C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

My Top Ten: Becoming a healthier writer

Remember when this blog was about publishing?

It still is, but I’ve got to talk about the author and publisher and our mental and physical health. Without us, there will be no books.

As I write this, I am battling a bad infection. On Tuesday, I find out about some medical test results. In short, things have been tough lately, emotionally and physically. I have a plan to deal with this mortal coil (more on that in a moment) but in the meantime, not much writing is happening. A little, yes, but at George RR Martin speed (i.e. glacial). Once this latest problem gets sorted out, I hope to be free of health scares for a good long time. Sickness and fear is draining. Life, as I have failed to organize it, is draining.

And here’s where the mental game comes in…

This last three weeks has been a series of blows. Most of that problem is mental. I’m not dealing with stress properly. I’m obsessive. I’m negative. I’m focussing on what not to do instead of focussing on what to do. If you spend your energy in the present on what you know you should do, you won’t lose time with regret and anger. I know this because I’ve lost too much time already.

The short story is, I allowed an energy vampire into my lair and he shat in my living room. Two days ago, another energy vampire attacked. I dealt with the problem faster this time, but it still ruined an entire day while I obsessed over what else I wish I’d said to cut him off. When I was younger, I wasted a lot of time being furious. The rage monster is back. I’m not punching walls or anything silly like that. Just seething. That can even be useful when I channel that energy into Misericordia, the beastly vampire in This Plague of Days. It’s less helpful when I argue everything in my head again and again. (At least the revenge fantasy with the torch, the knife and the bag of rats is fun.)

But here’s the paradox:

Writing makes me happy and yet I haven’t been writing enough. A friend asked about my strategies for dealing with negative emotions. For two years, I was free of all this nonsense. Those were the happiest two years of my life. Guess when that was. Yes, it’s when I was at home writing and only writing. Running two struggling businesses at once is a time management problem, though proper use of a calendar and a stopwatch alarm should get that sorted out.

There are many components and variables to health and everyone has to deal with these issues at some point. This is where I make my stand. Turmoil and rage is not a successful life strategy.

Living the way I have been isn’t working.

Underneath the anger is fear, just like Yoda says. I’m afraid of failure and a short life and I’m even more scared of a long life in which my brain and body abandon me. Sometimes, I cry a little and wish I could cry more to let it all out. Mostly, I want to take all the bad in the world into my arms and squeeze until it’s tiny and dead and dust. I want justice and just desserts. I want us to live in a better world and I think, through fiction, we can come at solutions sideways. Even if we can’t save the world through Art, we can save people by giving them harmless vicarious thrills and joyful distractions. Stephen King calls books “escape hatches”. That’s exactly what they are. We write about heroes and heroes affirm our humanity in the face of Darkness. We need these myths as a starting point for our aspirations. There is wisdom and honesty in good writing. With our fiction engines running hot, we can make the hopeful lies true.

I know what to do for myself and these latest health problems are reminders that, yes, I really have to deal with this stuff STAT.

Here are my strategies to protect my brain, body, energy and mood:

1. A diet of plants with some protein on the side. Vegetables are the main thing.

2. Daily movement. It could be dancing or Fight Club or running from bears or chasing criminals through the night in my cape. But keep moving.

3. I built an incredibly cheap treadmill desk ($100) but I find it difficult to compose while walking. A friend gave me a pedal treadmill for Christmas (to use while sitting at my desk). I hope to do better with that.

4. No aspartame. As little processed food as possible. Stevia or xylitol in small measures, okay, but the chemicals I can’t pronounce have to be cleared out.

5. Tracking. The same friend who gave me the desk treadmill gave me a FitBit Flex because (a) he’s awesome and generous and (b) that which is not measured cannot be improved. Everything I eat and do goes into tracking. From graphs and math come course corrections and healthy habits.

6. Closer contact with my doctors. I go for regular physicals, but we’re going to do closer monitoring to make sure I’m on track as I make more lifestyle changes.

7. First drink of choice is water. Then more water. Thankfully, coffee is still in, though less than I have been drinking.

8. More sleep. Early mornings are fine, but the late nights have been too much for too long. I took workaholism as par for the course to get things done. Now I think it’s a stupid ego thing and a result of impatience and poor planning.

9. Be more social with friends and invest in those healthy, positive relationships. Cut rude people off faster and destroy any hope they have of being casually destructive to my energy reserves. Psychopaths don’t lurk behind every rock and tree, but they’re out there. I’m not going to engage these people. I’ll simply delete them or throw them out.

10. Write. For me, it’s as important as exercise, if not more so. When I am writing I am most myself. When I am writing, I disappear from the stresses of this world. In that world there are psychopaths waiting, too, but I know how to deal with them better. I’m very unkind to the bad guys in my fiction. They get to think they’re winning for a while, sure. Then? They burn.

11. Every day in this world, I am kind. I make a point of it. The day isn’t done until I can find a way to do someone a solid if it’s within my power. But I have to be kinder to me, too. That’s why I’ve got 1 – 10. Your strategies may not be identical to mine, but I hope you have some that work for you.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all my readers!

My next entry on ChazzWrites.com will be in the New Year. As you can see, I have to take some time off to organize for lifestyle changes, rest, recharge and, of course, write. Let’s all have a healthier and happier 2014. We need each other for the fight.

Be well.

~ Chazz

PS If you have links, books, or green smoothie recipes to share about how you take care of yourself, please leave them in the comment thread. We all need to know.

Filed under: Rant, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: Storytelling problems and the finale of #Dexter

This isn’t my usual sort of blog post, but it’s time to talk about storytelling problems and, unfortunately, the Dexter series finale is Exhibit A. Spoilers ensue, so you’ve been warned.

1. The final season of Dexter was mostly rudderless. Masuka has a daughter. Yay! If she was a plant from the FBI, she would have been useful to the plot. Instead, she gave the comic relief guy no opportunities to do comedy. Nice topless sports bar, but otherwise, why is she there? We want Masuka to be Masuka with lines like, “Science is a cold-hearted bitch…”

2. Dexter’s struggle to become human is betrayed in the final scene. Okay, Pinocchio becomes a real boy and decides feelings suck. He returns to being a monster with his final look. The struggle wasn’t interesting enough because it more internal than external. Hard to do in film. Easier in a novel, but still tricky.

3. The last scene felt tacked on and dragged on too long. Were we really supposed to wonder if that’s Dex, or perhaps the satellite flipped the channel to a lugubrious episode of Ice Road Truckers? If they wanted to sap the power of “And the body was never found,” they should have done it in a strobe flash POV shot with bearded Dexter standing over a kill table in a cabin, long knife in hand, snowshoes on the wall. 

4. The show made us love a serial killer’s exploits in Miami. Dexter had a good life and an endless supply of pulled pork sandwiches. Now he’s alone in Alaska or Canada. Dex is alone so no one he cares for will get killed. We get it. However, you don’t leave Batman poor with no Batcave and no Batmobile. A downer ending would have been okay, but this punished viewers. He’s still Dexter, but now he’s got no inside track from inside a police station and fewer opportunities to be the Avenger. We want him on that wall! We need him on that wall!

5. The show worked best when Dexter was constantly in danger of being caught. I didn’t think Dex was ever in much danger of being caught. Maybe it was a lack of lines and physical presence, but Elway and the US Deputy Marshall never came close to feeling like a credible threat. The Marshall reminded me of Ty Pennington and looked like he should be giving one lucky family an extreme home makeover instead of closing in on Dexter. Elway’s hair looked like he might have been the front man for a New Wave band in the ’80s, but the private dick, the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about? We’re not talking about Shaft here.

6. With the build up to the arrival of the hurricane, I pictured a Hitchcockian ending complete with a fight to the death aboard the Slice of Life. Once Oliver is caught (again) the narrative drive is lost and there’s no goal except to explore feelings. The folks behind the show overestimated our patience for repeated flashbacks to Deb and Dex in the maternity ward. For that to work, they needed to at least bring Rita into the flashback. (We would have forgiven so much for that cameo.) They bring Miguel’s wife back as a real estate agent, but the name “Rita” is never spoken? (They came close with Harrison’s drawing, but no.)

7. Plot holes abound through the season. It really bugs me when the mechanics of a script only work if the characters do incredibly dumb things. This season, no computer was password-protected, the Deputy Marshall doesn’t recognize Oliver and Hannah stays at Deb’s house. Perhaps most egregious (because it was in our faces every time we saw her) Hannah always looks exactly like her mugshot and it never occurs to her or Dex that she could cut and dye her hair. Even the most brainless fugitive would do that much. Man or woman, if you’re on the run, shave your head!

8. The season progressed as if there was no plan. From one episode to the next, Zack goes from being so clueless he doesn’t know to wear gloves to leaving Dex a clue behind on purpose? Anybody from the later seasons of Lost working on this thing? Can we have the writers from John Lithgow’s season, please? How about we get a mulligan?

9.  The theme of the season was the ties that bind: mother-son, father-son, sister-brother, friends and family. What got us hooked on Dexter was none of the above. Anybody else notice that when Harry disappears, it doesn’t feel like a strong beat? Harry’s been Dexter’s coach for years, but when he’s gone, it feels faster than Rick Schroeder’s throwaway disappearance from NYPD Blue.

10. The wasted opportunities made me sad. If I’d written the final season (and were king of the universe so I could do anything I want) it would have been a cat and mouse game between Dexter and Quinn and Batista. Batista had a box of paper LaGuerta left behind that contained the phone records that made her suspicious. Quinn had already been suspicious of Dex (which he let go and forgot about after Dex did him a solid.) Those suspicions are the seeds of a plot that would have carried the inertia from last season and given LaGuerta’s death significance and consequence.

Batista was the single most underused character and, I would argue, the beating human heart of the show. If he’d pursued an investigation that led to a showdown in the end, Dexter fans would be having much happier water cooler conversations today. Oh, and killing Quinn would have been a very acceptable sacrifice to drive the final wedge between Dex and Deb.

We cared about Batista because he cared about everyone else. Dex once said that if he could be anyone, he’d want to be Batista. There’s talk of a spin-off. It should be Batista, now more jaded and suspicious of everyone. Save Masuka’s return for a Three’s Company reboot.

I hate to be this guy. I’m not a hater. I loved most of Dexter. When it was good, it was great! What did they do right?

1. “I’m going to kill you with that pen.” (Plus the saucy little hesitation before pressing the alarm and the instant switch to “He tried to kill me!”)

2. Batista’s reaction to watching the recording and seeing Dexter in a whole new light. Excellent acting as always by David Zayas.

3. Jennifer Carpenter is a great actress. It’s hard to act drunk for a long time without looking silly. She did it. (Question: What does she say to Quinn just before she goes into surgery? We replayed that three times at increasing volumes and still couldn’t quite catch it. It was the worst sound work since we all came back from watching Brokeback Mountain to google what Heath Ledger’s last line was.)

4. Michael C. Hall. Excellent actor. Even in casual moments, there’s something lupine about his face. In his last look at the camera, he delivered. His best moment? There are many to choose from, but I’d go with the moment he discovers that’s not Miguel’s blood on the shirt and rams his hands through glass in a rage.

5. Charlotte Rampling is an excellent actor. I’d like to see her in more stuff. Is Bates Motel looking for a creepy neighbor lady to run against Norman’s mom on Town Council?

6. I watched the penultimate Breaking Bad immediately after watching Dexter. That flushed some of the gunk out. That’s not something Dexter got right. In fact, they went up against the Emmys, but it was fortuitous.

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Marketing books: Thirteen video options

Season One of This Plague of Days is free until midnight tonight.

Season Two launches in two weeks.

Book trailers are problematic. Video can be done well. It often isn’t.

Most of them are too long. Production values are typically lower than viewers’ expectations. We’re trained to expect CGI on the level of major movie studios. Also, there’s little evidence trailers generate any sales. Go big and you’ll spend money with no return on the investment. Go too small and you might not be proud of it. Here are magnificent options, ranging from giving up and doing zilch to going big. Since I’m in touch with reality, most options are no-budget or low-budget.

Alternative 1

Don’t do it. It’s not worth the bother.

Alternative 2

Play with iMovie in your spare time. If it’s fun, great, but certainly don’t lose writing time to it. 

Alternative 3

Rather than worry about making a little movie and learning an editing program, do six seconds on Vine and/or fifteen seconds on Instagram. Focus on one quick, easy message. Don’t spell out the link to the camera. Leave the link in the caption. Note that people love video with cats.

Alternative 4

Upload to Youtube from your camera, iPod, iPhone or Android. Viewers will be more forgiving of low production values if they see you didn’t try to make it fancy. Just talk to the camera with a joke and/or announcement.

Alternative 5

Video pulls more clicks to your blog. Combine it with punchy posts for greater effect and more subscribers.

People have more tolerance for a short, laid back video than they will for long blog posts. For instance, yesterday’s post went deep into serialization and book pricing strategy. It was only for the most serious of book marketers and publishers. However, many more readers will click the video above and read this blog post for information because it has video and the text is breezy and scannable.

Alternative 6

Focus on what’s cool or ironically cool. Make it fun for you and the viewer. Try for the opposite of earnest and don’t try to tell too much of the plot of your book. Let the visuals do more work. Entertain first and come sideways at giving out information. One of the best book trailers I’ve seen was an author who talked about the glamour of the writing life while he scrubbed toilets.

Alternative 7

As I’ve suggested in the past, try a quote trailer. A quote trailer simply pulls intriguing quotes from your book. Don’t forget to include a buy link. Keep it short. No spoilers.

Alternative 8 

Use Animoto, as I did, for the video above. I already had the book covers. It took all of five minutes to use the free option for a video shorter than 30 seconds. The fire effect was appropriate and the music was a nice fit. Cool, huh? Animoto includes sharing options so you can export it to Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, etc.,…

Alternative 9

If people don’t respond to your stabs at filmmaking, try making it more about you and how you can help others instead of making it about the book. Video reviews and how-to stuff get more hits. Funny’s always good, too.

I put up video of my podcasts to get more viewers and listeners. Some people simply prefer video to audio, or a YouTube video is how they will discover a podcast. Interaction in an interview setting can be easier to pull off than talking directly to the camera. Some people, like Hugh Howey, do it well and even dance for reviews. For most of us, solo videos look like hollow-eyed, stuttering hostage videos pleading for ransom under the threat of death.

Alternative 10

Have you set up your YouTube channel yet? It’s a great place to collect your video book reviews, too. Video reviews get more attention on Amazon than written ones, so it’s worth doing, for you and for authors.

Alternative 11

Go with Fiverr.com and get help to create quick videos like I did for my promotion plan for This Plague of Days. Check out my video samples at the link.

Alternative 12

If you really want to go big, get a semi-pro involved. There’s no proven ROI and most professional video production is expensive. Therefore, consider approaching a drama class or a film school. If your book trailer becomes a school project, at least your vanity project will benefit the education of a young actor or filmmaker in a concrete way. You could go the Scott Sigler route and make it a contest. Since every entry went up on YouTube for judging, Sigler’s books got multiple ads and multiple hits.

Alternative 13

I think Kevin Smith and Steven Spielberg are available for princely sums, but if you’ve just won the lottery, go with any of the above options and get your video production done free or cheap. Starving children everywhere would appreciate your generous donations. If you’re rich enough to consider professional directorial help, good karma’s the better way to go.

BONUS

Are you on Bookbub? Here's what the email looks like for my TPOD promo. Sale ends at midnight, never to return. Enjoy.

Are you on Bookbub? Here’s what the email looks like for my TPOD promo. Sale ends at midnight, never to return. Enjoy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.53.17 PM

Bookbub allows you to showcase deals to many targeted readers who are interested in your genre. Got a deal? Get noticed with Bookbub.

Filed under: author platform, book trailer, Books, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ebook pricing, free promotions and you

The complete first season is FREE for two days. Click now.

The complete first season is FREE for two days. Click now.

Generosity feels great and, in this incarnation of the book business, generosity is a marketing strategy if done right. Today, a giveaway and a case study in real time. (If you don’t know anything about This Plague of Days, check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for sneak peeks.)

I released This Plague of Days, Season 1 as a serial. There were many reasons for doing it this way. I wrote it like a television mini-series and serialization opens up marketing opportunities. On the first day of Season One, I published the complete first season and Episode 1. Four more episodes followed each Monday. The episodes sold for 99 cents each or readers could get the whole season for $3.99.

For my initial giveaway, I put the first episode up for free for two days. I don’t believe in long promotions. By the time you’re done more than two days, you’ve exhausted your connections and momentum slows. I gave away about 1500 downloads of Episode 1 and stayed at the top of the Post-apocalyptic and Dystopian charts on the free side of Amazon for those two days. It’s really exciting sitting at #1 and #2 beside Hugh Howey.

An interesting thing happened next:

A bunch of readers liked Episode 1 but they stuck with the individual episodes. I watched my dashboard charts light up green with sales of Episodes 2, 3, 4 and 5 as people who got Episode 1 for free worked their way through the serial. The complete book of the season sold a bit, too, (at $3.99) but it seemed for readers to jump from episodes to the season at once, the discount would have had to be even deeper.

Pros and Cons of This Strategy

Pro: I gained a bunch of reviews for This Plague Of Days. Most readers dug it.

Con: Readers of Episode 1 only see the dad is an atheist and they may not stick around for the sweep of the story’s longer arc. The atheist dad has doubts about his lack of belief and his religious wife has doubts about her faith. I don’t dump it all in Episode 1 so, with serialization, you get judged by what you lead with. I’m not complaining. If you do something similar to what I’m doing, stay true to your vision, but don’t expect everyone to wait patiently for the payoffs later on. I have secret seeds planted in Season One that don’t bloom until Season Three.

Con: You’ll always get your worst reviews from free promotions.

Con: Some people who click free will never click “buy”. (Actually, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not really a “con” per se. I mention it because I anticipate resistance to these tactics. However, it’s not a true deficit in that it’s mostly irrelevant. These readers aren’t in my long-term equation for the same reasons the cobalt industry, Cadillac and Vera Wang don’t target me as a customer. Just as I’ll never be in those businesses’ target demographics, I’m hunting for converts, not free book shelvers.

Pro: All those downloads got me Also-bought listings and Amazon started selling the book for me with their mailing list. That’s a major plus on the brand visibility side of the argument.

Pro: As summer sales of Season One ebbed, I saw the momentum from July evaporate. I did what few say makes sense. I put the price up to $4.99. No one’s buying the episodes now, but they are buying the complete first season at the higher price. That could indicate that Season One was underpriced. Probably, but as I’ll argue below, that’s okay. I’m in this for the long-term. Discoverability is more important than sales for now.

What I’m doing differently for Season Two

In This Plague of Days, I’m trying to give a B movie an A treatment. To get traction for an unknown serial aimed at a smart crowd in an unfamiliar format, I think the starting price was fair and good for Season One. If you didn’t jump aboard before, for two days only, Season One of This Plague of Days is free to download on September 18 and 19th. (If you love it, please review it.) Season Two will also have some bonus material in the back.

Why give away an entire book? Isn’t that evil and the death of literature?

Season One is the gateway drug to Season Two and, for two days only, the first taste is free.

I’m using Freebooksy and Bookbub to let the world know. This publicity does cost money, potentially a few nasty reviews and maybe I’m leaving money on the table. However, it will get my name and Season One into the hands of at least 5,000 people. (If that doesn’t sound like much to you, consider that 5,000 paid sales equals a bestseller in Canada. I expect to hit #1 and #2 again and have some sales momentum behind me as I slide into the October launch of Season Two. This is marketing as an exercise in delayed gratification. I’ll sell more of Season Two because I’ll get more readers in on the ground floor of the serial. Besides, it’s a one-time only sale. Most readers will find the cash for the full price under their couch cushions, so let’s not get too dramatic about the losses or gains.

To put it another way, a la Seth Godin, “Too many people are reading my free ebook is not a problem” (as long as there are other books to sell.) To paraphrase author Cory Doctorow, Free isn’t my problem, “obscurity is my problem.” And finally, I quote myself for emphasis, “Generosity feels great…(and) discoverability is more important than sales for now.”

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

Season 2 launches Oct 1.

The Rationale: Season Two of This Plague of Days launches in a couple of weeks.

The story and the virus evolve together. This time out, TPOD has a different pace. Season One was like a television serial. Season Two is the action movie. It gets more paranormal and it’s loaded with surprises, chills and blood spills. Expect new villains and more twists from Ireland to Iceland to the Indianapolis Speedway. You’ll see the invasion of New York, the Midwest and the terrible events at Canada’s border with Michigan. It’ll sell for $4.99 this fall. In a month or so I’ll do a giveaway of Season Two, Episode 1 only.

Eventually I’ll put This Plague Of Days across more platforms and go for a price match so Episode 1 of Season One will be perma-free. I’ll experiment with price points, but the complete Season Two will never go free. The law of diminishing returns kicks in if you’re trying to get people to jump into the middle. (Ironically, you could jump straight into Season Two without reading Season One and you wouldn’t be lost at all. However, people don’t believe that. I never got into Ally McBeal because I missed the first episode.)

About Audiences

People who love zombies were very patient with Season One. The zombies don’t show up immediately but the dread keeps rising so I guess the suspense satisfied them until the heavier horror kicked in. They don’t have to wait for any action in Season Two, so I expect this phase of TPOD will go big all the way to Christmas (especially as other promotions kick in.)

The other thing that surprised me was how readers with family connections to autism, developmental delays and handicaps responded to the story. The protagonist is on the spectrum and those readers enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. It’s not a long screed (and certainly punchier than this post) but those readers responded well to discussions of what it’s like to be the parent of an autistic kid. The family loves Jaimie, but they don’t romanticize his disabilities and his sister treats him like a normal kid treats a sibling who is often difficult to live with.

About Price Resistance

Selling episodes at 99 cents with 30% to me won’t keep me in cat food, but it did help with visibility. I gather those who started buying episodes in Season One will mostly choose to get the complete second season so they can find out right away what happens to the Spencer family and the British refugees.

It seems the greatest resistance to price increases lay not with the readers, but with yours truly. More readers are discovering my books at higher price points. I guess those higher prices make them confidant I know what I’m doing. So, while I’m still advocating short-term discount promotions, the trend with all my book prices is for them to climb. Done right, with a giveaway of sufficient numbers, free can still work. If I thought I could get more traction on other platforms, I’d try a different strategy. However, regarding promotion, it appears the other platforms are still lacking.

If you’re reading this on September 18 or 19th, 2013,

grab your free copy of the complete first Season of This Plague of Days here.

And please tell a friend. Thanks!

 

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Just a quick heads up: Hugh Howey Interview

I’m interviewing author Hugh Howey today. This will be for the Cool People Podcast and will air on Monday.

If you have any questions you’d like answered from the super successful author of Wool, please leave them in the comments.

The Cool People Podcast is an organic conversation so I can’t promise I’ll get to your questions. However, I will try.

I’m really looking forward to speaking with him.

 

Filed under: Author profiles, authors, Books, , , , , , , ,

Confession to readers: I love sound-sex

Stephen Fry invites us to enjoy literature more.

Filed under: readers, , , , , , , , ,

Writers, Writing and When to Swear

TPOD 0420 2

Apocalypse Art for This Plague of Days by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

As I work on This Plague of Days revisions, there’s a big difference: This is the first of my books my 13-year-old daughter is allowed to read. No one is swearing in TPOD and any sex is PG-13, at most. Sometimes I think this serial (to be released at the end of May) could be suitable for Young Adult. However, I’m also not pulling back on elements of horror that range from Hitchcockian allusion (The Birds) to classic horror (a gross-out or three). It’s a post-apocalyptic world and things aren’t pretty. 

Crass Commercial Considerations

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

I’ll admit it: I want This Plague of Days to sell to a wide audience. I want it to go huge! Multiple translations and audiobooks and mass consumption. I want this serial to be made into a movie or a franchise with TPOD lunch boxes and T-shirts at conventions. I don’t want to return to a day job and a very popular serial without cursing will help me toward that goal. I watched an interview with director Kevin Smith recently in which he breaks down the movie market. The same principles apply to us: R sells less than PG-13. Soften the blow. Make more money.

Yes, I know Fifty Shades of Gray is bondage porn that makes a ton of money off a wide audience. However, this isn’t that. This Plague of Days is about an autistic boy who is a selective mute. A plague spreads across the earth and as the mayhem goes up, society spirals down. Bad things happen. However, the story revolves around the boy and, though it’s third-person limited omniscient, much of it unfolds through the boy’s filter. His special interest is English dictionaries and Latin phrases. Nothing is lost if I don’t make TPOD a cursefest and I’ll gain more readers.

The Irony I Frankly Don’t Understand

Many people are comfortable with just about any depiction of violence but get squeamish about certain words and sex. We’re downright weird about cursing. It’s in mainstream media and on any school playground, but in print, daily newspapers put in coy asterisks like this: f***. As if our brains don’t just fill in the word automatically. Swearing is ingrained in everyday conversations, but we pretend it’s not.

Watching a show like Dexter on a non-Showtime channel, censors ensure the dialogue sounds silly. “Mothertruckers?” Really? (The practice was played to great comedic effect when, in the latest Spider-Man movie incarnation, our beloved hero blurts, “Mother Hubbard!“)

Meanwhile, I get queasy about certain entertainment that is considered mainstream even though it’s extremely violent. I’ll never see Jodi Foster in The Accused and I refuse to watch A Time to Kill. Frank depictions of sexual assault and child rape are not something I want to

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

see. I can’t watch CSI or its many iterations. That whole Special Victims Unit thing feels way too voyeuristic and definitely not for me. (I’m not campaigning for a cleansing, by the way. I don’t want art censored. What I don’t like, I don’t watch, read or listen to and that solves my problem nicely.)

Ever since I had kids, I’m generally more queasy about violence that’s too realistic. I’d rather keep my violence diet to thrillers like Bigger Than Jesus. Though there’s plenty of death and even allusions to Jesus’s abuse as a young teen, it’s treated carefully, not graphic, and balanced by the hero’s sense of humor. The funny makes the horrible feel safe, somehow. 

This Plague of Days’ post-apocayptic genre puts the story into a realm that isn’t ours…at least not quite yet. 

Sex and Curses Have Their Place: Serving the story

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

My crime novels are funny but still gritty and hardboiled. The swearing in the Hit Man Series is a need. It would have been unnatural to write workarounds for simple, salty language. Acting too coy would have drained too much realism away. 

As for sex, in Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz is constantly running for his life. The book plays out like a long chase scene. Beatings and murder don’t put the hero and heroine in the mood, even for a quickie. There is a great romantic love interest in Lily Vasquez, but her intimacy issues with the hit man aren’t about sex. Lily and Jesus’s drama deepens character and shows the impact of his awful history on his life. Through their interaction, the reader understands Jesus more and sees why he’s so screwed up (particularly about women). The reader ends up empathizing with a guy who kills for money. As for Higher Than Jesus, the sex scene with Willow Clemont and Jesus is both integral to the plot and erotic. Sex raises the stakes.

The Balance:

Despite any commercial considerations and the joy I feel at being able to show my daughter what I really do,

story has to come first.

Gee, I hope she likes it.

~ Chazz has new websites: CoolPeoplePodcast.com, onlysixseconds.wordpress.com, DecisionToChange.com. In the latest podcast at the author site, AllThatChazz.com, there’s some swearing (in a funny rant) and a fresh reading from Higher Than Jesus.

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#VINE: A new way to use #VIDEO to get new readers & listeners

Tips and inspiration for the indie author's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the indie author’s journey to publication.

What’s Vine? It’s video Twitter. Make a six-second movie and spread your word. I’m all over this and I’m telling you now as your fellow author and good buddy, get in early. Not a lot of authors are there yet, so join me, join the fun and build your platform, too. It’s a fun tool and toy. We need tools like this to muster more promo mojo and muscle our way into minds. I’ll explain why we need Vine to build our book cults.

I’ve used Vine so far to let people know about my podcast and books, but also just to let people know I can be witty in six-second bites. I hope they’ll conclude I’m worth more of their time in other media. (Oh, and not for nothin’, the new free All That Chazz podcast is gripping. The What’s Uncool Edition is available to your ears here and now.) 

Why video? Video and audio are easier for people to consume than books. Yes, there are still actual readers out there, but to stick a barbed hook in an eyeball, we have to reach out to them where they are. If rabid video consumers aren’t already readers, don’t complain. Convert them to your cult.

I expect objections from a few.

There’s a neo-Luddite reflex in many authors that says:

1. “I shouldn’t have to do this!”

Waaah! I don’t want to floss, either. However, I like my teeth. Besides, if you do it right, marketing and promotion can actually be fun and productive.

2. “Here’s another piece of technology that takes us away from books!”

Here’s another piece of technology to attract new readers to your books.

3. “Video is the death of literature!”

Video is another medium. People who really love reading books will still make time for reading books.

4. “Real book lovers won’t be watching six-second video loops of cats playing.”

Have you ever met a bibliophile? Your demographic loves cats to the point it may be unhealthy. “Real” book lovers have varied interests because, mostly, they’re intelligent. 

5. “This is yet another promotional thing to spam and annoy people.”  

Not if you’re clever and fun. (Are you saying you aren’t clever and fun? Get off my blog! You can’t possibly be a friend or fan of mine!)

6. “I don’t know…sounds hard.”

Check it out. It’s easy, intuitive and took the shortest time to set up than anything else I’ve ever set up. Vine is definitely worth the minor time investment and it’s free. You will need an iPad, iPhone or iPod. I use an iPod because it’s the cheapest option that makes my life better. If I couldn’t do that, I’d borrow an Apple device from a friend once a week for a few minutes.

7. “But how will people find it?”

It not only works like Twitter, it’s integrated with Twitter and Facebook.

8. “But what can you do in only six seconds?”

Remember when I told you the story about the editor who said of Twitter, “I can’t say anything of value in 140 characters.” Translation: She was telling the world she was a lousy editor. Lots of people manage it so we can, too.

9. “I heard Vine is just filled with porn.”

They had issues with pornography but Apple made Vine’s developers scrub it. That end of the story got a lot of media coverage as Vine launched. That was last week. That data is out of date.

10. “I’m already on too many social media and can’t take the time.”

To the second point, it’s six seconds. You can spare six seconds. (Okay, maybe it takes me a minute and six seconds to get it right and post it.)

Aspire to Inspire eBook JPGAs for being on too many social media platforms: Evaluate what’s working and delete what isn’t. For instance, if you’re not looking for a job, dump LinkedIn. I did.

We call them platforms because that’s where we climb up to speak to a larger crowd. Do it and, if you’re tragically unsexy like me, do what I do and let puppets do the talking.

As soon as you download the app and get set up, find me, follow me and show me your videos. It will be great to put voices and faces to all of you. Without video, I’m just imagining you’re all lingerie-clad Angelina Jolies, Joan Chens and Beyonces. Even the guys. Especially the guys.

 

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, podcasts, Vine, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

iCarly, Art and what it means

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Free until Dec 15! Please click the image to learn more about writing and publishing.

The news came in last night that I am no longer an artistic hero to a friend of mine. My fall from grace came when I announced on Facebook that I looked forward to seeing the series finale of iCarly. As a crime novelist whose anti-hero gets tortured and frequently kills, clearly I’d damaged any tough guy rep I’ve built in the Hit Man Series. I’m not too torn up at my fallen status in the eyes of my friend, but his joke did get me thinking about the big question: What is the nature of Art and what’s good Art?

As a stay-at-home dad, I’ve watched a lot of kid shows with my children. Most shows came and went as the kids went through stages. Teletubbies was a short foray followed by The Wiggles. Dora the Explorer was great but the kids outgrew it and declared it a “baby show” quickly. iCarly hit my kids at just the right time. As the stars of the show got taller, so have my kids. The two constants have become Spongebob and iCarly. Somebody told me they thought the stuff that qualifies as Great Art is the stuff that lasts. (Not sure about that. How long does a shooting star last?)

Let’s address the worry first: What’s a grown man doing watching iCarly? It’s simple. I have a pretty bleak outlook and monstrous rage I sublimate with humor. iCarly is silly fun and in each episode I was sure that everything would work out okay. Entertaining TV lights a candle where there is so much darkness.

It is clever silliness, though. If you are a little older and you watched the iCarly finale with your kids, there was a moment when you roared with laughter and your kids have no clue why. They did a tribute to another iconic moment in television history: The group hug/group shuffle from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That bit was a wink and a nod for the old ones watching with their kids. I loved it.

Watching iCarly kind of balances out my favorite shows: Dexter, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I’ve also become riveted by season 1 of a Showtime drama  called Sleeper Cell which is a taut story about an FBI agent who is out to bring down terrorists. He’s undercover and also happens to be Muslim. I mention these shows not to try to win back any lost cred, but to say that Art comes in all shapes and sizes, tastes and brands.

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

Recently a troll went to work on a colleague’s blog, acting unnecessarily rude in a comment thread. My first reaction was what troll’s want: I was annoyed. Then I thought about the chasms and vast distance between iCarly and Sleeper Cell and how I enjoyed them both for different reasons. A commentator from On The Media mentioned recently that he didn’t think a famous self-published author’s work was very well-written. He then added, “But how great does it have to be when you can buy her books for $2.99 cents?”

I suspect the troll doesn’t understand what the commentator groks: There is no real Art in the sense that “This is The Good and This is the Bad.” There is nuance and too many variables for our pea brains to handle when it comes to what people like. The commentator allows a nuance that doesn’t register in Troll World: If you get it cheap, you don’t expect it to be perfect. And what a relief that is! We all strive for excellence, but nothing is perfect. Through that lens, I saw the troll differently, too. In Troll World, criticism is used to try to control others so you feel better about yourself. How else to explain anger directed at artists that comes with a heat that should be reserved for perpetrators of genocide? My annoyance melted to pity. How sad and lonely trolls must be when they project such anger. They bring no joy because they have no joy.

There’s room for all kinds of Art. That book you love? I hate it. The book I love? You hate. Someone once said criticism (distinct from trolling) has value because it isn’t merely subjective. It is intersubjective. Yes, when it’s practiced at a high level, you can provide measures and good reasoning why I shouldn’t like something. However, like and love is like laughter: It is involuntary. Bad reviews are often irrelevant. I notice now that a vocal group (the minority?) don’t trust good reviews, either. A good critique is often entertaining, but that does not automatically equate to believing the critic. Several times I have soothed a fellow author’s hurt feelings over a bad review by pointing out that people often pay no attention to a bad review, especially if it’s poorly written or the reasoning is shaky. Criticism is an art in itself, but I give it a small a, not a capital, because it based on what others speak, write, produce, act, direct or sing first. I’ve read a lot of art criticism, but for its own sake, not to determine which movie to see on any given Saturday night. The critic is not me. To believe the critic, he or she has to share my sensibilities. How often do we match up so well that we can switch out our opinion for another’s judgment? Rarely.

Art is the place where we meet strangers in safety. You wouldn’t want to meet my characters in real life. They’re dangerous. I write

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

stories of Bad versus Evil. But I’m complex and I have an emotional range. There’s room for a sponge who flips burgers and whose best friend is a starfish who is so creative in how entertainingly dumb is. And there was room in iCarly for Sam to get into and out of trouble by beating people with a slab of butter in a gym sock. Spencer hanging with an ostrich? Priceless. And we need Gibby and Guppy to be freakishly obtuse and endearing because all your surreal friends in real life are in jail for possession.

What’s good Art? That’s not the big question I thought it was. The nature of Art trumps the question because Art is so much bigger than that question. Art is multidimensional with infinite variety, as varied as we are. There’s room for everything and for everyone’s individual taste.

And now, one last time: “Gibby!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire as well as a bunch of books of suspense including Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Self-help for Stoners. His new book, Murders Among Dead Trees, is the definitive collection of his short stories. It will be released later this week. To hear the All That Chazz podcast, go to the author site, AllThatChazz.com. For all the links to Chazz’s books, click here.

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If you won the lottery, what would you do with your new book publicity budget?

Free until Nov. 30, 2012. Click it to grab it now!

Gizmodo ran a piece on what to buy if you won the Powerball lottery. Almost all of their suggestions were pretty silly. (I admit, I kind of liked the RV that has its own built-in garage. My house doesn’t have a garage.) But let’s assume you’d try to help some people and you’d take that trip you’ve always dreamed of: Paris, Disney, Madrid, Paducah…whatever. You’d get your brother into rehab and your mom out on bail. If you’re younger, you’re thinking: red sports car. If you’re my age, you’re thinking how utterly drop-dead sexy it would be to be debt-free and have a college fund for the kids. You’d do lots of wonderful things for others (mosquito nets for African children so they don’t die from malaria comes to mind.) Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re a saint and responsible. We get it. Now let’s talk about your fantasy book publicity budget.

Here’s mine after giving this about thirty seconds thought:

I’m a podcast guy. With relatively little money (which I don’t have), I could get on a lot of podcasts and really make the most of what money I allotted to this project. I’d get on the majors: Slate, Rogan, Smodcast, Carolla, WTF etc.,… The next thing that comes to mind is to set up my website to sell directly, stock up and prepare for a big push. Major newspapers (they still print those, right?) would be a fun project. Imagine ad space in the top right hand corner of several key newspapers in major markets: Bigger Than Jesus taking up a quarter page. Turn the page, there’s Higher Than Jesus. Turn the page, there’s Hollywood Jesus, and so on. No TV. Who watches commercials anymore? A big launch party in a theatre (with Everlast as the closing act would be good.)

And I’d hit everywhere on one day. Heck, we’re talking Powerball. Let’s say, do it all in a blitz of one colossal week where my books appear everywhere you look and listen. If that somehow caught sufficient fire,then hire a publicist for the big tour in that fancy RV I mentioned.

Would it pay for itself? No. How could I justify the expense? I couldn’t, although I wouldn’t do a lot of things lottery winners do when they come into the big money, so there’s that.

That’s my frivolous fantasy. Your turn. What would you do to promote your books (besides quit the job at the rendering plant to write full-time)? Non-writers will wonder, if you win the lottery, why continue to write at all? If you thought that, get out! Get out now! I don’t understand you! SLAM!

I’ll be pleased to hear your thoughts on book publicity where money is no object. Please leave your suggestions in the comments thread below. Thank you.

~ Robert Chazz Chute fantasizes a lot. Then he writes that down. Then he scratches that out because you can get arrested if it look like an actual plan. Then he writes crime novels and no one’s the wiser. Enter the 7 Words or Less Contest and your name could be the name of a character in Hollywood Jesus. Get the inspirational book of tips, plots and plans about writing and publishing, Crack the Indie Author Code for FREE until this Friday.

 

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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