Cat Speaks Wisdom

No, not the four-legged variety (unless there is something she isn't telling us).  In this case, it would be the inestimable Cat Rambo, who has forgotten more about this business than I am likely to ever learn.  She made a post at SFWA on improving one's central Author page at Amazon.  Considering the source, I think it's all very good advice.  Mostly common sense but the longer I trod this world, the less common such sense feels.

Full disclosure:  this is a much a reminder post to myself as anything else.  I want to set up an Amazon author page and this is good advice I'd rather not lose.

(Muse:  So you're abusing the good will of your readers for selfish ends?)

You make it sound sordid.

[Edit:  I hate LJ's new posting system, and the option to use the old one seems to have vanished.  Breaking my balls….]

Reviews from the Kindle Aisle

I have become addicted to cheap fantasy.

(Muse:  Knowing what you fantasize about, you can color me shocked.)

Not that kind of fantasy, you nattering buffoon.  Spec-fiction fantasy.  A few months back, Mrs. Axe gifted me with a Kindle card and rather than download one magnum opus from a big author for $20, I decided to experiment and try some lesser-known authors, who had put their books out there at a low rate, hoping for a nibble.  Basically, I shot low to see what I would get, in terms of quality.  Going into this I did have a few ground rules:

1) I set my upper limit for any one book to a soft $2.99, though I could be persuaded a little higher.
2) I did look for books with good reader reviews, and lots of them.  Someone with two reviews, both of which were five stars, could easily be the author themselves under dummy accounts.  When they had two hundred, it seemed less likely.  3 stars was about my cutoff.
3) I would read at least one quarter of the book before passing judgement – and if I didn't like it, I would not feel guilty about finishing, since I paid little for it.
4) I will eventually go leave my own Amazon reviews, to help others as the reviews help me.  (This, I have not done yet.)

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.  The books – and authors were a mix.  Some caught my attention; others aroused no more than polite interest, even though they were put together well.  A few blurbs:

Night of the Wolves (The Paladins #1), by David Dalglish.  This was an interesting little jaunt.  The story concerned two main characters, Jerico and Darius, Paladins from opposing orders, who are both assigned to a rural countryside area, where they preach their faiths and attempt to win the approval of the townsfolk.  In the meantime, the leader of a roving pack of intelligent wolf-like monsters from beyond the river attempt to unite the tribes of his kind, in best Genghis Khan style, for an attack on the human lands.  I rather liked this one.  The characters were distinct and full of flawed doubt and questioning.  The setting – while not inspiring – was functional and consistent.  There are other sub-plots moving around, including an apparent war between the paladin factions, straining the relationship between Jerico and Darius, even as they deal with the wolf problem.  The story is told in multiple limited third-person view, so you get a view from a number of character heads (though it was about two more than was comfortable).  Dalglish's website lists a number of books, so he's been quite prolific for the last few years.  This first book was free, so for those who like old-fashioned sword-n-sorcery battle tales, I recommend it.  I plan on getting the other two books in this series and going from there.  Amazon review rating:  4 stars, which seems about right.

War of the Fae, Book 1 (The Changelings) by Elle Casey.  This is a YA novel (which I didn't realize when I got it – so much for careful scrutiny of the reviews, right?) and as such, I think it's serviceable.  The tale opens with smart-mouthed Jayne Sparks, an over-smart teenager with a quick mind and quicker mouth.  After she and a male friend run away from trouble, they find themselves caught up in remote wilderness with several other runaways, where they are tormented by a variety of mythical creatures.  This one was okay.  I get that I was not the target audience, so maybe that's why I saw the twists and turns coming pages before they happened.  The writing and the gauntlet the characters run were a little reminiscent of Hunger Games (which was itself inspired by the Japanese novel Battle Royale).  Jayne is too precocious and sure of herself for me, especially for some of the character wrinkles that are later revealed.  The other characters come off as tentative or lacking individuality.  Technically, the book is well-paced and descriptive, and I stayed entertained long enough to make it to the end.  I can imagine teenaged girls really liking this one; as an old fart, I thought it was decent but that's about it.  Amazon review rating:  4.5 stars, whereas I'd give it 3.5.

The Black God's War (Splendor and Ruin, Book I), by Moses Siregar III.  The plot concerns the son and daughter of a king, both of whom inherited powers of war and peace by virtue of their ties to the Gods.  When their father insists on a sustained war with their ancient enemies, they ply their gifts as best they can, though the girl Lucia is beset by visions of yet another God, who torments her with promises of doom and death – for her and all her people.  You know, I should have liked this one.  The Amazon page acknowledges a few awards & praises the book has earned, the plot concept is sound.  It was right in my wheelhouse.  But try as I might, I just could not get into it.  I read about 100 pages in and finally put it down.  I am not sure why but it just wasn't my cup o'tea.  Amazon review rating:  4.5 stars but I can't give it one.

Adrianna's Fairy Tales:  Erotic Retellings, by Adrianna White.  Okay, I am still not sure why I read this.  The book retells three classic fairy tales from an erotic point of view:  Naughty Cinderella, Riding Red Hood, and Beauty and the Beast with Two Backs.  Up front, I would say there isn't enough erotica in the stories to justify the title.  When I want some smut, I expect some smut.  Even the notoriously bad 50 Shades series had more sex in it, page for page, than this did.  The writing was technically sound and the dialogue between characters felt natural but the characters themselves felt uni-dimensional and were not very interesting.  Plus, too much direct exposition.  We learn Cinderella is street walker because the author says it outright, rather than letting the described events make the point.  Even though it has a sale price now, it was free when I grabbed it – but I cannot recommend spending $4.99 on it.  Amazon review rating:  3 stars, but I would have to go 1.5.

I have a handful of others that I have not yet finished reading or yet discarded but when I do, I will be back with some more reviews.

Cheerio!

Daily Update #26

Hey, didn't I just do this?  Well, yeah.

–  I completed a short story about a deep-dwelling ocean entity and posted at FWO – my first such post in over a year.  I am having a very hard time forcing myself to carve out the time to write, so any impetus – in this case, the website monthly contest – that keeps me moving is a good one.  I’m working on one for the next prompt.  Even if I don’t submit, it still keeps me writing.

– On that note, sometimes providence smiles upon you and gives you the kick in the rear you need.  I was invited to participate in a reprint anthology to be posted on Amazon.  True, I don’t have a wide swath of published stories to choose from but I will pick something out.  With the exception of my most recent tale, I believe the electronic rights  have reverted to me on all my publications (which I will confirm beforehand).  It's a nice ego-boost to be invited.  More importantly, ever since then, I have been thinking more about writing and pushing stories for publication.  Sometimes it’s good to get a nudge.

– But on the other hand, my progress on Pilgrimage has almost ground to a halt.  I did several thousand words a few weeks ago and nothing since.  Annoying.  I need to go ahead and get that draft finished.  Mrs. Axe jokes that I need to have a novel sold by mid-2014 or I won’t be able to come in the house anymore.  At least, I think she’s joking.

– I finished reading a book titled Ancient Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire on my Kindle.  It doesn’t do a blow-by-blow chronicle of Roman history but looks at some pivotal moments throughout, from the inception of the Roman Republic, to the fall of Rome in 476, which finished the Western Roman Empire for good, a full generation after the word “empire” had been rendered a mere fiction.  If you like ancient history, it’s a good read.  Sex, violence, betrayal, rebellion – in other words, lots of good Roman stuff.  And there is a lot of discussion about how the old Republic wasn’t as egalitarian as one might think.

– I see that Harry Harrison died.  I never got around to reading Make Room! Make Room! but it has always been on my long list.  Another big guy goes down.  Rest well, my brother.

I have another death-related post but I will cover that in another installment.

In the meantime, stay thirsty my friends.

The Perils of Going It Alone

Once again, I have had an unacceptable absence from these hallowed halls, and for that I should be purged, I should be flogged, I should be whipped, I should be tied up, I should –

(Muse:  You sound turned on.)

Quiet, you!  Anyway, I have been reading a bit lately, mostly on my Kindle.  Said it before, and I will say it again:  love that little device.  It is so awesome to have on the treadmill or elliptical, makes the workout zoom past.  Most of the stuff I have been reading  is small-press, or self-published – things I picked up from the Kindle store for $1 or less.  The prose itself runs the gamut on quality but what strikes me the most are the staggering errors.

I can see a novelist going it on their own.  It's ambitious and speaks to the best entrepreneurial spirit in humankind.  I admire the idea and kinda hope to do it myself at least once.  But I think it has to be done well, or why bother?  Here are a few things I have noticed by reading some of the small-press and self-published stories out there – things that I would call amateur mistakes, born of desperation and inexperience.

– I recently finished reading a book I will – for fear of litigation – refer to as the Little Book of Happiness.  The book itself was a bundle of scary stories, some obviously better than others, including a few that I thought could have a home in larger publications.  The material was fine.  What killed me was that about at about the 2/3 mark, a story passage was underlined – and underlined – and underlined, ad infinitum to the end of the book.  Somewhere in the process, the editor never turned off the underlining.  Sloppy, says I; a perfectly good collection marred by a formatting error.  The takeaway?  Always, always, ALWAYS triple-check your formatting.

– I read another book that was riddled with spelling and punctuation errors.  I am mega-lax in these areas but for stories I submit for publication, I go through them with a fine-tooth comb.  Almost every submission guideline I see says that loads of technical errors result an automatic rejection, before they ever find out if the story is good.  The takeaway is obvious:   if no one else will publish it because it is chock full of bad grammar, neither should you.

– A ways back, I read a self-published trilogy that was pretty good and talked about on this blog.  As I skip around Google, I find the author's work reviewed – for good or bad – in many other places.  It's out there, it's (somewhat) known.  I just finished reading a similar (part of a trilogy) book yesterday, that I downloaded from Amazon.  When I look around the net for reviews, I get nothing outside Amazon.  Nada.  Zilch.  Even if you have a good story, how the heck would anyone know?  You have to make like the lead marcher in a nudist parade, and just put yourself out there.  Takeaway:  if you self-publish, you have to do the legwork and simply cannot wait for people to come to you.

– Don't even get me started on derivative fan fiction.  Takeaway:  don't.  (Yes, 50 Shades of Gray, I am speaking to you.)

None of this is terminal but I think it speaks to the mindset of someone charging without surveying the battlefield.  A boss of mine once said, "Slower is faster," meaning that the better prepared one is, the less they will have to backtrack to repair.

And I agree, none of this is new or mind-bending information, and these concepts have all be covered before.  This is just my stab at gathering the empirical evidence.  To me, it's convincing.

So by all means, dear readers, please self-publish if you like.  I'll be cheering for you.

But please do it right.

Daily Update #24

Ah, another Daily Update.  As usual, not so much on the "daily," but more on random randomness of randomosity that is my writing world.

– Over at SFWA, I read an interesting post by a young lady named Amy Sundberg.  (I tracked it back to her blog Practical Free Spirit).  The post concerned how we as authors deal with our brothers and sisters in the writing world and how that tailors our expectations when dealing with the non-writers.  Interesting thesis and I can relate to quite a bit of it.  Check it out.

– Is it just me or is steampunk more popular than ever?  This is cool and a bummer at the same time:  cool, because I enjoy reading it and having more stories in the genre is a plus.  A bummer, because I haven't gotten off my can to write the steampunk-iest novel I have rattling around my melon.  Does this happen to other folks?  More ideas than you can shake a stick at – or have time to write?  Yeah ….

– Speaking of novels, Pilgrimage to Skara, is right around 70K words right now.  The last couple of months have been tough and the next five weeks or so will be tough, too, though things should settle down in March.  Goal is to finish the first draft by April.  That's two months later than originally planned but will be better than the last one.

– Back to the previous thought, some time ago I placed a notebook next to my writing desk and started writing down all of my ideas, concepts, five word blurbs, and anything else that leads to a story.  Some are great teasers and prompt the entire story arc into my brain the moment I re-read the words on the page.  Others are so cryptic, I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I first wrote it.  For example, one blurb in the notebook reads, "Girl meets Indian with worms in his brain."  I have no idea what that means. 

– I've been reading around in Arcane, where my last story was published, as detailed here.  On the whole, the anthology is pretty damn dark.  Of the ten stories I have read, maybe two had an upbeat ending.  The rest were bittersweet or downright downers.  That's fine and I love the bleakness of the whole thing but it's a lot to absorb at once; I find myself interspersing some comic strips of Pearls Before Swine just to break up the gloom.

– Sometimes, I really wish Amazon published sales statistics.  When my story is in the anthology is one of those times.

– I'm in the middle of playing Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim.  Outstanding game, and a relatively challenging one to boot.  One of the things I have really enjoyed so far is the wealth of lore and knowledge in the game; books and histories of the realm abound.  Some of the books have game-changing effects, such as raising your skills, but I enjoy them just for reading the stories and now I hoard books in-game, just like the collecting fool I am.  The game's programmers were even savvy enough to include bookshelves in the homes you can purchase, where you can store your libraries.  So what happened?  I filled my shelves and have stacks of tomes on the floor and elsewhere.  Art imitates life.

Okay, that's enough for now.  Monthly stats tomorrow will be a mixed bag.  G'night, all!

Interesting business model

So….

As posted some time ago, I downloaded some free books from Amazon for my Kindle.  They are good to read when I am walking on the treadmill or elliptical machine since – as my friend pointed out – unlike a book, the Kindle does not have to be held open but always lays flat.  It's too awkward if I have to run on the treadmill but since my knee is probably going to need surgery, I am not doing any running anyway.

Anyway, I finished reading one these free books this past week.  I was going to write a full-fledged review of it but I as I thought through the flow of how that review would read, I realized it would be needlessly harsh.  I would have been beating up the poor author a bit because, frankly, the book was slow and boring.  As a technical piece of writing, it was well-done, but the plot was glacial, the characters inconsistent, and the background material derivative of half a dozen other fantasy books I've read.

(Muse:  And where is your book?  At least this author finished a book and has it out there, to be read.)

Touche.

But it wasn't the book itself which really drew my interest.  The book was the first of the inevitable trilogy (no, I won't be downloading volume two).  The second book was also available for free download.  The third volume?  Available for $2.99.  Aha, the ulterior motive.  I found this an interesting variation on the old, "catch their interest, then reel them in," practiced by forms of legitimate and illegitimate business alike.  I think the author was going by the assumption that by the time the reader had invested time enough to read two volumes, they wouldn't mind paying $2.99 to find out how the third one ended.

Perhaps that's a good strategy.  But I don't think so.

For one, I work under the notion that people almost always make assumptions about the value of something based on how much they pay for it.  Not so much that nothing free can be good, but that most people assume the owner wouldn't give it away if they could make money off it.  This doesn't apply to every situation but I think it's a workable business rule.  So I think a free book enters a "quality gap," at least in perception.

Second, if I bust my ass and drop something out there, I want to get a little return on it.  Even it is priced at $0.99 a copy, I still want my $0.99.  I have given away exactly one story for free, and that was to a friend who asked for it in their e-zine.  Perhaps editors think my stories aren't always good enough to merit payment.  But as a matter of personal pride and self-worth, I think they are.  And I won't give them away.  If you think that's arrogant, that's okay; I know people in this industry who have less success than me – or no publications at all – who won't sell a story unless it's at pro rates.  That is their personal threshold, and everyone is entitled to their own.  Mine is that I want some return, even if it is minimal.

Finally, I think the notion that if folks read 2/3 of a series for free that they will buy the third, is a false assumption.  A few might … but the writing might simply not be of good enough quality to pull in the reader.  Me, I hit my dead spot about 75% of the way through the first book but went ahead and finished since I already had it downloaded.  I have no desire to know what happens in the next segment, since I never felt invested in the characters (they were flavorless).  If I am going to bore people to tears, I want them to pay me before they realize I've done so.

(Muse:  Selfish prick.)

No, I'm a realist.  I think I've always said this is a job and a business and should be treated as such.  Consider:

Scenario #1)  Reader reads my first e-book for free, decides they don't like it, and doesn't read any more.  Maybe they leave a negative Amazon review, maybe not.  They might give my writing another chance, they might not. 
Scenario #2)  Reader reads my first e-book for $0.99, decides they don't like it, and doesn't read any more.  Maybe they leave a negative Amazon review, maybe not.  They might give my writing another chance, they might not.

The only difference between these two scenarios is I at least have $0.99 more than I did before.  And yes, perhaps someone would feel ripped off.  I believe only the most vindictive miser would make that case over a dollar, especially if they have a preview feature for an Amazon e-book (can read the first 20 pages free) and read the reviews of those that read the book before them.  Most would simply shrug and move on to the next thing that drew their interest.

What do you all think?

A Capella at Amazon

On vacation at the moment (traveling to visit family), so not much time for a true entry.  I did want to let folks know that "A Capella" is now available at Amazon, in print and electronic format.  The e-price is very reasonable, for thirty stories of dark terror.

I owe my loyal readers – both of you – some more entries.  I'll have a 2011 year-in-review and a goals-for-2012 post somewhere in here.  Oh, and stats post for Dec, which will be abysmal.