Monday, October 31, 2011

Review of "A Fitting Tribute," a single short story from a collection by Andrea Janes

Boroughs of the Dead is a collection of ten short horror stories set in and around New York City.

Beneath its modern facade, New York City teems with dark secrets, faded spirits, and unnameable horrors. Boroughs of the Dead weaves fact and myth, fiction and legend to tell ten of the most terrifying tales of the haunted metropolis.

A medical doctor abandons all rationality when he falls in love with the spirit of a murdered woman. The nightmares of an adolescent boy come to life and stalk him to the deadly, polluted waters of Newtown Creek. A cholera demon wipes out the thieves and murderers of the Five Points.

From ghost stories to zombie narratives to weird tales, Boroughs of the Dead contains evils as diverse as Gotham itself.

For me, one of the most interesting things about short stories is how they don't always clearly fall under the predefined genres.  When you see a fantasy novel you can make some pretty safe guesses about what kind of entertainment it will deliver.  This is almost never the case with short stories.

In case you missed the post title, this is a review of a single story in a larger collection.  "A Fitting Tribute" could be shallowly described as a fantasy horror story.  In actuality it was an engrossing tale about vanity and revenge.

Essentially this is the story of a beautiful, vain sixteen year old girl who is accustomed to getting exactly what she wants whenever she wants.  And she has the means to "ensure" that her wishes come true.  I simply loved her character.  She was so perfectly nasty.  A beautiful face concealing a monstrous personality.

All too often the reader can't help but feel sorry for characters because of their youth.  I found it refreshing that the author chose to avoid that route.  While you definitely become sucked into the story, you are able to view the protagonist's fate with a kind of heartless indifference.  This made the ending all the more chilling.

This story alone would make the whole collection worth buying.  "A Fitting Tribute" was interesting and different; creepy yet satisfying.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon and make a point to check out Andrea's site.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Interview with Author Cora Buhlert

First, tell us a little about your writing journey. Would you consider yourself to be a "short story author" rather than a "novelist"?

Both actually - and an occasional poet, too.

I started writing short stories after a few abortive attempts at novels and plays in my teens. However, while all my pals at the university creative writing workshop were writing flash fiction pieces whittled down to the absolute minimum, my stories tended to run several pages. The professor never quite knew what to do with me, especially since I insisted on writing genre, too.

Eventually I gravitated towards novelettes and novellas, which - as you know – are next to impossible to sell. Though I still wrote short stories, too, because I had started to sell them. Then I started and finished a novel, took a break from fiction writing to finish my MA degree and started another novel afterwards. However, I found that I missed the change of pace and quicker gratification offered by short stories, so I began writing short fiction again in addition to longer works.

Nowadays, I consider myself a jack of all genres and lengths.

Tell us about your experiences selling short stories. Any successes? Failures? What has worked for you when trying to find an audience?

I started writing before the e-book revolution and initially submitted my stories to traditional magazines. Writing in English in a country where English is not the majority language (I live in Germany) used to further limit your access to the market, particularly in pre-internet times. As a matter of fact, my first two sales (sort of, since they only paid in contributor's copies) were to the English language literary magazine of my university.

Via the internet I also got access to the wider world of short fiction markets. I submitted to the big name magazines at first, Analog, Asimov's,Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, etc… with zero success. Eventually, I found my niche writing for small magazines that focused on adventure fiction in the style of the old pulps and had a bit of success.

I was very sceptical about e-publishing at first, but then I started following the blogs of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and decided to give it a try with one of my out of print short stories. Now I have nine short stories and novelettes available for sale under my Pegasus Pulp imprint. So far all but two are backlist stories, but I also plan to e-publish more new works as well as those formerly unsellable novellas.

Like you, I write in multiple genres which makes finding an audience more difficult. So far, my historical adventure fiction sells best and there seems to be some crossover readership between those stories. I hope that some of those readers will follow me into other genres as well.

I believe that even in the age of electronic self-publishing, it still makes sense for a short story writer to submit to traditional magazines and anthologies. Appearing in a well regarded magazine increases your visibility and – depending on the genre – also gives you a shot at being nominated for awards. Besides, magazines and anthologies usually only ask for limited rights and a certain period of exclusivity – they don't do a rights grab like many traditional book publishers these days. I don't think that indie or traditional has to be an either/or question, especially since we short story writers can have the best of both worlds.

Do you think ebooks will change the way short stories are viewed by the general public?

The internet in general has given the short story a shot in the arm. Back when I started writing, there were only a handful of pro magazines and several smaller 'zines that published short fiction at all. Nowadays, we have a huge range of short story markets and many of them are electronic. Furthermore, electronic submissions have levelled the playing field for international writers such as myself, because submitting to magazines based in Britain or the US has suddenly become a lot easier and cheaper.

As for e-books, though the conventional wisdom is that short stories don't sell in e-book form, I believe that e-books are ideal for short fiction. Because one of the big advantages of e-books is that length ceases to be a factor. There is no longer such a thing as "too long" or "too short". With e-books, a story can be exactly as long as it needs to be, whether it's a short story or a 200,000 word doorstopper. Besides, there are times when shorter works are ideal. A short story is just long enough to read during your commute to work. A novella is ideal for a two hour train ride or a short haul flight.

E-books are also ideal for novelettes and novellas, which used to be almost impossible to sell, because they were too long for most short fiction markets and too short for stand-alone novels. I already have several novelettes for sale, including one that was never previously published, and there are more coming.

Finally, e-books are perfect for reviving your dead backlist. It used to be that once a short story was published and you had been paid for it, that was the last you'd see of it. If you were lucky, you might sell reprint rights. And if you were very lucky, had a lot of short stories as well as a "name", you might even sell a short story collection to a traditional publisher.

In the age of e-publishing, however, you can bring back all of those out of print short stories that are clogging up your harddrive or gathering dust in a box of contributor's copies. You can republish those old stories either as standalones or collections, gain new readers and earn a little money, too. What's not to love?

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in introducing someone to a short story? As in, is it the length? The price? Not knowing what to expect?

There is an attitude stemming from traditional print publishing that the longer the book, the more bang for buck the reader gets. This is the attitude that eventually led to bloated epic fantasy doorstoppers. Now I believe that every story has its ideal length. Some ideas turn into flash fiction, while others grow up to be trilogies, and trying to turn one into the other usually doesn't work. But short story writers still have to fight against the attitude that a longer book is automatically a better book. There are plenty of readers who claim that they don't like short stories and won't read them. Once they give short fiction a try, they usually enjoy it. Nonetheless, many readers hold a prejudice against short stories that writers have to overcome.

The price can be a problem as well. Because in a world where writers are routinely selling full length novels for 99 cents or even giving them away for free, some readers will balk at paying 99 cents for a short story. Though at least in my experience, the price isn't that big of a factor. My personal bestseller is a 99 cent short story, but my worst seller is a 99 cent short story as well. Meanwhile, my second best seller is a novelette that sells for 2.99. One thing I have learned in four months of independent publishing is that it is next to impossible to predict what will sell and what won't.

I believe it's very important to clearly label short stories for what they are, so a potential reader won't feel ripped off. I always state in the description that the book in question a short story or novelette and also give an approximate word count. To avoid further confusion I also put "A Story" somewhere on the cover.

One problem with short stories is that the samples offered by Amazon are often very short, not more than a few paragraphs, so readers don't know what to expect. I wish that Amazon would allow publishers to determine the length of the sample themselves like Smashwords and OmniLit/AllRomance. Because that way, a potential reader would get a clearer impression of the story. Well, maybe someday.

Thanks, Cora!  Check out Cora's personal website here or take a look at some of her works in Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Different Motives for Reading

Writing and (hopefully) selling short stories has really made me think about why people read.  As unrealistic as it seems, every author, I think, secretly hopes to create that ONE book that is universally loved and immortalized by literary history.  Most of us are practical enough to realize that will never happen.  Even JK Rowling has haters.

Subject material is definitely something that affects how readers will perceive your work.  If a reader doesn't like fantasy, there's not much you can do about that.  But a lesser thought of concept is why people read.  This actually varies almost as much as subject material.

Some people read almost exclusively to inform themselves.  They love non-fiction.  The idea of reading about dragons or lasers seems like a silly waste of time.  Some people only read entertain themselves.  They want a really shallow book that doesn't take very much thought juice to figure out.

This are extreme examples and most of us tend to vary in what we feel like reading at different times.  But I think that this is really important to keep in mind when writing.  Just because you write that fantasy doesn't mean that all fantasy readers will love it.  Some fantasy readers love the heavily detailed worlds that require the reader to make charts in order to figure out.  Other fantasy readers may just want a more straightforward good guy vs. bad guy story.

All aspects of your potential reader should be considered.  Don't just market to a fantasy audience only.  Think about the other elements too.  A reader that's in the market for light, fun fiction might be willing to experiment with a different genre so long as your book provides that type of entertainment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review of "Three Avenues of Escape," a short story by Elmore Hammes

A short story about a young man's utilization of several items left to him by his older brother as a means to escape his father's bigotry.

This story was quite good and surprisingly deep.  Though it is the story of an abusive home, this is a tale of resiliency rather than pity.  I liked that.  I liked that it didn't try and wring sobs out of me.  In many ways, it made the protagonist that much more real.

Hammes appears to be quite adept at spartan description.  Nothing is delved into about the scenery and yet you can feel like you're sitting in the room watching Jeff figure out ways to evade his father.  The subtle shift in Jeff's character at the end is just so simple and yet at the same time speaks volumes for both his present and future circumstances.

I would definitely recommend giving "Three Avenues of Escape" a shot even if you feel like the subject material might not be of interest.  A story well told is always worth reading.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or on B&N.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Congratulations, Amazon. You've reinvented the magazine.

For those that do not know, Amazon has been managing to sell lower priced Kindles by giving readers the "special offers" edition.  Also known as ads.  So a Kindle that is normally $109 can be purchased for the low price of $79 if you're ok with having advertisements as your screen saver.

How generous of Amazon.  How generous of those advertisers to help make up the difference! As if.  I highly suspect that Amazon probably doubles what they make on each Kindle when they add those special offers.  Between production costs and the advertisers, they are making a killing.

What cracks me up is how a lot of people seem to be in awe over how business savvy Amazon is.  Like putting ads in things to lower cost is a new idea or something.  Come on, guys! They basically just reinvented the magazine.  I actually had a post a while back about the magazine vs. the short story.

The primary source of income for magazines is not the well thought out articles and it's not the subscriptions (though that does help).  It's always been from the ads.  Amazon just took a widely accepted practice and packaged it in the form of the Kindle.

Will ebooks basically just become giant magazines?  I doubt it.  At least, not completely.  The sheer number of ads these days has created a generation inflicted with ad blindness.  We pause TV shows to fast forward through ads, we can read web pages without even being aware there are ads, and most people are generally really annoyed by pop ups.

With this in mind, I think we can all rest easy in our beds.  There may come a day where authors will have the option to sell their ebooks at a cheaper price with ads included.  But I'm willing to bet all the ad money I would have earned that in cases like that, most readers will spend the extra money to not be annoyed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Free Story of the Week

I found a cool new site from a Google ad.  It's official: Google, Netflix and Amazon now know my interests better than my own mother.  Scary.

Anyway, the site is a project of a non-profit publisher called The Library of America.  You give them your email (yes, just your email... no extra billing information) and every Monday they send you a free story.  

The "story" they send could be a short story, poem, essay, etc.  I haven't been subscribed very long but it seems like most of the stuff they send are from authors that are now dead (as opposed to contemporary). The selections are never very long and it's kind of a fun way to expand your reading.

Click here to go to their sign up page.

Monday, October 17, 2011

iBooks vs. B&N

It seems that Amazon is becoming increasingly dominant in this ebook market.  They have stayed competitive in both product and price.  But what really has managed to make them kind of the lions is their online shopping experience.  They were already designed to make money online.  It's easy to find things and the reviewing community there is awesome.  500 reviews on a product totally makes up for not being able to see the thing for yourself.

For awhile, B&N was keeping up nicely.  I actually still think that Nooks look better than Kindles.  They feel more high quality and the ebook actually looks like a book rather than a data pad.  What's killing B&N in this race is their inability to streamline the online shopping experience.  I know I'm not alone here when I say that I actually go to Amazon to shop and then if I find a book I'll go and buy it for my Nook.

I just do not understand why B&N has been slacking off in this area.  For the past eight months they seem to just keep adding gadgets to their site that just kind of make it look like Amazon but aren't nearly so efficient.  What the heck?  If they want to mimic Amazon, just start from scratch.  I'm pretty sure most customers would not complain if there was B& for the regular brick and mortar stores (like to maybe check if they have a book??) and then B& which links directly to the Nook.

Whatever.  The point of that tirade is to call to attention that the available search engine seems to be the thing that is a make or break point for ebook competitors.  Which leads us to iBooks.  There are some major drawbacks right now that are holding them back.  Apple, being Apple, is trying to pull their usual stunt about where iBooks can be downloaded.   They are also obsessed with pricing things with a .99 at the end.  This means they will never be able to keep up with Amazon in that regard.

But they do have the online shopping experience.  It's primitive, to be sure, but at least you can find stuff.  I think with a few tweaks here and there they could give B&N a run for their money.  It doesn't even matter if they charge a few cents more for books because they already have a fan base obsessed with buying everything Apple.

Writers need to be keeping these things in mind.  Don't put all your eggs in one basket.  Just because you're selling well on Amazon doesn't mean you shouldn't try and venture out to other retailers.  You need to stay on top of this if you want to be independently published.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review of "Love, Everlasting," a short story by Maria Violante

When Cole Harper wakes up in a cabin, gun in hand, he moves quickly to dispose of his girlfriend's body in the woods. Too bad she has other plans.

"Love, Everlasting" was twisted, creepy, mysterious... I liked it.  I feel I should clarify that this story is about a cocaine addict.  Normally druggie stories are not really up my ally.  More often than not I find myself losing interest as the story unfolds in a tedious manner with the protagonist trying to find more drugs.  But this was definitely not the case with Violante's short story.  I was actually irked when I had to pause reading it (something came up) because I wanted to find out what happens in the end.

Violante has a wonderful style of writing.  She obviously "gets" how to create mood with minimalist description.  Her story is face-paced but still feels like a complete experience at the same time.   I was a little worried while reading that it was going to have a cliche Hollywood-esque ending.  I'm happy to inform you  that "Love, Everlasting" falls into no such trap.  I was very much impressed by the messed up little twist at the end.  

This story is well worth reading if you are a fan of horror fiction.  It very much reminded me of an X-Files/campy zombie kind of movie.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review of "Hard Creek Bridge," a short story by Issac Sweeney

Friendless and shy, Slim Jackson enters his second semester at Abe Lincoln University. He gets lost on an unknown path, comes to a strange bridge, and has the struggle of his lifetime.

An interesting short story with more depth than the summary gives it credit for.  Oozing in symbolism, this is a tale of change and maturity.  Slim Jackson must decide how to approach this "life bridge."

Sweeney's story is a quick, pleasant read.  I feel that his style is geared toward "literary" rather than "entertainment."  I would say that Sweeney seems to be done an injustice in the ebook format.  If this story were bought as an instant gratification purchase, it would be easy to completely dismiss "Hard Creek Bridge."  

On the surface it's overly simple.  The reader has to want to put some effort into figuring out what Sweeney was driving at.  With this in mind, I almost wish I had been given this story to read in a reader's magazine or something.  A story such as this deserves to be approached from an intellectual standpoint rather than just "entertain me."

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.  Or purchase the story in the collection "Evolvement."

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Future of Short Stories

Ok, if Joe Konrath can dish out all these "predictions" about the future of publishing, so can I.  But, of course, it wouldn't be a Book Brouhaha post if I didn't put a short story spin on it.

I admit that I like short stories and that I write them.  But I am going to try and be as impartial about this as I can.  I think I can safely say that my prediction attempt will be somewhat credible.  Those that know me well can tell you that I am extremely analytical.  This strong streak of logic in my brain makes me alarmingly good at simulator-style computer games and Monopoly.  People always try to beat me at that game.  And I laugh at their puny attempts.

Short stories are always going to sell differently than novels.  That's just the nature of the beast.  Someone who writes a single novel could reasonably expect 100 different people to buy it.  It's a lot like a movie.  Movie makers are banking on the fact that there are only so many movies out at one time and people are looking for ways to kill a few hours.

You are going to be one sad cookie if you're banking on your short stories to sell like this.  It won't happen.  Unless you're already hugely famous.  Otherwise, no.  A short story author needs to bank on having 100 stories published and finding ONE person that wants to buy all 100.  It's more like a TV show.  TV show producers are not hoping for a blockbuster weekend.  They're hoping to maintain the same repeat audience over the course of the entire season and then maybe go on for another season.

Right now the sales of short stories are held back by two things: ignorance and accessibility.  By ignorance I mean that not a whole lot of people actually know what a short story is.  They think they do, but they don't.  Read more on my thoughts on educating the short story reader.  Consequently, people aren't quite sure what to do with a short story just yet.  People still approach ebooks the way they do physical books, it's not an "on-the-go" experience.  They sit down and want to kill a few hours.  Short stories don't take hours to read, so they feel gypped.

This leads to accessibility.  Even IF you like short stories, there's no way to really find them without digging.  Amazon kinda tried to fix this with their half-hearted Kindle Singles section.  It's a weak sauce attempt.  But they get credit for trying.  Other than that, the only way you can really find short stories to buy is just by stumbling across them.  Oh! What do you know, it's a short story.  Smashwords is the only site I've seen so far that even gives the option of organizing by length.  And even then it's for works less than 25,000 words.  That's still a big category.

So all this combined leads me to my prediction of the future:

Technology is now moving at an exponential rate.  The line between electronic gadgets is becoming more and more hazy.  Look at cell phones, ipods, ipads and ereaders with touch technology: they all essentially do the same things.  They all have apps, games, internet, etc...

In many ways, the short story is the ultimate ebook.  It's the kind of thing that doesn't have to be stared at for two hours straight.  Unlike the novel, it actually has the ability to integrate into this on-the-go culture that's  now emerging.  It's both an instant gratification buy and fast entertainment.

Short stories will be less of a weak replacement for a novel you buy on a Kindle and more something you buy on an app on your phone.  The untapped reading market here is not the people who don't have ereaders.  It's the people who already have potential ereading devices but aren't yet reading on them

Friday, October 7, 2011

September 2011 Short Story Sales Stats

The numbers are definitely doing well for September. Here are my numbers for all works under 10,000 words and their collections:

Amazon (US/UK/DE):
         # of works:  16
         # of sales:  33

        # of works:  16
        # of sales:  2

I've actually had a few sales from Apple as well.  It's hard to keep track of my progress there because I publish through Smashwords and they update their sales reports roughly the same speed as evolution.  But I digress.  Most of my Apple sales have been for my two western novellas.  But in July I did sell one copy of an under 10k story.

I continued to have "Celebrity Space" set at free for the month of September.  The number of free downloads I have on a daily basis on Amazon has remained steady.  So that's promising.  When I first set the story for free there was a huge spike the first week or so and then it started to taper off.  I was worried that eventually the free downloads would stop altogether but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The free option seems to be making no lasting effect whatsoever on B&N.  I don't know how many free downloads I have had total (again, Smashwords) but I've been watching the sales rank over there.  It fluctuates up and down so I do know that someone is downloading something over there.  Based on what I've observed watching my other stories there, I would hazard to guess that I "sell" 1-3 free copies every day.  While free seems to encourage Amazon buyers to try other stories in my series, B&N continues to remain an elusive animal.

I do plan on keeping "Celebrity Space" free for another month.  It seems to be helping me more than hurting.   If if ain't Baroque, don't fix it (music joke!).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review of "A Smile of Fortune," a short story by Adam Kisiel

A story of minstrels, mages, murderers and debt collectors!

Carefree bard Crispin coming back home from his parsimonious uncle's funeral does not expect that soon he will be mixed up in a murky intrigue involving magic, fear and a dwarf working as a debt-collector.

First book of the "Bard Crispin stories" series - a full of adventure, humour and mystery classic fantasy story.

This story was scattered.  It begins with a promising start by presenting a protagonist in the form of Crispin the Bard.  There is an engaging opening scene that involves Crispin meeting a halfling named Bibble.  This was pretty much the only part of the story that was really clear to me.  

Crispin and Bibble travel to a city together and the story takes off... in every direction.  Bibble is arrested and then we never hear from him again.  Apparently they weren't the BFFs the author lead us to believe?  New characters start to be introduced with reckless abandon.  Every other paragraph Crispin is doing something different.  First he's in prison, then he's with his wizard friend, then he's getting drunk at a brothel... I wish I could tell you that this all leads somewhere but it doesn't.  Other than a piece of jewelry he happened to be wearing, Crispin actually has almost nothing to do with the final action sequence. 

On top of all of this was a jarring style of writing.  Kisiel regularly switches off between using "Old English" style phrases such as: "Hail to you!" And then throwing in lines like "The booze turned out quite tasty but was kind of a shot."  Or even "He was hanging around the Mages' Guild for two hours."

I think the idea for a series of short stories following a bard is a good one.  There's lots of potential for fun adventure.  In the end, it seems as if Kisiel just has too many ideas going on and then trying to pack them all into too small a space.  

2/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this short story on Amazon or B&N.

Monday, October 3, 2011

One Year Published Anniversary

To help illustrate what's I've gone though is this past year of e-publishing, I thought some handy charts and numbers might be in order.  Last October I self-published my first ebook.  At the time I thought I had a handle on things.  Sure there might be a few new things to learn but that would be easy enough to figure out by myself.  Which led to a learning curve line that looked roughly like this:

The straight black vertical line being me.  There was no learning curve or slope.  It just went from negative knowing anything to realizing that there's a heckofalot left to learn.  I like to think that right now I'm right about at the 0.  0 can hold its own.

So yes, it was a major wake up call once I realized that I would actually have to do work to sell the two coverless stories I had just posted online.  They weren't just going to sell themselves.  And yes, my first two stories were coverless for about a month.  I didn't know how to make covers and I thought I wouldn't really need covers.

I'll never forget when I saw my first sale to a complete stranger.  That's when I turned into one of God's most pathetic creatures: an indie author addicted to sales checking.  This, naturally, led to emotional highs and lows over my sales that have been very carefully documented in the following graph:

It took me about three months before I started to put any effort at all into the marketing thing.  By marketing I mean I started to tentatively venture out into internetland to see if I could find some forums that had writing/publishing advice.  

In retrospect, I actually feel like I got pretty lucky in this one area.  I found two writing forums right off the bat, one of them being Kindleboards.  While KB does have a huge reader population, the writing community on that forum is just phenomenal.  Not only is everyone there really supportive of independent authors, they are also a font of wisdom, knowledge and experience.  As I said, I got lucky on this one.  I have since visited some less newbie/indie friendly forums and it would have probably be very discouraging if that type of place had been where I was trying to "learn the trade."

It was actually because of talking with people on Kindleboards that I started to market myself toward the short story niche.  I've always enjoyed short stories and I've also enjoyed writing shorter works.  I never even bothered to try and submit my works to a publisher because I knew I would get rejected for length alone.  But I started to realize that the ebooks are changing everything about publishing.  Though the general reading public may not be aware of it we are living in an interesting time right now.

It's kind of strange to think that in just a year how much my perspective has changed and all the people that I've now come in contact.  Making new friends online has been one of the best parts.  Authors that hail from all over the world but are still in the same boat as me.

So here's to another year of publishing and meeting even more online friends!  Hopefully this year the learning curve will favor this graph a little more: