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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Books as Milestones of Life

I just started reading Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, one of my top three favorite Canadian writers of science fiction. In the Acknowledgments, he mentions that he hadn’t published anything for three years due to the loss of his younger brother to cancer. That sad note got me thinking about my life’s milestones for reading and writing. Reading is an escape and a reward for me. Sometimes it’s a job. Through it all, I associate certain books with my development as a person. I wonder if you feel the same.

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, made me grateful not to be born earlier in history. I didn’t think I could do better than the Hardy Boys Series as a kid. Later, Ian Fleming fed macho dreams of becoming a killer spy. Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I couldn’t wait to escape to big cities. Books and movies fueled my teenage dreams of doing something different, of being someone different. I wanted a life that offered more choices and I was sure that, somehow, the life of a writer would make that dream come true.

A boy trained by Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land taught me more about theme than any dry book report at school. That book also taught me that fiction can reach beyond being merely entertaining. Stranger in a Strange Land is about how to view the world through clear, innocent eyes. 

Hanging out in Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon taught me science fiction doesn’t have to take itself too seriously. I met Spider a few times when we both lived in Halifax. Nice guy. He is his fiction. He tells fun, optimistic and humane tales. (Callahan’s Law: “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.”) Optimism isn’t quite my thing but I do try to hit hopeful notes or else, what’s the point? Even my apocalyptic stories have a lot of jokes.

In my first year of university, I enrolled in a survey course about the philosophies of history. It was like a year devoted to Wikipedia, speeding from the Bible and Gilgamesh to Dante to interpreting the art of the Renaissance and well beyond. I learned a lot. The experience also gave me a humbling inkling of how much I didn’t know.

I read a lot of American authors in university. Holed up in my dorm, I had so much time to read. I wish I had that kind of time now. Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood made me think I could write killer thrillers one day. (I did and do.)

At 20, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior felt like a revelation. Seven years later, it would feel trite. I couldn’t sense the magic anymore. I’d like to go back to enjoy Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus. However, it’s a rare book that I read twice with the same level of enjoyment. You can only read Fight Club once for the first time.

At 22, I moved to Toronto. I stayed with a friend for my first month in the city. I should have devoted all my time to the job and apartment hunt. All I wanted to do was read The Stand and It. And then everything else by Stephen King.

Reading Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom and Story of My Life, I wanted Jay McInerney’s career. American Psycho made me think Bret Easton Ellis’s fame would be fun, or at least interesting. Working for a publisher, I sold American Psycho to bookstores when it came out. (Oh, the arguments we had about freedom of expression. Some of those dainty cocktail parties came close to devolving into a melee.)

Though I’d trained in journalism, my education about writing novels began with William Goldman. I was on the 28th floor of my apartment building on a summer night. I thought I was safely in the dénouement. Goldman ambushed me with a killer last line. I threw that book across the room as I shouted, “He got me again!” You know Goldman wrote The Princess Bride and many famous movies. Please read his novels. He’s the most underrated American novelist still living.

Working at Harlequin, I read a lot of manuscripts, both vetting and proofreading them. One romance about three lottery winners stands out in my mind as a really great story. Honestly, I’ve pretty much forgotten the rest of that year and a half of romances and men’s adventure novels except for this one awful line: “She bounced ideas like balls off the walls of her mind.”

Unhappy and angry at a rude co-worker, I began writing a short story. It was pretty much a silly revenge fantasy. A quarter of the way through I tore it up and threw it away. I didn’t want to be that guy. I gave up on all writing for years. Depressed and frustrated, I didn’t dream of becoming Jay McInerney anymore. At 28, it was too late to be a Boy Wonder. I told myself it was all too late. Find something else to obsess over, Rob. I still had no idea I would write thirty books by the age of 53.

I went back to school. My reading diet was non-fiction, entirely medical. Anatomy suggested to me there might be a god. Pathology told me there had to be a devil, too. I learned a lot but read nothing for pleasure. Coming out the other end of that training felt like coming off a starvation diet. I got back to reading voraciously. I started writing again, too. I did some freelance work writing magazine articles, columns, and speeches. I also submitted short stories to contests and won a few. (Several of those stories wound up in one of my first self-publishing efforts, Murders Among Dead Trees.)

A long trip across Canada made me appreciate fiction in audiobook form. I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing once but I’ve listened to it twice. I wouldn’t have enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire if I hadn’t stuck it in my head via audio. (Too much heraldry for me to slog through on the page. However, the audio performance is truly a master class in voice acting. Audio was my way in when the printed word felt like work.)

I got something out of the books I didn’t like, too. The pace of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was too slow for me but I loved Oryx & Crake. I don’t write off authors simply because they wrote one book that wasn’t for me. I love Kurt Vonnegut’s work and the man so much I made him a character in Wallflower, my time travel novel.

I’ve read almost everything Vonnegut wrote but I couldn’t get into Galapagos. Sometimes you’ll see pissy proclamations that promise, “I’ll never read anything by this writer again!” Okay, but that suggests that might be a reader who wants the same book over and over again. (If you want to go deeper on this, I recommend the latest Cracked podcast about fandom, both positive and toxic. It’s a great and funny episode.)

I make time for reading because I love it. As a writer, reading is part of my job, too. The joy of good fiction is that it makes a movie in my head. One Christmas when I was very young, I received Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. As a snowstorm raged, I crawled into bed with that book and a tall canister of Smarties. I ate the candy and read about an inventor, his children, and their magical car. I felt warm and safe and transported reading that book. Every time I read or write, I’m trying to get back to that same feeling, that retreat from a raging world.

Our world often feels broken and rageful now. It’s a relief to step back into fiction and get shelter from the storm. My teenage dream came true, by the way. I’m writing full-time. With a few adjustments and compromises, I’m pretty close to being the person I meant to be.

And now I offer shelter.

~ Robert Chazz Chute just released a new apocalyptic trilogy called AFTER Life. Check out all his books at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Books, My fiction, publishing, robert chazz chute, Science Fiction, Writers, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to reach readers in a way most writers don’t

When you think of using video to promote your book, you probably think of a book trailer, like this:

I made the trailer above and it turned out pretty slick, I think. But there’s a better way. A book trailer broadcasts out. I want to motivate readers to find me, not just talk at them. Sure, book trailers can be cool, but there’s little to no evidence they motivate people to purchase more books. (Click on my old post here for thirteen options for using video. I especially like the Scott Sigler strategy.)

Here’s how I added value to This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition.

The better way is to use video is to thank readers and engage them with a question or a reward. I opted to do both with a link to a secret video at the back of the TPOD Omnibus Edition. It’s three books in one, so, for those who care to, they can make one purchase and save a couple of bucks.

Here are the specifics of my latest launch strategy:

1. I’ve just launched two books, This Plague of Days, Season 3 and This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition.

2. I dropped the price on the first novel to 99 cents and marked the second book down to $2.99. I’m selling the Omnibus (three big books in one) for $6. 

3. At the back of the Omnibus, exclusive to those readers, is a link to a private video. In it, I talk about the saga. It’s been years in the making. This is my Star Wars. Putting it to bed is a big deal to me and I give some behind-the-scenes origin information.

4. I ask a sincere question. A secret has been buried in this series from Season One and it pays off late in Season 3. It’s a huge surprise that a lot of people tried to figure out but they only saw it in retrospect. (My beta readers all said the same thing. “Oh! Of course! You dog!”)

5. As long as Omnibus readers answer the question in the comment thread at the private video link this year, I’ll send each of them my next thriller ebook as a gift. Free. No strings or demands for a newsletter sign-up. The new thriller comes out later this summer and it even ties other books together. It’ll be a fun ride and also a solid bridge to my other books even though it’s not in TPOD‘s genre.

6. Video is a more personal way to thank readers. By adding another book to the six-dollar Omnibus, readers won’t just save some bucks. They’ll get four books (three huge ones and one decent-sized novel.) Readers will benefit and I hope to gain readers who are already enthusiastic about my particular brand of crazy. 

7. I know this approach trips some fear alarms for some authors. Please don’t tell me I’m devaluing literature by pricing it too low and giving too much away. I’ve lowered the price, not the value. The literature that is devalued most is that which is read least. Times are tough for a lot of people, me included. But I still believe that generosity and helping others wins over greed. Give more and you’ll attract the people you want to be your readers. When they find you, they’ll buy all your books. Don’t chase anyone. Count the giveaway as the cost of advertising, something any business does. Let readers come to you willingly and they’ll bring you joy instead of heartache. 

How did I do it?

I used iMovie, but you could use a cell phone. It doesn’t matter as long as it uploads to Youtube and designate the link “unlisted” so only those who have the link can access it. It doesn’t have to be slick and fancy or have a kickass soundtrack that sounds like it’s calculated to accompany an invasion of Libya.

Your video might even be better if it’s not slick. I love my energetic little book trailer, but heartfelt and speaking into the camera? Heartfelt is more important than slick.

But how did I sell the TPOD Big Deal Book Launch to readers?

Here’s exactly how I did it.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and no one can begin to fathom the depths of my exhaustion at this moment. I am puddin’. But I’m also happy. Anxious and happy. Mostly anxious. Go make a video. Of love. (No, I don’t mean like that!…okay…maybe like that.) 

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ultimate Blog Challenge: Risk more

There’s a scene in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Parisin which Owen Wilson’s character meets Salvador Dali. I’m a fan of

Woody Allen

Woody Allen (Photo credit: ThomasThomas)

Dali and Adrien Brody makes him weird and charming and, at that moment, obsessed with rhinos. After meeting Dali, Wilson’s writer character (an undisguised Woody Allen surrogate) starts to think that he needs to let his imagination off the leash and be more creative with his writing. I do wish more writers took chances and drew outside the lines.

Experimental fiction has a bit of a bad rep and sometimes for good reasons. It also gets a bad rep for bad reasons and the big bad reason is the author’s fear. Too often we hear that readers want to be made “comfortable” with a story. Agents and editors want “the same thing only different” from the successful authors they happen upon. You can write a competent mystery, thriller, romance — whatever your flavor — but I don’t think you can do anything great if you don’t stretch at least a little bit. Playing it safe means going with the tried and true. There’s plenty of that already.

The reader and writer in me is screaming, “No!”

A writer wants to do something more, different and great. A reader wants to feel like they are in confident, competent hands so they won’t invest a lot of time in a book and three-quarters of the way through discover the story has gone off the rails. Take your risks but make it plausible within the context of the book. I’ve just put a book down because an author made a choice that was implausible and annoying. For the first chunk of the book, we understand we are dealing with astronauts just back from Mars. After the three-year mission is over, they discover that one of said astronauts isn’t what he appears to be. He’s an astronaut impersonator. Really? Maybe that would work for some people, but it didn’t work for me and I put the book down, possibly never to pick it up again. I’ve got a lot to read. Life’s too short to waste on books that don’t work for me. If the author had made the astronaut impersonator the guy who messed up more, the conceit might have worked. Instead, the non-astronaut is the ultimate astronaut. Yeah, right. Got a brain tumour? Hand the scalpel to the brilliant amateur because he’s read some books and has a fresh take on this whole “surgery” thing. Ugh.

Please do take risks with your stories.

Go to unexpected places and surprise me.

Make me believe

(because I really want to believe.)

Midnight in Paris isn’t a great movie, but there is something very appealing about a cadre of artists in Paris in the ’20s who interact with each other, bounce ideas off each other and critique and encourage each other to reach beyond the norm. Too many people were living lives of quiet desperation (like now) while Hemingway or Gertrude Stein asserted themselves and their art as an important value, not a frivolous hobby. I don’t care for Stein’s writing at all and I prefer Hemingway’s short stories, but how noble to be so invested in art for art’s sake! Are we still invested in art or is our attention too fractured? Is there an equivalent to Paris in the ’20s now? Or have we devolved in our expectations of the value of art so much that we melt into the lowest common denominator of art critic: a mewling pack of trolling eunuchs at the harem with nothing to offer but barely literate, troglodytic snipe and snark in one-star book reviews?

Midnight in Paris succeeds only so much as nostalgia for an ex-pat community of artists in the 1920s succeeds, but I do love elevating art. When two hoods in an Elmore Leonard novel or a Quentin Tarantino movie or a Guy Ritchie film have conversations that you don’t expect, that’s a writer taking a risk to bring us more beyond the usual schtick and making it work. That’s “a Royal with Cheese.” That’s “Leave the guns, take the cannolis.”

Smack your reader with something they don’t expect.

Make them love you anyway.

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

Ultimate Blog Challenge: Top 10 What I’ll soon do differently with my book promotion

1. Last November I started up my podcast to reach out to new readers. I called the podcast Self-help for Stoners

English: Third generation Amazon Kindle

English: Third generation Amazon Kindle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

after my book of the same name. The podcast was a good idea, but tying the title to one book when I have dozens in me was a tactical error and I’ll change that soon.

2. This, my main blog, focuses on information, both original and curated, for anyone interested in publishing books.  The blog is not geared to readers. That’s what the author site is for. In the future, I think I’ll post to the author site more often than I do, especially as I have more reviews and events to talk about. I don’t regret writing about writing, though. Some people think authors are stupid for doing that, but I went with my passion. If I had tackled something I was less interested in, I wouldn’t be approaching 1,000 blog posts now and I wouldn’t be able to make two books out of it.

3. My two latest books, Bigger Than Jesus and The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, are both on Amazon and exclusive to KDP Select so they do not appear in retail outlets. That’s fine for now, but eventually I will migrate them to other ebook platforms. Amazon was great at promotion, but with their new algorithms, they aren’t so great for me anymore. (I hope they rectify this and we, collectively, get through the current summer sales slump to see a more energetic autumn.)

4. In the future, I’ll raise the price of my books. They’re all at couch change for $2.99 now. This is the introductory price and will change, which will also make more sense with Amazon’s new price-based (rather than quantity sold) algorithms.

5. I have several books in revisions that reach beyond 120,000 words. If they were shorter they’d be done and available by now. If it makes editorial sense, I may break the longest books up into trilogies.

6. I will write shorter books. As I wrote Bigger Than Jesus, I discovered that I love to write a book with a high momentum. A fast write (and read) energizes me. The paperback will still clock in at 249 pages, so no one will feel I’m shortchanging them.

7. I will write no stand-alones. Bigger than Jesus is the first of The Hit Man Series. The Poeticule Bay Series is in development. The books are meant to stretch out into long series following certain characters. Stand alone novels are a heavy investment of my time that do not develop a following to the same numbers as a series can. To make more art, I have to make that business decision. What will be fun is when I have crossovers, where many of my characters from different books meet.

8. I will write faster. I wrote Bigger Than Jesus in a month. To perfect it, the editorial pipeline was longer than that, but I find I can write effectively and well at speed. My editor and beta team made that possible and, maybe it’s the journalistic training talking, deadlines are my friend.

9. I will have print versions available for all my books going forward. Currently I just have Self-help for Stoners available as a paperback. The other short story collections didn’t have quite the length needed to make for a paperback with heft. Everything I do from now on makes for a great mass market paperback. I just finished all the book design and print formatting on Bigger Than Jesus today so I’ll have the paperbacks on hand pretty soon. (I’m in love with Georgia. She’s a beautiful font.)

10. I will be less shy about contacting other authors for blurbs and book blogger for reviews. This is more of an affirmation than a plan since I have yet to compose those emails. I’ve sent out a few copies for review, but it’s an issue about which I am still an introvert. (I’m only pretending to be an extrovert here so someone will read my books.)

~ Like my flavor? Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. I’m

Get Bigger Than Jesus

podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)

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

Author Blog Challenge 20: What writers owe (and an insider secret is revealed)

Garley the Persian cat

Garley the Persian cat (Photo credit: arash_rk)

I used to dream that when I finally became an author, I’d write a short acknowledgements section to myself. “Screw you all!” I’d scream. “In your face! I did this myself and I don’t owe anyone anything! Ha!” Then I’d retreat to my hermetically sealed office under a volcano within my island fortress guarded my my loyal ninja monkey assassin clones. I’d have a monocle and a white Persian cat to stroke while I ordered Hellfire missile strikes to rain down upon my enemies. As you can only imagine, that’s almost exactly what my life is like except for the thing about acknowledging people who have helped me on my publishing journey. Unexpectedly, I have the attitude of gratitude. I’m happy to have a deep stock of Hellfire missiles to protect my tropic realm and I’m grateful for all those people who have assisted me in putting out my books.

Yesterday, after my big free promo day, I sat down and wrote a little letter to a bunch of people who have been helpful along the way. Somebody slipped me some dough so I could keep going. Someone else helped me with formatting the first time I attacked the beast. Others were consultants about suitable explosives…”Um, for my crime novel’s plot!” he added hastily.

A lot of people have the wrong idea about self-publishing.

They focus on the self part.

Hitchcock said that a painter only needs a brush and a writer, a pen, but a film director needs an army. These days, indie writers need small armies, too, and many of them are volunteers. 

The key thing is: self-publishing is still publishing. You either need a graphic artist or you need to be one. You need to learn a lot about tech and promotion as well as craft. You can write a good book, but if it has a lousy cover, no one will read it. (The converse is also true, of course.) That’s why I prefer the term “indie” to “self-published”, though to the consternation of a few angry people, I do use those terms interchangeably as a concession to common parlance.

My Beta readers are volunteers. I’ll pay them in lollipops, acknowledgements in the book, a copy of the paperback and, when they’re ready to go indie, I’ll be a resource for them, too. I’m confident each of those readers could write a book if they decided to do so. I’ve thanked them all, for what that’s worth. So far all they’ve received is a book they enjoyed for free but I’ll be sure to get those lollipops to them.

I did find an unusual way to make one person’s day though. If you’re writing a book, you may wish to consider doing this (with their permission.) A great buddy of mine is undergoing treatment for cancer. It’s been a scary time that he has handled with a calm and class that I am sure I could never muster. This guy is one brave SOB. As I was writing the first draft of Bigger Than Jesus, I used his name for one of my characters.

Funny story: I called him up on Skype to ask him if I could keep his name in the book. His microphone wasn’t working. He could hear and see me but I could only see him. However, that worked out for the best because he pantomimed his approval. When somebody is that sick and you can make them laugh and smile as much as he did by putting him in your book? Why wouldn’t you? He loved the idea and showed lots of energy in giving me a thumbs up that made me laugh (and, truth to be told, a little weepy, too.)

I talked to him on the phone the other day. Things are looking up and we’re optimistic that one way or the other, he’s beaten it. Not only will he live a long life, but in a way that is tiny and totally useless except for good feelings and a funny exchange on Skype, he’s  immortalized in literature, too. I’m very grateful my buddy will be around to enjoy all the novels in The Hit Man Series and everything else I write. I’m most happy about that.

If you’re reading the Bigger Than Jesus,

my buddy is the guy wielding the SPAS-12.

Sh. Keep it to yourself.

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

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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