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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Technology, intellect, and the future of reading

A recent article titled “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds” examined the impact of smartphones on the intellectual activities (and abilities) of their users.  I’d like to highlight several excerpts, then discuss what they mean for us as writers – and for our audience and target market.

The smartphone is unique in the annals of personal technology. We keep the gadget within reach more or less around the clock, and we use it in countless ways, consulting its apps and checking its messages and heeding its alerts scores of times a day. The smartphone has become a repository of the self, recording and dispensing the words, sounds and images that define what we think, what we experience and who we are.

. . .

Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens … Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.”

Many people (including myself) read e-books using their smartphones.  That would certainly involve “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity”, as the article mentions.  However, that’s only one of many things for which we use those devices.  Readers are frequently interrupted by incoming calls or text messages, which demand their attention visually and aurally, and in many cases require a response.  Advertisements flash onto the screen, interrupting one’s concentration.  If one’s relying on services such as navigation (for example, to tell one when to get off the bus or train), they, too, interrupt one’s attention on the book one’s reading.  One’s attention span is attenuated and “ambushed” by multiple outside factors.  Is this one reason for the complaint from some readers, at least, that they don’t seem to be able to get as much out of an e-book as they do out of a “dead tree edition”?

There’s also the reality that smartphones can demand – and be given – a dangerously high proportion of our overall concentration.  Who hasn’t heard of, or witnessed, smartphone users stepping off a pavement into traffic, oblivious to the danger?  How many people have been blithely sending text messages, only to crash into other pedestrians, or stumble over an obstacle and fall down?  Instead of concentrating on the important things – getting safely from point A to point B – we’ve allowed our concentration to be undermined by the sheer convenience of the smartphone, thereby endangering ourselves.  Somewhere, I’m sure Darwin’s laughing at us…

Finally, from our perspective as writers, there’s the impact of such devices on creativity.  How many of us, striving to write our next book, have been distracted by incoming e-mails, or text messages, or phone calls?  It used to be relatively easy to shut the door on the outside world and write.  That’s no longer the case.  The smartphone is portable and ubiquitous;  and even if we leave it outside our “writing space”, there are messaging apps on our computers as well.  It’s very difficult to escape these constant demands on our attention, and their distraction, without making a deliberate effort to do so.  However, if we do, we’re likely to face irate questions from family and friends about why we don’t respond at once, if not sooner, to their communications.

The evidence that our phones can get inside our heads so forcefully is unsettling. It suggests that our thoughts and feelings, far from being sequestered in our skulls, can be skewed by external forces we’re not even aware of.

This highlights a dilemma for writers.  Our audience, our potential market, is vulnerable to that sort of distraction.  Can we write in such a way as to “cut through the noise” and hold their attention?  Should we, rather, be considering ways in which our work can fit into such a crowded, externally influenced environment, and perhaps write accordingly?

It’s been demonstrated that graphic books can teach concepts more quickly than a text-only work, but they also appear to demand less from students (who have grown up in a highly technological environment, and therefore may be more intellectually disposed to such a “lighter” approach).  For example, Shakespeare is being taught using such an approach, with different levels of text to match the intended audience.  On the other hand, graphic novels may also present less of an intellectual challenge – and that may be dangerous in itself.  Research suggests that “intellectual stimulation may directly help maintain a healthy brain“;  but the corollary would suggest that the absence of intellectual stimulation (as in graphic novels versus their text equivalents) might have the opposite effect.

I suggest that the growing popularity of graphic novels (epitomized by the recent stunning crowdfunding success of the Alt*Hero project) shows that such forms of entertainment are here to stay.  Are we – should we be – taking that into account in our own writing?  Is there room for collaboration with graphic artists, to produce such versions of our books, perhaps using simplified language?  Might such versions lead readers to tackle our longer print works in future?  It’s a thought.

… even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings—which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.

This observation may highlight one reason why our creative processes seem to become more difficult.  We used to be able to research a topic fairly simply (e.g. the use of poison in murders), and then apply it to our book’s plot.  Nowadays, instead of reading a book on the subject, we’ll do an Internet search on it.  That will lead to links, which lead to further links, which take us off down a side track to pursue an interesting concept that may (or may not) have anything to do with our original premise.  Before you know it, our “research” has developed into what’s become known as a “Wikiwander“.  We’ve poured hours down a rat-hole without producing any worthwhile “return on our investment” of time.  The smartphone is iconic of this process of distraction, and our computers aren’t much better.

The same can apply to our readers.  I recently decided to observe my own reactions to new concepts while reading a new-to-me fantasy series (Miles Cameron’s excellent Traitor Son cycle, which I highly recommend;  its fifth and last book, “The Fall of Dragons“, will be published at the end of this month).  He uses many concepts that are rooted in and grounded on history (e.g. early Byzantium, medieval England and France, hermetical theory and theology, etc.), which he’s adapted to the world he’s created for his books.  I found myself growing frustrated if I didn’t (or couldn’t) stop reading when I came across elements of those concepts with which I wasn’t familiar.  I was almost driven to open a Web browser to look up the word or subject involved, and learn more about it before resuming my reading.  My mind’s become conditioned to the ability to do that – something that would not have been a factor even twenty years ago, when I could read an entire multi-volume work like this without once feeling the need to digress into research or fact-checking.

The problem is, the ability to do that may actually be interfering with our ability to comprehend what we’re readingThe article points out:

As strange as it might seem, people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores … Now that our phones have made it so easy to gather information online, our brains are likely offloading even more of the work of remembering to technology. If the only thing at stake were memories of trivial facts, that might not matter. But, as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, “the art of remembering is the art of thinking.” Only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.

Speaking as an author, this makes me think.  Do I need to incorporate enough background information into my books to make it unnecessary for my readers to leave my book, look up something for themselves, then return to read further?  That can be dangerous;  the dreaded “infodump” lurks in the wings!  (That’s not to say that infodumps can’t be done well;  check out these examples, and this handy column on how to write them.)  On the other hand, if I write so esoterically and/or impenetrably that my readers can’t figure out what I’m saying or where I’m going, they soon won’t be my readers any more!

The article raises this question.  Do we need to – should we – take into account the platforms on which our readers will access our books, when we write them?  Should we try to adapt the way we write, so that our work is more suited to a high-interruption-level, distracted sort of reading?  Or should we try to write so absorbingly that our readers will resent interruptions and do their best to “stay with us”, even at the expense of ignoring other demands on their time or attention?  Is that even feasible in our technological age?

I look forward to your responses in Comments.

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Return of the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Getting Started

The long-running social media hiatus continues with another repost – the second part of the Extreme Pantser’s Guide – and yes, I do read the comments, I just don’t stay online long enough to answer them all. Or any of them, some weeks. Y’all do a lovely job of carrying on the conversation without me, though, so I’m not fussing.

The Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Getting Started

So, you’ve got the typical pantser problem of a neat scenario that’s grabbed you and won’t let go. How do you know when to start writing it and commit to a story?

I’m going to get really authoritative here and say “it depends”. Really, it does. I’ve started stories with nothing more than the scenario and had them build to a finish. I’ve had others I couldn’t start until I’d worked out how it ended. I’ve also had – not so often – cases where the starting scenario isn’t where the book actually starts, but I’ve got to write the bloody thing to work this out. On occasion, I have to know exactly where it starts before I can write it. This is one of those things that you learn by judgment, and by trial and error.

Yes, that does mean that the more extreme the pantser the more likely there’ll be a large collection of false starts, whether story ideas that didn’t have the pull they needed or weren’t quite right in some other, hard to define way, or ideas that simply weren’t big enough to sustain a book. Don’t throw them out. If your subconscious works anything like mine, unresolved story ideas will hang around like last week’s chili until you figure out where they belong and resolve them. That or they were never really “alive” in the first place.

Most of the pantsers I know operate on a principle of “Start story. Continue until the end.” It’s pretty typical for a pantser not to be able to write out of sequence, simply because if you can’t do the detailed outlining (or the detailed outlining ends up bearing no resemblance to your finished story) there’s no way the ‘good bit’ halfway through is going to end up being the same as what you thought it would be at the beginning – if you even know what that good bit is.

Given all of this, my advice to all you pantsers out there is to get something down as soon as you think there’s enough to carry it. It doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be there. What nailing something down early does is give you a feel for how the piece is going to evolve on you, and this being a primarily subconscious exercise that’s rather important.

While you’re playing with the idea, listen to a lot of different music. I’ve found that certain music acts to ‘set’ my subconscious for writing a piece. I’d also recommend prayer, if you’re the praying sort. I haven’t had this happen to me – yet – but I know people who’ve found themselves stuck with endlessly looping Abba’s Greatest Hits to write something. I gather this gives the conscious mind a pretty powerful incentive to get the thing finished, too. At any rate, the broader your listening, the more likely you’ll find something that works for your story.

For most pantsers I know (and if you’re an exception to this, feel free to ignore it), I’ve found the best way to start is to park butt in chair and start where you think it starts. Sometimes it will take off and you’ve written several chapters without realizing the passage of time. Other times you’ll need more before you can get moving. In either case, you’ve started. No amount of playing with an idea can reify it the way writing it down does.

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It’s Fantastic

Continuing the discussion of genre structure, to which I think we need to add “genre cookies” ie. things that people who read the genre a lot expect, almost as a reward, and are very happy when they find, today we take on fantasy.

Taking on fantasy is frankly like the tiny hero standing before the arrayed army of supernatural creatures going, “Come on all together or single file.  I’ll feed you your own hooves and chew you with your own teeth.”

You see fantasy — perhaps appropriately — contains multitudes, and I’m sure just in enumerating its various branches here, I’ll forget half of them.

We’ve come a long way since, as a young writer, I snorted at Orson Scott Card’s definition of “if it has trees it’s fantasy, if it has machines, it’s science fiction.”

Even then he wasn’t precisely right, nor did he claim to be.  He simply said that’s how New York editors viewed it, and hey, even as a beginner I knew those critters were silly enough for anything.

So what is fantasy?

Fantasy is something that is not, cannot be and will never be true, but which is used as a narrative device.

The gentleman at the back who said “FLT” can take his books and go to bed without dinner.  That’s an “impossible” of a different kind.  Sure, FTL is impossible, but we’re a cunning monkey, and maybe we find a way to sidle up to physics sideways and kosh it.  We’ve been doing the impossible of that sort all along.

Now, if your character uses his FTL drive to go somewhere and there meets fairies elves and gnomes, it’s open for discussion.  Both Simak and Bradbury got away with this as science fiction, but if you’re not one of them, I wouldn’t try.

We’ll dispose upfront of the curious hybrid: science fiction/fantasy.  This is where space societies have elves and magic.  Shrug.  Look, whatever presses your big red button, okay, but it don’t do nothing for me.  Yes, before you ask, I WAS one of those kids who didn’t like her food touching her other food.  Never said I was sane.

Leaving that aside, we still have a spectrum that goes from something you have to squint to not see as romance to something that is or could be science fiction, given the right amount of squinting.

So, I’m going to list them all below, and you guys feel free to pitch in some sub genres I might have forgotten.

Paranormal Romance – There is great argument over whether this is fantasy or romance. It often seems to involve romance that starts from magical something (attraction, fore-ordaining, that sort of thing) and which therefore can’t be fought by the rational mind.

Urban Fantasy – There’s a big bad out there, and he’s hot.  The many illegitimate children of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can shade into paranormal or can be an alluring hybrid of romance, fantasy, horror and a dash of noir.

Traditional/Tolkien fantasy – Anyone who’s ever conducted a campaign in RPG knows this.  Elves, gnomes, gnolls and trolls oh my.

It has sub genres: quest, as done by Tolkien himself (to an extent.)

Heroic, where you have the big picture of kingdom against kingdom etc.

It has sub branches and I, myself, might or might not have a handwritten trilogy taking place in a pre-Micenian society.  No trolls, gnolls, elves or whatever, but a lot of demi-gods, magic, and something supernatural and undefined.  The feel though is Tolkienesque and traditional heroic fantasy ALL the way.

Then there’s “almost real world fantasy”: “It’s almost the real world, but there are dragons.  Or elves.  Or…”  Before you say Urban Fantasy…. not precisely because Urban fantasy has a very precise structure and things like Tea With The Black Dragon don’t follow it.

Then there’s almost-real-world but historical and often in exotic societies.

And then, touching science fiction, there’s alternate history fantasy which is “there was magic at some point” and it has changed our world this way.  Again, a background that often appears in urban fantasy but there the consequences aren’t often worked through very carefully or logically.

On a sub branch we have “paranormal mysteries” which are a form of fantasy, and in which the ghost/demon/whatever can actually be the criminal, the investigator or the investigator’s best buddy.

20 years ago mystery bookstores said these were fantasy and refused to touch them with a ten foot pole, but I’m seeing more and more of it both on the shelves and on Amazon, both from indie and trad.  As a reader I don’t even mind, provided the supernatural element plays fair and it isn’t stupidly written.  If the solution is all “it was the demons” which we didn’t know existed till three pages earlier, your book will most seriously be walled.

Okay, that’s what I can think of off the top of my head.  Feel free to throw suggestions.

 

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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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Wiles

As they used to be euphemistically called. Of course they ain’t all feminine or all wiles. And naturally, they’re roughly as clearly defined and well understood as ‘flirting’ and ‘sexual harassment’. The precise same action or words from two different people addressed at one individual can be ‘flirting’ and ‘sexual harassment’. The individual can be upset because person A didn’t do it, and upset because person B did. It depends on just how attractive individual C finds A or B as to how they feel about it. This is important. It’s the feelings of those on the receiving end that define what it is, and how dare you question that, based on the intent of perpetrator, or the inconsistency… unless of course it is a footballer taking the knee at the US anthem. Then it is their intent, not the feelings of the offended that is important… Yeah well. It is confusing to the old empirical scientist.

Humans are nearly as confusing as English, which makes it a fine choice for communicating the nuances of human thought and emotion – a sore trial to the writer.

Now, it is true that sexuality colors a lot of that human interaction. If it didn’t this would a very brief post, written perhaps in stone, because that’s really the only comment extinct species make. Reproduction (which really has involved sex between male and female humans for 99.99999% of the species) and survival to do so, are somewhat more primal necessities, traits selected for, more than anything else, including philosophical appreciation of the color ‘taupe’. This may seem less than true if you’re shopping for carpets with your partner, but that is merely because appreciation of ‘taupe’ is necessary both for your survival and sexual success.

Human interactions with humans are shaped by these basics. Ask any carpet salesman. People – on all sides of it, often without even realizing they’re doing so, ‘play’ for their advantage – From the fellow going deep into debt for the sports car to ‘impress the chicks’, to the woman applying makeup, from the individual showing off his wealth with an expensive dinner, to the individual showing… well almost everything – a lot of this is genetic fitness signaling – and receiving of those signals. We can turn around and decry some of this (usually the bits that don’t suit us, or are coming from a person we don’t want to receive them from) – but it is like gravity. It’s there, unless you pull some very special stunts to fool it, and that’s temporary. Believable human characters in books will be shaped by it too.

So it is kind of the same level of shock as the revelation of gambling in Rick’s Casino that I read of Harvey Weinstein harassing actresses for sexual favors. It’s as surprising as Bill Clinton… And the reality is, in an environment where there are 100 (or 10 000) nearly equally qualified eager applicants for a job, and Harvey or Bill or Mary or Sally… have got the power to decide which of you gets that break, and you expect none of the deciders to use that, and none of applicants to use that either? I don’t know where you find such humans, but it isn’t Hollywood. I’m not excusing it, but let’s try and pretend we understand the basics of evolutionary genetic selection: AKA survival of the fittest. Such tactics must have succeeded-on both sides, probably with a substantial number of directors (or people in positions power, be they kings or tribal medicine men or Company directors or presidents) and substantial part of Hollywood’s A-list back when they were no-list or low-list. Let’s be real here, Harvey didn’t keep trying because he failed every single time. But maybe I’m wrong: Who knows, perhaps all those eager pussy-hat wearers who became vastly wealthy, famous and successful due to Weinstein never ever gave him what he wanted, and he just kept right on trying…

Oddly, now, many years later, some of them are complaining. None of them have yet volunteered to give back the tainted money and awards… And some of his award winners aren’t complaining, or at least yet.

Look… take the sex aspect out of it, and many an author is no less of a slut, willing to do whatever necessary to please an editor or publisher, and many an editor, publisher or agent, is not much of a moral step up on Harvey. Let’s not get sanctimonious about it. It’s mercenary, not admirable behavior perhaps, but realistically many an author faced similar choices – and not just authors. The two aspects are that the honorable mercenary (or individual of negotiable virtue) stays bought, and secondly doesn’t pretend they’re the soul of virtue. Looking at Hollywood’s A-list (and their all too public private lives) they seem to make a big deal out of telling the world – or at least those who disagree with them, just how wicked and without virtue others are. Yeah, the bimbo who had sex with something that resembles Baron Harkonnen, to get her success, with the intellect of lard, who has a personal life that resembles a psychological and social train-wreck… preaching morality. Telling the public – for example – that guns are bad, and abortion is essential.

But the scary part is…

Some people listen.

And this is where this and the author intersect. Because what you’re seeing, being shown, rather than told, is an essential part of the fantasy the reader wants. He (or she) does not want their heroine or hero to be where they are because they’d have threesome anal sex with Jabba the Hutt if that is what it took to succeed. Then they’re no hero. So we delude ourselves.

We all want to believe in things like honor and merit. They do exist, and most of us accept they’re coin of more value (even in the reproductive stakes) than wealth, fame or even good looking faces and bodies. When it comes to parental care making sure those genes get the best chance – we’d like the wealth, fame, good looks, AND the honor and the ability succeed on merit (with all the things like intelligence, ability and tenacity that go into that). So it’s no real wonder our heroes even if they only have any one of the fame, wealth and good body set – get ascribed the latter. It is wish fulfillment – and that is a large part of why people read and pay money to do so (and most of us writers are willing to take their money. Some come along later and abuse the payers… )

We’re riding a balance here: coquettish behavior is (unless you really don’t like the individual – in which case they’re not a serious contender as a hero) is as natural as breathing – and desirable acceptable to those it appeals to.  Of course… it’s harassment if it doesn’t.

No one said it was easy or made sense.

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