#YayIndie

I write for no deeper purpose than to entertain. My words are not going to be the catalyst for some great and meaningful change in a person’s life. But I still positively revel in the freedom to say exactly what I like, exactly how I like, without fear that an agent or editor would never let me get away with it, and without the need to revise toward the type of popular appeal a big publisher requires to make the math work these days.

So I can only imagine what this freedom means to people who are saying something inspired by a higher calling, that might otherwise be censored by the mainstream.

Now, given the realities of population distribution, odds are a fair number of those people are assholes whose idea of a higher calling sucks. We may not be better off for hearing what they have to say.

But we’re all better off for their having the freedom to say it.

What’s your Yay Indie thought today?

Eleven largely unrelated things

  1. What I’m working on now: mythology meets Hogwarts meets Office Space. SO FUN.
  2. But still no supernaturally powerful dog. SO WEIRD.
  3. I’m seriously considering moving Game of Thrones into the watch-the-recording-Monday-night slot and promoting Wolf Hall (for one more week) or Penny Dreadful into the must-watch-live-Sunday-night slot instead. Tough choices. This is a difficult and expensive time of year because every show I watch is on at once, except Banshee, which had the courtesy to air in January.
  4. Veiled spoiler alert. I’m willing to rethink this if Sansa takes over for Wyman Manderly and does the pies at the wedding.
  5. Sansa is totally right about lemon cakes. They are delicious. Well, they’re lemon cookies in my house, but the same concept applies. I even use half spelt flour, so you can eat them for breakfast!
  6. Ghost in the Canteen has enjoyed a three month run at 99¢ as part of the HYPE for book 2. (What? You didn’t feel the HYPE?) But all that will come to an end sometime in the mid-May range. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  7. I’m planning on releasing the first season of my upcoming serial starting July 28. This is completely subject to change, depending on how much it turns out I don’t know what I’m doing.
  8. Serial episodes will be available through Kindle Unlimited, or for purchase at 99¢, which is roughly the same price-per-word as my full length novels at $3.99.
  9. Outlander is still awesome. But meaning no offense to Tobias Menzies, who is doing a fantastic job in his roles, I didn’t necessarily need to see all… that. Then again I’m a prude, just ask Paula.
  10. You should always listen to Bon Jovi and drink wine while cooking or baking. Sometimes, in an emergency situation, it’s okay to substitute Def Leppard and a whiskey sour. The Bee Gees should only be used on holidays and/or when you’re cooking for at least eight people.
  11. My birthday is later this week, and I’ll be celebrating by trying to raise a little awareness, such as I can, for K9’s for Warriors. I put this one last so you could go click directly. Go click!

 

When it’s okay to tread old ground

Spoilers for the movie Sinister.

Sinister was on Syfy last night. Funny, the first time I watched it I remember I didn’t find it as scary as everyone said it was. Probably because it was predictable. You knew exactly where this movie was going, and it was frustrating that Ethan Hawke and Deputy Dawg took so long to figure it out. Have they never watched a horror movie before? Because there was nothing new here.

Snuff films: done. The concept that watching the terror on film/video will draw you in and make you part of the terror: done. Shaky, faux-home movie camera work: done. Family moving into a house where another family was slaughtered: done. One parent putting the family in jeopardy while trying to hide it from the other parent: done. Mysterious monster guys with weird white faces: done. Serial killers: done. Footsteps in the attic: done. Ghostly figures walking where the audience can see them, but the protagonist can’t: done. Lots of dark rooms with one light at the edge of the shot: done. Creepy children: really done. Relentless use of jump scares: do we even need to talk about this one?

Honestly, all we’re missing here is a van full of teenagers getting picked off one by one. The only place I’d expect to see this many horror tropes in one place is in a spoof. Which Sinister is not.

But I already knew all that last night when I watched it the second time. I wasn’t looking for anything fresh or new, so I just, you know, watched it. For what it was. And damn if I wasn’t scared. I began to see what all the hype was about, back when it first came out. That is a seriously scary movie, if you let it be.

Because the jump scares, while expected, still made me jump. They were really good jump scares. The creepy children? Some of the creepiest ever. Snuff films? Whole new level. The gore was done right, used frequently enough to be disturbing, but not so frequently as to desensitize the audience to it. The monster guy was monstery enough without being so over-the-top that you just kind of wanted to laugh at him. And the home movie footage did not make me nauseous, which is a huge plus. (Film makers, would you please stop making me feel carsick with that jumpyass camera work? It’s not scary, just annoying.)

A reminder, I guess, that as much as we like to throw around phrases like “a fresh spin on…,” it’s not always necessary for your spin to be fresh. As long as your spin is good.

The devil’s due

Due on your Kindle, that is. See what I did there? Hee.

You can find both the Kindle and paperback editions of Peak of the Devil at Amazon even as I type.

The Kindle edition is on sale for 99¢–that’s 75% off regular price–through April 30 only.

Peak of the Devil will be available at other online retailers later in the week. Watch my sidebar and/or Bookshop page for links if you’re looking for it at iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, or Inktera.

Thanks for checking it out!

The sun always shines on TV

I’ve been following with great interest what I think of as the televisionization (say that three times fast) of reading, which has become so popular that the Kindle store now has its own short reads section. Or did it always and I just noticed it because of the following-with-great-interest thing? Either way, lots of people writing serials, Charles Dickens style, but more like TV because they’re breaking the stories up into not only episodes but “seasons” as well. All made possible, or at least popular, by subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and the ability to price your episodes at 99¢ to keep the value a purchasing reader is getting equal to that of a full length novel, wordcount-wise.

I love this whole thing. It’s not without its challenges, though. As a reader I’ve had rough experiences with serials because by the time the two weeks between episodes go by, I’ve forgotten too much stuff. You don’t have the advantages of the “previously on” reel you get with TV, and novelists are not accustomed to concerning themselves with whether it’s practical to expect a reader to retain many small details over a long span of time.

This is not to say at all that I think it only works with uncomplicated plots. Only that I think writers working in this medium need to adjust to it. You can’t just chop a full length novel into four or five bits and call it a day. Each episode has to be part of the larger story, of course, but it also needs to feel somewhat complete in itself. Cliffhangers are welcome, but there’s a difference between a cliffhanger and a chunk of story that has no beginning or end or arc of its own. You’ve got to take some lessons from your storytelling brethren in the television sphere.

I think it sounds like a fun project and a great challenge, so I’ve decided to do the trilogy I was planning as a serial instead. Each book a four episode season, with 20-25k word episodes released two weeks apart, and probably an eight week gap between seasons. All starting at the end of July.

Don’t worry though, I’ll continue to release the remaining books in The Adventures of Lydia Trinket every six months, as planned. I KNOW YOU WERE WORRIED. (Or at least, you might be. Peak of the Devil ends on a cliffhanger, because I’m evil like that.)

More on this adventure as I go. Right now I’m up to my elbows in Scrivener outline because I do think this has to be approached in a completely different way from anything I’ve written before.

 

Radical action regarding Amazon reviews

I’ve just deleted every Amazon review I’ve ever written, from 2006 to the present.

They’ve changed the language in their policies against review manipulation, and frankly, I just didn’t want to worry about it.

Here’s a quote:


Customers trust that they can shop with confidence on Amazon. Reviews provide a forum for sharing authentic feedback about products and services — positive or negative. Any attempt to manipulate reviews, including by directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited.

We take the integrity of our reviews platform very seriously. If we determine that you have attempted to manipulate reviews or violated our guidelines in any other manner, we may immediately suspend or terminate your Amazon privileges, remove reviews, and delist related products. In addition, if we determine that an Amazon account has been used to engage in review manipulation, remittances and payments may be withheld or forfeited. Misconduct can also lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties.

We encourage anyone who suspects that review manipulation is taking place or that our guidelines are being violated in any other manner to notify us. We will investigate the concern thoroughly and take any appropriate actions.


 

And some of the examples they give of violations:


A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them


You see a lot of concerning phrases there, and if you go on to read everything they have to say on the subject, you’ll find even more. Some of the things that have been called into question are authors reviewing the work of other authors, reviewing anything that could be construed as your competition, and reviewing the work of anyone you have a “close personal relationship” with. (As defined by who? It used to just say anybody in your immediate family or household, which is a lot more cut and dried.)

I’m sure this isn’t their intent, but the way it’s written, it essentially says they could ban you from publishing with them ever again if you’re an author and you’ve reviewed books. Or if you have a book that’s been reviewed by an author.

I’m very comfortable that I have never done anything unethical where reviews are concerned, either giving or receiving, at all. Like most indies, I’m friendly with some of the authors whose work I’ve enjoyed and reviewed. I’d say that’s all but inevitable, since one of the reasons you’re friendly with a person might be that you share similar tastes and sensibilities. But there’s nothing wrong with that so long as no arrangement was made to exchange positive reviews.

Also, this is a clear strike against people who pay for reviews. (And that’s obviously a good thing.) That’s what it’s about, largely. It’s not about me or my handful of reviews, I’m super small fry, and it’s silly to think anyone is looking at me.

So why be so paranoid?

That’s some scary-ass language, is why. You run afoul of it, and your career as an indie is over. Given the consequences and the potential for broad interpretation, it seems to me that strict adherence to the letter of the law–even the unclear imaginary letters–is in order.

As for my own reviews, I decided to define “close personal relationship” quite broadly, as anyone who is either related to me, or has had a meal or a drink with me. Because, duh, food. That applied to one of the people who reviewed Ghost in the Canteen–the only reviewer I’ve ever met in person–so I asked her to remove it. Nobody but me stands to benefit financially from my sales, and I’ve never offered another author a review in exchange for their writing one for me. So. I should be good.

But, there are some of my blog readers who have reviewed my work. If you’re also an indie and you’re the least bit uncomfortable with that, I’d encourage you to remove your review. I’d rather have fewer reviews and know everybody is sleeping well at night.

Buck Books Part 1: The Controversy

Buck BooksDISCLAIMER: If you click the Buck Books ad to the left, or the one in my sidebar, and then go on to sign up for Buck Books emails, I will earn a few cents. Don’t click it if you prefer noncents. (See what I did there?) But apart from being an affiliate, I do like Buck Books, and they’re worth checking out if you’re a reader looking for bargain books. More below.

The subject of Buck Books caused a little controversy over at the KBoards not long ago. The issue? Their policy is that if they promote a book, the author must agree to promote Buck Books in return. (Hence the affiliate program and the disclaimer above.)

But I’m pretty sure lots of the sites that will promote your book for free ask for some version of the same thing, even if it’s something simple like reciprocal links. And, um, why wouldn’t you want to help make sure any newsletter you’re featured in reaches as many readers as possible? I’ll confess I couldn’t see what the big deal was.

I’ve got lots of promotion planned in April and May for Ghost in the Canteen, as part of the release party goodness for book 2 in the series. That seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore this whole thing further, so I did a little more research. I found that people were having good results with Buck Books ads. I went ahead and applied for one. Possibly because I was really flexible in schedule, I was able to get a spot more easily than I’ve heard some people have. It’s running next week, April 14. Afterward I’ll be posting Buck Books Part 2: The Results over at The Write Stuff for interested indies.

Yes, I signed up for an affiliate account. The ad’s been in my sidebar since I got the spot around mid-March. I’ll be talking about Buck Books next week in conjunction with my promotion, as well as in this post. There’s been nothing sinister about any of this. Nobody is trying to make me spam my Twitter followers every hour on the hour or roam the country in a van decked out with the Buck Books logo, spreading the word to the masses. I simply checked the box that said I’d do some reciprocal promotion when I signed up, and they’re leaving the details up to me.

I find none of this the least bit shady. They’re perfectly transparent about their policy. I’ve been up front about what the affiliate link does. As we’re talking about promotion, I see nothing shocking in the discovery that it involves, you know, promotion. Buck Books ads are free, and they decide whether or not to promote your book before they see how you intend to fulfill your part of the bargain, or what your results may be. These aren’t ads going to the highest bidder. Not that there would be anything wrong with that either. Since that’s how most ads in most industries work.

Maybe it would be different if I wasn’t comfortable promoting them, although if that were the case, surely I wouldn’t want them featuring me either? But I genuinely like Buck Books emails, and I’ll stay signed up for them after my promotion is done and my obligation fulfilled. They’ve got a couple of advantages over some of the multitude of other bargain books newsletters you can sign up for. First, the regular email only promotes a small handful of books, so there aren’t pages and pages to scroll through. Second, they often do events where they promote a single genre or topic together, and I like not having to sift through, say, fifty cozy mysteries and romances to find one fantasy novel. (Although I do find the logo in their emails a little strange. It’s a guy in a tux with a sexy lady touching his shoulder. I guess she’s turned on by cheap books?)

So that’s my take on the controversy. Sound off in comments, and be sure to check The Write Stuff next week for my results!

Suckers

So here is the blurb for Suckers, by Z. Rider:

When worn-out musician Dan Ferry decides to take a shortcut back to the band’s hotel, he picks the wrong dark alley to go down. Within days of being attacked by a bat-like creature, he becomes consumed with the need to drink human blood.

Terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t get his fix–and terrified of what he’ll do to get it–he turns to his best friend and bandmate, Ray Ford, for help. But what the two don’t know as they try to keep Dan’s situation quiet is that the parasite driving Dan’s addiction has the potential to wipe out humankind.

You’ll note two key phrases there: need to drink blood and potential to wipe out humankind. That tells me it’s a vampire apocalypse novel. It takes serious balls to release a vampire apocalypse novel. The only way to write to a more saturated market would be to throw in some zombies. It’s a major challenge, and not for the faint of pen, to pull this off. Justin Cronin pulled it off. Z. Rider does, too.

I mention Cronin because sometimes Rider reminds me of him. Sometimes of Stephen King. Those are both big compliments in my world. But more importantly, she mostly doesn’t remind me of anyone. She owns this story. This story, despite having all the elements a horror story requires, is not one you’ve read before.

The bulk of the credit for that goes to the characters. Dan and Ray are interesting as individuals, but they’re even more interesting when taken together. Their relationship is a big part of the pull that keeps you turning pages when you should be doing laundry. As it’s burdened by greater and greater challenges, you want to know how much it can take. And you root for it not to fall apart.

This is a story about friendship, addiction, and then horrifying blood sucking gore. Don’t get me wrong, the horrifying blood sucking gore is quite horrifying. But it takes all three to make it work. This works very, very well.

And extra points for the mention of coffee regular. It’s been many years since I left New England, but that took me right back to my old morning commute. I don’t especially miss Boston. (Boston is great, but you know. We have sunshine and shrimp & grits here.) I don’t especially miss coffee. But I totally miss that delicious marble cruller. And also the years when eating a delicious marble cruller every day would have zero effect on my weight. Ah, youth.

And the point of that little aside is: it’s a great skill to take one detail like that and use it to evoke a setting so well. This is just good, solid writing.

Go read it.

My newsletter subscribers are more awesome than you

Because they got to read the first chapter of book two in the Lydia Trinket series, Peak of the Devil, last week. Now you can read it here and be awesome too. (Warning! Contains adult language. Reader discretion is advised.)

The Kindle edition of Peak of the Devil will be 99¢—that’s 75% off regular price—April 28-30 only. All editions, including print, will be widely available at major online retailers the last week in April.

Newsletter subscribers will get a release announcement, so you can both safeguard your awesomeness and make sure you don’t miss the sale by joining my mailing list.

And don’t forget that all eBook editions of Ghost in the Canteen have been permanently priced at 99¢, so as to be sure there are no barriers to entry into the series. If you aren’t awesome, I’m afraid you have nobody to blame but yourself.

And I think that’s about all the shameless self promotion we’ll be having around here, until I’ve got the cover to show you all.