About Writers, book promotion, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

A Chance Encounter With Author Eric Michael Craig

Note: Eric Michael Craig is a successful sci-fi author and publisher. The following is about the man, as a writer.

+++“That’s the science fiction author, Eric Michael Craig,” wait-bot Sally answered me.
+++I’d asked because at 4:AM, he and I were the only two people left in the bar. Outside, the wind howled but that was why they called this planet The Howling. “Think he’d talk to me?”
+++Sally giggled, “He doesn’t mind talking. I mean, about his work.” That suited me. I had a deadline approaching and an author’s interview would keep my publisher happy for… minutes. So, I walked over to his table and unceremoniously plopped into a seat. “Why?” I asked him.
+++In the tavern lighting, Eric has a Hemingway look about him, solid, bald with a standard circle beard, a bit scruffy. He wore a workman’s shirt with the top buttons open and a braided leather necklace.
+++“Why do you write science fiction?”

+++“My Father. He wanted to be a sci fI novelist since well before I was born. In fact he completed two manuscripts but never managed to get either one accepted. He submitted the first one when I was maybe 5 years old and got a form letter rejection because he hadn’t followed the guidelines for submission. After that he kept writing but never again tried to get anything published. He wrote because he was a fan of the genre (back in the heyday of people like Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov).”
+++We both genuflected.
+++“When I was old enough to read the very first books he handed to me were Rocketship Galileo and Between Planets. I was maybe 5 years old when I started into those novels, and from then on nothing else I ever read held my interest like Sci Fi. Dad gently encouraged me to write, but his own rejection made him a bit more cautious in how he pushed me. Then when I was in 7th grade, an English teacher I had, wholeheartedly started shoving me in that direction. Together the two of them tried to keep me writing, but I was a typical teenager and I had the attention span of a flea … so of course I went off in another direction with my life.
+++I started flirting with the idea of writing seriously only after my father passed away and my mom gave me copies of the manuscripts that he’d written. I was about to retire at that point in time (I was 41), but it wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she and I were talking about losing our dreams (and how it had affected my dad when he gave up wanting to be a writer) that I decided to commit myself to it. For him and for me too. My mom lived long enough to read the first draft of the story that became my first two novels.
+++You could say, if you forgive how this sounds like an epic fantasy theme, that this was a destiny I inherited from my father and denied for most of my life, only to discover after the trials I faced that it was indeed my inevitable path.
But I usually tell people, it was me just being too damn dumb to know better.”

+++I smiled. Sally was right. “Marshall McLuhan once commentated that artists and outlaws are on the outside looking in. He also said they see things as they are while the rest of us are looking at the world through a rear-view mirror.
What effects do you hope your books will have on your readers?”

+++“Sleeplessness?
+++Actually I hope my story will leave the reader thinking (and if that thinking keeps them up at night, that isn’t entirely a bad thing). I want my writing to engage their mind, not just entertain them. I think it is far easier to simply tell a story than to inspire a reader to keep thinking about what they read. If I can leave them wondering, “what if it really happened?” … then I have reached my goal.”

+++“What kind of world do you like to create for your characters?”

+++“I guess I am different in how I write because I tend to think of my world and my characters as an integrated single thing. The world is not so far extrapolated from the one we live in, so I tend to leave the world building to the current headlines, and then I just broaden the perspective to paint a complete perspective of the action. I can’t say I liked building this world because I really didn’t build one… Instead I focused some light into the more hidden corners of the world we already know.
+++Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon are very complex stories with multiple character sets interwoven in very broad ranging story lines. I have over 150 characters in the two novels and it takes all of them to tell the story.
+++I didn’t treat the characters as individuals, although they are fully rounded in and of themselves. But it is probably easier to think of them as character groups that work and act together, and in some ways represent segments of a culture that has its own personality (and purpose).
+++I guess I kinda took the question sideways, but world building is not something I have done in my most recent books. You might say it is more of a process of analysis, than creation of a world.”

+++“You like to work deeper themes into your novels. What themes, and why?”

+++“Darker themes? Hmm I don’t know if I would call them darker themes. Sure the idea of facing the potential end of the world is dark in and of itself, and it is bound to bring out the worst in humanity, but it also brings out the best. I think that what I write is based on a fairly accurate extrapolation of the world we live in. If it feels dark, then unfortunately that might be a reflection on the current human condition.”

+++“‘Deeper,’ not darker. But I like your answer.”

+++“Oh you’re right, how Freudian of me. Of course deep down in the ocean it’s pretty dark (even if it is teeming with life). Real depth sometimes can only be found if you’re challenging the dark.
+++I know that as I wrote the first two novels of ‘Atlas and the Winds,’ I tried to keep a balance between both the heavier elements and the lighter and more uplifting side of the story. With only a few exceptions I think I balanced the tragedy with the triumph.
+++In my mind, balancing triumph with tragedy is something that has to happen in life. When that balance is lost in one direction, hope dies a hard and bitter death. When it is tipped in the other direction, the victories become easy and meaningless.
+++In some ways I believe suffering is essential to finding value in those moments when you come out on top. That’s not to say I like to suffer, but when I do finally triumph, it makes the victory infinitely more meaningful.
+++As to the whole concept of balancing highs and lows in my outlook on life, I can say … maybe. Although ultimately it is the darkness that allows us to appreciate the light (however dim it is).
+++However, in writing if you only focus on one side, the story never spins well. If my books only told about how everything pounded the characters mercilessly and relentlessly (or how the characters were all indestructible), then I don’t think there would be much point in reading them. The closer you can keep to the point where the plot could go either way, the more intensely the reader is drawn in and compelled to invest emotionally in the arc of the characters.”

+++Good stuff, I thought as dawn lit the windows. I thanked Eric and left, feeling that I had just met a man worth knowing.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

Now, here’s something new – a reader!

Writer's Block

Well, the launch is done – phew! I’m a bit surprised at how tense I got – I thought I’d be more laid back. Too early, of course, to give a report, but the first impression is… mixed. Yes, it’s better than the last, but given that all I did then was post on my blog, that’s hardly difficult. This time I had a strategy – build up my mailing list and ask my subscribers to post reviews. I’d sent a free copy of Perfume Island to over a hundred, but so far none has appeared. Early days yet, perhaps – we shall see. But the only reviews so far have been from people I was in touch with before (you guys included – many thanks!).

On the other hand, it has been good to get a couple of messages from complete strangers telling me, ‘I enjoy your books so much.’ And it made me realise that I’ve never before experienced that sort of connection with readers. It gives me a glow inside that’s different from other satisfactions I’ve got from writing. For a couple of reasons, I think. Firstly, as I said, these aren’t people I’ve built an online relationship with – they’re people who’ve come across my books by chance or because they happen to like the mystery genre. And that’s the second thing – they aren’t writers but readers. Crucial as it is to engage with and learn from other writers, we’re not normal readers because we always have one eye on the craft of writing (‘Ah, what a beautiful / overblown / clunky sentence that is!’). So it’s rather strange to think that someone might be reading my book simply because they want to enjoy a good story. You might say it’s a bit late to be discovering only now what it’s like to have a few readers. Well, yes, I fumbled and faltered a lot along the way. But better late than never, you’re never too old to fulfil your dreams, yada, yada…

Will Perfume Island actually sell many copies? Probably not. But a few more than One Green Bottle (again, not difficult). And the prospect of having readers raises another issue: they’re following a series. What do I do with Magali now? Is she a brand? Do I owe it to my readers to keep her going? Well, here’s what Hugh Howie has to say: ‘A big mistake I see from too many aspiring writers is to follow up their first work with a sequel, and turn that into a trilogy, and write a fourth and fifth book while they plan their sixth and seventh. […] Plan on writing many great books about many awesome characters. Plan on writing three different trilogies in three different genres. Sequels aren’t bad; in fact, they can be critical to your success. What’s bad is only giving readers a handful of avenues into your imagination. Give them as many onramps as possible. Write short stories as well as novels. Write in different genres. Experiment and adapt to your sales and any critical feedback.’ (The full article, which covers many other points, is here.)

I found that reassuring. Because much as I like Magali, I don’t want to be wedded to her for the rest of my writing life. In fact, other ideas are barging to the front of the queue, demanding to be written. For the moment, though, I’m thrusting them back. A trilogy, at least – I can’t not write a trilogy. So this morning, with great relief, I stopped looking on Amazon every other minute and got back in touch with Magali and Charlotte in Mystery Manor (much darker, more thriller than mystery this time). Because if I don’t do that, I might lose my readers just when I’m starting (let’s be optimistic here) to gain them.

As for the marketing, I see no alternative to persisting with the mailing list. The first time people unsubscribed, I was dismayed. Now I’m pleased – it means I won’t be annoying them. And little by little, there’s a chance that of those that remain, a few will swell the number of that very select group I think of now as ‘my readers’.

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book promotion, book sales, publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The proof copy of Perfume Island – at last!

Hi there!

Well, the shivery weather has definitely started to creep into Provence (winters can be unreasonably cold here), but I’ve been getting jittery for a different reason, about to ask Jeff Bezos what he was up to. Because Perfume Island is due for release next week – 15th November – and though I ordered the proof copy ages ago, my letter box remained despairingly empty. What if I was about to publish a book with half the words upside down?

To be honest, I wasn’t that worried. It looked fine in the online proofreader, but still, when it finally arrived this morning, it was quite a relief to actually have it in my hands. And yes, no doubt about it, they’ve done a good job. Not a single word upside down, nor even back to front. So I thought I’d take it into the garden to show you.

CB

There were no such worries for the ebook, of course, which is ready and waiting for release the same day. For a six day period, until 20th November, Perfume Island will be on offer at the reduced price of $0.99, before going up to $3.99. And I’ve almost finished working on the details for the contest to coincide with the launch – more on that later.

Very best wishes,

Curtis

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Amazon, book promotion, Uncategorized

Amazon bots, clickfarms, and trolls – oh, my!

Over the past couple of weeks, my feeds have been flooded with the same sorry tale: a book or box set has been stripped of its rank on Amazon. As Anne R. Allen notes, authors “who have NOT been doing anything wrong are getting hammered” with the following notice:

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring that the strategies used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

Any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level [sic] action.

guilty-until-proven-innocentWhen a book’s sales rank spikes, it “apparently triggers punishment” and so far “Amazon is stonewalling anyone who tries to appeal.” Derek Murphy cites the only correct response: “Yes, I promise never to do it again.” There is no way to appeal it. Additionally, this is happening to new and seasoned authors alike, including some NYT bestselling authors.

David Gaughran suspects this issue stems from the following:

  1. Amazon has instituted a new fraud detection system, one which isn’t working very well, and is generating lots of false positives.
  2. Scammers are deliberately targeting innocent authors, pointing clickfarms/bots at their books or using some form of incentivized gifting, which is triggering Amazon’s fraud detection system.

Both theories have their merits – it could even be a combination of the two. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to be taking him seriously on this matter.

Collateral Damage

scam-alert-1024x788More importantly, and as Derek Murphy rightly points out, “there are definitely scammers out there who continue to successfully hack Amazon’s system to their advantage using black hat tactics, and Amazon needs to fix its system without penalizing legitimate authors.” For authors who have run legimate, ethical promotions to lose both their sales rank and earnings negates the entire purpose of running a promotion. And even after the situation is resolved, the damage has already been done. There is no way to undo the damage unless someone has a time machine.

Amazon is, of course, in a precarious position – they are attempting to eliminate scammers to foster a better customer experience – and accounts that use bots and/or clickfarms to artificially inflate page reads and so on thereby steal earnings from hard-working authors and deter readers from Amazon in one fell swoop.  It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved. Authors, Amazon, and readers are losing time and money because of these scams. For the time being, slow, organic growth is probably a safer bet than large promotions (e.g., BookBubs and other email list promotions). However, I wonder if there are ways that authors and Amazon could work together to improve this situation.

Collaboration

collaboration-definitionThe realtionship between Amazon and authors is problematic – we are neither customers nor employees. However, perhaps we could work together, regardless of the source of the problem. And, no. I’m not a programmer, so I don’t understand the logistics that would go into the system I’m about to propose, but I figured I’d put it into the bloggosphere anyway.

What if Amazon implemented an author ranking system that’s similar to its reviewer ranking system? More specifically, what if Amazon ranked author accounts then extended an optional author reviewer membership to established authors who have a history of ethical conduct – that is, Amazon ranks author accounts over time. I propose this because long-term accounts are unlikely to be scam accounts, and most authors that I know are helpful, generous people – see present company.

Authors who opt to review other accounts could take a spin through newer accounts that were flagged for suspicious activity or possible rank manipulation to ensure that new authors or books aren’t being unfairly stripped of their sales rank and that scammers aren’t screwing people out of their earnings and readers out of their time. I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind chipping in a couple of hours a month to foster a better environment for ourselves, Amazon, and our readers (Amazon’s customers).

Marketing-for-Increasing-Exposure-Tip-5-Amazon-Author-CentralAdditionally, perhaps Amazon could add a widget inside Author Central so that authors can tell Amazon when they’re going to run a promotion — e.g., a form where the author can tell Amazon what promotion they’re running and for how long. Perhaps as Amazon gathers data about promotions through this widget, they’ll be able to fine-tune their detection methods.

No Solution is Without Its Problems

Sure, this solution is inherently problematic. As David Gaughran notes in “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives”, even when authors manage to get their rank restored, they continue to be “accused of rank manipulation and … [are] on warning … [for] future conduct.” As such, some authors may end up excluded from the program because of false flags on their accounts.

DontFeedTheTrolls2Likewise, and as Anne R. Allen discusses in her article, trolls could be a potential problem – while trolls are discussed in the context of Amazon book reviews in Anne’s article, I think the same priniciple would apply to this system. There may be people who deliberately sabotage other authors because they’re jealous of their performance, bored, or whatever – I’d really like to believe that most of us are not like that, but it is conceivable that a couple trolls might squeak through. Those of us who have been here at the Writers Co-op likely remember our repeated encounter with a troll. As with most things, we tend to police ourselves, so perhaps there ought to be several reviews of an account to ensure that trolls don’t run wild.

What do you think?

Sources and Further Reading

Allen, Anne R. “Amazon’s Latest Crackdowns: Do They Include Amazon Review Trolls?” Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris. AnneRAllen.com, 22 Oct. 2017. http://annerallen.com/2017/10/amazon-crackdowns-amazon-review-trolls/ 28 Oct. 2017.

Baum, Cate. “What Book Promotions Are OK and Not OK on Amazon Now.” Self-Publishing Review. 6 Oct. 2017. http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2017/10/what-book-promotions-are-ok-and-not-ok-on-amazon-now/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

Gaughran, David. “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives.” Let’s Get Digital. WordPress.com, 20 Oct. 2017. https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/amazons-hall-of-spinning-knives/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

Murphy, Derek. “The Death of Book Promotion.” Creative Indie. Creativindie.com, 27 Oct. 2017. http://www.creativindie.com/the-death-of-book-promotion/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

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book promotion, publishing

What took you so long?

So, Curtis, Perfume Island is finally ready for release.

Ha! L’Arlésienne arrives at last.

I’m sorry?

A young woman from Arles in Alphonse Daudet’s play of the same name. She’s talked about all the time but never actually appears on stage. The term now applies to something we’re led to expect but which never arrives.

I see. Well, I hope it’s worth the wait. What took you so long?

You may recall it was about to come out last year, but-

You think I recall that? With all the other books I have to read?

Well, if you stop interrupting, I’ll remind you. My publisher at the time was… let’s just say I decided it would be better to do it myself. At which point I embraced self-publishing fully, stigma and all – well, there isn’t one, is there? Once you decide to go down that road, you can’t let doubts like that get in the way.

And what did it involve in concrete terms?

I realized my marketing strategy was non-existent. I kept reading that the best way to reach out to readers, and above all to keep them, was through a mailing list, so I set about building one. I’ve done a giveaway and two cross promotions, and now have a list of about 420.

Who are all going to read Perfume Island?

If only! No, but eight of them – people I don’t know at all – have already agreed join my launch team. Which basically means they get free stuff in exchange for writing a review and spreading the word when the book comes out. Of course, 420 is a tiny number – self-publishing guru Mark Dawson has 60000. But it’s a start. The next 12 months will be a test of how well this works. Right now, I’m just pleased that I did part ways with my publisher – having control over the whole process makes a huge difference. Even if I make mistakes, they’re my mistakes and I can decide how to fix them. And I’m finding that marketing can be enjoyable too, once you start to look at it as a creative, learning experience.

Any final message you’d like to give?

Just my heartfelt thanks to the Writers’ Co-op. It seems a long time ago when GD put forward the idea on Book Country. We’re hardly big, but the level of support is tremendous. And though we write in different genres, we share the same commitment to the process. Every word of encouragement has been precious. You guys rock!

15th November – release of Perfume Island. The Arlésienne appears!

 

 

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About Writers, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Quantum Soul

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”

Victor Acquista, in Soul Mates, wonders if adding back what a dying person loses will reanimate the corpse.
In New Year, GD Deckard wants to know where are we when we’re not alive?

Claire Buss, in Patient Data, explores what might happen if medical robots know a patient is alive or dead only after the fact. CB Droege imagines what freed ‘bots do, once freed, in The Dream Miner’s Drill. In Rob Edwards, Shepherd of Memory, an Alien encounter changes a man but he can’t remember in what way he is now different. Darran Handshaw’s engineer finds a girl in an Ancient pod in The Machine in the Mountain. If you assume all intelligent life forms are animal, Brent A. Harris’ The Trees of Trappist will delight you. For that matter, “Are we alive or are we the A.I.?” is the question in Greg Krojac’s Pixels. And when we do meet an alien intelligence, linguistics just might be the most crucial skill we have, as it is in Leo McBride, Second Contact.

Learn what an autobot might think about in his dying moments in Jeanette O’Hagan, Project Chameleon. Probe other’s dreams in Lyra Shanti’s The Endymion Device. Enjoy ways strange can be wondrous in E.M. Swifthook’s Wondrous Strange.

Cindy Tomamichel has Sci-Fi fun When Words Are Not Enough. “Are created people, people?” may be answered by Ricardo Victoria in What Measure is a Homunculus? And why not create a “people” to travel the light years through space for us, as Jim Webster does in Aether Technician.

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”
You get the SciFi Roundtable’s Anthology, The Quantum Soul.

Released today on Amazon.

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book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing

The Heart of the Matter.

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A piece on Scribophile asks an important question:

_________________________________

Yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s conference. It gave me my first exposure to meeting an agent face-to-face in a “speed date” of 10 minutes. I delivered my pitch. She cut me down to a stump with one question:

“Okay, so I get that you have _____, and you have _____, but, like, what’s your one thing that’s going to make me want to read this book?”

I stared at her stupefied for a moment. I wasn’t able to give the agent an answer that made her go, “Oh, wow. Yes! Please send me that book. I have to find out about that.”

She asked a simple, direct question that cut to the quick: this is a woman with not enough time for anyone, and yet she’s contemplating — maybe — adding a person to her client list, if she thinks the burden is worth it. She already puts in intensive hours working for her existing clients and poring over hundreds of other submissions. What makes me the needle in the haystack? Why am I so goddamn special?

_________________________________

This is the question I have for the hoards of books touted on Facebook. There are a thousand paranormal romances out there. There are a thousand of everything. And I already have stacks – hell, mountains – of books waiting to be read. Why should I devote my time to yours?

The answer, as far as my own thing is concerned, would be: for super-imaginative fun delivered with merry wise-ass style.

Were I to encapsulate the many joys of the renowned series of naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian (that currently enthrall me), I would say, A beguiling interplay of complex characterization, adventure with a touch of mystery, and a mind-blowing knowledge of the sea. I am mesmerized!

What about you? What would be your Heart-of-the-Matter response?

 

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