When Do You Dump a Bad Book?

They say breaking up is hard to do, and I know I’ve suffered many a bad relationship with books and movies. Rarely, if ever, do I quit before I’m finished. Because of that I try to be more discerning before I dig in. What about you?

Over at book-rating site Goodreads, they did a user poll and came up with some fun data. Check it out:

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I honestly can’t think of the last book I quit. Actually, wait, I can. It was a self-published Iraq war memoir that shall remain nameless and was a chore to read. Movies, I’m getting better at dumping. I’ll sheepishly admit the last I turned off was Zombie Strippers. I was looking for camp well done and didn’t find it.

What about you? What books or movies have you abandoned? Why? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

PS — If you haven’t used Goodreads, it’s pretty useful and a fun way to find new books. I’m on there as an author, if you want to connect.

Free love, Fanfic, and Pirates, Argh

Okay, so last week I posted about my move over to Amazon. It’s currently in progress, but some of these sites take a couple of weeks from when you edit your book to respond. Which, really, is a major indicator that Amazon has their stuff together way more than the other retailers. If I make a change in price, or an edit to the manuscript, Amazon has posted the new information within a couple of hours, 24 hours max. The other retailers, I’ll remind you, take a couple of weeks. That’s ridiculous. If the other retailers moved as fast as Amazon, you could do your low-price promotions without going exclusive. But trying to wrangle them into appearing all at the same time (a pre-announced time) would be a bit like trying to herd cats. Good luck with that.

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Now then, the results of my giveaway trial for “Corporate Zombie” using KDP Select. Prior to the giveaway, I had the story available for free on my website. Then I moved it to Amazon in August of 2012, to prepare for my future as a published author. I’ve sold a total of 27 copies at $0.99 since August. Last Tuesday-Friday, I gave away 128 copies for free in 6 different countries.

Three days after the end of the giveaway, I’ve not yet had any new paid sales. HOWEVER, you can see that my numbers are tiny. In a “real” giveaway, you need to give thousands of copies away in order to see a difference. I only spread the word on facebook and twitter, and even then using only casual posts. So — lesson learned #1 — you have to advertise your giveaway. Yes, you need to pay to spread the word about your free book. It’s counter intuitive, but it works. I’ve seen the numbers from other authors.

During the giveaway, I recieved a new 4-star review on the story entitled “Great short story”:

A great little short story that is a real page turner. A refreshing variation on a zombie story, from the corporate side. I don’t think a 6-page story is worth $0.99, but as a freebie, a very good read.”

First this, then lesson #2:

Soap Box
“Not worth a buck? What is worth a $1? A can of soda? A snickers bar? Let me guess, you assume I spent 10-minutes writing a perfectly edited, plotted out, final draft of the story, happened to have a cover already created, and spent another 5 minutes slapping it up on Amazon. Sound about right? Sheesh.

Alright, off my soap box. Lesson learned #2: Most readers don’t value individual short stories. I already knew this based on my previous sales, but the event & review confirms it. So, if you have short stories, go with an anthology. I hope to “replace” my individual shorts with an anthology some time around this summer.

I also haven’t seen any sort of boost in my other titles. Which, I realized a little too late, is lesson #3: Link your other titles at the end of your books. Don’t expect the reader to find them on their own.

Silver lining: There are 128 people out there who were introduced to my work. Though I love this story, I haven’t had a sale of “Corporate Zombie” since November. So I don’t really feel like I “lost” anything.

Recap: Advertise, Anthologize, Link-ize.

Now for the fanfic and pirates.

Pirate fanfic
I imagine the mashup something like this.

While googling to see if INFECTED had disappeared from other e-tailers (see what I did there?), I found out that I’m much more on the cusp of “making it” than I realized. I’ve been content thus far with relative obscurity. People read my book, like it, tell me so, I feel good, and I write the occasisonal blog post that maybe 10-20 people read. But now, I’ve been noticed: someone wrote INFECTED fan fiction, and (unrelated) someone has pirated the book.

Gasp!

For the fan fiction, I don’t want to embarrass the author too much, but sufice it to say that it exists. I’m flattered. If you really want to see the link, I posted it on my facebook page.

The piracy, however, is a different matter altogether. There’s a website offering an INFECTED  .doc, .pdf, and .epub rip at the low, low price of $Free-95.

Yes, I realize the irony that once I’ve considered book giveaways I discover that someone else has beat me to the punch.

But, obviously, there’s little benefit to me on the piracy site. According to the website, the book has been illegally downloaded almost 200 times since January 24th. Which is more than I’ve had in paid sales over those last two months. The wound is still a little fresh and has left me dazed. I’m unsure what I can or will do about it, but if there are any of you out there with experiences in this arena, I’d love to hear them. I’ll do some research and make another update in the next few days.

Hmm… not fun.

UPDATE: Part Two

Tell Me, Why Do We Love Zombies So?

This is an essay I originally wrote for zombie-guide.com and their “Zombies in Fiction” section. I also want to share it on my page because almost every time I do an interview this question comes up.

Tell us, zombie scribe. Why do the masses love the undead masses?”

So, make sure you go check out their site afterwards (lots of awesome zombie content), but here’s the article in full:

Why are zombies so popular? Well, for many, it’s a call to action. We’re Luke Skywalker, caught in the dregs of daily life, and the zombie apocalypse serves as the storm troopers coming to burn down our uncle’s homestead. Ready or not, time for adventure. Or (in case you’re not as big a Star Wars nerd as I am), let me put it this way: We’re not all the type to go out and join the military or the police force, but we’d like to believe that if danger came knocking on our door, we could rally to that call. The zombie apocalypse is when push comes to shove.

Zombie Luke Skywalker Credit: DeviantArt

It’s pure escapism. Once the zombie apocalypse happens, all the things that are important to us will fall to the wayside. Unemployment, politics, failed relationships–anything that might have you “down”–all become a moot point when the dead try to eat the living. It’s a second lease on life. You get to start afresh. This is where the true You comes out, the side that’s underestimated by coworkers, family, and friends; the side that, deep down, you know is there. The unlikeliest of heroes can now come out and save the day. Were you a pimple-faced pizza delivery guy back in the day? Well, now you’re a zombie-slaying badass and everyone’s clamoring for your protection. What about the overworked and underpaid nurse stuck on the night shift with little chance of promotion on the horizon? Well, now those skills mean you’re the most valued member of your survival team.

With zombie fiction, we can experience this release all from the safety of our own home. We can escape, if only for a few precious hours. That’s part of why with INFECTED, I made YOU the main character. You get to test that measure of your true self, if only for a bit of fun. Make your choices, then see the outcome.

Are zombies at the height of their popularity? Probably… but they’ll never fully go away, even if interest starts to wane. Like everything else in our world, fads come and go, but zombies are forever.

Are ebooks second-class citizens?

I am a self-published author, an indie author, DIY writer; call it what you will. And as such, I know the power of reviews. So when I received this email from a major reviewer — The Midwest Book Review — through my PR rep, I was delighted.

Thank you for your information. Please send two copies of the published book for review, accompanied by a cover letter and some form of publicity or press release, to the attention of:
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James A. Cox
Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
As my book has no hard-copies, I quickly replied:
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Good afternoon! Abby forwarded your request to me so I could handle it personally.

The book is published only as an ebook, due to the unique storytelling where you click embedded hyperlinks to make your choice and progress through the narrative. I can send you the book as an Amazon gift or in whatever format is convenient for you.

Thank you for your interest in INFECTED: Click Your Poison #1.   I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
James Schannep

This is where the delight ended. In the interest of transparency, I’ll post the response I received in full:
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Thank you for your information and offer.
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There is a charge of a $50 “Reader Fee” for reviewing ebooks, pre-publication manuscripts, galleys, uncorrected proofs, ARCs, and pdf files. If you wish to purse (SIC) this then let me know and I’ll send you the name and email address of the assigned reviewer. The check would be made out to the reviewer who would also tell you what information would be needed along with a copy of the title to be reviewed.
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The reviewer would provide you with a copy of the review and you would have automatic permission to utilize the review in any manner you deem useful to promote and market the book. I will also be provided a copy of the review and it will run in our book review publication “MBR Bookwatch”, be posted on the Midwest Book Review web site for five years, and published in “Book Review Index” which is distributed to thousands of academic and community libraries throughout the United States and Canada.
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Published books in a traditional print edition (paperback or hardcover) are reviewed free of charge.
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Please let me know if you’d like to proceed further.
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James A. Cox
Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
Here’s what stuck out to me: “ebooks” was listed right next to “pre-publication manuscripts” and “uncorrected proofs,” and they didn’t want to charge for a “traditional” book. This was my response:
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I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in paying for reviews. Furthermore, I challenge you to reconsider your stance on ebooks. Lumping them in with other “incomplete” publications is insulting to authors, and ultimately short sighted. Ebooks are the future. Many authors (myself included) put considerable time, effort, and money into making their ebook a professional product. I believe your organization legitimately wants to help authors, but this policy flies in the face of that goal.

.Thank you for your time.

.Regards,
James Schannep

As of this post, I haven’t seen a response. This is not meant to be an attack on Mr. Cox or his group of reviewers, though it is an attack on his policy.
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What do you think? Should I have paid the $50, happy to get whatever press I can, or am I right to be outraged? What would you have done?

Book trailers

I have a friend who can’t seem to get behind the idea of a book trailer, so figured I’d put my thoughts out there and explain a bit about why I support them.

The easy answer — We live in an increasingly visual society, and a book trailer is a quick way to get people excited about books.  Take this trailer for Stephen King’s Under The Dome for example:

I don’t own the rights to this, it’s merely an illustration.

Thirty seconds, and you’ve been good and teased on the book’s premise.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, as my friend would say, we’re trying to make books more like movies, and in doing so, robbing the reader of their own imagination.  To put it bluntly: we’re catering to the illiteracy of our society.

Here’s why I disagree: I don’t see this clip as a “trailer” (as it’s billed), but as a commercial.  Why shouldn’t books get advertisements?  We can see “trailers” about housewives using laundry detergent without spoiling our own experience with the product.  Otherwise books are advertised without actually telling us anything about the book.  “Hey, a new thriller book is out.”  If you don’t know the author, how do you know you’ll be interested?

I think book reviews are an excellent tool, but only insofar as you’re relying on someone’s opinion.  With a commercial, you get a chance to see what the book is intended to be.  It’s sort of like saying, “Here’s what I want to make you feel when you read this book.  Does something like that interest you?”

So as I see it, book trailers are raising awareness.  It’s up to the filmmakers to properly raise this awareness–to tease us–without spoiling the experience.

***update***

BONUS THOUGHT: After sleeping on it, I wonder if book covers didn’t experience a similar skepticism during the transition from plain-leather-binding to printed works of art.  One could make a similar argument that cover art limits the reader’s imagination by introducing visual representations of characters and story world.  Even so, one could make the case that cover art allows a potential buyer to instantly glean an understanding of what lies within the pages, and that book trailers are merely the next technological leap in this vein.

Behind the scenes of a writing exercise

Since I write both movies and books, I find it only appropriate if my blog blurs the line between the two as well.  I wrote a short story entitled, “the deepest part of man is his skin“, which I posted under fiction yesterday (if you were following me on twitter, you’d have seen the notification).  This blog entry is a DVD commentary, if you will; a look into the writer’s process.

It began, like any good endeavor, out of both necessity and inspiration.  I was taking my niece and nephews camping, and figured scary stories might be the order of the day.  I started to think, “If only I had a book of campfire tales,” and it wasn’t long before my DIY attitude took over.  After all, if I were a carpenter, I wouldn’t buy a birdhouse, would I?  So I took to the challenge of writing my own scary story.

At the time, I was reading a collection of HP Lovecraft shorts.  Lovecraft, if you don’t know, is as much a founding father of horror as Poe.  Stephen King called Lovecraft, “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

Lovecraft is most renowned for his Cthulu mythos.

From the first sentence, I heard his voice in my own words.  I embraced it.  Writing as another author, one whom you admire, can be a great way to expand as a writer.  Or, as my friend Damon suggested, many of the greats would type out word-for-word copies of the works of the masters as a way to put another’s genius through their own mind.

I quickly spewed out the first draft, but found it was far too adult for the kiddos (in vernacular, mostly), and so it stayed as an incomplete work for the next few months.  This was August 8th.

Cut to four months later, I’m done editing my novel–which I can’t wait to share!  Queries to be sent soon (gulp)–and I find myself with some extra writing time as I transition to my next big project.  So I pick this one up.

Let me emphasize now the importance of peer review.  I showed an early draft of the story to my friend Chris, who’s not a writer; just someone smart and insightful.  His suggestion was to make it seem more “real”by having the letter come  to me rather than by me (as it was originally written).  This one simple suggestion gave it a new spin; like one of those “found footage” horror movies.  Lovecraft was fond of spelling the demise of his narrators, and I feel he would approve of such a creative choice.

Overall, I found the exercise to be a success.  It was fun to be overly macabre and descriptive, and I think the final product is something new and valuable.  I hope you enjoy it.

Hollywood Imperialism: Make the World Britain!

This is the first actual “weekend” I’ve had in a long time. I write every day, or at least edit/proofread. For those of you who may have missed it on Twitter, I finished editing my novel and sent it off for review yesterday.  So this weekend is completely off!  Except for this blog…enjoy.

The subject of the blog entry, is something I’ve noticed for a long time:

To Americans, all foreigners are British.

This is specifically true, if the movie is highlighting an ancient civilization.  Go watch any movie or TV show made in the last 15 years, and if the foreigners are speaking English, I guarantee it’s the King’s.

Now onto the “why”:

-Sometimes the actors actually are British.  Sometimes.  People cite the HBO show “Rome” as an example of this.  You point out that all the Romans have British accents, and they’ll inform you it’s simply because that’s how they speak.  Not exactly.  Many of the actors on that show were Irish, and needed voice coaches to become posh-sounding Imperialists.  Which leads us to the next point….

The English were Imperialist.  That’s why it makes sense to us as a modern audience.  The hoity-toighty English accent makes more sense to our American minds for the portrayal of members of a grand empire, than a cheese-ball Italian accent would (even if it’s more accurate).  You wouldn’t want Mario and Luigi giving epic speeches, would you?  Even Star Wars recognizes this effect, as almost all their Imperial officers have a British accent.

-It makes distinguishing class easier.  Perhaps the most subconscious-based reason.  As many people don’t know much about ancient political structure, giving the nobility an “educated” accent (mmmmmyes, quite right) and giving the footsoldiers a “common” accent (‘ello govna!) allows us to easily distinguish social hierarchy without having it explained to us.

These all make a certain amount of sense, to me at least.  But sometimes it goes a bit far.  I recently watched the movie “Hugo”, which takes place in 1930s France.  All the books, menus, signs, etc were in French.  They even went so far as to shoot it in Paris.  Yet the actors all had British accents!  Perhaps English-speaking actors with French accents are hard to find, while Britains are abundant.  Or perhaps…

-That’s just the way we do it.  Because of actor availability on foreign locations, classical films used English actors.  So the tradition continues.  That, and we don’t want to start confusing the audience this late in the game.

Can you imagine a Roman General with a Tennessee accent? But it’s just as realistic as British tones.