Category Archives: Opinion
The Smooth Level, and Beyond
Thoughts on The Throat, by Peter Straub
Author’s note: I wrote this a long time ago. I will always regret not having read the trilogy in order the first time through. I have subsequently read Koko and Mystery in order, and then The Throat again, and it only strengthened the sensation that these are books running parallel paths on different levels. A casual reader will get a great adventure from the trilogy. A careful reader will get so much more. It works equally either way it’s approached.
Something that has itched at the back of my thoughts for a long time is the concept of different levels. You find these levels in everything you do, and writing is no exception. I studied the cello when I was younger, play the guitar now, and the levels are never more evident than when viewed through artistic accomplishment.
This in mind, I always believed that the level to shoot for in writing was what I called the smooth level. This is the level where you have developed a smooth, professional writing voice, the point where the words flow easily, where the technical becomes automatic. At this point, I once believed, only the plots separated different authors. If you subscribe to the theory that writers are only conduits of creativity, reaching the smooth level is like fine-tuning a receiver. Once you have a clear signal, you can switch channels, but the signal is the same.
Now I see that what I saw as an end in itself is, in fact, only another beginning. The smooth level is as far as many successful writers will ever get. Commercially speaking, it is not necessary to go beyond this level. Artistically speaking, if you want to be a great writer, you have to expand. Creativity is never stagnant. Complacency is the great killer of brilliance.
Recently I read The Throat, by Peter Straub. As I read, I began to realize that when you write like Peter Straub, the plot is secondary. I don’t mean that his plot was bad, quite the opposite. I thought the story had ended in KOKO, and at that point had not even read Mystery (the second book in the trilogy). I mean that the quality of the writing, the insights he offers into himself and his characters, are enough to carry it, plot be damned.
When I finished the book I had that familiar sensation of wishing there was more to read, and satisfaction that the story had resolved itself well. Not only did it end as I expected it to, but it managed to do so and still surprise me several times in the process. This brings me back to the subject of new levels.
The protagonist of this novel, Tim Underhill, is a novelist. He writes him self into his characters, in this case that of a molested child. Of course, in his own real world, Underhill is facing that same character in a sort of parallel time-flux relationship that causes him to question his own sanity and that of al most everyone around him. All of Underhill‘s novels have been about aspects of his childhood, taken on tangents or magnified, but built solidly on the minds, words, and deeds of characters that might have been himself.
This is the significant point, I believe. You can read this novel on the surface level, enjoying the hunt for an elusive Green Beret gone serial killer and be thoroughly entertained. On a completely different level, the story is not about serial killers at all. It is about Underhill himself, his search for meaning in life through his characters, his development of those characters through personal insight and the unlocking of sealed images from his past. It is about relationships between people and places, and the subtle differences between their reactions to shared events. There are stories within stories here. It reminded me of a picture I saw once in a tattoo parlor. In the foreground was a large, detailed hand, wielding the same tattoo gun, only smaller, and inking the same design onto a smaller back, on and on ad infinitum. On different levels, the details of The Throat strike different chords.
The true beauty of this book, from a writer’s point of view, is that it is the miracle novel. It doesn’t so much cross the genres as it spans them. It is satisfying on each level, more so as you delve deeper, and it will stick with you.
How much of all this comes from Straub’s own past is questionable, as such things always are. No one will ever know, probably. Someday I may be lucky enough to be able to ask. If the answer is not much, then I’ll have to believe that the brilliance of his character Underhill is only another step upon which he could launch his skills to an even higher level.
There are other points to be made, of course. While all this talk of art and levels is a nice diversion, a look at how the consciousness of an author can be raised over a period of time and a body of work, it is still questionable if it matters. While writers might make these leaps from level to level, it is likely that the readers will make no such jump. Fortunately, just as there are writers at every level, there are readers to be satisfied on each as well. The Throat reaches out and grips you by its name sake—and this is what writing is all about.
Category Archives: Opinion
Horror is such an odd genre that it’s sometimes difficult to explain to someone what it means to be a horror writer. Many horror writers, in fact, live in denial, making up new words to describe their work and backing away from any community that wears too much black and mentions the word zombie more than once a week.
There are some signposts, however, that can differentiate the horror writer from the rest of humanity. You can apply these to yourself, your work, or to that odd neighbor or co-worker you haven’t quite figured out. While this list is in no way all-inclusive, you may find it useful in day-to-day life.
Ten indicators that you might be, or know, a horror writer.
- You / he / she can’t watch a happy or sappy movie without grinning and wondering out loud if it wouldn’t be better if the fluffy bunny was eaten at the last second by a ravenous zombie, or if it wouldn’t be cool to have the girl in a love scene sprout horns and cackle maniacally.
- You have considered owning a hearse, or, barring that, putting dark curtains in the back windows of your Gremlin and painting it black. This symptom may be exacerbated by a desire to dangle fake dead body parts from windows, gas tanks, and trunks.
- You have on your person or in your vehicle, any sticker, paper, or other article with the name Cthulhu on it. Particularly in election years, when exhortations to not accept the lesser evil are prevalent.
- You collect news clippings and Internet bookmarks that, if you were NOT a horror writer, would appear to be outlining a horrible life of crime.
- You can name more than four serial killers and know the movies their lives inspired.
- You have heard of The Miskatonic Institute.
- You hear your aunt or mother-in-law talk about how they love to craft and you burst into laughter and look over your shoulder to see if any Great Old Ones were observing, or if Fairuza Balk is floating by.
- You can quote from any of the Child’s Play movies, and would do so in public.
- You know who Michael Myers, Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lector and Carrie are, how many numbers there are beside the names of each in the annals of film history, who played them, and have ever owned any item shaped like one of them, or a part of their body.
- You consider a room or house that is supposed to be haunted as a plus when planning your vacation.
Category Archives: Opinion
For Halloween… something I wanted to share. Here are ten horror stories that I love, and that I believe everyone should read. They are diverse… but the one thing they have in common is that they stuck in my mind and would not let me go… Without further ado:
“Smoothpicks” – Elizabeth Massie – one of the most intense short stories I have read… left a serious mark.
“Blind and Blue” – Wayne Allen Sallee – the first of many stories by Wayne that I have not been able to get out of my head.
“Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” – David Morrell – Befoer I knew he wrote Rambo, or read anything… I loved this.
“Scartaris, June 28th” – Harlan Ellison – I am not the huge fan of Ellison that most are, but I loved this.
“His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” – Poppy Z. Brite – one of the first things I read by Poppy… led to meeting her and selling a story to Love in Vein II
“The Encyclopedia for Boys” – Jeffrey Osier – a truly unforgettable story, and a beautiful example of tying horror to long-buried childhood memory.
“The Last Feast of Harlequin” – Thomas Ligotti – I had a hard time figuring out which of Ligotti’s stories to choose. This is one of my favorites.
“Fugue Devil” – Stephen Mark Rainey – I live in North Carolina. I will always have half my attention over my shoulder.
“The Alchemy of the Throat” – Brian Hodge – This is no sparkly vampire story. This is vampire fiction taken to a very deep level, emotionally and psychologically
“The Mangler” – by Stephen King – My absolute favorite example of suspension of disbelief. A story that works, scares, and then sounds ridiculous when you try to explain what it’s about.
Category Archives: Opinion
***Bonus prediction one from the Crossroad Press Organic Shredder – Gizzy Momo – pictured left … Thunder & Lightning All Day long…***
I’ve seen some other folks making predictions about publishing and eBooks. Some of them seem pretty obvious, others show some insight, and still others seem kind of self-serving and more wishful than anything else. Crossroad Press has been in business for going on five years now (seriously, and a bit longer as a hobby). We’ve grown, made some mistakes, had some huge successes, expanded, and paid attention, and I thought, just for fun, I would make some predictions of my own for 2014. Some will be in direct disagreement with those of others…but all will be just me, talking about what I’ve seen, and what I know…
***BONUS PREDICTION FOR 2014: Neil Gaiman will continue to be wildly popular because he is an incredible storyteller ***
1) Print book sales are actually up. I see Barnes and Noble pointed out as about to flounder time and again, but here’s my prediction. Come next year, though people will probably still be predicting their demise, they’ll be right here. Nook book sales are steady for those who don’t spend as much time bashing Barnes & Noble as they do promoting books there, and working on sales. They lost the tablet war, but that was a war that no one should have started. Nooks are fine, and ePub books work on many devices. So, prediction #1, B&N will be in at least as good a shape this time next year as it is now. Probably better.
2) Audiobooks are going to start playing a bigger part in total sales, as systems like Audible’s ACX continue to make more titles accessible. With Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice program – something other eBook retailers can’t match – more readers will be able to pick up audiobooks at very reasonable prices, and more audiobook listeners will be picking up eBooks in order to get the bargain price on the audiobooks. The percentage of titles that make it to audio is already much higher than it was five years ago, and will continue to grow.
3) Content in eBooks that is video, enhanced, full of programmed features, will not do any better this year than in previous years, because they simply require people to read on tablets, not readers, and the trend (currently) seems to be (among serious readers) back toward simpler devices that are mostly good just for eBooks. If people want to watch a movie, they will download one – but books are not going to evolve into some new meta-entertainment system. At least not in 2014.
4) Libraries will continue to grow their downloadable content, and will embrace the new technologies and systems put in place to assist them. Overdrive will start to lose its market share because of simple greed – if it’s as expensive, or more expensive, to provide eBooks to readers, it isn’t going to help already suffering library budgets evolve and sustain. From personal contact with many librarians and buyers for libraries, I can state that there are a number of independent systems buying now directly from publishers, and more coming in the future. While I have seen people saying libraries will be buying directly from authors, don’t fool yourself. There will be an aggregator, and whoever that is is going to take a cut. Libraries don’t have the manpower or overhead to sift through hundreds of thousands of solicitations from authors to carry their individual books. In 2014, libraries will buy a lot more eBooks, but they will buy directly from publishers, or distribution systems.
5) Promotion of eBooks will continue to evolve. What works today will probably be on the wane by 2015 because it will become bloated, too many people will copy it, and the effectiveness will be diluted. Companies who succeed in weathering the storm will be those that keep their prices reasonable, pre-screen their titles to keep the quality as steady as possible, and change with the market. I expect that at least one of the big promoting machines will pick up on my earlier comment about Whispersync and audiobooks. I know from our own statistics that during really successful eBook promotions, we sell a ton of audiobooks on titles that are part of the Whispersync program.
6) It will not be any easier for a new author to promote or sell their books in 2014 than it was in 2013. Famous authors will continue to sell crazy numbers of books. Retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble will continue to announce books as best-sellers before they even go into pre-order. NYC will pump in the money that ensures millions of sales for books by tried-and-true authors. Most of the “Best of the Year” lists will ignore about 95 percent of the best of the year in favor of the Best of the Year published in high profile. The game, in other words, is just a modified version of the old game. The Catch-22 is that if you haven’t got a lot of money and aren’t fairly famous, the odds are stacked against you. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buck those odds, just stating a fact. A new cover, better description – .99 bargain price? They just don’t matter unless something causes readers to SEE YOUR BOOK. That is the key. The people who see it should not be your family, friends, and a thousand other authors…they should be people who don’t know you from Adam, but like to read.
7) Gurus will continue to tell you they know all the answers. I will continue to say – if that was really true, they wouldn’t spend so much time trying to do things other than write, they would be using their secrets and making millions. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Pay attention to what successful authors say, watch what they do, but don’t try to be them, and try to find ways to use what you learn in your own way. “The next…” anyone will never be more than a dim shadow of the original, so why strive to be that?
8) Smaller print publishers will continue to be treated by bookstores as if they are big publishers, and many of both will fail because of this. Unless independent bookstores find ways to embrace Print on Demand publishers and distance themselves from the big distributors, they will continue to disappear and by 2015 there will be considerably fewer of them, shifting most print book sales to Amazon and B&N online. The old model of buying a bunch of books and then returning half of them will disintegrate as independent publishers flourish, and NYC slowly decays.
9) The age-old practice of looking at what’s hot and trying to copy it really fast will proliferate in 2014, continuing the spiral into that nonsense generated by successes in 2013, such as every variation of a shade of gray that can be applied to any sort of title being used to bump sales. You will continue to see people go on and on about thousands of “sales” that were free giveaways, best-seller lists that are meaningless, and piles of five-star reviews that don’t actually equate in any way to quality or sales. This is why – as stated above – the very popular authors will continue to be popular, and it will be hard to break in. For every book someone spent time and effort on, there are fifty crap titles with nothing in mind but ‘cranking them out’. This makes people gunshy about buying from new authors, and is also why the legit, careful promotional services will continue to draw actual readers.
10) The traditional author / agent / editor / publisher role will continue to morph. Agents are now admittedly scraping new clients off the self-published best-seller lists (probably from a lot of people they ignored when the books were originally submitted) and all this can do is lengthen the already ridiculous lag time between submitting a manuscript and hearing back. As more and more successful authors begin to see the huge profit margin shift of more independent publishing, more of their peers will begin to experiment and follow suit. Agents have a tiny number of slots they can fill these days, and the advances against royalties that almost never sell-through, according to statements, have grown so small that no one could possibly live off of them without selling five to ten novels a year. A steady income earned through solid, quality output and direct royalties back on a regular basis will win the day. Companies paying a fair amount to the authors and taking over responsibilities authors should NOT have to learn to do (despite what gurus tell them) will do well in 2014 will flourish, as will rip-off groups charging authors an arm and a leg for scanning, formatting, promotion, etc. and keeping huge percentages – something that sadly a number of literary agents seem to have indulged in. New models will emerge. Subscription based reading services like ScribD and NokBoks will test new waters.
I know a lot of this is kind of vague, and in several of these single predictions, I predict a bunch of things, and even offer possible alternative outcomes. The thing is, it’s fluid. No one knows everything, and new technology, players, and talent emerge every day. Keep an open mind, write… always be writing… and pay attention.
And from all of us at Crossroad Press, have a great New Year…
Category Archives: Opinion
One of the things the Internet has made possible is the wide-spread sharing of work in the Public Domain. This is work that is not copyright to any estate, individual, etc., but is free to use – as a person sees fit – for fun, profit, or what-have you. All well and good. We have even scanned and presented a few older titles through Crossroad Press, sort of testing the waters…but here’s the thing.
Sharing Public Domain material is one thing, and trying to capitalize off of the work of others with no effort on your own part is ass-hattery.
Case in point. There is a wonderful site – Librivox – where narrators and readers are taking their time, effort, and love of books and the written word and making something wonderful. They are offering public domain narrations of public domain books and stories, as well as public domain podcasts, etc. available to listeners and readers everywhere. It’s a lot of work.
We have done over 200 audiobooks at Crossroad Press, so I feel somewhat qualified to comment on the number of hours our narrators spend reading, editing, mixing, and tweaking files to prepare them for listeners. It’s probably a ration of close to two to three hours for every one hour produced, and your average book runs around eight hours.
What I’ve seen lately is this…people going to these public domain sites, downloading the audio, maybe sprucing it up with some music (also public domain) and putting it up for sale through sites like Audible.com … profiting off of work that was done in good faith for the benefit of all…and for free.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind. Public Domain work IS free for use in any way you see fit, but you cannot copyright it. If you add music, or content to it, you can copyright that music or content IF that music or content is – in fact – something you own the rights to. You can’t copyright the “production” of work you did not create and have no rights to.
And let’s be serious…only a jerk profits off of other people’s volunteer work. I just wanted to point out this practice, and to frown upon it publicly. If the narrators themselves want to make their Public Domain work available for sale, I see that as a way some folks can pay them back for their generosity. If a third party who did nothing more than download the files and then upload them back into a sales outlet profits, I consider that – if not illegal, at the least worthy of a golden-asshat award. (there should BE golden asshat awards…seriously…).
Go give LIbrivox a listen … you won’t be disappointed.
Category Archives: Opinion
Ten tips for using Facebook as an author:
1) Have a personal profile AND an author’s page. This allows you all the perks of both, but gives you a good way to split your personal from professional “imprint” . . . and in case you achieve the fame you crave, you can have more than 500 likes on your author’s page, but not on a personal profile.
2) Do not make a new page for your new book. If you have a series with an actual following, it’s worthwhile to break those fans off with a page of their own, but in general, use your author’s page to build a solid list of readers, and don’t break it into pieces. Most of those who join the new page will just be people from the old page, and it serves no real purpose.
3) If you decided to send a notice to a successful author and they take you up on “liking” your page, or friending you, do not follow up with “Hey! Thanks for that! Here’s the link to my brand new book you might want to buy. As a corrolary, do not post that same link directly onto said successful autors (or anyone’s for that matter) timeline without their permission.
4) Be aware that online “Events” – again – probably only reach the same people as your author’s page, and probably annoy at least half of the people you invite. Just post the information on your author’s page. Concentrate on building the base for that page.
5) Only “sponsor” a post when you REALLY want it to be more visibile. Ther is no solid evidence (none) that promoted posts actually sell anything, but they DO spread the word wider and longer if there is something you are trying to emphasize…as with any Facebook promotion, take anything they say with a grain of salt. FB is a horrible marketing tool.
6) Post regularly and not just links to buy your newest book. Do not post every time you get a new review from a friend on Good Reads or Amazon, people are not stupid. Give them the information on what your book is about, and the information on where to find it. If you have a promotion or contest, post that, and politely request your friends share it.
7) Remember the first rule of Internet Marketing. (My rule) You’ll gather more flies with lolcats than with persistence. You will get more shares, likes, and comments with something entertaining or amusing that you’ve used to draw attention to your work than you will to a review on someone’s blog, or an entire blog tour of places no one was going to go anyway. In fact, my opinion on blog tours is that if you can’t tour on already very popular blogs, they are a waste of time, other than to up your numbers on certain search engines.
8) If you have a blog, and you post regularly there, I recommend Networked Blogs on Facebook. You can post a short note and a link for each post automatically to your various pages and / or personal profile and you you can avoid doubling content while reminding folks about your blog.
9) BE ENGAGING – and this rule applies to Facebook, Twitter, PARTICULARLY Pinterest and other Social Media sites. Nothing irritates me more or faster than a feed full of nothing but links, or a Pinterest page that has one board – My books – or maybe two … My Books and My friend’s Books. Social Media (as everyone knows by now) is supposed to be a converation. If you use it like a virtual mirror and keep TELLING it who the fairest one of all is, you’ll be scratching your head and wondering why no one pays attention. Be yourself – unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.
10) Do not try to fashion yourself after success. Because Anne Rice or Joe Hill or any other person can create a spectacular following on a social media site does not mean that if you a: copy what they do or b: listen to them because they proclaim themselves a guru (NOTE: I am not a guru, all of this is just observations and my own experience) or c: desperately cling to them hoping they will mention you and draw you along in their wake – that it will work. You, and your work, have to stand alone. If you don’t stand out as a memorable, engaging person, or your work does not prove to actually reach the heights you claim it does…no amount of manipulation of social media will make it so. Spend more time writing – less time trying to figure out how to sell it. Engage when you can, be interesting, funny, and real, and trust your talent. USE your talent. Don’t try to be someone else – unless (of course, you can be Batman, or The Fist of Goodness, in which case refer to rule 9)
Category Archives: Opinion
I told myself I was done writing posts like this when we quit watching American Idol, but last year we got hooked in (late in the season) to “The Voice” – and it felt “different”. It felt to me as if the coaches actually were connecting on a deeper level with their teams, and that they really cared. I wonder if I’d have felt that way if I’d watched from the beginning.
Anyway, last night we watched the final battle round, and I have to say – connected to their final teams or not – at least in the early rounds, this isn’t a contest between singers – just coaches. It was pretty obvious in the battle round segment that songs and pairings were being chosen where either a: The coach already knew who was going through and set it up so they couldn’t lose – or B: (even worse) The coach put through who they wanted regardless of how the actual battle went.
I guess that’s what you should expect, right? The coaches all want to win. I came out of last year disliking Blake, because he seemed more of a horn-dog than a coach, and don’t get me wrong, he still does stupid things like thanking girls for wearing (basically) their underwear on stage. If I were his wife, I’d shoot him in the head. That aside? He was the only coach who seemed to honestly be choosing the singer who – in THAT BATTLE – did a better job.
Here’s my biggest complaint. Cee Lo Green. Seriously. The Shields Brothers against Erin Martin. The song? Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to do With it?” – huh? First off this girl Erin Martin can’t sing. She is a one-trick pony with a baby-goo-goo voice that left the world in the lounge singing days of “Santa Baby” and has been (thankfully) absent since. She was off key, made no pretense of trying to like the song, or respecting the original, and she was rude, arrogant, and wore her underwear on stage.
The Shields Brothers – sure they aren’t polished. Sure, they rocked it harder than she did…but they actually SANG. They pulled back as their coach asked them to do. They harmonized. They IMPROVED while Erin Martin served up what looked like a bad karaoke performance of Grace Slick mixed with Bjork. I’m pretty sure she did not hit a SINGLE NOTE…she has no range…
Cee Lo’s reasoning? The boy’s sound too much like they have the “one sound” and he isn’t sure how he can work it in / work with it. Huh? He worked with both artists. One listened to him and improved (Shields) the other went her own way very literally and made a fool of herself. She was saved when Cee Lo picked her, claiming that a world class producer can’t work with the Shields Brothers? Sad day for that show, I think.
A couple of shaky choices were made. More than once – on a show where the battle is supposed to go to whoever did better THAT NIGHT – we learn yet again the reality of reality TV. It’s a joke. They do whatever they planned to do all along, they clearly don’t care what the people in the audience do, or think…and we are left with our new hero – BLAKE – to give the show a tiny ounce of respectability (which is not his forte, I might add).
We’ll continue to watch it, but my reason for loving it last year was that the coaches seemed to care, and I’m thinking right now that The Shields Brothers – after getting the shaft in the most bizarre contest ever – aren’t feeling the love…sent home to the farm because a model with a bad voice wore her underwear (that’s my take, anyway). When the coaches say “I’ll stick with you” it only means nothing. This is not the first ridiculous decision obviously made before the battle began, but it’s clearly the worst (maybe in the history of reality TV).
Category Archives: Opinion
Wanted to take a few minutes to work out in writing something that has bugged me about our society for a long time. The subject? The notion that every single thing in life has to have a new version, new features, constant updates, and flashy bling. We’ve worked ourselves into a hole by letting advertising and marketing rule our lives to far too great an extent.
Take a look sometime at the soap and shampoo aisles in the grocery store. Tell me that it is BETTER now that there’s no such thing – for instance – as just shampoo or conditioner. Even the simple, more generic brands come in fifty shades of bleah. It’s shampoo people. Phones…how many features do they need? Shoes, shaving cream, bread (really, we have to break it down by grain, and how many calories are in each unhealthy slice?)
Here’s what happened, I think. We had a simple industrial society, making good things, and then, making them better. Then we started hiring advertisers and spending unholy amounts of money on campaigns to sell. We found ourselves in direct competition with the guy across the street with one more feature than we had, or a flavor we didn’t think of, or a burger bigger than ours…and we dumped MORE money into marketing and advertising, less into actually caring about whether we had the better product, and the war was on.
Here’s a clue for everyone out there. If your insurance agency spends more money on commercials than ANY OTHER INSURANCE AGENCY … they are NOT going to be cheaper. If your car is the most advertised model in the universe, it doesn’t mean it’s better, it means it’s overpriced to pay for all of that advertising.
Another clue…every show on TV is not MUST SEE, and regardless of what they tell you, the critics don’t love it before it’s even aired – at least not to the point they are ready to proclaim it the next best thing and mean it. They are paid.
We are a country filled to the brim with ingenuity, but most of it is buried in the idea that we have to compete with the advertising budget of the Joneses to sell..I hope that’s not true.
This phenomenon branches out into other areas too. Look at TV shows that jump the shark. If every year when sweeps comes around your heroes have to save the universe, or the big bad has to be bigger and badder, you are on a collision course with either becoming ludicrous and hated, or ending your show. If you have a formula that works, and is loved, don’t botch it up by trying to be the most popular thing for one week. The X-Files was famous for this, as was Buffy – hell, they even said on Buffy one time (I believe it was Spike) “Where are you going?” “To save the world….AGAIN!”
Time to take a glance inward I think. I’d trim off some of those desperate marketing and advertising dollars, staffs, and campaigns and shoot for being the better product. In the long run, it works. Change is not always good…if you don’t believe that, think back to “New Coke”. People want what they like, not what you think you can convince them to like…and if you have something they like, don’t stop making it in the hope of a big “score” because big scores are always buried in the overall steady “win” of quality. Always.
Category Archives: Opinion
This is another excerpt from my Live Journal back in the day. One of my friends – someone I lost back then, D. G. K. Goldberg, she of the sharp wit and love of NASCAR, sent me some questions one day as a sort of “challenge,” or “meme,” or whatever. I answered them…this is what I said. I’m saddened to see that some oriental spam-bot website has assumed control of the url dgkgoldberg.com – but in actuality, I can imagine what she would have said/written about it, and smile…
Current mood: amused
Current music: Still Nick Cave…
Questions From dgkgoldberg and answers from Me
This is a five question “challenge” sort of interview spawned in the live journal of dgkgoldberg I decided to post her questions and my answers here so everyone could share in the nonsense. Besides, I almost never get interviewed….
1. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started writing?
This is obviously a trick question assuming that I know things now. I can hardly even figure out where to START an answer, because if I’d known any particular thing, all the other things that led up to me knowing the rest of what I know would be skewed. I guess that if there was one thing I sort of hoped to be true at the beginning, but know to be true now, it’s simply that I am good enough to do it. The writing, I mean. When I started outI was not good enough – I was the best who ever lived and would soon eclipse everyone. Now I know that the truth is simply that I have some things to say, and a way of saying them, that people are interested enough to read, and in the end, it’s better than eclipsing things would be. If you cause an eclipse, one side of you always gets burned.
2. What is the one item for resale that you would most like to come across and resell?
There are a lot of things that would fall on the most like to find column, but the hard part is making yourself resell. I think if you are talking actual items that really exist, I would like to find that last existing copy of The Declaration of Independence that is still missing. Why? Not because it’s the most valuable thing I could find, because it isn’t, though I’d be rich for the rest of my life after selling it. The reason is because I’d like to hold it in my hand, read the words inscribed there for myself, and then – when I got the chance to return it to the country and to whatever weasel-snouted politician is currently called Mr. President to his face and a laughingstock on the Jay Lenno show, I’d get the chance to commentate. I have a lot to say about the Declaration of Independence, the rights of Americans, and the country in general, and I think if I found and resold that particular piece of parchment, I might get the chance to make those comments, and actually have a few people hear them. It would be spitting in the wind, but at least – for a change – it would be my spit.
Barring that, there are some lost films that no copies of have survived that it would be cool to locate in a frigid vault somewhere.
If you allow the fanciful, I’d probably take something simple like The Holy Grail, or Jesus’ actual remains – both of which would be worth enough to bankrupt the Catholic church. I remember what happened when a guy found that body in a novel called “Another Roadside Attraction,” though, and it might be more trouble than it’s worth.
3. What is the one thing that if you came across it at a yard sale you would most fear?
Hmm. A lot of things would bring downright terror, but the question says specifically at a yard sale. Again, you open two doors with one question. Should I be artsy and interpret this to mean anything real or fanciful, or should I interpret it as straightforward and pertaining to something one might find at a yard sale.
Cursed objects would bring me that fear, particularly if the person ‘s item was up for sale because the curse took them out. Let’s do this with a bulleted list, all organized and some junk:
· A painting of myself, beginning to molder right where my hair is thinnest on top? · A cheesy romance novel with #1 Bestseller at the top, a raunchy pirate bending back a buxom maid with my byline on it in a dusty box of books I didn’t write, dated 3001? · A sealed, carved box with a label that says “If found, please return to Pandora”· Any relic or holy object that proved the narrow-minded Christians have been right all along.· Any relic or holy object that proved Christians were, without a doubt, absolutely WRONG, because it would be like a train wreck. I would have to buy it, and I would have to make it known, and they would kill me, as they have so many others – not to protect their faith, but to protect their power.
4. Which writer who has not been alive in your lifetime would you most like to spend an evening with?
It I only get an evening, I would have to go with Byron. I love his poetry, and only the dim among us don’t know he has inspired everyone up through Stephen King. He wrote about vampires, and he provided us with lines like, “She walks in beauty, as the night…” while instilling Polidori with dreams of Dracula, and Mary Shelley those of Frankenstein. He played Cricket though he was lame, and drank like a fish (thankfully before there was any driving to be done, and in any case, he was rich enough to BE driven). I think the night would be memorable, and if he can send others off with the inspirations that became classics, why not myself?
Many who know me would have guessed the Marquis de Sade, who, while a horrible author of porn and nonsense, was also a brilliant man, but I suspect he wouldn’t have been much fun at dinner, and I’d hate to think what sort of entertainment he might provide.
5. If you had to be a character in a book and live it out as it was written who would you be and in what book?
I could cheat again. I could say Judas Iscariot from “This is My Blood” – my own novel, because I would be the real hero of the gospel, and being a vampire-born-of-fallen-angels would still be alive to tell the tale, but that would be wrong.I think I’d have to say I’d like to be Roland of Gilead in King’s Gunslinger novels. He’s a hero, and a desperado, an asshole, and a legend. He had abilities and memories that others can only dream of, and his destiny? To save not only this world, but all worlds…or die trying. He has loved, been loved – yep. Roland of Gilead for me.
Of course, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at being Harry Potter, though his life tends to suck at times. (Don’t’ they all?).
Category Archives: Opinion
I have seen far too many ‘gurus’ chime in on this subject, and after nearly a year in the business of growing a digital publishing company, I feel like I have some value-add to bring to the mix. I’m not a ‘guru’ and do not ever want to be considered one, but I have been doing this for a while now, and I’ve observed some things you might find usesful. It’s worth the effort, I think, to try and get it all into perspective in my own mind.
First of all, books are books. Stephen King’s eBooks sell better than those of a new writer no one has heard of. Blogs about and reviews of Stephen King books get more notice than those of lesser-known authors, and generate more sales. Authors – in short – who were already popular before putting their titles out in eBook format are still more popular than authors who were not. Authors who bring an audience from mass market publishing to their eBooks sell better than those with no track record. These are facts, and no amount of blogging, posturing, or tears will change them.
So what do you do?
There are solid answers. Covers matter. That said, you don’t need to go out and break the bank on a professional cover designer to get a very good, commercial cover. I’ve done some extensive analysis on our titles, and I can tell you that there is absolutely ZERO evidence in my data to show that the cover art is a huge factor unless it is godawful. If your little brother did it in Microsoft Paint, or you let Calibre generate it for you, or the colors are all mis-matched, you’re going to lose sales for the same reason a similar cover would not work on a print book. It looks amateurish.
That said, there is a lot that can be done with Photoshop, and there are people out there with some amazing artwork that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You just have to look for them. Join the community at Deviant Art and meet some of the wonderful artists there. Browse the public domain photo sites. You may pay some for the rights to an image, but you can often find one you’ll like for a very reasonable price – or even free. Then all you need is to study some books, see what sort of font and text arrangement appeals to you, and find someone capable of dropping it onto your image. All that is a fancy way of saying – most of you aren’t going to make hundreds of dollars on your eBook right off the bat, and investing a bunch of cash in a cover is a serious risk that isn’t really necessary, in my opinion (and experience). Some of the covers we’ve used that I think are the most mundane have resulted in great selling titles, and several titles with amazing covers have not done well at all.
Copy-editing and format matter. If you just run a word document through some conversion program and slap it up, it’s not going to look good. If you don’t get at least one other set of eyes carefully going over your work, it’s not going to read well – it’s going to have typos. Almost no-one is perfect enough to write without errors…and though you may see them easily in another person’s work, you may also NOT catch them in your own. Do yourself a favor and – even if you have to pay a small fee for it – find a proof-reader worth their salt. Then salt them.
On most eBook sites you can assign “Tags” to your books. This might seem trivial, but it is not. There are whole groups out there cross-tagging one another’s books to bring the numbers of people “agreeing” with them high enough to bump them up the search ranks. On Amazon, for instance, if you search the word BLOOD – the book with the highest ranking on that search term is going to come up first. Also, books that have the word BLOOD in their title may start getting that book listed in the “related” products and sent out in “you might also be interested in” e-mail notices.
Price matters. If you are a known quantity,and you present new, original work, you can get more for your eBook. If you are NOT a known quantity, or if you are bringing back older work that can be bought used and cheap in print editions, don’t be greedy. If you charge the $2.99 league minimum at Amazon, you will get more per sale than you ever got from a print publisher per sale by a huge factor. Print books pay (average) 4-10 percent royalty. If you sell your book through Crossroad Press – for instance – you get 80 percent of $2.05 (about what Amazon pays us per sold title after deducting their “delivery” fee) – that’s a good chunk per sale, and it adds up fast. We sell new, original works higher – $3.99 and $4.99 – and those seem to be workable prices as well, but keep in mind what you are asking of your readers. Ignore everything else and buy my book. Give them as many reasons as you can.
Do a good write-up for the book. I sometimes have a hard time getting my authors to help with this, and I do what I can, but a good solid “hook” in the product description is crucial. In print publishing you usually have little or no input to what the publisher puts up as a description, but here – in the digital world – you can write it and even change it with impunity.
When you get reviews, respond to them positively, even the bad ones. Never drop to thelevel of a sour-voiced reviewer. You’re just playing into their game, and you’ll regret it before all is said and done. Remain professional.
Visit forums and bulletin boards and blogs that are related to a: your genre and b: eBooks in general. Be a pro-active part of their communities before blowing your own horn, or it will backfire.
Make sure your author info is available. Set up your Amazon Author’s Page. Set up your Smashwords profile. If you get reviews complaining about typos – proofread and re-publish. Never believe that because someone else did a thing, you can copy what they did and it will work for you…it’s not going to. Each book, and each author, is unique in some way, and requires an individual approach.
Product, product, product. If you have words sitting around out of print, or languishing for years without publication, I suggest you dust them off and get them out there. A body of work in eBook format can generate steady sales much more quickly and reliably than one, or two eBooks. One thing is certain – a story or novel on your hard drive for ten years unread made you no money at all.
The bottom line is – you don’t need a guru. You need hard work, patience, attention to detail, and the same bit of luck you always needed to succeed. It’s easier to get IN the door of digital publishing, but the doors are open very wide. In the old days readers clamored at the publishing door for more to read. Now those doors are big and revolving, and the readers disperse in all directions as they pass through. Latching onto them and drawing them to your work is a whole new ballgame. Pay attention, learn from what you see, don’t let ANYONE tell you the best way to do a thing is”blah blah” unless they can show that “blah blah” has worked for a lot of people over time. And just SAYING that it has worked isn’t enough. Show me stats on how that new expensive cover built sales. Show me, in other words, the money. And don’t do it by showing me someone already successful.
Also, don’t listen to tales of inflated sales. You can go to Novelrank.com and put in the AISN of any book there and track it. If it’s already being tracked, you just log in and add it to those you are tracking. This way, when someone claims a thousand sales, you can check, and if you see a title upcoming you want to keep an eye on to see if something someone did worked for promotion – you have some (albeit imperfect) stats. I’ve seen some eye-opening whoppers told on the net about huge sales that I observed personally through Novel Rank to be much smaller. Keep in mind that Novel Rank is not perfect, and that it only tracks from the moment you START tracking, so any sales prior to that you can’t see. Hype is what it is.
I am happy to offer advice if asked, but that’s all it is. I don’t know how to make your book sell better for CERTAIN – I only know what is working at Crossroad Press. We’ve grown in leaps and bounds, sales are up (best month ever happening now).
One last thing…Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship. While this is not a guaranteed success – I have found that if you listen to them – go in with a good cover price, a decent cover, at least a couple of good reviews on your book already (and not fluffy, gushing ones either – real reviews) – you can generate a good number of sales that last over several days…
We have sponsored several books there, and at least three of them did very, very well. I would recommend their service to anyone.
Enough for one day…