book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

So does free work?

free

Does it work to make your book free? The question arouses much debate, some of it passionate, and I’m not going to attempt to provide a yes or no answer. Many writers refuse to give their work away as a matter of principle, a position I fully respect, and in an ideal world, would prefer to adopt myself. Because writing takes time and effort, and working to give a product away isn’t something that’s done for cars, cucumbers or cupcakes, so why do it for writing?

The short answer is to gain visibility. Without visibility, selling your work is extremely difficult, but giving it away is easier. You might have a good cover and enticing blurb, but convincing people to fork out money on a totally unknown name is a challenge. But if you give them something and they like it, they’ll be more prepared to buy what you produce next. Or so the reasoning goes.

So this is what I’ve been doing. And since I promised a while ago to provide a few figures, here they are.

I made One Green Bottle, first in the Magali Rousseau mystery series, permafree on Amazon in September 2017. Since then, it’s been downloaded roughly 4600 times. Now, that’s all fine and well, but I have no idea how often it’s been read, or whether it’s disappeared into the welter of free books people have on their kindle without ever getting round to reading them. I’m not averse to seeing it downloaded free, but it would be nice to know if it actually gets read. However, that’s the same for most books, free or otherwise – feedback is rare, and once a book is out there, the author doesn’t know what becomes of it. The bottom line is sales figures.

Has the permafree book had any effect on sales of the others in the series? My guess is not, or minimal. It’s difficult to tease out sales resulting from my launch efforts (which so far are basically restricted to informing the 400 or so subscribers who open my newsletter) and the knock-on effect from the permafree. But if I take away sales occurring at launch time, the rest is a monthly trickle that falls a good way short of keeping me in coffee.

Am I despondent? Not at all. There are several factors that go against me. Firstly, I didn’t plan the series properly, so the third one I published was in fact the second one in Magali’s chronology. OK, Star Wars does that all the time but it’s confusing all the same. Secondly, I revised One Green Bottle so there’s a major difference in the current version compared to the initial release – also confusing. Thirdly, the covers, while fine in themselves, don’t correspond to the norms for the genre – they’re all being redone now for the release of a box set, so I’ll see what difference that makes. Did someone mention a learning curve? I’m still climbing steadily.

Of course, making a book free doesn’t mean that it will instantly become visible. You then have to let people know that it’s free. To that end, I enrolled Mystery Manor, the last in the series, in KDP Select, and then made it free for five days, which can be done once in any 90-day period. I then booked a slot on Freebooksy, who announced it to the 310,000 mystery novel readers they have on their email list. The result was just under 4000 downloads. And here there was a small but noticeable knock-on effect: apart from another hefty boost to the free downloads of One Green Bottle, there were 41 purchases of Cash in Carry, number two in the series (priced at $0.99), and 11 of Perfume Island, number three, priced at $2.99. The royalties covered roughly half of the $90 I paid for the Freebooksy slot.

I take some encouragement from this. Because again, the process could be improved – to enrol the last in the series in KDP Select when none of the others have been was illogical. But I’d always been reluctant to give Amazon the exclusivity they require for KDP Select, so it took me a while to take that step. I still don’t like it, but the fact is that I’ve made slightly more from Kindle Unlimited page reads than from sales.

The final verdict? In my case, the jury (composed of me and myself) is still out. But with better planning (conception and promotion) of the new series, and a greater backlist to offer, I should see a larger knock-on effect. On current evidence, it’s not worth making the first in the new series permafree – one seems plenty for that – but well-planned free promotions every so often might just do the trick. It’s a hard slog, because for every person who’s ready to pay for a book, there are a hundred freeloaders. But that’s the way it works – like panning for gold, you have to get rid of the silt and gravel first. And I’m an eternal optimist – there’s a lot more I need to do, but when I get to 10,000 subscribers, I hope to have enough nuggets to pay for my coffee.

 

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About Writers, book reviews, humor, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Of Burning Hotness & Tightly Curled Monkey Paws: Bad Sex Writing

You’re a writer—committing words to paper or electronic storage media—in the hopes that others might later read, and vicariously enjoy, the fruits of your labor. So when an award comes your way embodying recognition from your peers for demonstrable excellence in execution of the craft—popped champagne corks, streamers, and confetti all around, right?

Not so fast.

What if the recognition that comes your way is for writing some of the most descriptively awful, tortured-metaphor, laugh-out-loud-funny sex scenes ever committed to print—    then how would you feel?

Such is the position two 2019 novelists find themselves in: Didier Decoin and John Harvey. Britain’s “most dreaded literary prize”—the Bad Sex Award—was, err . . . awarded . . . to these two gentlemen for the creation of grammatical hydra-headed monsters of such overwrought metaphor, mangled syntax, and ”    wait . . . what?!” disorienting narrative description that awed judges truly could not decide upon a winner between the Gallic or the Anglo-Saxon contestants. They co-share the prize.

Readers in search of saucer-eyed, hand-to-mouth diversion may peruse this link for further details:     https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/dec/02/bad-sex-award-twosome-prize-goes-to-didier-decoin-and-john-harvey  

I considered re-posting some of the passages quoted in the Guardian article here so that drive-by readers may get a feel for the exquisite excrescence of the award-winning bad writing thus recognized by Britain’s Bad Sex Award, but . . . no.     :::shudder:::    Just . . . no. . . .

Once you’re done reading the article, however, let’s regather here and discuss. Have you ever written a sex scene in your fiction? How did it turn out? What is your opinion of sex scenes in fiction, generally? Are they necessary? (Let’s exclude, for purposes of this discussion, “one-handed books”—explicit erotic fiction primarily targeted at cisgender men: “I never believed this could happen to me: I hawked my wad of chewing tobacco onto the macadam, took a swig of whiskey from my flask, slung my reflector vest away, and stripped down to my tightly bunched gray underwear before wading into the writhing, moaning mass of naked women softly trilling my name:  Ebenezer, Ebenezer . . .”)

David Foster Wallace once notoriously dismissed John Updike as “just a penis with a thesaurus”. Are there writers you think take things an explicit passage too far? Perhaps offend by tone, subject matter, and/or authorial voice? Obsessive “sex focus”?

On the other hand, do you think there is something to be said for writers who dare to write against the grain of “contemptible bourgeois morality” and Puritanical prudishness? Are there writers you think handle sexual passages well? Do you regard titillation and/or sexual arousal as a legitimate aim of literary or genre literature? (After all, we applaud the writers who best evoke the senses when they write, so why should sex—an essential part of the human condition and a most poignant and transfixing experiential phenomena—remain “off-stage” in literature?)

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

On Falling in the Name of Research

by George Salis 

The act of writing a novel elicits a series of revelations punctuated by epiphanies. I will share with you two major eureka moments that occurred during the writing of my debut novel Sea Above, Sun Below.

Connected to the myth of Icarus and other vertiginous tales of yore, my novel features a group of skydivers who fall, metaphorically and literally. I’m afraid of heights but I felt like I needed to skydive in the name of research for my novel. As it happens, I loved the surreal experience so much I would do it again. Strapped to my instructor, we waddled to the plane’s open door, and he stood on the edge while I dangled unfathomably high above the earth and with fear I reached out to grip the metal portal, but the instructor gently pried me from even that precarious perch, and then the insensate suck, the slip from everything into nothing, and I realized this was it, that I was truly falling, skydiving, and the wind felt as though the sky wanted to make my mouth and lungs home, palate-scouring, and the seconds were drawn out into a brief infinity, an eternal moment. From there, the world below struggled between a two-dimensional illusion and the reality of three.

Yet, for all that that’s worth, I was fairly surprised to discover, once my feet were on the ground and I was back at my writing desk, that my skydiving description was quite accurate before I had conducted my research and so I ended up adding only a single sentence afterward: “Up here, while the wind became a chorus of tragic furies, the sun detached from the sky, letting the earth revolve like an orrery.” This is one example in which I learned to trust my own instincts, my own imagination. Was skydiving worth the effort, the confronting of fear? Absolutely. Research still has many benefits and can be a delight in and of itself. I should add that while the experience of falling conformed quite uncannily with my predescription, as it were, I did add a plethora of details from my experience within the skydiving hangar, such as the almost anachronistic bowling balls littering the hangar floor which I learned are used to push out air from the parachutes while folding them back into their packs for the next fall. So, aside from personal development, research can give you all those minute details which enhance a fictional scene, but if you cannot afford to go to Japan, for example, then you should rest easy knowing that you have the power to evoke your own germane version of the country.

Also, do not underestimate academic research, which is often less expensive and no less simmering with potential details, for one’s picture of a place or person will always be incomplete and eventually all that’s left for you to do is continue writing.

Mentally juggling and tallying the oftentimes ambiguous constituents of a novel in one’s head, even with the aid of notes and miscellaneous marginalia, can cause a daunting dizziness. To lessen the vertigo, I offer this lesson: I learned that it’s much more manageable to write each chapter as a short story (with chronology being far from a priority). There are certain aspects the short story is known for, yet there is no reason such aspects should be exclusive to it: an ensorcelling first sentence; a strategic entrance into the very story of the story; a self-containment that can feel like a certain tightness, which is not to suggest that you should avoid digressions (they can be, as Ray Bradbury said in defiance of Shakespeare’s Polonius, the soul of wit); an immediacy of image or action or development; and it allows you to weave your novel as if it were a tapestry, depending on the type of novel you are writing. I’m enamored with stories within stories, stories besides stories, in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights or Cloud Atlas, so my novel contains around ten different threads which were written with the mentality, the focused lens, of the short story, connected thematically, genetically, and more. An additional benefit to this method/perspective is that while you work on your long project, you might be able to send out some pieces of it for potential publication. Before Sea Above, Sun Below recently came out as a whole through River Boat Books, I was able to publish ten pieces from it, and in a few cases I received edits on the stories which ultimately helped the final vision.

It is worth noting that you should rage against my advice as you see fit. By all means, do the opposite of what I say if it works for you. Or better yet, use your finger to write your novel in the fog on a mirror; spin around quickly ten times before you sit down for the day’s quota; whisper your sentences backward to yourself; write your dreams then dream what you wrote. Who truly knows what will help?

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the editor of The Collidescope and is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.

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Uncategorized

Sly’s front cover (In progress)

There’s a lot to be done yet, but this is close to the final look.

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Above: Cover-in-Progress. I’ve mooshed in a background quickly. That will be remedied.

Below: Sha-Sha, as a harem-girl, to go with Sly in his Sultan costume. My next task: to get her head onto a body. The two will eventually be a pair of paper-dolls: Sultan/Harem Girl. Elizabethan Dandy/Court Beauty. A swashbuckling sea-slug and his exotic port-o-call wench.

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> The ornamentation on the hat is very poor, copied out of a 72 dpi image just to get something in place. I have to find 300 dpi baubles to replace those iffy trinkets.

> The ruff needs to be brought forward, to top the bottom banner. The subtitle needs to be brought forward also.

> I’m going to extend the tail of the ‘Y’ in ‘Sly’ so it whips around under ‘The Rogue Decamps’ making ‘Decamps’ more readable, and so it acts as a flourish under the subtitle.

> I will fix up the right and left edges of the cat, extend hairs, add whiskers, and so on.

> I’m still playing with the colors.

> The portion of body showing at lower right, I’ll do something with that, make it an asset instead of a nothing-blob.

> I have to adjust the kerning in ‘Sly’. That bugs me. Not easy to do in Photoshop, I’ll have to do it in InDesign.

> I have to reconfigure to a standard size. This one was by eye.

Other tweaks ­will come to me, I’m sure. This thing still needs a *lot-lot-lot* of messing with.

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Where am I at with the manuscript? I will go through my notes and add in the best of what I find. I want to do one more intense read/revision. I figure it’s within a month of being published.

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I have another *big* problem: what do I do with my website? I have the whole novel on there, and most of book two. I should have up the first few chapters as a teaser. I’ll sell the full piece for, what, ninety-nine cents, one-ninety-nine? Maybe I can make enough to pay to print a paper doll.

I still have to create my own art for the website. A publish may be pushed back, to Christmas. Wouldn’t that be a grand Christmas present to myself!

It would be great if I had book two, with my pirate episode in it, ready to go by February a year from now, and to launch my promotion on National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day is the creation of the guy who brought us The Flying Spaghetti Monster, and those nutty Pastafarians.

I should give Sly a colander on his head as a tribute to the man, in my rapidly accumulating gallery of headwear (a pharaoh giggle is coming next). My hat series is a start on a poster. I call the series The Cat In The Hat, circa 1584.

A sixteenth-century colander, what would that look like? And why would Sly be wearing it? Got to think about that. This is how a short story written thirty years ago grew into a six-book series.

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I see I can get a small glossy postcard produced for around twenty cents each. This cover design is almost the perfect proportion.  It will cost more than that to mail them!

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About Writers, book promotion, book reviews, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

How to Prepare for Negative Comments on your Creative Work

Aristotle is quoted as saying: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

I have been fortunate, so far, in receiving largely positive and constructive feedback on my first published novel, “Unearthed.” I of course know that no creative work can appeal to all audiences, though. Somebody, somewhere, will not care for your writing, your painting, your music, your recipe, etc. I know people who don’t even like chocolate … and I mean … it’s chocolate.

Like many authors, I felt some anxiety when publishing my novel. I had three beta readers and multiple rounds of edits; I was happy with the result. But I haven’t been living in a cave. I’m on social media, and I read the comments on public posts. I felt I should steel myself for the negativity that seems to thrive on the internet.

Here are my tips:

  1. Make a list of popular things you don’t enjoy

The beauty of this step is that nothing is off limits. Allow me to demonstrate: Fortnite, Game of Thrones (I really tried), every song by Drake, bicycle shorts, calamari. The fact that I don’t care for these things won’t (and shouldn’t) stop them from being successful. Except for whoever designed bicycle shorts. They should be stopped.

  • Read the 1 and 2 star reviews of your favorite novels

This is an eye-opener. One of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning, received a review titled “Seriously?!” that opened with: “I am mind-boggled that, at the time of this review, this book has over a 4-star rating.”

Another gem from a review of J.R. Ward’s work: “The characters are the most awfully cliched stereotypes I’ve seen since … actually, no, they ARE the most awfully cliched characters I’ve ever read.”

Yikes. I read other reviews that are overly critical (imho) of story line or character development, but these snippets stand out in my mind for obvious reasons. Fortunately, these authors continue to turn out successful novels and connect with audiences who enjoy their work.

  • Watch Jimmy Kimmel clips of “Mean Tweets” on YouTube

This is a hilarious segment that highlights the most scathing comments on Twitter, read by the celebrity target. It’s brutally funny and frighteningly enlightening. Celebrities respond in various ways and some surprise you.

That’s it. Three easy steps that cost you nothing but a little time. For me, this was the perspective I needed before sending “Unearthed” out into the cruel, cruel world with my eyes wide open. I sincerely hope I never receive a Kimmel-worthy review of my work, but if I do, I’ll remember that I’m in good company with every other creative talent out there—and keep writing.

Escape mundane reality with “Unearthed”—a fun, fast-paced contemporary fantasy romance.

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About Writers, Literary Agents, publishing, Stories, writing technique

Juvenilia

mansfield

I’ve recently read a few short stories by Katherine Mansfield: Germans at Meat, The Baron, The Luft Bad and other equally unknown titles which don’t figure in any ‘best of’ collection of her work. This is because they come from her very first collection, In a German Pension, published in 1911, when she was just 22. They were written during her stay in the Pension Müller, Bavaria, where her mother, suspecting she may have had a lesbian relationship, took her for ‘a course of cold baths and wholesome exercise.’

In a German Pension went through three editions, but then the publisher went bankrupt. Mansfield wasn’t disappointed by this; on the contrary, she no longer liked the stories, and when, after being recognised as one of the leading authors of her day, she was begged by another publisher to let him reprint them, she wrote, ‘I cannot have it reprinted under any circumstances. It is far too immature, and I don’t even acknowledge it today. I can’t go foisting that kind of stuff on the public. It’s not good enough.’ This was despite the fact that she was sorely in need of the money it would have brought her.

Was she right? Yes, I dare say, by the high standards she set herself. The stories lack the depth and intensity of her later work – although, rereading that, I sometimes find it a little febrile, a little too intense. But it would have been a great shame if John Middleton Murry, her second husband, hadn’t included In a German Pension in the complete collection of her stories he edited after her death. They are superbly written, with a deliciously mischievous, biting wit that renders in writing what comes across in the best cartoon caricatures.

Reading it, I thought, ‘Wow! To be writing that so young!’ Writers often repudiate juvenilia, and with good reason, but I would have given my eye teeth to be able to write like that at 21. I thought back to my own beginning: I finished my first novel at 26, about a group of friends in the mid-1970s, driving round France and Spain in a restless search for meaningfulness and adventure. I’d repudiate it now, I guess, but it wasn’t entirely cringeworthy. It earned me an appointment with an agent, who said if she’d read it ten years earlier, she’d have snapped it up. But by then, there were lots of similar explorations of the prevailing counterculture, and it didn’t break new ground. She had her finger firmly on the zeitgeist, and advised me to write a family saga instead, but I never did. Perhaps I should have.

Is there an age at which writers peak? Must good writing be apparent already when young? Mansfield is far from the only one whose talent was obvious so early. This New Yorker article sets the question in perspective, while for those who fear they may be past it already, there’s also ample evidence that it’s never too late to write a book.

Any thoughts on the matter? When you recall your first attempts, do you cringe, puff with pride, or sit somewhere in between?

 

 

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About Writers, blogging, book reviews, Poetry, Uncategorized

Carl E. Reed’s review of Spectral Realms #11

Carl E. Reed has now published four poems in Spectral Realms (issues #10 and #11), with more poems scheduled to appear in issue #12. He has just published an exhaustive and picturesque review of Spectral Realms #11 on John O’Neil’s Black Gate website.

An earlier poem of Carl’s was published in The Iconoclast a decade ago.

Thanks, Carl, for suggesting that we post this link:
https://www.blackgate.com/2019/11/19/terror-existential-dread-and-surprised-laughter-a-review-of-spectral-realms-11/

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