book promotion, book sales, Writers Co-op

FROM NICHE TO SCRATCH

(OR HOW TO MAKE A SIX-FIGURE INCOME WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR CHAIR)

I get these ads in my Facebook feed from time to time (all right, every day) suggesting that my lackluster book sales are the result of my unimaginative marketing plan and my lack of vision. There are fortunes to be made on the internet and, with their guidance, I too can board that boat I keep missing, grab the brass ring, quit my day job, start drinking the good stuff and enjoying wafer-thin after dinner chocolates whenever I damn well like.

I am, in case you haven’t guessed, skeptical. I have seen so many of these pitches—and yes, even done a seminar or two—and I always, ALWAYS find the same thing: tired platitudes about perseverance and “giving the people what they want.” Find out who your core audience is, they tell me, and then market directly to them. Grow your mailing list (they love to use grow as a transitive* verb, it’s market-speak doncha know?) Offer free stuff! Find your niche! Become a brand! Write a blog with a cute and catchy name! People will WANT to buy whatever you sell because they will want to buy YOU!

Or, something like that. Maybe it all sounds so unlikely to me because I really don’t find being marketed to at all appealing. You want me to buy your stuff. I get it. Don’t try to razzle-dazzle me with bling or tchotchkes or other crap I didn’t want in the first place, and don’t try and tell me that I’m part of some special club now, and I should hashtag you every time I twit. All you’ll end up doing is making me feel insulted. I don’t want to be critical of the general population (gen pop in eerily-appropriate prison parlance) but if this approach really works with a sizable number of them, well, then, I guess it’s not much wonder that I can’t connect.

Do I sound old and irritable? Check. And check.

A musician I’ve never heard of pitched my feed this morning. She makes six figures working from home (homeschooling mother of four!) selling her CD’s on the internet. She doesn’t perform live or do personal appearances (homeschooling mother of four!) It’s all internet-based marketing. And yet—six figures.

Okay. So sell me. Tell me one new thing in your pitch and I’ll sign up for your marketing course.

Probably my inner skeptic automatically prevents me from approaching this sort of thing with an open mind, but honestly? She’s got nothing. As far as I can tell, her big reveal (and yes, they love to use reveal as a noun) can be summed up in one sentence: “Why be a little fish in a big pond when you can be a big fish in a small pond?” In other words, find a niche.

Niche marketing isn’t a particularly new idea. Back in the days when brick-and-mortar bookstores (remember those?) were still a thing, there was a lot of handwringing about the big chain stores—Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waldens—driving the independents out of business. As it turned out, they had all underestimated the white whale lurking beneath the swells, a little thing called Amazon.com, but I digress. A lot of independent bookstores did go out of business, especially the be-everything-to-everyone-get-your-bestsellers-for-thirty-percent-off-but-we-also-have-a-great-backlist-and-you-can-get-a-cup-of-coffee type of bookstores. Curiously, it was often the small niche stores that survived. The New Age Salon in Santa Fe. The Knitting Book Nook in Seattle. Cats Are People, Too in Minneapolis (plus Cats Are People, Two in St. Paul.) I made all of those up, of course, but it was a real phenomenon. Providing a specialized list of books to a very specific audience can be a successful enterprise, if you’re not too fussy about your definition of success.

And with the internet at our twitchy fingertips, such specialized stores should be even more viable. Now you don’t even need a store, and you can reach millions of potential customers. Our Homeschooling Mother of Four’s niche? Celtic Heavy Metal. Christian Celtic Heavy Metal, as it happens. I admit, it’s hard for me to write those words without feeling my eyes roll, but hey, everybody likes something. I’d plug her website, but I don’t want to get curmudgeon all over her nice, shiny, heavy Celtic Christian vibe. Frankly, it was all a little slick and predictable for my tastes. She can play, and it’s a very professional production for a homemade disk, but—six figures? Really? Is she counting the ones after the decimal point?

(Yeah. That did sound bitter. I withdraw the question, your honor.)

And besides. If she’s making a hundred thousand dollars doing what she loves best, following her calling, etc, then why is she wasting her time hawking some by-the-numbers marketing program to wannabes like me? Wait. Is it because she wants to share her innovative strategies with others? Cuz she’s been so fortunate and now she wants to give something back? It’s amazing how many marketing gurus have tried that line on me. And every time they do, I feel my brain getting a little bit smaller, atrophying in its bony shell.

So niche marketing, yes or no? It certainly has many proponents. There was a guy the other day telling me that selling books on Amazon wasn’t necessarily good, because you might be selling to the wrong people. Amazon’s search-and-sell algorithms are keyed to recognize patterns. Did consumer A purchase your book? Okay. What else has she purchased? Is there a pattern? What else might she want? How can we steer her to those things? It’s all about your target audience, and selling books to people outside of your target audience only confuses the algorithms. It gums up the works, dilutes the information stream. Better to sell fewer books but to the right audience. That way, the marketing machinery will recognize your audience members and find more of them for you.

I think that’s what he was saying. I glazed over a bit around paragraph three but that was the gist. You need to focus on your target audience. Also, write a LOT of books. One a month if possible. (And no, I’m not making that part up.)

I can’t do that, but maybe I could do something like it. I have two thirds of a YA historical trilogy about the Minoan civilization. It’s fun, and has lots of magic and adventure. Plus, did I mention the Minoan civilization? You can’t get much more niche-y than that. By the time I finish book three, it’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 pages, but I can break it up into fragments, 200 pages here, 150 pages there. That’s gotta be good for at seven or eight books. I can saturate all the pre-Hellenic Greece websites, twitter-blitz every website about ancient matrifocal cultures, haunt the linear-A chatrooms. Who knows what could happen? I could catch on, and soon a whole herd of bookish kids and history geeks will be hanging on my next installment. And then, the movie deal. Maybe Miyazaki. It’s ready made for Studio Ghibli.

And then, while plotting out this strategy, I see this quote from, of all people, Hayao Miyazaki. ”In order to grow your audience,” he says, “you must betray their expectations.”

Yeah. I don’t know whether that’s really true in the age of the instant entertainment, but it should be. It really should. Otherwise, what tipping point have we gone past where people only want more of the same? Only want what worked for them before? Cuz, wow! Culture-wise? That’s an ocean that’s barely knee-deep.

 

*Yes, I know grow can be a transitive verb when we’re talking about string beans or snapdragons, but the modern fixation with “growing your business” or “growing your client base” is definitely market-speak.

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Writing DaysZ 4

Searching for a second, well maybe third, cup of coffee, I pass the TV and see Tea Party demonstrators on the same street as Black Lives Matter separated by cops with dogs in the middle. Imagining PETA showing up to protect the police dogs sets me to grinning at the thought of feminists, environmentalists and immigration activists joining the melee, all for attention, donations and votes.

Bob vs the Aliens
To read Writing DaysZ 1-3, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Diversity Faire

+++They were close enough to the blast that its light came a split second before the sound, causing them to begin turning when the hot wind blew over them.
+++“Careful,” whispered Bob, diving to the ground. All around, bits of debris began falling like hard rain.
+++“A Bomb!” Piper’s face showed fear. “Or mortar round. Or RPG. As a reporter, I’ve heard that many times on TV.”
+++Old Spice placed a hand on Bob’s shoulder, one eye imploring caution while the other eye turned inwards for news. “Wait,” the Alien confided, “I’m consulting with the others. That was a Hellfire Jr. missile. Made for domestic use.”
+++“What the – !?” Bob looked at him. “The bus?”
+++“The bus was destroyed, yes. But the WTF! racists had nothing to do with this. Their requests for heavy ordinance are invariably turned down. No, this was your government.”
+++“Friendly fire,” Piper opined. She sounded shaky.
+++“Friendly!” Bob sputtered. He sat against a tree and patted the ground. “Sit, Piper. Let’s see what Spice can tell us before we walk into hell fire.”
+++Spice sat in front of them, forming a little triangle of togetherness as the debris fall slowed. They stared at a leaf that faced the sky. Red granules of flesh had fallen on it, piling up like sand poured from a child’s hand. “That’s Jackson,” Spice said. A bare foot fell to ground, waxen white, drained of all blood. “That too. Pity, he used to be taller.”
+++“Friendly fire,” Piper began explaining, “Is accidental.” She looked at Jackson’s remains. “I mean….” She shook. “Our own government?”
+++Bob put his arm around her. “I know,” he said soothingly, “Oh my God. They tried to kill us.”
+++“Why!?”
+++“DARPA.” Spice’s inward eye appeared to be reading something. “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But it was not an official act.” Suddenly startled, he jumped up and helped Bob and Piper to their feet. “We are not the first! Come.” He led them deeper into the woods. “I’ve just been informed that two aliens already live here. One, it seems, lives near Denver. He will help us if we can reach him before the other kills us.”
+++They walked in silence while Spice searched for information. It was a beautiful day, mild and clear, but Alabama north of Highway 84 just across the Chattahoochee River was heavily wooded and rough going. By midday, exhaustion set in as one by one, they heard the sound of drums in the distance. Topping a hill, they looked down on an open valley. Below was a one street town. The block-long street had houses on both sides and at the edge of town it turned into a dirt road that wound away into the woods. “Down there,” Spice pointed. “We follow that road. It goes north-west and therefore towards Denver.”
+++“If you say so.” Walking downhill appealed to Bob. Drawing nearer, they saw crowds of people and the drums became a full band milling in the short street. Booths lined the street. Someone must have spotted them for at the town’s edge they were greeted by, apparently, the Mayor. “Welcome to Gay Camellia, Alabama! Home of the world famous annual and grand Diversity Street Faire!” The little bearded man wore a pink camellia in the lapel of his leprechaun suit.
+++“Thank you Sir or Madam,” Piper shook his hand. “We could use some freshening up first. If you can show us your public conveniences?”
+++But the Mayor was not to be put off his talking points. “Nowhere else will you see all these groups assembled peacefully together! The Gays have sheathed their claws; the Tea Party is unarmed. Even the Abortionists and their Antis are sharing booth space.” He beamed and waved at his town. “Isn’t it all just so Gay!?
+++“Gay,” Spice nodded, “Adjective. Being in or showing good spirits > happy, jolly. See cheerful. Full of color > rich, vibrant, vivid. See colorful.” He read with one eye inward while the other took in the panorama of booths richly painted in primary colors and telephone poles wrapped in vibrantly purple ribbons topped by vivid gold banners against a heavenly blue sky, all lining a street bouncing with the cheerful rainbow colors of dancing harlequin and jester band members. “Supererogatory, too.”
+++“Super, yes!” the Mayor clapped Spice on the shoulder, “We have our own LGBT Marching Band! You’re an Alien!” the Mayor suddenly realized, genuinely pleased. Then he took Pipers’ arm, “Come, have some refreshment. You must need it; nobody walks to town anymore.” To Bob he said, “Don’t worry, we welcome all sorts.”
+++Everybody was as friendly as they were colorful. At a booth constructed entirely of organic lumber, Environ-Mentalists served them a delicious reclaimed salad and explained how they knew the planet should be managed. The Alabama Police Union Comedy Troupe performed a skit titled “Common Ground,” with black activists and NRA Teaparty members hanging pedophiles from lampposts. At Bob’s suggestion that they, “Get the hell out of this crazy town, now!” Spice retorted, “This is the only reason you people still exist. It takes all kinds if anyone is to survive extinction events.”
+++“Well, whoever blew up that bus was interested in personal extinction. Maybe ours.”
+++“They were, but now the one after us is on his own. He’s been fired for destruction of a government-leased vehicle.”
+++“Who would want to kill us?” Piper puzzled.
+++“I don’t know. There was no mention in my briefing of other aliens on Earth.” He sounded surprised. “We thought we were the first.”
+++A delegation from Nations Without Borders Immigration welcomed Spice so warmly that he signed their petition to unite all protest groups worldwide into one, theirs. “What unexpected cooperation!” He glad-handed all the booths, zig-zagging down the street as they worked their way out of town. A feminists handed Piper a free PETA neutering kit, remarked for human use.
+++At the edge of town, they stopped for “free bottled water” from a booth manned by a couple wearing pins that read, “It’s all about the children.” Crude pictographs on the walls showed stick figures strangling, shooting, clubbing and decapitating smaller stick figures. “Oh,” breathed Piper, “Children! How wonderful. Do you have a brochure?” she politely inquired.
+++“We’re fairly new,” replied the woman. “Donations are still slow.” She pointed to a chalk board behind her.
+++“Support Infanticide. Vote Yes on Amendment 2,” Piper read, confused. “What? What do you want?”
+++“Well, we’re not asking for any new rights, we just want the current limits expanded a bit.”
+++“How,” Piper paused, “Expanded?”
+++“To 26.” The man explained. “If they’re still living at home when they’re 26, they need to be put down.”
+++Piper staggered back, reaching out. “Bob.” Feeling his hand close on hers she turned to him and gasped, “They are so sincere! These people….”
+++“I know. They are all sincere. That doesn’t mean they’re right.”
+++The two followed Spice into the woods.

Returning to the lanai with a mug of Guatemala Antigua, I attempt to ignore the TV lest it throw me off my thought track but am caught by whoops of frivolity from the morning news team. The news ticker scrolling at the bottom of the screen reports a night club shooting that left 6 dead. Live onscreen, a bleached blond fakes intense interest in a guy with a perfectly groomed unshaven look telling us about a restaurant named Prunes. They serve tripe. He hilariously tells how he and his friends held a contest to see who could eat the grossest things. Knee slapping follows. The ticker quotes a man mourning his murdered younger brother.

Whooping News Loonies
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-3, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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Serials: The Little Engine That Could?

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Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, won’t you choo-choo me home!

Curtis says: “I have written a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.”

Atthys says: Agents … “didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth their time and effort. The bottom line really is the bottom line.”

Serials may be a viable alternative path to publication. Slow and steady wins the race, remember? No stone unturned, I promised that, to you and to myself, a while back.

I’m going to look into it.

________________________________________

Here’s Yael Goldstein Love (of Plympton Publishing) on serialization: (some of this is paraphrased/condensed)

* A serialized novel is a novel delivered to readers in installments over time. Each installment is a satisfying read in itself, but it also leaves you wanting more. Any good serialized novel also reads well as an all-at-once book, whereas the reverse is not true. A slow, lyrical novel, for instance, might make a bad serial. I say ‘might’ because you never know what other charms this book might have. Maybe each chapter is a perfect gem you want to savor.

Charles Dickens was THE famous early serialist, with The Pickwick Papers. Pretty soon, and for much of the 19th century, it was rare for a novel to be published as a book without first appearing as a serial. Most of the great (and not so great) 19th century novelists needed that money to survive, before their full book made its way into stores.

* Time-wise, and cost-wise, a serial has obvious advantages (for a reader) over a full novel. The stakes are much lower. Don’t like the first installment? Don’t get the second.

* The rhythm of the thing: Monthly doesn’t seem to work. A month might as well be a decade as far as serial reading goes. You lose the thread, maybe have to start over. But is weekly ideal? Daily? Release everything at once and let the reader choose the pace? Yael says that works for the library of classics on Plympton’s companion site DailyLit. She doesn’t have an answer for original fiction.

Serials are something of a natural for us today. TV shows with a running narrative have trained us to expect our stories to arrive in bite-size chunks, and there’s real delight to the cliffhanger.

* Serialization may work best as a marketing device—to build buzz before a book is released. This means the format becomes, in part, a gimmick. But, historically, serials have changed thinking, and may do so again.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published as one complete book, wouldn’t have had the effect that it had on thousands of white readers. It would have been easier to read it, put it aside, and forget the uncomfortable fact that something horrific was happening in this country. Instead, readers had to sit with it for months, thinking and wondering as they went about their lives. That made it a lot harder to forget those uncomfortable facts. I mention this mainly because I think it highlights just how much depth and richness the serial experience can add. It’s the furthest thing from a gimmick; it’s an art form.

____________________________________________

Entertainment choices were once severely limited. Serialized fiction filled a real need. A popular author under contract was an asset, giving a newspaper an edge over rivals. It was no second-rate way of publishing, it gained you a wider audience than you would have had, and it paid, perhaps not handsomely, but dependably.

Online outlets have proliferated, but there is an admission process, and there are rules. We’re back to a situation in which we deal with a gatekeeper. Some spots are difficult to join, some less so. On those easier to infiltrate, the quality may be less. A few lemons and a reader may move on. There are pastures and pastures, some greener than others.

A handful of sites pay, most do not. The major gain is exposure. You’ll have to fight for it, like anywhere else and, to quote Ringo, it don’t come easy. There’s massive competition.

Plympton is a major player. It’s gotten some great press. I read about them on Salon. (Kindle and Amazon are the biggies, but Plympton is a well-known boutique site.) They handle some big names, and they take on unknowns. But I went to the website and found: No new submissions accepted at this time due to submission overload. I have no idea, as yet, how common this is.

You can go it alone, some do. But you have to promote just as relentlessly as you would for a book. And punchy episodic chapters that hang together as a whole are essential.

Punchy. We’re back to a formula. A few thousand words of fast-paced shenanigans, wrap it up with a hook that entices folks to look forward to the next bit of business. My dense, ambling style may not pair well with the format.

It is easy to believe, and it may well be true, that serials lead to repeat customers and enhanced customer retention. Some sites allow for reader participation. Authors generally welcome the back and forth, saying it gets a reader onboard like nothing else.

The form is appealing on both sides of the equation. An intriguing novelty, a short, self-contained story, read it on your lunch break. The structure lends itself to a test drive for reader and author alike. I expect that readers settle on a favorite one or two sites after a broader try-out.

With an eye-catching title, you may have a better than average chance of being noticed in a table of contents. It’s a form of market research. You may build a committed fan base before you vault onto Amazon, followers who may be Johnnie-On-The-Spot with a review when that time comes.

May-may-may. I’m constructing my castles in the air before I’ve ever set foot into a serial site. BTW, I read that some of them are loath to give out figures on traffic, hobbling an accurate evaluation of prospects. Choose wisely.

Hugh Howey created a serial without meaning to. His initial petite version of Wool proved so popular, readers demanding more and more from him, that he spun it out to a full-length novel. The rest is publishing history.

His story was so successful that he’s the first author ever to negotiate a contract allowing him retention of digital rights. He’s got his big book deal, and he keeps the full proceeds from online sales. Full earnings, not whatever percentage your liege-lord thinks good and proper. They had to do it. Hugh wouldn’t have signed otherwise. He’s making too much money on his own. How’s that for an inspiration?

Check out Tuesday Serial, which offers . . . whoa! . . . one-hundred-twenty-seven pages of listings. I’ll dig deeper into that next time.

 

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Writing DaysZ 3

Morning sunlight on the golf course leaves the woman’s orchid-scattered lanai in shade. It’ll be in the 90’s today. High in the blue sky, an eagle already rides the updrafts. I sit quietly, listening to the repertoire of Mockingbirds and watching pine squirrels scamper on the grass two stories below. Before it heats up, there is time to write about the great Eugenics Fallacy of today. (Google Eugenics if you don’t know what I mean. It was the “scientifically-proven” horror of the 20th Century.)

Bob vs the Aliens
To read the story from the beginning, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Stop Continental Drift!

If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
 – Anatole France
(1844-1924, born François-Anatole Thibault, French poet, journalist, novelist)

+++They watched the three-foot-tall Alien walk until he was half a block away. “He looks so forlorn.” Piper sounded empathetically sad. “We have to help him,” she squeezed Bob’s arm.
+++“Yeh,” Bob chuckled. “I never knew a spherical person could walk hunched over like that.”
+++“Bob!” The squeeze of his arm sharpened.
+++“OKAY. Hey,” he yelled. “Spice!! You can’t walk to Denver! It’s two thousand miles away.”
+++Piper was now tugging on his arm. “We can’t let him go alone.”
+++“Don’t worry, he’s doing the math. See – he’s stopped.” Bob was reluctant to be dragged into walking two thousand miles. Not that he had any engagements, work or otherwise. When he’d last called in for work, the lecture circuit for funeral speakers hadn’t anything for him but wailing gigs. “Check the local obits,” was their advice. He was single, too, no attachments there. Life was just the way he liked it.
+++“1,632 miles,” Old Spice announced. “That’s 544 hours if we don’t stop.” He read the street signs at Central Avenue and Oak Street. “The way is well marked.”
+++Piper’s insistent grip pulling him towards the Alien had fully extended his arm. Decision time. Go with her or fall on his face. “OKAY.” He stumbled forward, muttering. “But I ain’t walking. We hitchhike.”
+++“What’s hitch hiking?” Spice asked.
+++“You stand by the road and hook your thumb out like this,” Bob showed Spice, who stepped into the intersection holding up his thumb just as a blue bus covered in colorful lettering careened from around the corner into him. The spherical Alien concaved like a collapsing basketball then rebounded ahead of the bus now screeching to a halt. The bus and Spice rolled to a stop in front of Bob and Piper. She rushed to him. “Spice! Are you alright?” People piled out of the bus. “OMG!” and “It’s an alien,” some said while others checked the front of the bus. Bob helped Spice to his feet.
+++“My suit saved me.” The Alien brushed himself off.
+++Piper fingered his suit. “It looks like regular spandex.”
+++“I backed it with duct tape,” Spice explained, turning thoughtful. “Say, if you people are ever allowed to export, I’d start with duct tape. It would sell just about anywhere in the galaxy.”
+++“Are you injured?” A bearded young white man broke from the group of diverse young people around the bus. He stopped to look twice at Old Spice. “You’re an alien! Not that that’s bad.” He added hastily. “Aliens are welcome.”
+++“You’ll take us to Denver?”
+++“Uh. Well, we are headed west.” He extended his hand. “My name is Jackson, Jackson Pfizer.”
+++“Pleased to meet you, Jackson Jackson. May I call you Jackson?”
+++“Please do.” Jackson’s smile broke through the confused look on his face. “I just received my Doctorate in Social Media.” The confused look returned. “Well,” he backed away. “If you are OKAY….”
+++“I am, Doctor Jackson. Let’s go.” Spice boarded the bus.
+++Bob studied the bus. It was hand painted in the style of wall graffiti, a blue base covered with orange volcanoes erupting over yellow buildings toppling in earthquakes. Scrawled below the windows in big fluorescent lime green letters was, “Stop Continental Drift!” and “Pin The Plates!!” He grinned and followed Piper aboard. They headed west.
+++It didn’t take long to meet the other Doctorates on the bus, it being a short bus. Each had recently completed their PhD in a socially acceptable field and were doing their Residency on a government funded tour. Sitting with the group gathered around Spice, Bob studied their eager faces while Piper told him what he was seeing, one of her professional talents as a journalist. “Each represents a different culture.”
+++They were served tea by a girl with an angry look on her Oriental face who tried to smile but failing, supplicated, “We have to save the planet.” She offered Spice her hand, “Wang Fang. The name means aromatous in my language.”
+++Spice took her hand and licked it. “Your servant.”
+++“Spice!” Piper said sharply, shaking her head. “No!”
+++Wang pulled her hand away, looking at the three of them.
+++“He’s new here,” Bob pointed out by way of explanation. “Aromas are very important in his culture.”
+++“Please forgive him,” Piper encouraged, “Go on.”
+++Recovering quickly, Wang wiped the back of her hand on her cheongsam dress, straightened and archly said, “Continental drift is causing deadly earthquakes.” Recovering even more, she leaned forward and added conspiratorially, “That’s what killed all those people in Tiananmen Square.”
+++“What?!” Bob sprayed her beautiful silk dress with sipped tea.
+++Tian’anmén Guangchang in Standard Mandarin,” Spice said, one eye consulting his inner almanac. “Also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace.”
+++Bob stared at the girl in outraged amazement. “That’s about the dumbest thing -”
+++“Hush!” Piper kicked him. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Bob!”
+++The group twittered assent.
+++“Science has proven conclusively,” Jackson intervened, “That continents drift.” Speaking with smooth authority, he calmed his group by announcing what they already knew. “Our computer models predict that at the present rate of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, civilization will be destroyed in 37 years.”
+++Piper nodded, obviously impressed. “Computers don’t lie.”
+++“We stopped using computers long ago,” Spice said. “The input always predicts the output.”
+++“I’ll bet,” Bob smiled around at the group, “That you don’t need donors. With computer models that predict the future, you make your money on the stock market. Am I right?”
+++“Of course not,” Spice corrected him. “Science cannot predict the future. Empirical science is based on measurement; one cannot measure what does not exist.”
+++“Unbeliever!” someone hissed.
+++Obviously disturbed by the drift of the conversation, Jackson coughed for attention. “The majority of scientists believe we are right. As do prominent public figures and most of the taxpayers. All of which is borne out by numerous polls. You have to believe us.”
+++Spice smiled to show he was friendly. “Empirical science does not require belief,” he said quietly but firmly. “Why do you?”
+++“Anyone who tells you they know the future wants something from you.” Bob nudged Spice, laughing. “Keep your eye on the money.”
+++Jackson looked alarmed. “Surely you are not saying that the majority of informed scientific opinion is wrong?”
+++“Check your Braincrib Notes, Spice. See what our history has to say about other ‘proven scientific facts.’ Look up Eugenics.” Bob repeated for emphasis. “Really. Eugenics. It’s worth looking up. Scientists and politicians and ordinary people believed in that ‘science,’ too. Check out the harm and the murders that insanity caused.”
+++“Really!” Jackson huffed. “We are not promoting racist theories to Nazis.”
+++“Or selling Thalidomide to pregnant women,” reflected Wang Fang.
+++“People willingly give their money to save the planet.” Jackson waved an arm at his group who again twittered assent. “It’s a good thing.”
+++“They’re giving us a ride, Bob,” Piper said with finality. “Drop it.”
+++“Well, it’s not my decision to make, of course,” Bob conceded. “I just think all that money and talent could be doing something useful.”
+++The group’s agreeable twitter changed to an angry buzz. Several texted one another on their satellite phones. When Jackson’s phone chimed, he looked and announced, “We cannot give rides to deniers. To do so risks losing our grant money. Sorry,” he signaled the Haitian bus driver who pulled over and stopped. “You must get off, now.”
+++“The Alien stays,” Wang Fang held up her hand to Spice as he rose to depart. “I notified my sponsoring agency, DARPA, about you. They are sending a helicopter to take you to Denver.”
+++Spice pushed past her. “Thank you but no. My handicap is fear of flying.  An airliner sounds bad enough but a helicopter is unthinkable. I’ll hitch hike.”
+++Standing by the road as the bus sped off, Piper had to ask, “Who ever heard of a spaceman afraid to fly?”
+++“We all have some handicap. It was a mission qualification for relating to humans.”
+++“Well, I’m glad to be off that bus,” Bob said, heading into a nearby stand of trees. “I have to pee.”
+++“Me too.” Piper followed him.
+++Spice followed them both into the trees as a helicopter whooshed overhead and loosed a missile that blew up the bus.

Seeking a second, well maybe third, cup of morning coffee, I pass the TV and see Tea Party demonstrators on the same street as Black Lives Matter, separated by cops in the middle with dogs. Imagining PETA showing up to protect the police dogs sets me to grinning at the thought of feminists, environmentalists and immigration activists joining the melee, all for attention, donations and votes.

Diversity Faire
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-2, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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book promotion

Serialization: Part one of a series …

… exploring the ins and outs of publishing a series. I’ve been considering the idea for some time, and GD’s in-house serial has spurred me to action.

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The Perils of Pauline, the most famous of the early-cinema serials.

I’m in my snatch-and-grab mode, picking brains. I start with a quick look-see: is an article potentially useful? I don’t over-think it. One good line and I scarf up the whole to digest and boil down later. I have a file with twenty pages and I’ve only just started.

Many sites specialize in the format. The one I like best so far is Plympton Publishing, but I don’t know how hard it is to get accepted. The key, of course, is … will they take you on? Then, what size readership do they have, of what inclinations?

I haven’t delved enough to be able to answer these basic questions, but I like what I read of them. Plympton was started by two members of the Harvard Crimson, and they serialize classic fiction. (Possibly new stuff as well? Dunno, yet.) So, they may have a soft spot for a classic-feel piece (author intrusion up-the-ass, silly footnotes an additional source of delight or irritation, depending on your tolerance for suchlike) detailing the faux-historical exploits of a pivotal figure in a previously undisclosed event in Elizabethan politics … who happens to be a cat.

I’m excited by what I read. Again, it’s no silver bullet. Have your sales mechanism in shape, in case you should be eagerly sought out. (I can dream, can’t I?) For me, that means my website in full flower, all them back pages linked to a menu, discoverable. Most of the serial sites (so I understand) do not pay; think of the process as a teaser with wide exposure.

My intention is to publish my novella free-to-all on my website. Would a serial site object to a competing outlet? No problem. They can have book one, I still have books two and three to myself. Does this hobble an eventual pub-for-a-price? I don’t think so. I’ll handle it the way I’ve handled the novella.

I’ve temporarily removed a lot of juicy material to streamline a shortie. And I’ve added mucho speculation on matters that are still up in the air. Nothing I write is ever set for good and all. I revise constantly. Something in the news knocks me out, that might work for Sly? In it goes. I have no shame. I steal (hmmm … adapt) right and left.

So: does a fake sighting of the Virgin Mary ever come to pass, or do my creatures only discuss it? This is one of my favorite gimmicks for getting business in without actually getting it in.

Spoiler: Yes. The Virgin Mary visitation does transpire. It’s got to. The official from the Inquisition who shows up to vet the miracle turns out to be an old client of way-past-her-prime Buttercup (I conceived her while reading Princess Bride), a street-walker roped into the scheme. As a witness! No one actually sees the Blessed Virgin. Like at Lourdes, it’s all say-so. This situation is the answer to another problem I’ve been wrestling with. The fool is able to be blackmailed. Sly needs something done for him, and the scum-bucket is just the one, the perfect one, to do it.

Buttercup recognizes her interrogator from her glory days in a top house in Paris, where she role-played Virgin Mary for a sicko who liked to dress as a priest and pretend to bang … uh huh. C’mon, how can I not go in that direction? Too too tasty not to at least explore. (It’s not yet written.) To bypass the gotta-be-a-total-riot bit, impossible!

In my next post I will try to answer the following questions:

> What are the various forms of serialization?   > What are the advantages?   > Who has been successful at it, and how have they handled it?

Part three will be a report of my explorations. I’ll contact a few of these sites and get the low-down. Leave no stone unturned, that’s the name of this game, right?

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No Stone Unturned #1: Anybody got a kit-cat who might pose prettily in a tiny pair of boots? A photo would be great, a video even better (with a voice-over of the animal’s musings), posted to YouTube. Your cat could be the new Grumpy Cat.

Our Gang of Four is having none of it. Our guys are hopeless.

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No Stone Unturned #2: I am just now reading about a service called Thunderclap, that sends out a one-time announcement of a book’s being published. You must have a hundred people sign up on your behalf, but I guess the notice gets emailed to their entire bank of subscribers.

But!honestly, how likely am I to pay attention to an email notification for a book I’ve never heard of? Not very. Don’t we all go through the reams in our in-boxes, delete, delete, delete?

I’ll check this out also.

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What might make me open and read the email is a great title. I’ve pondered what makes me pull a book off the shelf in a store, when all I see is a spine. A book/author I’ve heard about/admire, that’ll do it. Other than that, it’s the title! A really interesting title! That reflects, hopefully, an interesting mind-set. Not another The Something-Something Saga. There’s way too much of that. Boring!

When Harry Met Sally, that was a great title. Bob vs. the Aliens, that’s another.

The thumbnails on Amazon may get my attention, but they do not get me to buy. It’s a title that tempts me to read the blurb, and/or the Look Inside.

This might be a good topic to discuss. I’ll tackle it myself, if no one else gets to it first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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reading

The Channillo Challenge

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Nicholas Nickleby, published as a serial in 1838-39

I’ve finished my gig with Channillo. 52 piece of WaLWaD, starting with Calliope, who kicked off the series on June 1st a year ago. You won’t have heard of it – WaLWaD, I mean, not Channillo. But if you haven’t heard of Channillo either, it is, to quote their site, ‘a subscription-based digital publishing platform that allows writers to share their work with readers in regular installments.’ In other words, (most of the time) serialized fiction.

Now we’ve had some discussion about this here on the site, thanks to GD’s serial Bob Versus the Aliens (which is, incidentally, as zany and entertaining as the title implies). So how does it work on Channillo? The main point is that readers actually pay to read. Yes, you read that right. Strange as it may sound, such readers exist! The cheapest option is $4.99/month, which gives you from one to ten series of your choice. Might as well go for the whole ten, right? In which case, it’s not a bad deal – you just have to find the time to read them. You’ll be spoilt for choice – at least 400 titles in a broad range of genres, from historical to paranormal, but also including nonfiction and poetry. And for writers it’s not bad either – 80% of the royalties, with the first payment made when $50 is reached.

So where’s the catch? Well, that brings me back to WaLWaD – What a Life! What a Day! The reason you haven’t heard of it is that I didn’t promote it. I did a few tweets at the start but they soon fizzled out. Oh, and a blog post back in January. That was it. My apathy had a number of reasons. Firstly, WaLWaD is humour, totally different from my books, which are mystery. So I wasn’t sure that promoting it would be of much use for the books, which are challenging enough to promote already. But more importantly, though I’m pleased enough overall, some of the pieces were pretty close to first drafts, penned in haste on a Sunday evening to meet the Monday deadline. Would readers notice? I don’t know. But I wasn’t too happy promoting material I knew could be better.

As for my earnings, well, put it this way: that first payment is still up ahead in the distance. Which is a shame because it’s not for me but the Against Malaria Foundation. That’s one of the options – you can pass on the royalties to a charity of your choice. Will I get there one day? Let’s be optimistic – yes! And the quicker the better – fewer people will die of malaria in the meantime. You see what I did in that last sentence? Hint, hint. And because the series is completed, you could sign up for just a month and get the whole lot in one go. Crafty, eh?

So yes, you have to promote. And I’m not the only one who didn’t do enough of that. After seventeen weeks of posting a chapter each Sunday, I went from having four subscribers to two. I asked for analytics of how many people visited the site, clicked on my chapter descriptions, etc, but was told they wouldn’t make that available. So writes Philip Carroll, who took his serial down and put it on his blog instead.

So is this another blog post about something that doesn’t work? It would be unfair to leave you with that impression. So I approached a couple of other writers, rather more active than I am, to see if they could report more success. My sincere thanks to Bill McStowe and Chris Waltz for answering my questions.

Bill McStowe, author of the humour series Uncharted.

How actively do you promote your series and where?

I’m active on Twitter and try to draw attention to my series at least once a day. You can find me @BillMcStowe. I also promote Channillo itself and some of the other writers. Similarly, there are writers who help promote my work.

 How positively would you rate Channillo overall?

 It has been a positive experience for me, but I am aware that this is not the case for everyone. Some very talented writers have left the site and I miss reading their work.

Channillo has given me the opportunity to reach more readers. I like that. A lot of the readers on the site are Channillo authors, but I see a consistent effort to draw an outside audience. We’re asking people to pay for a subscription for the right to read when there are thousands of sites out there with free material. That’s a tall order.

 Would you say it has driven interest towards your writing in general i.e. beyond the Channillo series in particular?

No, I can’t say that. I’d like to believe it, but I’m not sure it’s true. Actually, I haven’t done much other writing since my series began. Spending hours a week meeting a self-imposed deadline has left me little room to do much else. This weekend, though, I’m making time to cut my toenails.

Chris Waltz, author of the horror-comedy series, Hellbound.

Generally, I promote my Channillo series through Facebook and Twitter. I’m a part of several writer and reader groups who are fairly supportive. Twitter has been my best avenue, because other Channillo writers tend to share the posts with their followers as well. As far as popularity goes, I have to say I’m not 100% sure how popular my series is on the website, but I know it has garnered some popularity as far as new followers and social media interactions outside of the Channillo site.

I never had plans of getting rich or famous from my Channillo series, and I haven’t, but I have been pleased with the number of people it has gotten my name to as a writer. It’s also something I feel comfortable using as a resume builder of sorts, because I was approached to write the series and it was the first writing project I began that wasn’t self-published. Since then, I have had several short stories published in more well-known publications. I have a second Channillo series debuting in a couple of months, and I am generally happy with my experience.

So yes, there are happy authors on Channillo, which I continue to believe is a highly commendable initiative. You can read a fuller review of Channillo here. And while we’re on the topic of serialisation, stay tuned to this site for an upcoming set of posts about it by Mimi Speike. Also, don’t forget to check out Bob Versus the Aliens, as well as the excellent serial Voyage of the Ballyhoo, posted on his website by Atthys Gage. Though Atthys is our resident maven of gloom, you’ll see that anyone who can spin such a yarn has nothing to be gloomy about.

As for me? Call me crazy if you like, but I’m planning another series for Channillo. Those damned mozzies, you understand.

Are you running a series on your own blog? If so, let me know in the comments – I’d be glad to go on over and take a look.

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