Shameless plea for votes – my #SF #shortstory ‘Perfect Fit’ is #FREE to read

When I entered my short story PERFECT FIT in a contest being held in honor of the late, great Terry Pratchett, I didn’t realize it was open voting. It took me a couple of hours to find a cover, upload and write a description, so when I saw that I needed to also blab about it to gather votes, I thought I’d just chalk up the time spent to experience and move on.

In the process, I did discover a great site where you can download free wallpaper images, which is what I used for the story, so it wasn’t a total waste. You can find that site here.

But then I thought, hell, why not?

So here is my plea: please click on THIS LINK to read the story and vote. In fact, you don’t even have to read it (which makes it rather a poor writing contest, in my opinion, but hey ho), all you have to do is click on the little heart to vote for it.

If you do read it, like it and want to, you can also rate and review.

I shared a snippet of this story during excerpt week here, and it is my contribution to the anthology THE WORLD AND THE STARS, that I published earlier this month.

So here is the mini blurb for the story:

Humanity has the technology to play God, but how far should it be allowed to go? On a generational starship where workers are created to fit their jobs, Roz believes they might have gone too far…

And the lovely cover I found for it:

1280x800_alien_girl

Now go. Vote.

Please… 😉

 

Preorders: Boon or bane?

Submitting a book for preorder on Amazon

If you’ve been publishing on Amazon lately, you probably noticed a new feature rolled out this summer — preorders. In a nutshell, indie authors can now join the big dogs and sell copies of their books before release. Unfortunately, while this technique is a major bonus for established authors, my three experiments have suggested that small-scale authors might be shooting themselves in the foot by taking advantage of preorders. But before I got into the bad, let me start with the good.

A review from the preorder period.Preorders are very handy as a launch-management tool. You can create your book page up to three months before your title goes live, which makes it simple to write blog posts and emails with the correct links in preparation for the big day. In addition, if you design a paperback version of your book using createspace, you can get the paperback and ebook to link before launch day. Even better, reviewers can start leaving reviews on your paperback right away, and those reviews will show up on your ebook page (although not as verified purchases). Which all means that you can go into your launch-day buzz with reviews already in place, making people more likely to take a chance on your new book!

Doesn’t that sound splendid? No wonder I tried preorders three times before telling myself I really shouldn’t do it again. Why the change of tune? Well, if you don’t have a big following, people are significantly less likely to take a chance on your book during the preorder phase. Not only does the potential buyer have to wait to download their purchase (no immediate gratification!), they also can’t look inside and see if the book is worth a read. Which is why I seem to only be able to garner 20 to 30 preorders even over a couple-of-month preorder period.

But those are 20-to-30 sales I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, right? So I should clearly stop complaining! Well, not so fast. Unlike most retailers, Amazon doesn’t save up your preorder sales and give you a big spike in rankings on launch day, so preorders don’t help you move to the top of the charts. Instead, small-to-mid-sized authors will find that preorders start you off at a low rank and then dilute your launch-day boost. Remember how people are less likely to take a chance on a preorder than on a published book? That means my one sale every other day or so resulted in Despite the Billionaire’s Riches hitting launch day with two months of 150,000 rankings to dig its way out of. And, since I’d already emailed my list about the book and a few people had preordered, I didn’t get as many purchases on day one as usual, which again dragged the ranking down. In my opinion, your primarily goal during the launch period is to get enough sales so your book hits a top-100 list and sticks there, and preorders seem antithetical to that process.

Preorder sales rank

So, will I never use the preorder feature again (at least until I quadruple my fan base)? Maybe. I’ve yet to try a preorder period with the second book in a series, which should see higher preorder rates than a standalone in a different genre like my previous experiments. And I’ve yet to try a short, two-week preorder, which should make the lowered-rank effect less striking. Plus, if you get creative like Jennifer Meltzer and built buzz throughout your preorder period, you might come out ahead. (Jennifer, please do keep us posted about how your experiment works out!)

So, maybe I’ll try preorders one more time… But I recommend you do as I say, not as I do — if you’re not moving a hundred or more books per day, eschew preorders for the foreseeable future.

And if you did preorders and want to dig yourself out of that hole, stay tuned for a post in a week or so about paid promotions.

Ghost in the Canteen by Jen Rasmussen

Just put up my review of Jen’s book on my blog, Bookin’ It. PLEASE consider tweeting either the original post, or this reblog. Let’s get keep trying to get the word out for each other. THANKS!!

Bookin' It

ghostsinthecanteenMy Review: 5 of 5 Stars
This is a difficult review to write. How can I tell you how terrific Ghost in the Canteen is, without giving away anything of importance? Should be easy, but the trouble is, everything in this story is of importance. Nothing is a throw-away, and it all ties together so very nicely, I’m left floundering for something to say. (Alert the media! She has nothing to say!)
Okay, I do have a few things to say. First, Jen Rasmussen’s writing is first-rate. The story pulled me in immediately, and the characters were interesting and engaging, especially the snarky heroine, ghost hunter Lydia Trinket. Lydia’s been doing her job of sending recalcitrant spirits through to the Other Side for years. Or so she thinks. Turns out, Lydia has been somewhat misled about what she’s actually doing, and therein lies a tale. A really scary tale.
The…

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If you’re a writer without a rejection letter, you’re doing something wrong

image By Ned Hickson

I’d like to open this week’s post on writing tips by sharing a few passages from the many rejection letters I’ve received from publishers over the years:

“You are a gifted wordsmith. Try somewhere else.”
(Were they saying I was overqualified?)

“We don’t publish new authors.”
(If all publishing houses felt that way, there wouldn’t be any new material since The Book of Genesis)

“We were close to accepting your submission but decided to pass. Good luck.”
(That made me feel so much better. Like that time I got that HILARIOUS winning lottery ticket that was fake.)

“Very good. Keep trying.”
(With what? Better stationary?)

“As Mr. Hefner’s attorney, I’ve been asked to order you to stop writing the girls. You’re only 14 and it’s creepy.”
(Oops! Wrong kind of rejection letter.)

I could go on and on with rejection letters, but it won’t change the fact that, even at age 14, I had a certain level of maturity which I think the Bunnies could recognize and…

I did it again, didn’t I? Sorry! Where was I?

Oh yeah: rejection.

I really do have a cabinet drawer at work full of rejection letters from newspaper editors and publishing houses. Many are for my column when I was first starting out. Others are in response to a murder mystery I wrote back in the late 1990s.

Here is my collection of rejection letter, which my "thumbs down" is pointing to.

Here is my collection of rejection letter, which my “thumbs down” is pointing to.

And one is from Miss October 1978.

In spite of the negative connotation a rejection letter conjures up in the mind of most authors — fine, every author — don’t overlook the more important aspects of what it represents.

To begin with, it means you’ve completed a written work. Given a choice between writing a 500-word essay or being tased in the buttocks, the average person would rather drop their pants than pick up a pen. The fact that you aren’t rubbing a bruised rear means you are a writer (Depending on your genre, of course). No number of rejection letters changes that. Regardless of whether its a 400-page novel or an 800-word opinion piece, you have honed and polished your words to the point you are ready to send it out to the world, either in the form of sample chapters, a query, or by pushing the “publish” button on your blog or website. And make no mistake: The “comments” section on your social media site is just another form of “acceptance” or “rejection” notices.

It’s also important to remember that actually receiving a rejection letter, by email or otherwise, means an editor or publisher thought enough of your work to take the time to respond. Even if it’s a letter saying “No thanks, we’ve already committed to publishing a book on Hobbit erotica, but keep shopping this around,” it says something about your writing ability. And maybe the need for professional help — and I don’t mean from an agent. Bottom line: Most editors and publishers are like us, overworked and understaffed. Sending a letter or email takes time and effort. It’s more than just a rejection; it’s also a compliment.

Occasionally, you may even receive some suggestions or advice in your rejection letter, such as “Blowing up the world and having everyone die at the end seemed excessive. I’d suggest finding a more satisfying end to your children’s book.” Keep in mind that I’m not saying you have to agree with any suggestions you’re given. Hey, it’s your novel, short story or magazine article, and you will always reserve the right to have the final word on how it appears in print. I’m just pointing out that if an editor or publisher was engaged enough in your submission to offer some insight, it’s quite a compliment. On that same note, if you keep receiving the same suggestion from different publishers, be willing to at least consider the idea of having “Sally” and “Stubs the Legless Gopher” steal a rocket and depart from Earth before it is reduced to space dust.

Lastly, don’t discard your rejection letters. Keep them somewhere safe as a reminder of your commitment as a writer — and eventually as testimony to what it took to get to where you are. As a father, I’ve shown all my kids my rejection file at some point. When they didn’t make the team; when they were turned down for the dance; when they didn’t get the grade they expected; after I’ve had too much to drink and go on a crying jag about why my mystery novel still hasn’t been published…

You get the idea. We’ve all heard the saying about how you can’t get to where you’re going unless you know where you came from. Or maybe I just made that up. Regardless, rejection letters are as much an indicator of that journey as seeing your work in print. It means you have sacrificed, persevered and believed in yourself. Possibly even threatened to run over an editor or two.

You know, on second thought, I might get rid of those letters. Just in case.

imageNed Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

Changes in Publishing: Who Will Survive?

Another great one from Nancy Cohen! Enjoy. (And perhaps follow Nancy’s blog while you’re there.)

Nancy's Notes From Florida

Hugh Howey: The Publishing World is Changing. How Can You Keep Up?
Novelists, Inc. Conference Day 2, St. Pete Beach Oct. 2014

Hugh Howey began his presentation by showing slides on “A history of storytelling.” The order goes this way:

Oral tradition
Written tradition
The first cubicle workers, i.e. monks transcribing by hand
Movable type
Offset and digital in 1990
Electronic publishing 2007

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He recommends reading “The Storytelling Animal.”

Bar codes revolutionized sales in that data could be tracked. This led to massive discounting. In 1995, Amazon went live. In 2014, indie bookstores see a 20% growth in openings since 2007.

Book selling is like the game: scissors, paper, rock. You have the big-box chains, online retailers, and indie bookstores. Amazon beats the chains. Indies beat Amazon on their location, curation, and community. Publisher profits have risen, but digital is subsidizing print. Business costs and author royalties for digital are…

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What Are You Reading?

Bookin' It

ghostsinthecanteen

It’s not Friday…I missed that, sadly…but I figure it’s never too late to let you know what I’m reading, especially when it’s something really, really good. So, here it is. This week, I’m reading Jen Rasmussen’s Ghost in the Canteen, and it’s brilliant! Jen’s writing is strong, sharp, funny, and engaging. And great goobley-oobley! This story is scary! Horror fans will love it, for sure, and anyone who likes ghost stories, tales of the supernatural, and unique world building will, as well. Plus, you might learn a thing or two you didn’t know before. Like…what is a switchel ring? In fact, what is switchel? Do you know? I didn’t. But now I do!

Ghost in the Canteenis so good, I’m going to recommend you go right ahead and buy your copy today, even before my full review comes out next week. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

Now…

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BookBub Explained

Loads of info here for those of you considering promoting your books through BookBub.

Nancy's Notes From Florida

BookBub is a popular reader subscriber service where you can promote your book for a fee. They have four million subscribers. Its readers are 84% women, the majority over 40 years old. 37% are retired. 58% are empty-nesters. 59% read four or more books per month. The devices they read on? 49% Kindle, 26% Apple, 15% Nook, 10% Android. Most use tablets, then e-readers, and then cell phones. 29% read non-genre material. 32% read mysteries and thrillers; 25% read romance; 14% read science fiction and fantasy. 95% of readers have purchased a book from an unknown author because of an e-book promotion. 63% have gone on to order more books by an author due to a price promotion.

When a book goes from $.99 to $2.99, there is a 50% drop in sales. But 77% of subscribers will purchase full price books.

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Why feature a book on BookBub? Readers get…

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My new release, a sweet billionaire romance

Despite the Billionaire's RichesI’m excited to share my newest book with you! Despite the Gentleman’s Riches: A Sweet Billionaire Romance just went live, and I’m keeping the ebook price at 99 cents for the first two weeks so friends and family can get a good deal. If even that sounds like too much, all of my books are enrolled in KDP Select, so you can borrow them for free if you subscribe to Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited. I hope you’ll consider making my launch a success by downloading a copy!

Here’s what a couple of my early reviewers had to say:

“I read the whole book in one sitting because I could not leave it unfinished.” — Sharon H. McConathy

“This book is staying on my Kindle as a “LOVED” story, and I will re-read again and again.” — S. Chia

Several others told me that I made them cry, which I guess is a good thing….

I’ll be back next week with some more helpful information, but now I’m off to relentless self-promote elsewhere. Thanks for reading!

(Oh, but before I go, is anyone else joining NaNoWriMo? I didn’t mean to, but went ahead and set up an account last weekend…and have since written 10,000 words. I guess it’s pretty effective after all! If you do join, I’d love it if you add me as a writing buddy so we an spur each other on.)

Keeping your story focused is a lot like taking an eye exam

image By Ned Hickson

Each week, Marcia graciously allows me to share some of the the writing wisdom gained from 16 years as a newspaper columnist — knowledge which, until now, was only available by reading the yellow Post-It on my desk. And while all of you are certainly welcome to visit my desk at any time, I think we know that isn’t very practical. Especially since most of you probably couldn’t read my handwriting. In fact, I have a hard time reading my own writing. For example, today’s tip was almost about how finding your story’s focus is a lot like taking a colorectal exam. How I got “colorectal” from “eye” tells you just how bad my handwriting truly is.

Because I’m sure none of us wants to delve any deeper into this than we already have, I suggest we get to this week’s writing tip. Agreed? Yep, just as I figured; everyone except for the proctologist in the back row.

As for the rest of us, let’s talk about how the same steps taken in an eye exam can also help bring your writing into focus.

Ummmm… You three? we’re over here.

After this blog post, I want the three of you of you to promise me you will go directly to the nearest optometrist for an actual eye exam. You know who you are. If you aren’t sure, reach straight ahead. Feel that? It’s a microwave, not a computer monitor. I only point this out because, aside from the fact that I care, trying to shove a microwavable burrito into your monitor could be frustrating and potentially dangerous.

At this point I think it’s safe to assume some of you have probably forgotten why you’re here. I know I have. Ironically, this is the same feeling a writer gets when they realize they have lost focus with their story — or in some cases even a blog post. That’s when it’s time to stop and regain focus by giving yourself a simple, three-step “eye exam” in order maintain your story’s true vision.

Step one: Test your visual acuity.
We’re all familiar with the Snellen chart, which is the chart you stand 20 feet from while trying to decipher a series of letters which, as they get smaller, begin to resemble the ingredients listed on a bag of Cheetos. The objective is to determine how far a person can get from a particular point before losing focus. The same goes for writers. In the same way a person may not realize how bad their vision has become until they are using a urinal that’s actually a display refrigerator on the main floor at Sears, writers can slowly lose their story’s focus until it has become blurred by extemporaneous passages of description, too many characters, sub plots or dialogue that doesn’t advance the story.

How can you test to make sure your story’s vision is still clear?

Stand 20 feet away from your monitor. If you can still read it without squinting so hard it appears you’re having a stroke, forget writing and become a sharpshooter. In leu of that, follow the “20/20” rule of writing: If after reading every 20th paragraph in your story (or in the case of a short story, every 20th sentence) you still have a clear idea of what’s happening, who the central characters are and the major plot points, you’re writing’s vision is “normal.” If after several of these 20/20 paragraphs you begin to lose focus, stop and go back to where you lost sight; chances are your story began to blur somewhere between the first line and those Cheetos ingredients.

Step two: Test your peripheral vision. This is the part of the exam where your optometrist tells you to keep looking ahead while he moves an object from behind you toward the front of your head, at which point you’re supposed to acknowledge when you see it in your peripheral vision. Keep in mind that this is also when your optometrist stands behind you and makes faces or plays air guitar without you knowing it. Regardless, having good peripheral vision is important for writers, too. Your “writing peripherals” are those things that run parallel to the main action and include expendable characters, foreshadowing and some unanticipated secondary themes that develop through character interaction and plot development. This is all good stuff because, if done well, can add a sense of immediacy, spontaneity and unpredictability that keep readers invested in the story.

However, just like that optometrist playing air guitar behind your back, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on if you don’t keep your peripherals in check. In optometry, the ideal measurement is at least 70 degrees of vision in the horizontal meridian. From a writing standpoint, this means the peripheral elements of your story shouldn’t account for more than about 30 percent of your story development. Put another way: If you’ve written 70 pages and more than 30 of them revolve around the actions of secondary characters, themes or developments not directly related to your main characters, they are just playing air guitar. It’s time to re-evaluate the focus of your story, and whether the secondary characters/themes are becoming blurred with the main plot and characters.

Step three: Check for depth perception. Optometrists often check for this by tossing something at the patient, such as a Nerf ball, to determine binocular (two-eye) vision, which allows us to see in three dimensions. As a kid, I thought I had monocular vision because of how horrible I was at dodgeball. After a visit to my optometrist I was relieved to find out I was just really uncoordinated. In terms of writing, a 3D world is also important, although not having it won’t lead to bruising. Unfortunately, unlike the previous steps, there is no real “formula” to determine if you have created a three-dimensional world in your writing; you either do or you don’t. What I can tell you as that, as writers, we tend to fill in the blanks ourselves and, as a result, it’s easy to envision more on the page than is actually there.

So how can you see if your writing vision has depth? Take a chapter and eliminate all the dialogue. Then read it or, better yet, read it to someone. The objective has nothing to do with plot or character, it’s about whether or not your descriptive vision has made it onto the page. When you’re done, have the person describe what they saw. If it resembles what you envisioned, chances are you’re writing in three dimensions. If they can’t describe things clearly, then throw something at them. Ha! Just kidding! Get your optometrist to do it.

Then go figure out how to make your vision clear…

imageNed Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.