Tag archive: short stories

Bad Plots and Scary Fish

I saw the new Mad Max movie the other day, and while I really liked the movie, there were a couple of times when I thought about Plot Fail #4 according to author Therin Knite: The Plot That Never Slows Down. The relentless action of Mad Max did finally take a long deep breath before rushing back to an intense pace, which it sustained for pretty much the rest of the movie.

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The Self-Publishing Bar is Going Up: A look at 2014

I’ve watched with fascination over the last four years as self-publishing changes. In the early days (2010), when many authors still feared self-publishing, selling novels on Amazon was much easier. My short stories used to go at the rate of one or two a day. Now, even getting people to download your free novel by the thousands (which also used to be easy) is a challenge because the market is so crowded.

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Would I Take a Lousy Contract From Random House?

Authors are snobs. It’s about numbers and status. It’s about competition. There are so many of us at so many different points in our careers, which could totally tank on one poor-selling novel, and there are even thousands more people who feel they, “have a book in them.”

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The Day John Grisham and I were on the Same Page

John and Me on the Same Page

My first published shorts stories were in a small Canadian magazine called Storyteller–alas, now extinct. Since Storyteller promised stories that “could only happen in Canada” I know these stories won’t necessarily have world wide appeal, although if you like coming-of-age and you want to know what it’s like on the northern frontier, these might still be the stories for you.

So I wasn’t surprised when my anthology, Summer of Bridges, a collection of all the Sioux Rock Falls stories that were published between 2001 and 2006, didn’t rocket to the top of the bestseller rank on Amazon. After all, anthologies don’t sell well in print, let alone as eBooks, and most people think of Canada and yawn, including Canadians. Don’t get me wrong, that’s why it’s a wonderful country. Afghanistan has a deep and interesting history, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there right now.

But then came my first magical promotional day, when I decided to see if I could just give it away. I love these stories, and while they are all inspired by my own experiences in the Great White North, they are fiction. As I had to say to one friend of ten years after he read the stories, “No, I didn’t participate in the burning of a giant wooden moose. I’d have mentioned that at some point during the last decade.”

To my surprise the anthology flew off the electronic shelves, hundreds downloading in day. But the best part was when John Grisham and I appeared on the same page. It turns out he wrote an anthology called Ford County: Stories. By fluke that day they happened to be ranked 28 in Amazon’s paid short story category. Summer of Bridges, because of all those free downloads, was ranked 27 in Amazon’s free short stories. Okay, I know, Grisham’s anthology is going for $7.99 and mine is free. His has 235 reviews and mine has 4. We’re not exactly in the same class, but hey, my book would never appear alongside his in a bricks-and-mortar book store.

I love the internet.

So today I’m doing another free promo day for Summer of Bridges. Take a chance and see if the Great White Canadian North doesn’t surprise you. It actually is an interesting place. And I did live there. Who knows, maybe one more time I’ll briefly end up beside my buddy John.

Giving It Away for Free

Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? This rather antique view was held by my grandparents’ generation, which apparently equated milk with sex and women with cows. You can see what I mean by antique. This warning for young women implied that all men wanted from marriage was sex, and this was a commodity that must be withheld until he was trapped with a marriage certificate. But people have been more free with love since the sixties, and they still get married and have children. Apparently there are more reasons to get married than just sex. Dare I say love?

Some authors have this milk-cow attitude to their novels. They warn that if you give them away, you’ll lose sales because no one will buy them if they can get them for free. I’ve heard at least one established and successful author state that you should never give your work away. Yet, that same author did just that with his first novel when he was starting out.

When you’re a newbie author you’ve got to build a following, and for that you need fans. They don’t appear magically out of the woodwork, they have to discover you. So I’m going to give it away for free today.

Summer of Bridges is a collection of award-winning short stories that were first published in Storyteller Magazine (alas, now defunct) between 2002 and 2008. They’re a comedic romp through one coming-of-age summer for Kenny, a seventeen year old who is nothing but trouble for his widowed mother. To save him from pot-smoking friends, she sends him to work with his uncle’s bridge painting crew, five hundred miles from home and so far north that there are no roads that don’t head due south. Kenny has to learn to fit in with a construction crew of ex-cons, become comfortable working at high heights, survive forest fires and even gets involved with a murderer.

I’ll be curious to see how this experiment in free works out. What I want more than anything as an author is for people to read my work and enjoy my stories as much as I do. I developed some faithful fans when the stories first came out, and I hope to add more with this promotion.

UPDATE: I wrote this blog last night before the promotion went live. I just checked my sales and BAMM! Holy Downloads, Batman! By 9:00 this morning nearly fifty have flown out the door, including a bunch in the UK and even one in Germany. We’re looking into how people are finding out about this freebie because I’m flabbergasted.

Is Self ePublishing in a Bubble?

Since the mortgage crisis of 2008, all the pundits are looking for the next bubble, probably because most of them are embarrassed that they failed to predict either the dotcom bubble or the housing crash. That’s why I’m wary of doom forecasters, because the disaster that’s on the way is rarely the one they’re predicting.

So I admit I was skeptical of a bubble-forecasting Guardian article brought to my attention by my friend and fellow writer, Stephen Kotowych. I gave it a read though because he and I spent a couple of years critiquing each others short stories in our writers group, the Fledglings, established by author Robert J. Sawyer. You get to know someone after reading a dozen of their stories and, even more telling, hearing their critiques of your own. I trust Stephen’s judgment.

In a nut shell the Guardian article tries to compare the ePublishing craze to a financial industry bubble, but the author, Ewan Morrison, has to jump through some pretty tenuous hoops to explain why prices aren’t increasing, which is standard for a bubble–think house prices or dotcom stock prices. He states the the actual devices–eReaders, iPads, are the price increase in this analogy, although all of these have been dropping in price. I assume he means the upfront cost to the consumer who could buy books without an eReader before, but then the article is supposed to be about self-publishers.

Yet, there is some validity to his contention that we are in a self-publishing bubble, one where people who are not authors believe they can make a million bucks on Amazon. I know of one example: a man who’d never even tried to write a book before in his life, but suddenly self-published a short non-fiction self-help book. I think he truly wants to help people, but I also believe that he expected to rake in lots of cash doing it. His book sales are non-existent if Amazon’s bestseller ranking can be believed, and I predict he will never write another eBook. But I’m willing to bet that he bought an eBook, probably with a title like How You Can Make Trillions and Trillions of Dollars and End World Hunger by Self-Publishing an eBook. Hey, maybe I should write and publish that!

Sadly, I saw this gold rush coming but I was too late. I first considered self-publishing in September of 2009, and I would have beaten the tsunami of crap, but I waited until the spring of 2010, and by that time Amanda Hocking had taken off. When I read articles about her millions of sales, I knew that every dusty manuscript in a desk drawer would be out there with a quick cover and no editing. What I didn’t predict (and should have) was that every self-styled guru would be out their selling books on how to get rich ePublishing.  These are like the guys selling bent shovels and treasure maps to prospectors in the Klondike.

Any writer (or publisher) could have predicted this bubble, because it’s actually been around for a long time. The general public just didn’t know about it. For the last ten years I’ve heard one editor after another, one agent after another, groan and complain about the massive depth of the slush pile. For years people have been sending in manuscripts, certain that they’re the next J.K. Rowlings or John Grisham, hoping to make millions. Publishers should be delighted with ePublishing because the slush pile can now be sorted by readers at 99 cents a pop, sometimes even for free. And ruthlessly sort they do–just check out the one star ratings that some books earn on Amazon.

As for the scammers, they’ll peak this year and fade into the background. Like spam, they’ll always be with us, but people will get very good at recognizing them.

Yes, a lot of people have jumped into self-publishing because they think it’s easy. When they don’t sell and realize that it’s hard work to learn how to write, to promote and to write more, they’ll walk away because these are also the type of people who give up quickly. Wait for the howls of outrage next year when Amazon announces that they’re dumping every self-pubbed title that hasn’t sold in two years. Contrary to popular opinion, server space is not free. Authors like me will still be there because we’re writers and that’s what we do, even if we don’t sell millions.

But where I strongly disagree with the Guardian article is the suggestion that the government should bail out publishers. They deserve a hand out from the tax payer even less than the big banks, and they’ve adapted to new technology about as well as the record companies. In other words, kicking and screaming their way into the 21st century. But unlike the big banks, publishers can easily be replaced by smaller, better publishers without much pain for the average person.

The next few years will see publishers reluctantly adapt, and the self-publishing bubble will burst, but don’t expect the industry to return to pre-eBook days. True self-publishers, like Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, will still be out there along with many other successful self-publishing authors. They may not be making millions, but they’ll make thousands. In fact, I’m looking forward to the end of the bubble. It’ll be cleansing.

The Secret Reason I’m Trying KDP Select

The literary world is in an uproar.  Again.  Amazon, the company that publishers love to hate, is trying to steal all the–wait for it–self-published books.  I had to do a double take at this Huffington Post piece by Mark Coker, the driving force behind Smashwords, to believe what I was reading–especially the bit when he compares indie-authors to farmers during the Irish Potato Famine.

Amazon wants books for its lending library for its Prime customers, and it has put together a big pot of money, $500,000 per month, to be split among the authors whose books are borrowed through the Amazon library.  The big catch: your books can’t be available for electronic download anywhere else.  And it’s a three month commitment.  Paperbacks and hardcovers aren’t part of this exclusivity clause, those you can still sell anywhere.  We’re just talking eBooks here.

I like Mark Coker because he has been an ardent supporter of indie-pubbed authors and has worked diligently to get their work up on as many platforms as possible.  I certainly don’t blame him for decrying a marketing tactic that is clearly aimed at undercutting his business.

But I think he’s wrong to worry that indie-pubbed authors will abandon Smashwords wholesale.  What’s more likely is that authors will launch a book with Amazon, choosing KDP Select, but will drop out of the program after the three month period ends.  It’s not a lifetime commitment here, and authors will want to see their novels available for the iPad because it’s the coolest device ever invented, let alone all the other eReader platforms.

Coker has some good points about losing sales rankings if you pull your novels, which is why I’m not enrolling Vampire Road in KDP Select.  It took months for this novel to appear in the search at B & N and others, something Coker has promised to try and speed up, so I won’t be pulling it out of Smashwords now that it’s finally available everywhere.

But the prequel, The Book of Bertrand, will launch on Friday (if the editor and cover artist deliver on schedule) and there is absolutely no hope that Smashwords can get it to the other platforms before Christmas.  I know because they gave all us indie-pubbed authors a November something deadline for Christmas distribution.

Amazon says they’ve been selling a million Kindles a week for the last couple of months, and some of those will be going to Kindle Prime members, who are going to want to borrow a book because they’ve blown the budget on Christmas, so why not get The Book of Bertrand in front of them?

But now for the big secret: Summer of Bridges, my anthology of coming-of-age stories, the ones that were first published in Storyteller Magazine, turned out to be a perfect candidate for KDP Select.  While I love these stories, I hadn’t got around to loading the anthology onto Smashwords, so I figured I’d enroll it in KDP Select to see what happens.

Someone borrowed it the very next day.  Now this anthology hasn’t been selling well, I figure because they’re short stories and they’re very Canadian.  The very name of our country induces yawns from most other countries–not a bad thing.  But here’s the surprise: the sales ranking on Amazon popped up as if it had sold a copy.

Which got me thinking: the higher the sales ranking, the more I sell.  Any chance that I can pump TBofB’s sales over the Christmas to New Year’s buying week is a good thing, especially if I also get a piece of a $500,000 pie to boot.

I also think that the most money to be made from the KDP Select program will be in the early days, when Amazon’s still fighting to lure authors into the program.  Remember that the money is split between participating authors, and a lot of authors will be reluctant to pull down work already for sale elsewhere.  I bet the biggest pay outs will be in December, January and February.  After that, word of mouth about good payouts will cause a stampede, and then the payouts will drop when they have to be spread to more authors.

It’s good to be ahead of a stampede, but you’d better run fast.

I Got My Name in the National Post – Two Times

And I didn’t even have to get arrested to make that happen.

Membership has it privileges, and for years I’ve been a member of the Crime Writers of Canada, ever since my editor at Storyteller Magazine (alas, gone now–the magazine, not my editor) told me I should join.  She’d just picked up my short story, Railroaded, which was certainly about a crime, although it was not a who-dunnit, but more of a what’s-he-gonna-do-about-it.

Now even though I’m not really a crime writer, I’ve stayed with the CWC because there are many great writers in the organization, and they nurture, advise and encourage newbies like me.

But last Saturday they went above and beyond the call: I opened the National Post newspaper here in Toronto and saw an advertisement for the CWC booth at the Word On The Street Festival this coming Sunday.  There was my name in the middle of the ad–they even got the accent over the “e” in Andre, something I’ve left off over the last few years just to make things simpler.

If that wasn’t enough, the ad ran again today.  Does it make me famous?  Okay no, but it’s a little step on the way and it’s a lot of fun.  Maybe someone I knew in high school but lost touch with will recognize my name.  Out of nostalgia perhaps they’ll show up and decide to buy a book.  That would be good.

Either way, if you live in Toronto and you’re going to Word on The Street, stop by booth 148.  I get a seat between 11 and 12, but I’ll be there all day.  You can shake my hand.  I got my name in a major newspaper–twice.

Many thanks to Catherine Astolfo and the CWC board for all their work to make this happen.

The Verdict on Amazon Gift Cards

Promoting a novel through give-aways is a great idea, but I learned a lesson recently.  I was heading to the Bloody Words Mystery Convention in Victoria, mostly to hang out with a bunch of fun-loving authors.  But I knew there would be lots of mystery readers there too, so I decided to give away some e-copies of my anthology, Summer of Bridges, because it has an award-winning mystery short story, Railroaded, among the other Sioux Rock Falls stories.

So I went to Amazon and ordered fifty gift cards and took them with me along with a fistful of postcards featuring the anthology’s cover.  I’m not pushy, so I only handed out the gift cards to people who said that they were very interested.  I also made sure that they either owned a Kindle or were comfortable with downloading the Kindle app for their computers.

Then the real mystery began.  The week after Bloody Words my novel, Vampire Road, began selling copies but Summer of Bridges showed no spike at all.  What the heck?  What were those mystery lovers doing buying a vampire novel with their gift cards?

Then a few of my short stories started selling, and I thought the mystery was solved.  Perhaps they were using the gift cards to buy the short stories.  All of those stories are contained in the antho plus three new stories, so I was surprised they were blowing the gift cards on one story when they could have had them all with one free download.

Today I checked the status of the gift cards with Amazon and discovered that not one single, solitary, gift card from Bloody Words has been redeemed.  The sales for Vampire Road, White Metal, Railroaded and the others all came from book-lovers surfing Amazon.  None of those sales came from my gift card promotion.

I still think that gift cards can be useful, but next time I’ll say, “Show me your Kindle and I’ll give you an e-book.”  I’ve done that twice since Bloody Words with better results.  Both fans had Kindles and both used their gift cards.

So the verdict: the Amazon gift cards are a great way to introduce people to a novel.  Just don’t give them to people who may not be comfortable downloading the Kindle app or buying a Kindle.

 

I’m Selling in the UK

I was checking my sales report on Amazon to see if my efforts at  Bloody Words had produced a bump, but what caught my attention was a new report button for sales in the Kindle UK store (and another for the Kindle DE store in Germany)

Just for fun I gave it a click and discovered that I’ve actually started a trickle of sales in the UK.  Even one of my short stories sold on that side of the pond.

Why is this so exciting?  I don’t know anyone in the UK.  These sales are a tribute to cover art (thanks M. Custode) and good openings to the stories–because that’s the only way people in the UK can judge them.  Amazon allows readers to read the first several pages for free.

My efforts at Bloody Words did cause a little bump in sales for Summer of Bridges, my coming-of-age anthology of short stories that first appeared in Storyteller Magazine.

But here’s the really weird thing: Vampire Road, the young adult, violent, vampire novel has seen an even bigger jump in sales over the weekend.  I didn’t push Vampire Road at Bloody Words because this is a convention of mystery readers–many of them with grown children–who would have little interest in a YA novel.  I’d be doing them a disservice to try and sell it to them.  I pushed Summer of Bridges because the Sioux Rock Falls stories are light-hearted Canadiana, and one of them is a mystery.

So what demographic started buying Vampire Road over the weekend?  I guess the obvious answer is younger people who like vampire novels.  It’ll be interesting to see where sales go once I really get marketing.

If you were wondering: no sales in Germany so far.

Side Note: For the authors out there who are waiting for a blog on how to format and put up e-books, it’s in the draft stage.  It’ll be up this week.