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

Write and publish with love and fury.

The Chazz Redemption: Course Corrections along the Publishing Way

There is much to do. I wrote the first drafts for three books in two months. If you’ve noticed I’m not posting quite as often here, that’s why. I’m gearing up for Christmas (yeah, I said it!) and trying to catch up on a list of new priorities. Here they are:

1. I’ve got Self-help for Stoners back from BookBaby. It was my first book and I wasn’t confident I could upload it myself way back then. I was so shy. It’s out of the hands of the intermediary so now I can make changes without it costing an organ donation (because all my organs are my favorites.) After a fresh round of edits for the next edition, it’ll be available again.

2. I’m behind on my print editions of This Plague of Days. Catching up with Season 3 fast. The Omnibus will be ready soonish (i.e. a month if the formatting goes as planned.) I’ve developed a list of people I want to send the TPOD Omnibus to. Time to get the series more attention and reviews.

3. I think I’ll make Murders Among Dead Trees available in print, as well. I happen to think it’s one of my best books. Print is mostly a promotional tool for me, but paper versions are also important to some readers. Print is also useful as a price anchor for the ebooks. It lends legitimacy. Plus, I have a book fair coming up.

4. I’ve got to track outgo better than I track income. I want less drama at tax time and I have to trim expenses.

5. The next book in the Hit Man Series is now with the beta team. I’m going to change the title and change how the book ends. I decided to do that as soon as it went out to beta readers. Panic is so creative. These are small but important tweaks because I’m going to rebrand the series. (More on that in another post.)

6. Revise two more books. One novel is in time travel and the other is a crime story. The plan is to come out with a new one about every 30 days to boost my visibility. The cliff we all tend to hit thirty days after a book launch is horrific and I already swing back and forth from depressed to somewhat manic.

7. What’s changing with the new writing? Shorter books, generally. I still have another huge standalone book banging to escape a drawer.

Also ahead? Faster pacing. More jokes. (More on that another time, too.) I have deadlines in my mind. If I don’t meet sales targets with certain books, I’ll be changing genres. I’ll also be embracing pseudonyms. Readers of this blog know I’m averse to pen names generally. However, I reserve the right to change my mind when it suits me and when evidence arises to my first opinion.

8. Get back to podcasting. I’ve taken the summer off for a number of reasons. It’s time to find some guests for the Cool People Podcast (check out the guest page here.) I also need to finish up the Higher Than Jesus read on All That Chazz.

After that read is done, I plan to change the podcast format a bit. It’s time for a revamp with books, too. It took me years to write This Plague of Days. I’m proud of it. It’s my Star Wars. Now I’m focusing on series books that come out faster. 

That’s enough of a list for now. I have more to do, but long to-do lists are just another way to procrastinate. For more fun, write a to-done list. Plan to accomplish something specific and by when. Write it down and cross it off, all in one day. Feels good.

The kids are back in school and I’ve been bone-deep grieving dead friends.

Time to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, Red.

 

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Filed under: author platform, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Art matters. Writing matters. We matter.

Graphic designers make a big difference to readers and the success of authors. A snarky writer once told me I was a hack, too concerned about the look of my book covers. Once.

Everyone else knows, yes, of course we do indeed judge books by their covers.

You can say it shouldn’t matter all you want, but beautiful people and beautiful things get more attention. I won’t find out if you have a great personality and keen intelligence if, when I spot you from across the room, you appear to be surrounded by flies because you’ve rubbed dog feces in your hair. That’s life. That’s science. 

My graphic designer is the brilliant Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Check out his portfolio.

Kit is my friend and ally. He helps to make my existence matter. He’s helping me get my message out, subliminal and subtextual. It’s that important. All my books are about escaping who I was. They’re about all of us rising to the higher potential of what we could be. Everything I write is about making our existence — yours and mine — matter. Book covers are the come hither stare that lets me into your brain, to play in the Mindfield, to turn the words, to entertain, laugh and think. That’s what it means and why Art matters.

That’s the why. A book cover with solid art is part of the how.

Here is the new cover for the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition. It’s not at all what I pictured for the Omnibus cover. It’s better. I just let Kit do what he does best so I can concentrate on what I do best.

This Plague of Days OMNIBUS (Large)

To find out about more about secret video and to get a free ebook with your purchase of the TPOD Omnibus Edition, click here.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and, even though I occasionally write books with zombies in them, I am not a hack. It’s not the subject matter that makes the hack. It’s a lack of passion. Ultimately, with every twist, turn, joke and murder, I’m writing about me. And you. 

The suspense is in making our existence matter. Can we do it?

We will.

 

Filed under: book marketing, self-publishing, This Plague of Days, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why I unpublished from Amazon (it’s about sales pages, not Hachette)

This isn’t a story about getting away from Amazon. It’s about sales page management, and you need to be aware, sales pages are not something you can just “set and forget.” You have to keep an eye on them for glitches. A glitch just happened to me.

Today, I had a shock.

In the middle of my book launch for This Plague of Days, Season 3 and the TPOD Omnibus Edition, the Omnibus suddenly wasn’t on my Amazon sales page anymore! I checked and that’s the only reason I knew it had disappeared.

Gone! Oh, no! Not now!

I refreshed the page and knocked back a vodka.

Still gone!

I cursed my fate and invoked Thor’s intervention.

Still nothing. Dammit, Thor!

Naturally, after those early strategies failed, I contacted Amazon. They said they’d get back to me within 24 hours. If this had been my first rodeo, I would have pooped kittens. However, they generally get back faster than that and, in this case, I had the fastest response I’ve ever had.

The email assured me there was a “slight glitch” that deleted the book from my sales page. Maybe a slight glitch to them, but I just launched! My interviews are appearing across various blogs promoting my latest books. It was a big deal to me. The email further assured me that the problem would be corrected within “one to three days.”

One to three days?

Vomit.

No, not really. Like I said, this ain’t my first time on a horse. Those emails always allow a long time for their fixes, but the Amazonian techs have, invariably, acted much faster than that. And so it was. This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition featuring the complete three seasons of the apocalyptic saga with the autistic protagonist trying to save the world? We’re back, baby!

They fixed it within a couple of hours. I have it on good authority other sales platforms don’t swoop in to fix problems nearly so quickly.

Check your pages and make sure all your books are there from time to time.

Further thoughts on sales pages and serialization

After I brought out Season 3 in my series, I had a problem. The sales page looked cluttered and my work is not displayed in the order I’d prefer for greatest sales advantage. What to do? I skipped calling on Thor since he doesn’t show up unless I dress up as a hot chick. (I’m still carrying some winter weight and can’t sell the hotpants.) I sent another email to Amazon:

Could I, perhaps, edit my sales page to make it less cluttered and show my wares to greatest advantage? 

The reply was, for now, a polite no. My Amazon contact did agree that mine was actually a good idea and they would pass the suggestion up the line. Currently, the order of book display is based on sales figures. Self-help for Stoners has been on sale longest, so it’s up top. That’s not the problem. Serial episodes are. 

My Serialization Problem. 

Season One of This Plague of Days was released as one book, but also as five episodes (and each episode’s price was 99 cents.) My Season One episodes sat there, clogging the page and confusing customers. 

I came up with a solution that fit my longer game plan.

I unpublished the five episodes from the first book and set the price for Season One at just 99 cents.

This presents several advantages:

1. At 99 cents, Season One is a low barrier to entry into the series.

2. It gives readers a break on price. 

3. It promotes my visibility and my other books. Sales are up, author rank is up.

4. It avoids (I hope) angry reviews from people mistakenly purchasing Episode IV and V at 99 cents each when they could have had all of Season One (which contains all five episodes) for one incredibly low price. It’s couch change, yes, but some reviewers go nuclear over such things and outrage is rarely expressed with a sense of proportionality. Angry? Burn down somebody’s house! Mildly annoyed? Burn down somebody’s house! See what I mean?

A note about the trouble with serialization.

Serialization certainly has its advantages and helped Season One  and Season Two get more attention. However, no matter how much you might explain it and lay it out in the descriptions and vary the cover art, some readers seem determined to confuse Seasons and Episodes despite a lifetime of watching television. Quick to click, I guess.

I’m very sensitive to criticism (so yes, wow! I know! I am in the wrong business!) Anyway, the last thing I want is for readers to be confused or feel ripped off. That’s another reason Season Three is one huge book instead of broken into episodes. Serialization put me on the map, but the Law of Diminishing Returns has kicked in.

I still have episodes of Season Two on Amazon obstructing the view on my sales page. It is, as it has always been, cheaper to buy the season than to buy the episodes. I can’t let it go at 99 cents, though, so those episodes are going to stay up for a long time. Until Amazon changes its policy and allows me to control title placement, they stay and Season Two is priced as low as I will make it. When I do get control, the eps will go to the back of the sales page. I could just unpublish them, but I don’t want to leave the few who just bought Season 2, Episode III in the lurch.

How long is long enough to wait for those readers to catch up and complete their S2 episode purchases? A year? Two? I don’t know.

~ The TPOD book launch bargains continue.

 

Tell me when you discovered the secret of the TPOD Omnibus and I’ll send you my next thriller as an ebook. Details here.

Filed under: author platform, Books, free ebooks, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to write more, faster, now

After I publish a book, I tend to fall into a mild bout of postpartum depression. To head that off, I’m writing a new crime novel as I prepare to launch the finale to This Plague of Days. This new one has a very fast pace and I’m also writing it fast. This isn’t going to fall into a plotting versus pantsing discussion because, Thor knows, we’ve all hit that gong plenty hard already. Today, let’s talk about how to discover your story.

Here’s four writers to pay attention to, in case you don’t care what I think:

1. Anthony Burgess had a cool trick I’ve used. Pick three words at random. Those words will appear in your next chapter.

Go! You’ll find gooey, fudge brownie richness with that one tool alone.

2. E.L. Doctorow said writing a book is, “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

When I wrote my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I knew the last line of the book, but I had no idea from one night to the next what tomorrow’s chapter might bring. It worked out in a really peachy way.

3. Stephen King talks about excavating the story, discovering and unearthing dinosaur bones.

Some people start with character. I often find my brush and trowel to dig the dirt away is conflict. Everybody wants something. It’s more interesting if everyone’s competing for the same thing but use different methods to get what they want. (Game of Thrones, anyone?) Through conflict, character and snappy dialogue often emerge. Direction and velocity will reveal themselves as you discover how the story evolves. It may divert from your outline. That’s okay. Follow the drama. It might lead you off the map to a beautiful place.

4. Chuck Palahniuk suggests writing each chapter as a short story.

As each story connects to the next until the end, this process cuts down on a lot of intimidation. It also lessens the danger of a saggy middle because you’re demanding more of each story element instead of relying on the reader’s patience. Each chapter is a pillar. Don’t build a weak one and depend on it to hold up the structure.

I’m going to suggest the writing process as an exercise in free association.

Free association emerged as a counselling approach in Freudian analysis. The core of the therapy was to let the mind wander and for the patient to tell his or her own story rather than take on the worldview of the therapist. This was resolution by exploration.

The key is to let ideas bubble up and connect unhampered by the choke valve of self-criticism. Criticism is for later. In the creative process, let it go and flow. You’ll go faster and arrive in places that aren’t mundane and expected. Using these methods, you’re going to cut down on procrastination, too. You’ll write more because you’re having more fun. Stop agonizing. This is entertaining fiction you’re writing, not a eulogy.

In This Plague of Days, the autistic hero of my zompoc epic (Season 3 coming June 15!) is Jaimie Spencer. He’s obsessed with the dictionary. That’s me. I collect odd factoids. I let one Wikipedia entry lead me to another and to another until I free associate my way to new plot developments. The world is made of details and small components build bigger things. That’s also true if your world is fictional. The dictionary and Wikipedia are full of the atoms of your next story.

For instance, take a swig of Doctorow.

In my current WIP, I know the destination and I have a hastily drawn outline of how to get there. It’s not deep in details. I came up with most of it while watching my son’s soccer game. The first atom was a small conceit. The idea exploded when I had my hook. More on this later this summer.

Enjoy a tall, cold glass of Burgess.

Take a random fact from Wikipedia and see where that leads you. Your foundation is already getting poured.

In the crime story I’m working on, I needed to show the love interest’s character. She’s an underdog determined to win. That led me to a story from Wikipedia she could identify with. By showing the tragic, yet heroic story that guided her life, we understand her better and we like her immediately. (Me? I’m big on pathology. Give a character a medical problem and I can use that, for them and against them. Desmoid tumors saved the life of one character in This Plague of Days, for instance. Read the books. You’ll get that reference.)

Free association comes faster from good questions.

Quick! What are the hits playing on the radio in 1974? Which manager was first to get kicked out of a baseball game twice in the same day? What was happening to your protagonist that day in 1974 when he was thinking about baseball and listening to the radio? What song titles spoke to his state of mind? These are the connections I made to write a chapter (a pillar, if you will) that could stand on its own as a short story. Hello, Mr. Palahniuk!

As the factoids build and scenes connect into a river of stories that collect and flow into one ocean of words, new connections are made. New developments float to the surface. You’ll discover new intersections in the network of your story you didn’t suspect were there when you began to write.

That’s Stephen King’s story archeology.

Good stories aren’t written. They are discovered. It is the nuance we find in the depths of free association that contribute to verisimilitude and character interplay. It’s nuance that builds, not just a book, but a believable world.

Those details you’ll use through free association? It’s not the only key to Creativity’s lock, but it’s a good one. Try it.

~ I wrote Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book, Aspire to inspire. Check out AllThatChazz.com for affiliate links to all my fiction. That would be double plus cool. Thanks.

Filed under: Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing Process: Ten Moments in the Writer’s Life

1. You become a writer.

It’s usually not something you really decide. It happens to you, like disease. It’s a life where you’re either writing or you’re distracted and feeling you should be writing, forever. Like homework, for adults, 24/7. And some of the teachers mark really hard.

2. You escape the life of mortals.

You become so involved in the story that time flies and you don’t care that you’re cursed to do homework for life. In fact, you feel fortunate you’ve found this for yourself. You dream of seeing your name in print. And the accolades! That will be sweet! Finally, self-worth fed to you by strangers!

3. You meet your first dream killer.

Someone scolds you for daring to use an adverb and shrieks that, “A sentence fragment is not a sentence!”, as if you didn’t know. Then they tell you not to bother with writing.

“Perhaps you’ll find animal husbandry more fulfilling,” they’ll say, because they’re full of terrible advice and, oddly, they sound very confident.

This is a critical juncture.

If the person has too much influence over you or you’re young enough, you might quit. If quitting is an option, that’s okay. Writing isn’t for everyone. 

4. You enter the Octagon.

You send out queries and manuscripts and you get rejection slips but you don’t care because it means you’re putting yourself out there and you’re in the game. You’re not talking about writing like it’s a dream in a far off retirement. You’re doing it now. Every moment of it feels important.

5. You get feedback on your writing that’s really useful.

You put away the first bunch of stories or your novella or even your first novel or two and you begin again. You improve.

6. You get your first success.

It might be a writing award or an article in a magazine. Maybe you get $25 or maybe you don’t, but the money’s not important to you. Your parents will ask how much you won or got paid. That dagger in your heart comes from a place of love. Probably.

7. You get your first hater.

I won third place in short story contest and $1000. Someone was offended that my story won and wrote a screed about how it sucked, I sucked and this was what was wrong with the world (and possibly this side of the galaxy.) He didn’t win so, naturally, now we’re all gonna die!

The thing about the Internet is, people will say things on their blog that, if said in person, would lead them on a trip to major reconstructive surgery and not a judge in the land would convict. As far as I know, that dude still hasn’t written anything besides his doctoral thesis in English literature. Poor guy is still unread and still brings joy to no one. If only he’d pursued animal husbandry, we’d all be happier (though that’s a terrible thing to do to innocent animals.)

8. Your finger hovers over the mouse.

You’re about to hit the “publish” button. It’s nerve-wracking. How many mistakes have you missed? How mean will the reviews be? How good might they be? You thought this would be one of the highs moments of your writing career. Instead, hitting publish is remarkably stressful. After you hit that button, birth that book and send it out into the cold air, you might even feel postpartum depression for days or weeks. I do, every time.

9. You get your first true fan.

For some reason, vague to both writer and reader, something you wrote connects viscerally. Someone loves what you wrote and you love them for it. They are invaluable. They are your chief five-star reviewer, defender, cheerleader and advocate. They’re so awesome, you’re pretty sure they don’t poop. Inexplicably, they think the same of you.

Through the simple mechanism of words on the page, you’ve bypassed his or her brain and you have their heart. Then you start to worry that, with your next book, you’ll screw it up and lose them. The thought of losing a die-hard fan? Hello, Insomnia.

10. You go deeper with your writing.

You tell yourself you’re sufficiently seasoned now so the haters should bother you less. Maybe they shouldn’t bother you, but they will. I got a belittling letter at Christmas that knocked me so far down I didn’t write anything for a month.

But then you get back to it and you remember what cartoonist Lynda Barry calls “that floaty feeling” you get as a creative.

Publication per se? That matters less. It’s the writing process itself that is the thing. Yes, you want readers and lots of them, but you write for yourself first. You discover what you think and feel by writing. The writing journey is the reward. You lose yourself in the prose and in a small way, there’s something immortal and divine about that dopamine drip, washing your neocortex as you write and dream and create.

It’s just so darn godlike to kill people…

Um…in fiction. Right. That’s what I meant.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I poop. I also create worlds. If you create worlds, too, you’d probably enjoy reading this.

If you like to read stories that make you question whether the author may or may not poop, try this.

Also, right now, for a more buck, you can get a box set from me and seven other writers who are so awesome, they definitely don’t poop. Get the Horror Within box set now. 

This is the most I’ve written the word “poop” in one blog post. Or 3,000 blog posts. Why was I denying you this joy for so long? Now I feel bad. Better go kill some people…

 

Filed under: Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Being Banned Ain’t All Bad

Image

Photo Credit: Besa Photography

Guest post by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

My colleague came bouncing into my office. “Put it up here!” He said, expecting a high-five, and confirming that being a banned author in the Middle East isn’t all bad.

He was referring to the news story that had posted the night before, on the national blog, that everyone, expat and national, reads like the rest of the world peruses the Huffington Post. The breaking news was that my novel, the one without any sex, atheism or politics, had been banned for sale in the country in which it was set because it was about the country and her citizens.

I published Love Comes Later, the book in question, in the summer of 2012 as an e-book. American literary agents told me it was too foreign, too male and therefore completely unsellable. After two years of reaching out to book bloggers, 72 Amazon.com reviews, and several paperback editions, the Ministry of Culture in Qatar was telling me it was too racy to sell in bookshops.

This was clearly a book without a home; a literary identity crisis.

But would the ban help the book’s sales?

Well, that’s not a straightforward story either. The night that the news daily posted their piece, the Amazon.com ranking rose swiftly, climbing for about a week, peaking in the low 80s of top 100 paid listings for Family Sagas and Literary Fiction.

When I logged into my Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sales report, yes, the notorious Love Comes Later, was selling steadily.

I’m pleased not be in jail or to have lost my job, due to the decision by authorities not to sell my book in the country where it was set. Both of these, and far worse would have been the consequences – and still could be – in parts of the Middle East even five years ago. The congratulatory vibes from Arabs and Americans (and the lowered voices asking where, by the way, can they get the book?) are all indications of a changing ethos. 

~ Dr. Rajakumar is my most recent guest on the Cool People Podcast. Hear my interview with her about her books (and getting banned from distribution in Qatar) at CoolPeoplePodcast.com.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , ,

Writers and Readers: Cutting the pie so you get the right slice

Imagine we’re speed dating.

Between awkward pauses and wondering if my cow lick is showing, I ask, “So, do you like music?”

“Sure! I love music!”

“Great! What kind of music? Jazz, something heavy you can groove to or…?”

“Oh, you know…just…I don’t know…music.”

“Um…okay…how do you feel about comedy?”

“Love it!”

“Carlin or Hedberg? Stewart or Colbert?”

“Oh, you know…comedy.”

The little speed dating bell rings signalling our time is up. We both collapse onto the tabletop. “Oh, thank god! Next!”

I’ve set up something that doesn’t happen in this cute little scenario, of course.

People don’t go out for a night of music. They go out to dance to a beat or to listen to music or they want it played low and far away so they can talk.

People who love comedian Joe Rogan might just storm the stage if an improv troupe shows up. If that same improv troupe makes all their jokes through the magic of interpretive dance, the audience might just murder the performers and not a judge in the land would convict.

And so it is with books.

Some people (not enough) love reading, but there’s more to it than that.

I write across genres, but people who love my take on our collective dystopian future (killer pandemic starting any day now) won’t necessarily snap up my crime novels. I’d argue the sensibility and voice are similar and the jokes are still there. However, (a) nobody argues their way into a sale, and (b) even the most avid readers are often specific about which genres they will and will not read.

If I had to do it all again, I’d try to focus on writing in one genre and try to dominate that field. However, that’s not really how my mind works and plays. I should say, if I were a different person, I would have done things differently. D’uh. Useless!

But even within a genre, there’s plenty of variability.

If you want a zombie apocalypse with a lot of military action, This Plague of Days probably isn’t for you. There are military elements, sure, but there aren’t any robo-Rambo zombie-killing machines in This Plague of Days.

Instead, the series features three strains of the Sutr virus, each with different effects. The zombies aren’t your classic rise-from-the-dead variety. They’re infected bio-weapons. Instead, ordinary people gain some supernormal capacities and it’s humans versus zombies versus Maybe That’s God versus the crazy stuff that comes next.

Mostly, the story is about what underdogs do under pressure when all appears lost. As for Jaimie Spencer, my protagonist on the autistic spectrum from Kansas City, Missouri? I guess I’ve dominated the autism/zombie niche. You won’t find a lot of Aspergers in this genre.

I always set out to be entertaining, but different.

My Cuban assassin, Jesus Diaz, was kidnapped as a child and abused. Now he’s a hit man who loves movies and makes a lot of jokes to cope with pain. He wants to escape into a Hollywood daydream the same way we dream of winning the lottery. Even though both of them were military policemen, Jesus is not Jack Reacher, not that there’s anything wrong with Jack Reacher. Bigger Than Jesus is different, that’s all. (Somewhere, comfortably ensconced in a platinum writing palace, Lee Child is chortling and happy not to be me.)

So, dear readers, please read the sample provided before you click. I want you to be happy with your purchase. If you purchased anything in error, Amazon is great about refunds.

That’s fair, right?

~ Want a sneak peek of Season 3 of This Plague of Days? Read the Prelude to the next season here. It’s horrific, possibly in the right ways, and possibly for you.

Filed under: Genre, publishing, readers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Proving Dead Moms Wrong: Writing a book is among the least cynical things you can do.

The term “hack”, as discussed in this space recently, usually refers to someone, typically writing to tight deadlines, who is churning out words with no love for his or her work. I don’t think that applies any writer I’ve ever met, no matter the project. Every writer is optimistic as they begin a new book. We tell our spouses and girlfriends and boyfriends and basset hounds, “This will be the one that will really wow ’em. If you leave me now, you’ll miss out on all the glory, my accolades and a mention on the Acknowledgments page, so you better stick around.”

Here’s why “hack” is a poor term:

In This Plague of Days, I write about a zombie apocalypse. Maybe that sounds silly to you, but I fell in love with the characters and there are genuine emotional, serious and thoughtful moments. It’s complex and it’s not what you expect. Just as I attempted to do with my hardboiled hit man in Bigger Than Jesus, I played outside the expected conventions. I tried to do something different with the genre.

But here’s the thing: That doesn’t make me unique.

Every writer I know is reaching to the best of their ability to write something awesome, different and engaging, no matter what they’re writing. We try to write the best tweets we can, for Thor’s sake! Certainly we’re aiming for at least that clever when constructing a narrative beyond 140 characters. 

We’re all looking for a special turn of phrase or a new twist on an old cliché no matter what we’re writing. We’re searching for ways to entice and delight readers. We love language. We tell stories. I’ll leave it to readers to decide the degree to which we succeed, of course. However, when a reviewer dismisses any writer out of hand, based on their choice of subject, as a “hack”? I reserve the right to dismiss that review. I don’t think the term elucidates anything. A book takes too much work and time for us to aim low.

Say it with me and feel it: “Writing a book is among the least cynical things you can do.”

As a person who, more than once, has been dubbed “Mr. Cynical”, I speak with expertise. We may fall short, but we’re all shooting for the outer moons of Andromeda and to prove our dead moms wrong. Even if the reader thinks they’ve read it all before. Especially when that niggling voice of doubt in our heads tells us, “Some people are really going to underestimate what I can do with this material. I’m going to melt their eyeballs with my fair-bitchin’ prose.”

I suggest we all take each book on its own merits instead of painting with push brooms (and read the sample before you buy to avoid disappointed expectations.) Please don’t say this or that writer is a hack. That’s insulting and too easy, for starters. Besides, like plague viruses, authors evolve, too. Maybe you dismissed Stephen King’s Pet Sematery, but if from that judgment you dismiss all of his work, including The Long Walk, you haven’t read The Long Walk.

It is fair to say a particular plot device is hackneyed, but don’t generalize about all our work. Every author I know, me included, gets better with each new book. Disastrous experience beats the weakness out of us.

What other terms should we be careful about using? To the jargonator!

1. “Commercial”: Does that mean you liked it but felt you shouldn’t? (This is the worst, most disingenuous reaction, last spotted on The Slate Culture Gabfest. That’s right! I’m calling you out, Metcalfe. You’re so meta-snarky, you might be David Plotz.)

Does commercial really mean mass market paperback? With the advent of ebooks, that seems a dated reference.

By commercial fiction, do you mean it tells a ripping story that’s less based on character? Hm.  All writers want to make readers care about their characters, so that seems a tad empty.

By commercial, does the critic mean the author wants to sell a lot of books? “How base and singular! No person of character wants that! Are you not of independent means, Monsieur Writer Peasant?”

2. “Muscular” prose: The author is a minimalist, idolizes Hemingway and probably does not possess a MFA from the last thirty years. An obvious attempt to damn with faint praise.

3. “Workmanlike”: Same as #2, but with even fewer syllables in word choice. The critic thinks they’re getting away with being snooty, but we can read the code and the classism isn’t that subtle. Both #2 and #3 are really authorial choices, not burdens to grow past.

4. “Literary”: This means less plot and more exploration of inner worlds when not used as a euphemism for “pretentious.” Certainly this indicates that you’ll leave the book out on the coffee table to prove to the in-laws or tonight’s date that you’re deeper than you seem.

But all authors strive for literary flourishes at the very least. When we’re in composition mode, no premise sounds so tired that we can’t hit it at a different angle, make it great and spin it fresh. I know of no writer, no matter how tight the deadline or how little they are paid, who sets out to write crap. You might say it’s not to your taste. The author might even call it crap…later, after a few more books. But as we write? We’re all Hunter S. Thompson and Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut rolled up in Shakespearian dreams of legacy, love and respect.

We may fail, but we are artists.

Our hearts are in the right place.

Are you reading with an open mind?

Is your heart in the right place?

Have you dismissed something you haven’t read without even reading the sample?

Well, no, not you, of course, Gentle Reader of this Blog.

But, you know…them other jerks what don’t respect us none.

 

Filed under: book reviews, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Plague of Days: How I sold my autistic zombie apocalypse through serialization PART 1

This week, I’m making This Plague of Days a case study for those interested in drilling deep. This will be a series of blog posts about strategies, platforms and book marketing: what worked, what hasn’t worked, what won’t and what might. I hope it helps you to sell your books, if only by avoiding my errors.

Topics will include various format releases, selling in different ways, pricing and publicity. You’ll find out how This Plague of Days became a bestseller (in its teeny-tiny category) and the ways in which I’ve failed miserably. I’ll also hit on how my strategy is changing for the conclusion of This Plague of Days. Season 3 comes out this spring. I’m always experimenting, looking for new and different ways to reach readers and make them happy. Sometimes what I thought was the wide road to glory turned into a goat path into a dead-end. As always, I’ll be honest about it.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!On sale until Feb. 1, 2014 for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

HOW I LAUNCHED THE SERIAL

My strategy for launching This Plague of Days, Season One was to put the whole ebook out first. I waited a week. The sky didn’t shatter with raging need for my latest contribution to suspense and horror literature. Then, over the next five weeks, I released the book broken into episodes as a serial. Each episode came one week apart at 99 cents each.

Each section ended on a cliffhanger so readers were given a choice:

Wait another week to find out what happens next, come back to Amazon and download the next episode. (0.99 x 5 = $4.95)

Or, preferably:  forget all that nonsense and just buy the book for less money than it cost to get all the episodes piecemeal. I sold the ebooks at $3.99 with pulsing price dips to $2.99 plus a couple of promotional giveaways at $0.00. (More on that in another post, but hey, Seasons One and Two are at $2.99 until Feb 1. Take a hint and have some fun. It’s too cold to go outside so you might as well read.)

Print has been so little of my income in the past that creating the paperback was a low priority. I did that last. (That’s changing, as you’ll soon see in a post coming later this week.)

HOW TO SERIALIZE CORRECTLY

My nastiest reviewer noted with dismay that I’d written it like a television serial (as if I’d somehow done so by accident.) Most people actually liked the format and appreciated its quirks as added value.

That said, serialization doesn’t work if you break the narrative the wrong way. Take an ongoing television drama. Let’s say, The Walking Dead or House of Cards. Cliffhangers, wit, surprises and reversals are the gears of the engine that give a serial forward momentum. Each transition should scream, “That’s not the end you expected. Now turn the page for more!”

Not all books are suited to the serial format and it’s not just about taking any book, breaking it apart and selling off the chunks. It’s about adding value to the reader and certainly not making more cash off selling episodes at 99 cents. For get-rich-quick ideas, boy, are you on the wrong blog!

ABOUT ADDED VALUE AND STANDING OUT

With an autistic hero who mostly doesn’t speak and a story that spans Europe, America and Canada, my story is unusual. You meet a lot of characters but they don’t meet each other for a long time, if at all. The plagues start off based in reality and later supernatural elements à la The Stand develop as the Sutr virus evolves. I did weird things with how I laid the saga out, too.

The Table of Contents comprises a long, dark poem with clues to what’s coming. Each episode begins with “Notes from The Last Cafe”, which adds to the intrigue. That mystery is not actually solved until late in Season 3. Also, Seasons One and Two contain a secret. The first three readers to guess it correctly will get characters named after them. I’m receiving guesses every week, but so far, no one has won. (Check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for more on that.)

THE PROS OF SERIALIZATION

1. My also-boughts proliferated on Amazon so customers saw the work of my brilliant graphic designer, Kit Foster, pepper those lists. They didn’t just see one cover. They saw six, each different, but in keeping with the tone and theme of each season. Repetition and increased exposure got attention to the book it wouldn’t have caught otherwise. Here’s what that looked like:

TPOD 0616 EP 1 cover
The Also-boughts (below) harnessed the power of repetition in advertising.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 3.49.28 PM

 

2. Best of all, readers who dig This Plague of Days went ahead and bought the entire season immediately. Some even took Season One, Episode One as a big, cheap sample and went back to buy both seasons in their entirety.

An important detail that’s a pro and a con

Those people who were tepid on an autistic kid in the zombie apocalypse tended to just try Episode One. Each episode ranges from 15- 25,000 words, so they got a generous read. The zombies don’t actually show up for a while and they aren’t even “true” zombies in the Romero sense. If readers didn’t care for the pace at which I built the tension, early instalments took the hits of less-than-entranced reviews and readers dropped away.

The majority loved it and went on to leave stellar reviews on each season. This somewhat inoculated the books from negative ratings because the non-enthused bailed out. Serialization gave them that easy option.

THE CONS

1. Serials are a harder sell. Some people hate serials and won’t buy them. Others click indiscriminately and then will rank you lower even if they like the book. (Yes, I know that’s crazy, but I’ve seen it. Fortunately, those few are outliers.)

2. Despite going to great lengths to explain and differentiate between seasons and episodes with covers and sales copy warnings, some readers still got confused about what they were buying in what sequence. Each cover was clearly labelled and to some, that didn’t matter. (Too quick to click the one-click buy, I guess.) That got me a couple of bad reviews. I explained to those reviewers in the comment thread of their review that anyone who buys something in error can easily return it to Amazon for a full refund. Still, those negative reviews remain.

3. Episodes that sell for 99 cents make next to no money. Somebody’s going to object to that, but the math on my sales reports says it’s true. I’d have to sell way more episodes to equal the sale of one book/season. In my quest to find 1,000 true fans, this is one of the trade-offs along the way to helping us find each other. I don’t resent the journey.

4. Maybe it’s my sense of price resistance, but I don’t see charging more than 99 cents per episode. You could give less in word count per episode, but you also have to ask yourself, how much and how often do you want to format and upload files? Drag it out with more episodes and other costs rise higher.

5. I can see by my sales stats that The Law of Diminishing Returns has kicked in with respect to sales of each episode. With so many positive reviews on Season One and Two, it makes less sense for me to serialize now. As I move away from serialization in Season 3, those who liked serialization might ding me for it (even though, with the way I priced it, that’s irrational.) 

6. Serialization that’s not hooked up to Amazon’s auto-delivery system is problematic. The customer has to remember to come back each week and download the new episode. I did apply to Amazon to publish this serial with them. I never heard back. Had they gone for it, you might have heard of me before today.

7. Now that my Amazon sales page is populated with all those episodes from Seasons One and Two, it looks too busy. I’d rather just display the seasons (and eventually The Complete This Plague of Days) so it’s easy for readers to zero in on those books and click buy. How long must I wait before I can clean it up? I can’t simply unpublish the episodes in case someone’s still thinking of getting around to finishing the serial episode by episode? Do I wait a year? Two? Three?

CONCLUSIONS

You’ll note that the Pro column has two entries and I list seven disadvantages. I wish the analysis were that simple.

In my final analysis — not necessarily yours — the disadvantages I list are the cost of getting the book known. In this case, any damage was mitigated by moderate success. Serialization helped readers and hardcore fans find This Plague of Days (and in some cases, my other books.) Therefore, the sacrifice of getting roughly 30 cents on the sale of episodes is the cost of experimentation. For advertising so well in the also-boughts on Amazon, it was worth it. Season One has 72 reviews so far. Season Two has 31. That’s much more attention than my other books got. (Shocking because Murders Among Dead Trees is genius, dammit! And only 99 cents until February 1, 2014. I’m trawling for reviews from the bargain bin so…well, you know. Check it out, if only to read my favorite three-star review ever.)

Those two pros carry more tonnage than the feather-light cons. I don’t regret serializing Seasons One and Two. Without serialization, I wouldn’t have those problems. Some problems are the good kind to have. Without serialization, I’d probably be (even more!) anonymous in the literary landscape.

That’s why marketing Season 3 will be interesting. The revolution will not be serialized. Stay tuned.

~ This is a case study which may or may not apply to you. I’m not telling anyone what they should do. This is just my experience and my reasoning on serialization. Next post: Amazon, Bookbub and all those other platforms.

 

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Way of the Hack: Writers, you might be a hack if… (plus death threats from space)

Long before computers, a hack was a worn-out horse used for pulling tourists around parks. You know, because before you propose marriage to your sweetie in Central Park, you need to build up your courage by bathing in elderly equestrian flatulence. Then unimaginative comedians were dubbed hacks in the fifties, after a decade of tired jokes (mostly about hateful mothers-in-law.) I wish it stopped there. Writers get called hacks, too. Let’s dodge that fate (and, as you’ll see, you’ll also get one last chance to avoid dying by giant rock). Those two things seem equally important, so read on.

For writers, “hack” is a pretty bad insult.

Recently, on a podcast I’ll never listen to again, the host asked, “So, do you write about zombies or are you a serious writer?” Dude! Dangers, betrayal, and ordinary people facing grim existences and horrific mortality? That (and rampant, grisly cannibalism in line at the post office) is what we’re all facing every day! A book’s subject matter doesn’t make the author a hack. Failure of execution makes the hack.

To avoid becoming a hack, do not follow The Way of the Hack:

1. Tired subjects with no fresh takes. Ever read a book and somehow you’re reminded of a disappointing salad, measly on the croutons with brown lettuce? You might have been reading a hacky book.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

On the other hand, ever read a zombie story with an autistic hero, whales, evolutions of numerous cannibalistic species and Shakespearian trees, all in three books called This Plague of Days? I think you see where I’m going here: this is a blatant plug so you’ll buy This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. Season Three, and the conclusion of the serial, hits this spring. Very well, on with the helpful, preachy bits…

2. Don’t write stories that look, feel and sound like a ton of other stories. Sometimes you can spot a hack book by its cover. You want your cover to convey what genre it’s in, but you don’t want potential readers to think they must have already read it. That’s why you should consider the services of my buddy Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Your book needs a distinctive cover. Okay, no more sweet little commercials for my friends and me (today).

My point is, there are no new stories, but there are still plenty of ways to surprise readers, even the jaded ones. Hit your readers in the brainpan and adrenals. Read any novel by William Goldman if you aren’t sure how. (Okay, that was sort of a plug, but he’s not a friend. I just wish the most underrated, living American novelist was a drinking buddy, that’s all.)

3. Clichés. Hacks love them. Don’t. And why would you? It’s so easy to take a familiar cliché and give it a new twist. Don’t avoid clichés “like the plague.” Avoid them “like a stampede of zombie office workers, oddly indistinguishable from non-zombie office workers.”

4. Hacks lack complexity in plotting. If the story is too easy, the subtle message to the reader is the author is too stupid to create something more interesting. Or possibly the subtext you convey is, the author is a smart, lazy hack who thinks readers are stupid. Either way, readers won’t like the book and they’ll really hate you. So be like Batman — always be Batman — and be complex.

5. Villains who are just bad because they’re bad are hacky. Everybody, even psychos, have reasons and rationalizations and justifications. Don’t be lazy about their motivations. Writers who aren’t hacks take the time to construct origins and context so we understand why they broke bad.

6. Heroes who lack any flaw are hackneyed, boring cartoons. Or Superman. (But I repeat myself.) Protagonists without flaws and weaknesses have it too easy.

For a better example, watch the movie The Rainmaker. It’s about a young lawyer taking on what should be impossible odds and…things go incredibly smoothly for him. You’ll think, that’s it? He just had to show up and obstacle after obstacle falls down and his path is cleared? Really? It may be a good book. I haven’t read it. The movie appeared to be written by a hack who had one eye on the clock and the other on a ham on rye. 

For contrast, a great courtroom drama is 12 Angry Men. You’ve no doubt seen it. Watch it again. Henry Fonda slowly convinces eleven other jurors there is room for doubt. It seems such an unlikely outcome, but every minute of that film is riveting as you watch the dominoes fall.

7. The free online dictionary defines a hack as “One who undertakes unpleasant or distasteful tasks for money or reward; a hireling.” (Whoa! That’s most anybody with a regular job, isn’t it? But I digress.)

If you aren’t finding any joy in the writing, you might be a hack. No fun for you? None for the reader.

8. Some snobs conflate “hack” with “commercial.” Wrong. Those are two separate issues. A book can be commercial and not be the work of a hack. JK RowlingThis Plague of Days Season 2 is one of the most successful writers ever. Who but the most dedicated troll would dare to call her a hack?

Also, just because a book fails commercially doesn’t mean it was hacky writing. Moby Dick was never a commercial success in Herman Melville’s lifetime. Lots of good books fail. Don’t let The Way of the Hack be the reason for your book’s commercial failure.

I’m hoping the reason for my books’ commercial failure is everybody dies when a rogue asteroid hits Earth…but don’t worry, there’s still time. Just click here and buy my books so I can succeed and we avoid the grisly alternative near-future where the world’s population chokes to death in fire as the planet’s oxygen burns away in the ugly celestial calamity to come. Hey, it’s all on you now. Please don’t think of this as an ultimatum. It is, but please don’t think of it that way. And thanks for contributing to the Arts. Congratulations on having children and grandchildren and having another February.

9. Lack of research. If you’re banging out your manuscript to make a word count without care for details, you might be a hack.

10. Lack of humor. When a book has one unrelenting, dour tone, I begin to suspect the author just put his or her head down and said to themselves through gritted teeth, “By all that is unholy, I will get through this and grind it out.” You miss opportunities for non-linear thinking when you’re rushing to a deadline like that. Slow down, Speed Racer! Enjoy the ride more. Give it another read and look for new angles, holes and opportunities to deepen and lighten the tone and give that prose roller coaster more hills and valleys. Take the time to threaten your readers with certain death once in a while. Carpe noctem!

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: just $4.99.

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: only $4.99. Shake out the couch change.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. Today I have plugged my books, garishly, but I tried so very hard to be polite about it. Later on I threatened genocide by giant burning rock from space. Clearly, you need to buy Murders Among Dead Trees, The Little Book of Braingasms, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and, of course, This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. They are each on sale at a special low price for January 2014. Now is the time. Or an asteroid kills us all. Those are the only two possible outcomes. But, like I said, It’s up to you, killer. Yeah, let’s just click here, ‘kay? Again, thanks so much.

If more than 70 happy reviews don’t convince you, learn more about This Plague of Days and how a boy on the autism spectrum could possibly fit into the plot, at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

For podcasts and more about the books and the author, check out AllThatChazz.com. I’m starting to feel needy now, so I’ll stop.

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

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.

Write to live

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

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