- a book that was their first, and they now feel is immature and not a reflection of them as a writer now. I pointed out in response that I leave my first novel up, despite it getting not-so-great reviews, because it’s a reflection of where I started versus where I am now. No, readers probably don’t pay attention to dates published, in most cases (I know I do if I am trying to blitz-read an author, because it lets me read series from the beginning if they have been so inconsiderate as to not mark books with series identifiers. Pet peeve: number your series books, people!). I know I have fans who were interested to read it and see my growth as an author, because they took the time to reach out and tell me that. I leave it up for them, and because with some two dozen titles on Amazon, I know it falls to the bottom and only a reader who was working through my whole body of work would find it. Along with some of the other oddballs I’ve written.

And along with that is the other conversation I had on facebook about one-star reviews and whether they are always bad. They are not. I had a prominent reviewer give my latest novella, Snow in Her Eyes, a one-star review, and it led to more sales than that story might have seen elsewhere. Because he was very articulate about what his problem was with the story.

I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that’s why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn’t like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

Briefly:
1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn’t NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.

Read the rest at Papa Pat Rambles (and stay for the wonderful essays and quirky reviews!)

A one-star review – especially when it is balanced with other high reviews – can actually be a selling point. It’s only when you see an imbalance of one, two, and even three-star reviews that it’s obvious there’s a problem with that book. And sometimes even ‘a problem book’ can be enjoyed by readers. I ran across a case recently where a friend I trust had reviewed a book, the author found the review, leaped like a gazelle to the absolutely wrong conclusions, and I was highly amused. I also decided that I would not read that author’s books. Not because he’d had a hissy fit over the negative review, but because I saw enough of a theme in the reviews of his books to know my friend was right, and I would not enjoy those books. I have to say the ‘sex scenes written by Victor Appleton II after a few stag films’ nearly made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!

I’ve come to a point where I trust the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes it’s not what they say that is important, it’s how they say it. Like the book with 104 reviews… until you clicked on ‘verified purchasers’ and suddenly it had five, and of the others the majority of them mentioned they had received a review copy in return for their review. I have nothing against review copies. But I do think that if the book does not generate the bulk of it’s reviews from people who read it after buying (this book was not in the KU program) then there is a problem with it (and reading the blurb and ‘look inside’ not to mention the ghastly cover, cemented that impression).

As an author I know I have to show maturity in how I handle my reviews, both the positive and the negative. Mostly, mine make me happy. But even the ones that make me shake my head – like the reviewer who commented on Pixie Noir that it had no emotion and she thought it must have been written by a man – don’t bother me much. Because losing your mind over a review and shrieking about it in public like the above author who gazelled off into the distance calling that there were lions attacking him… yeah, no. That’s not good publicity, dude. Not only did you lead to one of your fans making the connection to my friend and linking to his facebook page in your comment thread (and I screenshot that and let my friend know to brace for incoming) but you lead to me deciding firmly that I would not read your books, nor promote them. Guess what? unprofessional behaviour just pisses people off. I have a very short list of ‘will not buy, will not promote’ but that author is one of those. And I know I’m not alone in that reaction to author behaviours.

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING

Trying something new.

I’ll get back to formatting and related topics next week. This week, I thought I’d discuss what I’ve been doing with regard to one of my series and my thinking behind it. I’ve mentioned earlier here, and in greater detail on my blog, that I was going to release a “special edition” of Vengeance from Ashes and the other books in the series. I took the first step toward that goal this week and, along the way, have learned some interesting things about Amazon KDP.

So, first things first. Why release a “special edition” of a book that’s been out for several years?

I originally started thinking about it when I wondered what sort of play my books would get on non-Amazon platforms now. I have been exclusively with Amazon for probably the last three years or so. I originally made the decision to go that route when it became clear the vast majority of my sales came from Amazon and the monies I made through KDP Select/KU could more than make up for any lost sales through the other venues. With the influx of smartphones and tablets, I felt it was no longer as onerous on readers if I only offered my work on one platform. After all, Amazon has Kindle apps for pretty much all operating systems.

Then, over the last few months, I’ve been seeing the same sort of decline in payment for pages read that I saw with the original KDP Select reads. Part of that is because there are so many more books going into the system. Part of it is there are those people out there — I refuse to call them authors or writers — who game the system. So, I started asking how to make up the monies I was losing. I can only write so much. How was I going to increase output or increase sales without spending a bunch of bucks without a guaranteed return?

That’s when an author I’m a fan of released a special edition of one of her books through iTunes/iBooks (whatever the heck Apple calls it right now). All she did was add a chapter near the end. It didn’t change the plot of the book but it gave some really great information and helped fill in some blanks left in the original story. Hmmm. That started my brain on the trail that led to where we are today.

However, I didn’t want to completely take my titles out of KU. That meant I needed to consider my options and then talk to Amazon. Yes, yes, I can hear some of you laughing. Trying to actually “talk” to someone associated with KDP can be daunting. But I’d done it before and I could do it again. Right? Right.

I carefully planned out my email to KDP Support. My question was simple but not one that was found in their FAQs or on the boards. If I added new data to my book, not a word here or there but a chapter or more, could I put that new version into KU and then release the original version into the wild? I sent off the message and got the automated response that they’d be back with me in 24 – 72 hours.

Imagine my surprise when, a few hours later, my cellphone rang and it was Amazon. Long story shortish, as long as the content was exclusive to the Amazon edition, it was published with a new ASIN, the description made it clear this was a special edition, I could do what I wanted. Woop! Suddenly it was time to get down to work.

I figured I’d wind up with a chapter, maybe two, of new material. After all, I loved the original version of Vengeance from Ashes. Still, as I sat down to take notes and see what I could do, I realized there was more information I could have — possibly should have — put in. This was a case of 20-20 hindsight after 3 books and 3 short stories in the universe. So, that single chapter or two turned into close to 20k additional words. I’d need to go back and look again but I think it turned into something like 4 or 5 new chapters as well as some additional scenes in the already existing chapters. The plot, overall is the same, but it has been filled in some and I think it makes for a stronger book.

Fast-forward to this last week. I finished setting up for both digital and print versions using Vellum. I’ll repeat here what I’ve said before. If you work on a Mac and have the money to spare, consider buying Vellum. The time saved in setting up the print version alone is worth it. I also like the special characters (true drop caps being part of it) you can easily insert into your e-books. Thanks to Sarah, I have a kick-ass new cover for the new edition and yesterday I bit the bullet and uploaded both files to Amazon.

And held my breath.

And waited to see what happened. Would Amazon let me post the new book for pre-order or had I done all this for naught?

Whew! The e-book went live for pre-orders without a hitch. Official release date is a week from today. Woop! But what about the print version? Should I do Createspace, as I had all my other print books? Or should I try the new KDP print option? Since I was trying something new with the special edition, why not try it with the print version? So, off I went into even more uncharted territory.

First of all, it is much easier to use than Createspace. Since you’ve already entered all the information about the title for your e-book, you don’t have to do so for the print. It’s ported over. You can choose to get a free ISBN or go with one of your own. Since I’m not trying to get into bookstores, I chose the free ISBN. I’m not out any money if I decide to change my mind later and go with Lightning Source or another printer/distributor.

Now for the downside. You still can’t order a print proof – at least not that I saw. I’m not thrilled with that, especially since I haven’t used the service before. There also isn’t a discounted author rate for buying the book. Again, not that I found. If someone knows how to do it, let me know. That’s a big issue for me and it might lead to me moving back to Createspace eventually (assuming Amazon doesn’t change this with KDP). But, on the plus side, the process of getting the print files uploaded and approved is much quicker and the print version went live quicker than any of my Createspace files did. So, I’ve ordered a hard copy and am praying in the meantime.

As with Createspace, I need to go into Author Central to link the print and digital versions together. I’ll do that later today. But, so far, the process has been pretty painless and, as soon as the original version of Vengeance comes off of KU, I’ll release that edition into the wild.

There is one big downside to doing it this way. The reviews for the original version will not be ported over to the new edition. Amazon’s reasoning actually makes sense. The new edition isn’t the same book as the original and so the reviews don’t necessarily apply. I’ll admit, it has even made me reconsider how I handle the original book. I could leave it up on Amazon but that could confuse potential new readers. But I don’t want to lose my reviews.

The answer to that is simple but not complete. I won’t be able to keep all the reviews but I can cherry pick the ones I think are best representative of the book and contact those reviewers to see if I can quote them in the product information for the new version. I’d make clear the reviews were for the original edition but still. . . they could help push the new edition. So that is part of what I’ll be doing over the next couple of days. By then, I’ll have a copy of the print book in hand (Thursday delivery) and will know whether I’ve made a mistake there or not.

Also, I did verify with Amazon that, should I take the original version off sale there, it would remain in the libraries of those who had already purchased it. I have written response that it would. So no one will lose the book they have already bought. I’ll admit, that was a concern and would have impacted my final decision about how to move forward.

One last thing I’ve learned so far about in doing this process. If you email KDP support and frame your question in such a way it is “unique”, you get a quick response and might actually find your account has been enabled so you can actually call support. That’s reassuring, especially since I’ve never made any bones about the fact I think KDP support could learn a lot from Amazon support.

I’ll update the post as new information becomes available. In the meantime, here’s the “special edition”:

Print

E-book

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

This special edition contains exclusive material (approximately 20,000 words) not available in other editions of the novel.

 

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Series and Multiple Simultaneous Releases

For Dan Z, who commented:

Advice on managing/planning a series. For example, if you know from the get go that your story is too big for just one book (or just one set of characters or what have you) is it better to write out the entire series, in essence building up a backlog, and then publish each volume individually on a regular schedule? or perhaps release them in pairs or other multiples? or to forego the entire idea of a backlog and publish the whole series en masse? or to dial that back a bit publish each story as it gets finished, whenever that happens to be?

It Depends. On what? Well, first and foremost, on your writing speed and skills. Second, on your experience level as a writer. Third, on the planned length of series, which ties into fourth, the marketing tactics you planned.

—The Writing Segment —

Writing speed and experience are tied together: if this is your first book, you may not know how long it’s going to take for you to write the second one, much less the next 6. This was one major stumbling block for many authors in trad pub: after taking years to craft their first book and put it through the query process, it got picked up and did well, so the publisher turned around and said “We’ll take two more in the series.” Now the author, who may have taken 5 years to gather ideas and get the first book written in its final form, suddenly has less than a year to come up with and write the second book. It’s not as good, because the author didn’t have the skill set for pulling ideas together and writing to deadline, nor the practice at writing sequels.

The advice to overcome this used to be to keep writing the next book and the next, so you had many out in slush piles at the same time. These days, the advice is different.

New Author Option 1: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it is working, then write that sequel! What you learn by writing the second book will really help with editing the first one, so leave that until you’ve finished the second. Now is the time to learn the skills of formatting, covers, and blurb, but most importantly, keep writing the second book! Once you have two written, then you can edit both while writing the third. Then, you can decide whether to:

A. Publish each book in 30-day intervals,
B. Publish each book in 60 or 90-day intervals,
C. Publish Book 1 & 2 simultaneously, then Book 3 within 30 days
D. Publish Books 1-3 simultaneously, followed by Book 4 within 30 – 90 days.

To make the best choice, proceed on to the marketing techniques portion of this article.

New Author Option 2: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it’s not working, or you end up switching to other things, you might give it a couple months. After a couple months, especially if it’s clear that the grand plan of writing the series-of-twelve really isn’t going to work right now, pull out the original book and use the distance that time has helped you gain to struggle through the learning curve of editing your first book. (A different skillset than writing!) Then publish the first one, because it’s better to have it out there, delighting readers, than sitting on a hard drive waiting for months or years or eternity for its sequel to join it.

Experienced Author: If you have 5 books out and have your process fairly well down, and have decided you want to break into a new genre or series, then this may be a great idea. You not only know you can do this, you also know how long it’s going to take you, and can plan the marketing accordingly. Don’t, however, do this on an existing series.

— The Marketing Segment —

Why do I keep mentioning 30, 60, and 90 days? Because those, along with the one-year mark, are important cutoffs in your book’s visibility. The first 30 days your book is out, you have the chance on being on the Hot New Releases list – a list that required far fewer sales to make and stay than the bestseller list. As a new author, especially if you don’t a have a following due to blog, forum, or other group, your primary challenge is being visible enough that people who have never heard of you will find you and give you a try. (This is also a major challenge for established authors, but it’s a different playing field. Your first 100 sales will be the hardest sales you ever make; The 101st will be far easier than the 1st.)

Amazon has a multiplier to the visibility that specifically promotes new books – after 30 days, it decreases, leading to “the 30-day cliff”, as in “my sales just fell off a cliff.” However, there are multiple cliffs at 30, 60, and 90 days, and another at 12 months. Savvy authors on a fast release schedule will therefore schedule releases so the day one book drops out of the Hot New Releases, the next one is launched and can take advantage of that multiplier. After all, every book is a potential entry point to a series, and if Book 3 catches a potential reader’s eye, they’re likely to go to Book 1 and start reading.

Newer authors may not have the skill and experience to be able to write quickly enough to meet multiple 30-day releases, or to get everything together quickly enough for their next release in 30 days. If so, all is not lost – just reschedule to get out within 60 days, or 90, to catch some of the same boost.

Reader Behaviour & Releases: Netflix has revealed a wonderful amount of human behaviour in storytelling to those of us who create for a living. For the first time, we can really see that people like to binge-watch* shows they’ve discovered and fallen in love with… and that when they run into something they like, they prefer to go back to the beginning of the entire show, or at least the prior season, and watch it all the way through. Furthermore, if the plots are complex and tangled, and they know a new season is coming out involving the same characters, they’ll often rewatch the last season or last few episodes.

What does this have to do with book release schedules? Everything! We’re in the entertainment business, not the book business. This means when people find you, and like you, they want to binge-read your series, so especially if you have a 4+ book series, the more you have available when they find you, then more they’ll tear through before they run out of material, they disengage, or something else takes higher priority.

Readers also have a finite attention span, and are far more likely to remember the book they read last week over the one they read three months ago. They’re more likely to remember you as an author they like if they’ve enjoyed three of your books instead of just one. So, once you have readers it’s a good thing to give them more to read right away, and more coming out soon, so they will get in a habit of looking for new stuff by you, and remember your name.

Here are two authors who experimented with multiple releases at once to break past the “Is the series worth investing in? Will they actually continue?” that the midlist death spiral trained into readers, as well as having the next book right there for readers to immediately get.

The Liliana Nirvana Technique
http://www.hughhowey.com/the-liliana-nirvana-technique/
Lindsay Buroker’s Secret Pen Name Experiment
Launch:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-launch-first-month-earnings-marketing/
Followup:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-update-at-10-weeks/

Some notes from other authors who’ve tried multiple-simultaneous-release, with less stellar returns:
1. This turns your release into one-shot. If you release 4 books separately, even at 30-day intervals to keep something eligible for the hot new releases list and take advantage of the release visibility boost, you have four releases to learn about and fine-tune your titles, covers, blurbs, release promotions, availability in paper, as well as proofreading and formatting. So you need to be on top of your game, in order to avoid massively dampening the effects of your single launch.

2. This is expensive. If you’ve published several prior books and have your A-game when it comes to covers, proofreading, et. al., then you can drive the costs pretty far down, but you’re still doing 4-5 sets of cover art & design, and any editorial you pay for, as well as the promotional slots at the email lists / banner ads / AMS ads / any other promotion… all at once, without prior sales to feed it.

3. It is far harder to sit on 3-4 books than it looks. Most authors overestimate their production speed and their reservoir of patience when it comes to producing but not releasing… and the sustained production speed post-release. (The 4 down and 1 in the hole technique needs the 5th to be almost done. It does not work nearly as well on two down, and the third out in three months, the fourth out about a year later.)

4. Sitting on the books means that you don’t get reader feedback (other than beta readers) to help improve your writing. While I’d never recommend taking every single review on Amazon as the revealed gospel direct from the mouth of G-d, if you get running themes in your reviews, it means that readers are consistently seeing something. Peter had reviews noting that his protagonist in his very first book was too good to be true, and the writing (which was British English, not American) was stilted. (That’s British for you, to American ears.) He’s used that feedback to improve both the character and his writing as a whole.

5. Promotion to get people aware of the books is critical, since you don’t have time to grow word of mouth. (Unless you already have a blog or other following. But if you have said following, why make them wait?) When it comes to one author doing KDP Select, another doing permafree, someone else going wide… remember the two examples I showed you are several years old, and individual promotional techniques have changed in effectiveness since them. Work according to the market you have, not the market they had back then.

6. Preorders are a mixed bag. Some people have found they work great, especially when you’re in the high numbers of a long-running series, to make sure people order right away and don’t forget you after they ran out of books to read. Most people have found they completely destroy release date rankings boost and stickiness of visibility, because the sales apply when the book is ordered, not when it’s released. (On Amazon. Itunes, last I checked, still does release-date rankings per file shipped.) Most authors go with a maximum 4-5 day preorder that lets them have a URL ready for all the promo sites they can get, lets them get everything uploaded and double-checked, but doesn’t spread pre-sales out over a month or more.

7. Sales will still reflect the size of the niche. Weird West is a tiny niche genre, while urban fantasy is large. So if you’re writing about ranching radioactive spiders in the wild west while fighting indians and zombies, and having shootouts with mad inventors in the streets at high noon… that actually sounds pretty darned awesome, and let me know about it, but in the meantime, don’t expect to sell as many books as Jim Butcher.

8. Keywords – try staggering your keywords. If you have more keywords for the series than the 7 slots per book, don’t use the same keywords for every book! Overlap is great, but if you’re putting out 4 books, you have 28 keyword slots – and each book can act as a draw into the series.

In summary, multiple releases can be an extremely flashy way to break into a genre, and can work very well – but they come at the cost of the sales lost while you didn’t have the books out, and the risk of only having one launch to get all your blurbs, cover art, promotional lineup, and so on right.

Anyone tried this? What did you find worked well, and what didn’t? How about staggered quick-succession releases, every 30,60, or 90 days?

*A note on binge-watching: this is defined by netflix as watching 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting. In broader cultural context, it’s defined as watching all available episodes in a show as time allows, until either the viewer runs out of content, drops the show, or a higher-priority show/activity displaces it.

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING