Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Diversification and Selling Short Stories

I am going to make a rather bold statement about short stories and say that the only thing that ensures an increase of overall writing income over a prolonged period of time is diversification.

The number one mistake people make is publishing a single short story in a single genre.  The story never sells so they automatically assume there's no money to be had publishing shorter works.  Not true.

Publishing short stories is a constant process of throwing spagetti on the wall and seeing what sticks.  It's stupid to put all your hopes on a single strand.  This type of mentality should be left to the novel writers as they slave for years over their supposed masterpiece.  Short story writers don't have this kind of luxury.

You must experiment and you must make your work available to as many readers as possible.  My sales increased once I stopped thinking that I was a sci-fi short story writer and started thinking that I was a short story writer.  I branched out.  I started new pen names and writing in all the genres that interested me.  I also made sure that all of my work was available is every possible ebook retailer.  Forget KDP Select.  It will only hold you back.

I don't keep track of every sale.  But I do monitor what IS selling and what's not.  It's a constant balance of watching all channels and all the genres published in each channel and seeing what is picking up momentum.  If I see, for example, that scifi sales are increasing on iBooks, this directs where I am going to be putting my energy when I start my next writing project.

Some genres just don't sell on some channels.  Period.  I think I've sold maybe a dozen copies of scifi stories on Barnes & Noble.  Most of them to my mother.  But on Sony and Kobo I have scifi stories regularly selling every month.  Short stories may not be a gold mine, but getting $20 from B&N and $30 from Amazon and $15 from Apple... it does start to add up slowly but surely.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

SFWG 2012 Speculative Fiction Contest RESULTS

We would like to thank everyone that took the time to submit to our first contest. We received a number of very intriguing stories that led to some fun discussions for us. SFWG does plan on making contests a regular part of our yearly events. So there will certainly be more prizes to earn in the future!

And now for the results!

First Prize goes to Aaron Engler for his story “Event Zero.” You can read this story for free here.
Second Prize goes to Erin Lawless for her story “Deadlands.” You can read about the collection containing this story here.
Third Prize goes to Anthony Stevens for his story “Statuary.” You can read this story for free here and read about his upcoming project here.

Short Fiction Writers Guild

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review of "Low-Budget Monster Flick," a single story in a collection by Mary Anna Evans

An eight-year-old girl who has just watched as her sister was kidnapped... A nurse who holds the lives of a mother and child in her hands... A makeup artist who has just found a murdered starlet on a movie set... Find these characters and more in this book-length collection of short works by Mary Anna Evans, author of the Faye Longchamp mysteries. This collection includes stories and essays originally published in anthologies including FLORIDA HEAT WAVE, A KUDZU CHRISTMAS, MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, NORTH FLORIDA NOIR, MYSTERY MUSES, and A MERRY BAND OF MURDERERS, as well as never-before published stories by Evans. Bonuses include a story by guest author Libby Fischer Hellmann and an excerpt from her environmental thriller WOUNDED EARTH. Mary Anna Evans is a recipient of the Mississippi Author Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, a Florida Book Awards Bronze Medal, the Patrick D. Smith Florida Literature Award. KIRKUS REVIEWS called her latest release, PLUNDER, "delightfully erudite." She lives in Florida with a humongous piano and an unusually charming cat.

This is a review of one story in a collection by Evans.

I fully admit to having a weakness for cult horror and sci-fi films.  If it involves a rubber monster suit and/or a virgin sacrifice, I've probably seen it.  So it's really no wonder that this short story appealed to me in every way.  It was like murder mystery noir with a sense of humor.

Evans has a strong style of writing that instantly transports and immerses.  Despite the large cast (for a short story), never once was I pulled out of the action by trying to figure out who was who.  I found myself enjoying all the characters.  Yes, some of them were bordering on stereotype but it totally suited this type of story.

The plot is perfectly paced.  It feels neither rushed nor needlessly dragged out.  Some hardcore mystery fans may feel a little jilted with such a short investigative process but I actually liked this aspect to the story.  In my opinion the story was more about "a day in a life" of a 1940s hollywood worker rather than a nitty-gritty whodunit.  The underlying humor being that no one really cares about the victim, it's all about the showbiz and the art. 

This story alone would make the collection worth investing in.  Evans is not a short story author you want to miss.

5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Genre and the Short Story

Short stories generally tend to belong to more artsy genres.  By this I mean that's it's not at all uncommon to classify a short story as a fantasy/fairy tale/sci-fi/young adult/thriller hybrid.

For a novel, this would probably end up being confusing for the reader.  But often for a short story, it makes perfect sense.  Starting mid-action in order to lead up to a slightly twisted ending often requires pulling elements from multiple mainstream genres.

While fun to write and even more fun to read, the lack of clear genre makes it tricky to market to your target reader.  Therefore, it's important to keep two things in mind:

1)  Who is your target reader?  Think about the personality type of the person shopping around and let that be your guide.  For example, say your story is a bittersweet romance with supernatural elements.  At first glance, this type of story could fall under "paranormal" and "romance."  But is your story the type of plot those shoppers are looking for?  Probably not.  Romance shoppers are usually looking for a few steamy scenes and a happily ever after.

So you have to go outside the box.  What type of reader would enjoy this short story you just crafted.  Perhaps "fairy tale" would be more appropriate than "romance."  Disney movies aside, those that have read the real Grimm fairy tales know that sometimes the ending isn't always happy.  So if they came across your story, their expectations would be more in line with what you actually wrote.

Which leads us to...

2)  As a short story writer you must become your own "genre."  A perfect example would be Edgar Allan Poe.  By just seeing his name you would know what type of short story experience you're in for. His name sells his work.

Given the fact that short stories sell so few copies compared to novels, you need to give that one reader that finds your work a lot of buying options and a lot of similar reading experiences.  I don't mean write the same story over and over again.  But do always keep in mind the things that make your stories unique.  Do you have a twist at the end?  Are your stories "thinkers"?  Do you have trademark characters or humor?  Use those features to your advantage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of "Christmas Past," a short story by Owen Adams

The Time Travel story with a dark side.

A man died while the snow fell. His body would be hidden until summer, but there are strangers in the woods today. During a long forgotten Christmas, three time travellers come to town; is their presence just a coincidence or are there darker secrets hidden beneath the ice.

An interesting time travel piece that has a classic cult sci-fi feel.  I really enjoyed Adams' style of writing.  He spoon-feeds you details in a way that keeps one engaged throughout the story.  His descriptions are sparse yet concise.  It doesn't take long to form the complete scenario in your mind.

The story unfolds at a nice pace, becoming more and more intriguing with each page turn.  Who are the time travelers?  What do they want from the man they were trying to track down?  And then.... it just ends.  Vague inferences are made on what the protagonists are up to, but not enough.  I don't need all of my questions answered.  Just some of them.  Enough to allow me to connect the dots.

So did this ruin the whole experience for me?  No.  I enjoyed the rest of it too much.  But I was slightly disappointed at the end.  Like, "Man! I want to know what happened!"  Adams is definitely a short story writer to keep on the radar though.  His story is worth checking out.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

SFWG Speculative Fiction Competition!

We at SFWG are happy to announce our first Speculative Fiction Competition!

Submission Guidelines:

  • Entries have a limit of 5,000 words. Stories beyond that will not be considered.
  • Stories may be previously published.
  • The genre is restricted to speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, or science fiction).
  • Entries will be accepted beginning on November 12, 2012.
  • Entry Deadline: December 1, 2012.
  • All submissions should be sent as a PDF attachment to with “SFWG Contest” as the subject.

We will announce the winners by the end of the year.  For more details check out the website:

First Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog, announced on various forums and websites, included in a future Anthology (with your approval), given an SFWG logo and winner image that can be used on your book cover, and receive a free original cover art design from C.C. Kelly Studios (valued at $300) for your next short fiction project.

Second Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

Third Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Announcing the Start of the Short Fiction Writers Guild!

Mission Statement

“The Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG) celebrates and promotes all genres of short fiction in an effort to share the entertainment of the form with new readers, provides a robust marketing platform to expand market viability and profit potential for the works of its members, and offers a range of services to help members improve as writers, while embracing the virtues of honesty, professionalism, and integrity.”

The SFWG invites writers of all genres to discuss and improve their work, take advantage of promotional opportunities, participate in writing contests, and publish in our Anthologies. We are also planning to add additional services and promotional opportunities soon. Please bookmark this thread as we will make all announcements regarding SFWG here and on our Facebook page. We invite everyone to explore the site and see how SFWG can help you in your writing and your career.

Member Benefits

Beta Reading
Ability to trade professional services
Vendor discounts
Multiple Pen Name support

To join, click on the "How to Join" tab on the "About SFWG" menu on our site and follow the directions.

Please contact us either through SFWG or replies here on this blog post. We look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review of "Send Krupac Through the Portal," a single story in a collection by Tony Rauch

A man comes home to discover a Bigfoot-like creature watching his tv, a giant robot pays a visit to a couple, a new kid has some unusual toys to share, an inventor creates a gorgeous robot in order to meet women, a girl becomes so ill she has her head replaced with a goat head, someone wakes to discover little eyes growing all over his body, small, hairy creatures come looking to retrieve an object they had misplaced, and a boy finds an unusual pair of sunglasses in the weeds. These are the whimsical, surreal adventures of Tony Rauch.

**May Contain Spoilers**

This story has the effortless ease about it that one gets from an author that has been writing for awhile and knows his "writing voice."  It's both entertaining and whimsical.  Outlandish ideas seem like perfectly reasonable solutions.

Since the summary does not cover this particular story's plot, I will briefly recap.  It's about a man that has been rejected by the woman he loves.  So with the help of his friend he discovers that there are way to access parallel universes where everyone is the same but they may be leading different lives due to variations on past life decisions.  So our protagonist naturally wants to find a reality where he and his love are able to be together.

This story was so, so good right up until the very end.  I couldn't help but feel like I was left a little unfulfilled.  I'm all for allowing the reader to finish the story in their head.  I think those make some of the best short stories.  However, in order for this to happen I have to have enough pieces to try and fit together.  "Send Krupac" gives you most of the information but not quite enough to draw reasonable conclusions in my opinion.

But the fact that I had to brood over this plot and probably have a fun time debating the way it ends says something about the quality of work.  I think that Rouch is definitely an author worth checking out.  I did not get a chance to read the other works in the collection but if they are as charming is "Send Krupac," you're in for a treat.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pen Names, Promotion and Productivity

A few months ago I branched out and started some new pen names.  Despite my normally calm and collected appearance, I inwardly brooded over this for a really long time before finally deciding to take the plunge.  I worried about having to divide my time writing and promoting.  I worried about losing my current audience.  I worried about why I was so worried.

Then I was like, who was I kidding?  What audience am I losing?  I've only been publishing (at the time) for a year and a half and I write wacky science fiction short stories.  Which means that my niche audience is probably 1 out of every 100 billion people that shop on Amazon.  I haven't been around long enough to have a cult following.

So I took a chance.  I waited a few months to see if any guilt has set in and it hasn't.  In fact, the opposite occurred.  I now feel totally liberated as a writer.  I don't feel the need to cater to a particular audience.  If I want to write something totally different, I do it.

What about promotion?  I actually spend less time promoting and more time writing.  Is this counter productive?  Not really.

If I am brutally honest with myself no promotional effort I have attempted in the past has really been worth my effort.  I write blogs because I enjoy it so I don't factor that into the equation.  But the money spent on Facebook Ads, the hours spent looking for people to review my short stories, the trying to spend time on half a dozen different social media outlets... it's not worth it.  Yes, I've had a few features that have led to a slight increase in sales for the day.  Which was nice.  But it didn't change the fact that two days later I was right back where I started.

So I cut back.  I hang out on the one writer's forum I enjoy, I blog, use Facebook and Tweet on my phone when I get the chance.  That's pretty much it.  I really don't care anymore if there's some place that authors HAVE to have a presence.  It's a waste of writing time.  The only thing that consistently bumps my sales is when I publish a new story.  Simple.

The new pen names allow me to target and write for a specific audience.  It also allows me to see what sells and what doesn't so I know how to focus my time.  In some genres standalones sell better.  In other genres series are the way to go.

In the end, the pen name will promote itself.  I think this is an important thing for "unknown" authors to keep in mind.  People are not going to be typing in your name on search engines.  They're going to be browsing by genre.  So if they find something of yours that they like they will want more of the same.  Eventually that more of the same becomes a brand name.

Just some ideas to chew on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review of "Silver Elvis," a single story in a collection by Michael Ramberg

A compilation of four previously published stories from Minnesota writer Michael Ramberg. Ramberg's dark wit, combined with a strong compassion, creates memorable, oddball journeys through modern landscapes.

The Downstream Crossing:
A young man takes a woman on a riverboat cruise as an internet date; he jumps from the boat to save a girl, and ends up on a long, strange downriver odyssey.

Silver Elvis
Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol star in the tale of fame and jealousy in old New York City. Inspired by actual events!

First Avenue
Beige is approaching thirty, balding, lonely, and insecure. Can a night at the local dance institution save him, or just drive him over the edge?

A short short about a homeless man's discovery of the death of his mother.

This story was, unfortunately, a very poor reading experience.  To start, there was a lack of basic grammar and syntax.  This is a direct copy/paste of a portion of dialogue:

– Why we here? Bob said suddenly.
– I dunno, Bobby N. said. Someone knows someone who said something was happening somewhere, then said maybe here.

No quotation marks were used.  I am aware that in some languages (such as Spanish) dashes are used instead of quotations to indicate speech.  However, as seen in the above example, there was nothing to indicate when the talking ends.

If this was unintentional, I would recommend that this author has his work thoroughly edited.  If it was intentional, the artistic attempt got in the way of the reading experience.

The end result was an extremely confusing story.  The lack of correct punctuation made it difficult for me to separate description from speech.  The parts I did understand were somewhat disjointed.  There was no discernible point or driving force behind the story.  If it was meant to depict a tale of jealousy as the summary suggests it was completely lost on me as none of the characters had any personality whatsoever.

It seems like Ramberg has some good ideas.  However, some serious polish is needed in order for them to shine through.

1/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Share Your Web Fiction on Reddit!

This post is addressed to those of you that write/read web fiction.  And who are interested in Reddit.  The rest of you can just bugger off.

Ok, now that I've scared everyone away, I can continue this conversation with myself in peace.

I've been writing a serialized scifi blog for about a year now as a sort of for fun project.  Lately though I've been looking into different ways to tap the very niche audience that actually follows web fiction.  It's been kind of cool!  For example, there's a whole web serial branch of NaNoWriMo called WebSeWriMo (Web Serial Writing Month).  Whodathunk?!

Seeing as there was no Reddit category for web fiction, I decided to start my own:

For those of you unfamiliar with Reddit, it's basically a place to share links.  So you post a link, people can vote it up or down and then comment on it.  Think of it as a fast-paced hub for sharing the latest funny cat video.

If you're an author it's really not the best place to self-promote.  Any attempts to sell your own work are immediately voted down.  But blog posts that are fun/interesting are generally well-received.  For awhile I had been posting under the science fiction category but I thought it might be fun to try and start this little web fiction community.

So if you're interested, you should definitely check this out and subscribe to the group.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review of "Love in a Cafe," a single story in a collection by Ted Gross

Ancient Tales, Modern Legends, a short story collection by Ted William Gross presents the reader with engaging and thought-provoking stories spanning the ages. Covering subjects of love, loss, pain, desire, need, frustration and hope these stories are meant to entertain as well leave an indelible impression upon the reader. Ted Gross cleverly combines ancient lore in his "Tiny Slivers From A Silver Horn" weaving Unicorns, the story of Adam & Eve and the modern world into a tale of lost wisdom and gained hope. "Love In A Cafe" moves the reader within the soft aura of love until the surprise ending. "Elijah's Coins" leaves us wondering about the great "what if" of life and just how blessed or cursed it would make us to change the future. "Reverieing" is a glimpse of the slow descent of one individual into his own personal hell. "Addiction, Obsession, Love", "Tenuous Webs" & "And So They Danced" look upon love and loss from different perspectives. "A Tapestry Of War" is a real war story and the consequences of war upon the psyche of the soldier. "The Sunflower" portrays how hate can insidiously seep into the heart of man while "The Heretic" will leave you wondering who the real heretic actually is. "Kapparot" will let you delve into the mystical world of Hassidic philosophy while looking upon man's relation to God. "Jacob's Ladder" will introduce you to a world of angels and their mission of silence.

Much like a good cup of coffee, this is the type of story that makes you sit and savor the moment.  At first I was a little thrown off by the structure of "Love in a Cafe."  The author divides it up into chapters which is unusual for a story this length.

But nothing about the plot feels rushed or "wannabe-novel" (i.e. didn't feel like writing a whole novel so everything is crammed into low word count).  Yes, there are large gaps of elapsed time between chapters but Gross does an excellent job adding just enough details to make you feel like you're in the now.

The result was a beautiful love story with a perfectly bittersweet ending.  As with many short stories, this tale doesn't fall clearly into any one genre.  It's a romance but really it's more of a reading experience.  Highly recommended.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy Publishing Birthday To Me!

Yes, that's right.  I just sang a birthday song TO ME.  Muahaha!  Now before you roll your eyes, I only do these basking in the glow of my own glory and personal growth posts once a year.  So you're just going to have to deal because I like them and it's a way for me to journal my uphill progress.

Moving on...

It's hard to believe another year has already gone by!  It seems like I was just writing my one year anniversary post.   For nostalgic purposes I went back and reread it and I thought, "Wow! A lot has happened since then!"

If I remember correctly, this time last year I was feeling like I was by no means achieving financial success but I at least had a handle on what it would take to make it in the self-publishing industry.  Yes, I could spend gobs of money and have better everything (covers, ads, writing, etc...) but at least I knew what it would take.  And then going, "Ok, this isn't so bad.  I can do this."

So while at one year I was staring at the hill of self-publishing, by this second year I feel like I've found a comfortable hiking pace. Yes, I come across obstacles but I just feel more... settled.  Like it's no longer a matter of if I reach the top it's more just when.  And by top I mean making a steady side income.  Not international public fame.

I have no idea where this gigantic hiking metaphor came from but it seems to be working so far.  Perhaps I've been playing too much disc golf?

As milestone markers,  I would say three big things happened to me in this past year:

1)  I started getting concept art done for my science fiction serial blog, Muzik Chronicles.  Yes, this costs me more money than it makes me right now but I don't care.  Call me an optimist, but I really do think that this blog will pay off in the long run.  For one thing, I love writing it.  It's just so much fun!  And for another thing, every time I get new art for it, it just makes me all excited all over again.  Who wouldn't be excited when you see the ideas floating around in your head turn to life in front of you?

Way to go, Andrew de Guzman.  Your artistic skills have single-handedly managed to take this blog to the next level.

2)  I diversified.  I made sure that all of my titles were in the Smashwords Premium Catalog.  I also branched out in genre and started several new pen names to help direct traffic to the specific genres.  I found this really helped with sales.

Making money with short stories takes both quality and quantity.  You're banking on the fact that one reader is going to buy all 100 stories not 100 different readers buying one story.  So I decided that it would make sense to try and cast my net as far as possible.

I know that some people are really anti-pen names.  But I do like them quite a bit.  I find that different pen names liberates me as a writer.  I'm no longer stressed about writing Annie Tuner western romances because I'm worried that the weird Alain Gomez scifi crowd will think it's cheesy.

Diversification also helped me to figure out what sells and what doesn't.  Not that this holds me back as a writer or that I'm forcing myself to write things I'm not interested in.  It's not that at all.  But since I am in the business of writing, trying to get my monthly earnings up to a respectable amount is not an unreasonable goal.  If nothing else, the income is needed to cover the costs of self-publishing. 

At this stage in the game I have literally dozens of story ideas that I want to write.  But my time is limited.  So lately I've been choosing writing the projects that will probably sell more consistently. 

Which actually leads me to...

3)  I turned my writing from a hobby into a business.  In reality, not much really changed.  But psychologically this was a big milestone for me.  All my book royalties are now being deposited into my business checking account.  So I am officially paying bills (ok, maybe it's like one bill, but hey!) with writing income.

I also streamlined my writing time.  I went from writing whenever I felt like it (read: whenever I was bored) to actually having scheduled writing times.  I love it!  I at first was worried that it would give me a permanent case of writer's block but actually the opposite happened.  It's now easier for me to get back into a story because I'm not taking a three week hiatus between writing bursts.

So not a bad year at all!  I'm still not making millions yet but the fact that I am getting consistent royalty payments every month makes me incredibly happy.  Sure, it's sometimes only $30 but it is making the whole thing seem real to me.  Like if I just keep doing what I'm doing the $30 could slowly turn into $300.

So here's to another year of writing, meeting even more new friends and having new experiences!  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review of "Idea Man," a single story in a collection by Carole Fowkes

Two short stories straight from a writer's nightmares and two scrumptious, original recipes.

In Out of Character, a novelist who prides herself on creating realistic characters, is writing a gritty murder mystery. Unfortunately, her story takes a more personal turn when her villain is bent on making her his next victim.

To what lengths would a highly successful novelist go to overcome her writer’s block?

In Idea Man, Lucinda’s muse materializes in his thong bathing suit and offers her a story she can’t refuse.

An amusing story about an author that has finally hit the end of her rope but help arrives just in the nick of time.  Despite the somewhat unconventional appearance of Lucinda's muse, what else is a writer to do but go along for the ride?

I found myself enjoying this story quite a bit.  Fowkes has a charming style of writing that may not make you laugh out loud but will definitely keep you smiling throughout.  I found myself getting really involved with this story as I read it, eagerly wanting to find out how the story would end (in every sense).

While the conclusion of "Idea Man" was not exactly disappointing, I found myself being highly annoyed by Lucinda's character by the end.  A muse appears before her and forces her to write a novel that is not "her genre."  She pitches a fit the entire time and, essentially, remains unchanged by the whole experience.  She's still just as close-minded at the end.  If she can't see the series potential that the muse left her with, it's certainly no coincidence then that she has writer's block.

So, as an author, I was annoyed.  As a reader, I must admit I was entertained.  Fowkes certainly has her work cut out for herself by creating a target audience of both short story readers and writers.  But I would venture to say that this story has wider appeal than that.  If you've ever suffered from writer's block (even if it was just that school essay), you'll find yourself appreciating "Idea Man."

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

KDP Select and Short Stories?

KDP Select hasn't been treatin' me well.  I've tried to make the relationship work!  Every time we break up I think maybe I could have done something different.... maybe we should try again....

But no.

I just can't seem to get any short stories to catch on with KDP Select.  I've tried:


-Various genres

-Altering the level of promotion I do on free days

-When I do free days

There's more.  I've even tried putting stories on there that sell regularly.  They continue to sell regularly without any noticeable difference in sales numbers.  But I've yet to have a single copy borrowed.  Which means the only pro is five free days.

Is this worth it?

Ehhhhhhh...... I'm thinking not.  iTunes, Sony and Kobo are turning into three of my main sources for sales.  Frankly, that's worth way more to me than five freebie days.  If someone is shopping online, comes across one of my stories and then is intrigued enough to buy it, that ONE sale is worth so much more than 1,000 free downloads.

A story downloaded on a free download day has a very good chance of remaining unread.  I know this because I've done it myself.  Many times.  You click on it because it's free.

A story that is purchased has a higher likelihood of being read.  It's something you were interested enough in to pay money for.  Also, if you like it enough, there's a good chance you will buy other works by that same author.

One paying customer is worth any number of free downloads.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review of "Albert Got Shot," short story by Barbara House

Albert's an aging rock star who escapes the big city to kick back on a lake in the wilderness . . . no manager, no groupies, no tour bus . . . when out of the blue a hunter blasts the living chopsticks out of his shoulder. Instead of finding himself in a nice cushy ambulance, Albert wakes up in a remote cabin with the man who shot him. The shooter guards the lake, standing by it into the late hours of the night, staring at a strange a light in the depths that only he can see.

Another excellent story by House.  This author continues to display her clear strength in creating deep, interesting characters with surprisingly few words.  We barely have a chance to meet Albert before he is thrown into his hair-raising adventure but immediately there is sympathy for him as a character.

I really enjoyed "Albert."  If you actually take it at face value it's a science fiction horror story.  But it's written with such whimsy that you find yourself laughing at parts.  Perhaps this is further proof that I have a completely twisted sense of humor.

The action is fast-paced and fun and the dialog was entertaining.  Having spent my fair share of time in the Midwest, I could totally picture the trigger-happy ex-soldier shooting at everything that moves. 

Definitely worth picking up a copy.  This is not your average scifi.

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dear Readers of Earth,

Books are a product.  Yes, they may transport you to other worlds and absorb your time for hours but they are a product nonetheless.

This means that someone created this product, packaged it and then put it up for sale for your buying pleasure.  While the seller's job is to sell, he or she is also obligated to inform the general public what kind of product is being sold.  That is the seller's legal and moral responsibility.  

But this is a two way street!

It is the buyer's job to be educated in order to make informed purchases.  If the seller says their cereal is 100% sugar, it is the buyer's job to do a few minutes of research to find out if eating all-sugar cereal for breakfast every morning is a good health choice.  It would be foolish to rely on the seller for the total picture.  Sure, that cereal could be part of a complete breakfast.  But which part?  Dessert?

Therefore, if ebooks are something that interest you as a buyer, you must take a few minutes to research the lingo.  Don't rely on Amazon or B&N or iTunes to tell you how many pages are in that book.

Why bother?

Printing is not a standardized entity.  It's never been standardized.  Page sizes, font sizes, pictures... they all affect what type of a product you are buying.  The only reason why this is now an issue is because we can no longer pick up an ebook to flip through.

Which means some research is in order.  You must change since the medium you're purchasing has changed.  Become educated!  Is the file size of the ebook listed?  How big is the typical ebook file? Do pictures affect file size? How many pages are listed?  Is a word count given?  How many words are typically on a page?

If you don't know the answer to any of those questions, you need to do some research.  Look this up!  Find out the answers.  Otherwise it is your fault if you purchased an ebook with all of that information listed and it wasn't what you expected.  The seller has given you the industry's measuring tools and now you must use them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Thoughts Are Worth More Than A Value Meal (…At Least I Think They Are), guest post by Dennis B. Boyer

I write short fiction.

Very short fiction, typically. I have a terse style and I enjoy writing short tales. Particularly flash-fiction. I love very-short stories. My favorite author is Fredric Brown.

However, my following thoughts are uncharacteristically verbose, so I warn you now.

It’s been discussed before, but I’m new to the game. So I’m going to bring it up again. Join me, if you wish.

I’ve always written stories. In high-school and college I wrote all the time. But I never got picked up by traditional publishing. Sure a short-story here or there in some small lit mag or science-fiction zine. But I was never going to be the next big, breakout writer. So I largely put it away, focusing instead on more productive things. Work, family, you know… “real life”.

And then I bought my wife an e-reader last Christmas. She wanted one so I got her an Amazon Kindle. I was high-brow, so I wasn’t interested in an e-reader; I preferred “real” books. But when my wife was preoccupied, I’d check it out. So cool! I can download anything I want in an instant! I had to have one too, so I got one for myself.

That was when I discovered all these amazing “indie” books. I had missed this scene, completely. I researched further. You can self-publish your own book now! This is sweet!

I wished I had all those stories I had written in high school and college. The printed papers were long-gone, the harddrives of long-ago discarded computers were there only home now.

I’d start over, I thought to myself. So I did. I formed what I call my “Year One Self-Publishing Strategy”. I set a goal for myself– one new work a month, it didn’t have to be long, but I had to keep pace. In Year Two I can reorganize my library into larger collections and explore longer works.
I recycled a few of those old ideas, those old stories I had written as a teenager, basically rewriting them completely.

In May of 2012 I had a few pieces of speculative flash-fiction compiled into a collection which I called A Tasting of Thistles. I put it up on Amazon with an asking price of ninety-nine cents. It was only 5200 words and I was a nobody. That was what I was supposed to do, right?

I self-published two more collections of flash. They were a little longer now, at 7300 and 11300 words, but still I priced them at ninety-nine cents. Who was I to declare them to be worth more than that? That’s what indies who write short fiction do; I’m not special. I have to pay my dues, build an audience. And collect a whopping thirty-five cents for my efforts each time I do.

The books performed moderately well for a neophyte. I sold an amount of copies that let me know I was at least being read and I garnered a few four and five star reviews across Amazon’s various sites and Goodreads.

Many have commented to me that they like stories of 1000 or 2000 words in length, they fit into their lives. They are convenient. They give you something meaningful in a short amount of time. One person told me my stories were like little episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. For a Rod Serling fan, what a compliment!

My latest collection of speculative flash is called Greek Fire and Other Burning Tales. It went live on Amazon this morning, as of the time of writing this piece. It’s only 9000 words long. I have set it at $2.99.

What changed?

Well, I discovered a couple of websites. The first was an excellent community of self-published authors who hung out in the Writer’s Café on a site called Kindle Boards. Through their comments I discovered the website and blog of writer Dean Wesley Smith.

It was then that I became a disciple. A disciple of DWS.

Without knowing it, I had intuitively been following a Year One Self Publishing Strategy which was very similar to the DWS approach to short-fiction.

Dean Wesley Smith has a lot to say about writing. I don’t agree with it all. He says you should use pen-names when writing across vastly different genres. I disagree. In addition to my sci-fi and fantasy stuff I also enjoy writing faith-based stories. My third collection of flash is called Flashes of Inspiration: Brief Tales of Faith and Spirituality and it reflects my views as a Christian. Sure there’s still some weird, dark stuff in there like my story about a man who discovers the true nature of Hell. But it’s very different from my spec fic. I use my real name on both genres. I think I may have a few readers who will follow me from one to the other, too.

But it was DWS’s thoughts on price points that caught my attention and changed my Year One Self-Publishing Strategy. He’s adamant that short fiction writer’s are undervaluing their work, relegating them to obscurity among the discount bin of fiction for a buck. Hence my latest pricing for what would be considered a very short work.
I think I'm pretty good, and I don't want to be in the discount bin. I don't want to be overlooked because I'm a "blue-light special". I think my works have value, and I am now reflecting that in my asking price. I spend a good amount of time on these and I purchase high-quality covers. It's time to get some dividends on the investments of my time, effort and expenses. Is asking for a royalty of two dollars for my work really so outrageous? I buy hardcovers for $29.99. Yeah, I know they’re novels and I’m not asking for thirty buck for my flash. But are my own thoughts worth nothing more than ninety-nine cents?
So I came to a realization– I'm not selling words, I'm selling ideas.
My stories, I believe, are poignant and thoughtful. I have been told they linger in the minds of my readers as they reflect upon their meanings and the implications which I have alluded to. So, I've decided, it doesn't matter if they can read one of my stories in a few minutes. An entire book in an hour or less.
I'm offering more than just word counts.

My next work, currently being formatted, is a short story of 5000 words. I'm going to ask $2.99 for that as well. You can read it in probably twenty minutes. But I think its worth three bucks. It has depth and significance. I'm asking about half the cost of a value meal. You know the number four with fries and a Dr. Pepper that you’ll gladly hand over seven bucks for. You’ll scarf it down in ten minutes. And you’ll be hungry again later. But you’ll pay it, happily so. My thoughts are worth more than a value meal aren’t they?

I also have a novelette that will drop soon. It's about 15K. For me, that's an epic. And I think it is pretty damn epic, actually. I'm going to ask $4.99 for it. Yup, a whole Abe Lincoln for something I've been working on for months now, pouring my heart, soul, and energy into. The value meal is still more expensive.

Some of you will say, "That's crazy, I can get a whole novel for that price!" Okay, then go ahead. If I ever write a novel, I'll be asking what the big boys ask for it. Eight or nine bucks. A small fortune, I know.

"I won't buy something that short for that much money."

I understand that. A lot of people won't, easily the majority of people. But I'm taking a chance that some people will. Hopefully the readers I've invited into my mind for a dollar will agree. And I don’t need that many. At a royalty of $2.08 compared to $0.35, I only need one willing reader for every six at the lower price point to break even.

If not, so be it. Maybe I'm not as good as I think I am. That's okay too. But damn if I'm going to dismiss myself without trying first.

And perhaps some readers will see my books among the myriad of ninety-nine-centers and think, hmm... that might be something there. Prestige pricing, you may call it. I think of it as asking what my stuff is worth. If people disagree I'm sure they'll let me know via an assault of low-star reviews. We'll see.

“But Den, e-books aren’t value meals, you can’t compare the two.”

I know. A book has the ability to make people think, to consider bold, new ideas. It has the ability to affect them on a deeply personal level. It can entertain them by transporting them to brand new worlds, amazing places where the possibilities are limited only by the human imagination.

You can get a side of honey mustard sauce with the value meal. If you ask for it.

So I am really being so crazy to assign these the values I have?

 But still, I am hesitant. I’m bucking the system, following a mad messiah known as Dean Wesley Smith. I’m taking part in an uprising, a revolution. It does indeed make me nervous. Will I be rejected for my audacity? Will people stop buying my books because of my over-inflated sense of self-importance?

That’s why I am putting my thoughts to virtual-paper and sharing them with you– so that I don't waver. So I don't allow doubt and uncertainty to reenter my psyche and reverse my course of action. So I don't chicken out. Once I've committed to pushing the "send" button on this e-mail, my thoughts are real are out there. They become “real”. I can't take them back.

And if you’re a self-published writer, maybe some of you will agree with DWS and me and the other self-pubbed writers who have reached this conclusion before I have. And perhaps you'll find you haven't been giving your work the value it warrants, either.

Anyways, that's my rant for the day. It was more for me than for you, but if you've made it to the end, I hope it was worth your time. I'll let you know how it goes with Greek Fire and my higher-priced works.

Be well.


Check out Dennis' work on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review of "A Good Nanny," short story by Barbara House

Maude Barrow smokes too much, drinks Wild Turkey, and desperately needs a job. When she sees a classified ad for a nanny in the wealthy Munford home, she fakes her resume and references, lies her way into the position, and seems to have it made. . . until they ask her to sign a contract with a mysterious, ominous clause.

This story is fun though not exactly subtle.  House does an excellent job creating a likable antihero with the nanny.  Sure, the nanny lied a little on her resume.  But it was all for the noble cause of personal comfort!  On some level, we can all relate to that.

And so our intrepid nanny gets hired by a too-good-to-be-true family to watch the children.  It's at this point that the hints start to cut in like a butter knife.  There is the ominous clause in the contract (which I won't state here but suffice to say once you read it, you have a pretty good idea as to what's up with the kids).  The ominous clause is repeated multiple times coupled with scenes witnessed by the nanny that will only support your suspicions on how the story is going to end.

Suffice to say that when said end arrives it's no shock.  So many blatant hints and suggestions have been made that what should have been an Edgar Allen Poe horror ending turns out being just a, "Yep, I guessed that."

That said, House is actually a good writer.  This story is engaging and House is quite skilled at adding details that make the characters seem real.   Everything plays out in your head like a stage play.  So all the elements for a good short story are there.  I just wish there had been less "telling" and more "showing."

But definitely worth a read if you like fun stories with a twisted ending.  

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rebranding Old Stories with a New Pen Name

So I may be crazy.  But I did it anyway.

I started a new pen name.  Even worse, I changed the author name on stories that have already been out on the market for two years.  There is a high probability that this could turn into a gigantic headache.  Nothing lost, nothing gained, right?

And so world I would like to introduce you to the Western story branch of the Alain Gomez corporation: Annie Turner.

Will this help with sales eventually?  I have no idea.  But it was not a decision I came to lightly.  I've been thinking about it for quite some time.  I've talked to friends and family, discussed it on forums, etc.    The pros and cons seem to be equal in number.

What helped spur me into action was reading Dean Wesley Smith's blog about things authors do to shoot themselves in the foot.  One of them happens to be being shy with pen names.  He flat out states that pen names help to define reader expectations.  You see Clive Cussler and you expect a certain type of reading experience.  You see Lisa Kleypas and you expect a certain type of reading experience.

I already knew this on some level which is what started me thinking about a new pen name months ago.  It was just the kind of thing where I was still indecisive and then I see that blog post and it was like a sign from heaven.

So my reasons for this madness?

The majority of my Alain Gomez work has been short stories with a twist.  All the stories kind of falling under the sci-fi/fantasy/fairy areas.  There's natural crossover.  If you liked one of my short stories, you'll probably like others because even if the setting is different they will have the same flavor.

My two novellas are basically straightforward clean Western romance.  No twists, all the good guys live and there's a happy ending.  Not the same reading experience.  At all.  If someone read them and liked them and then clicked on my name to find more they would be doomed to disappointment.

Another big reason was that sales for the novellas had dropped to nothing for several months.  Those novellas used to sell regularly.  Time for some life support!

So I repackaged them with new covers, used the opportunity to change the name and am finishing up a new novella to be published under Annie Turner.  Hopefully all of this combined will help focus some new readers on the novellas.

To keep things down to a dull roar, I have no immediate plans to go the full nine yards with Annie Turner.  I plan to give her an author bio and then maybe a FB page and that's about it.  So nothing too strenuous.  The goal is to increase sales, not increase amount of time spent on the internet.

So, we shall see!

I still may be crazy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review of "Seven Lives to Repay Our Country," short story by Edward Carpenter

The battle of Saipan pitted US Marines and Allied soldiers against the island's Japanese defenders in one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific War. In this short story written by a US Marine, a pair of Japanese soldiers on Saipan confront the inevitability of defeat in different ways.

I had to mull over this story for awhile before I could write a review.  War stories such as this really aren't my preferred genre so I wanted to make sure that my assessment was fair.

This story switches between two main viewpoints.  The first viewpoint is a pair of Japanese grunts as they talk to each other and prepare for what will obviously be the final push.  In between these conversations is the second "greater power" viewpoint.  Basically, little snippets that read like a newspaper article with an obvious political agenda.

The exchange between the soldiers is really quite good.  Carpenter does an excellent job showing two believable characters as they cope with the inevitability of death.  There's a very elemental feel throughout this story.  The soldiers understand that they have a duty but they have no big picture concept.  They are there to follow orders.

What I actually wish was played up more were those newspaper article snippets.  They are there to provide contrast for the soldier's conversation.  I feel like that aspect of the story should have been more exaggerated.  Many of the snippets read like this:

"...Heaven has not given us an opportunity. We have not been able to fully utilize the terrain. We have fought in unison up to the present time but now we have no materials with which to fight and our artillery for attack has been completely destroyed..."

So it gets the point across.  But if they had been more about the glory and honor of serving one's country it would been an interesting foil for the grunts that have no idea what's going on except for the fact that they are going to die in about twenty-four hours.

But, overall, a very interesting read.  Again, I'm not into war stories.  But the fact that Carpenter wrote a  piece that I had to mull over for days is something definitely in his favor.  

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Readers Buy the Brand, Not the Story

What is a short story worth?

This seems to be a hot topic these days among indie authors.  There is this ridiculous obsession with what "readers" will think is a fair price for a story.  Some authors think that the story should be at least 5,000 words long in order to sell it for 99 cents.  Others argue it has to be 10,000 words to be worth 99 cents.  And still others (like me) will put a 2,000 story for sale at 99 cents.

You know what?  None of this arguing matters.

You want to know why?  Readers by the brand, not the story.

People don't pay $4 for a coffee.  They are paying $4 for a Starbucks coffee.  That same person would probably refuse to buy a gas station coffee for $4 because in their mind it would be a rip-off.  Gas station coffee is low quality whereas, in their mind, Starbucks provides a high quality coffee drinking experience.

The same goes for short stories.  When you first start out as an author, you are gas station coffee.  It's not that your stuff is bad or good, you're just not a known brand.  You'll have readers that will buy your work because it's cheap and you'll have readers that will balk at your product because, in their mind, no money is worth your gas station coffee when they could just go to Starbucks (read: known author).

 Which is why you have to work at becoming a brand.  Yes, bicker some more about a 5,000 short story and how it could be considered a rip-off at 99 cents.  But you know what?  If JK Rowling or Steven King published a standalone short story that length I bet people would buy it for $4.99 and not even bat an eyelash.  Those authors are brands.

So stop stressing about whether or not you are ripping off your readers.  So long as you are upfront about the type of product you are selling (like, saying it's a short story), charge what you think the story is worth and have done with it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There's a new blog in town: Short Fiction Spotlight

Dear Short Fiction Fans and Writers,

There's a new short story review/feature blog in town called Short Fiction Spotlight.  It's run by fellow short story writer, Jason Varrone.

Jason really liked the idea behind Book Brouhaha and Short Story Symposium and wanted to take his own stab at it.  I told him to go for it!  There are a ton of novel review blogs but very few short story friendly ones.  There definitely needs to be more places where short story authors can submit their work and not fear a scathing "so short it's a waste of time" type of review.

For reviews Jason has a strict 10,000 and under word count cap.  If you want to just have an excerpt from your story featured, he allows any story/collection that's 40,000 words and under.  For more information check out his submission guidelines.

So definitely take a moment to go over and check out this new site!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review of "Tell Us Everything," a single story in a collection by Randy Attwood

3 Very Quirky Tales

In Tell Us Everything a Goth girl discovers how to plug herself into the world of the real and tell its secrets, much to the dismay of those who populate the world.

Timothy Thomas, driving home from work, looks at the driver in the next car and sees himself, not the person he is today, but the person he was 30 years ago. Are there start overs? In It Was Me (I) Timothy is about to find out.

The Notebook: When Jeremy stops by the house were he had an apartment when he was a college student and asks if he might look in the attic to see if a notebook he left there still exists, Sarah lets him in. They both discover truths they had rather not known.

What an absolutely delightful piece!  What started out for me as a "what the heck..." story ended up unfolding into a genuine chuckle of a conclusion.

There was quite a lot to take at the beginning of "Tell Us Everything."  It started mid-action and had a plethora of names/characters (for a short story).  The first few opening paragraphs really did nothing to alleviate this confusion as there was no one line that gives the reader a clear idea as to what is going on.   Add to that the fact that many of the characters had nicknames that were used interchangably.

But Attwood's story is definitely worth toughing out to the end.  Eventually you start to sort out the characters and their relationship to each other.  The nagging suspicion that the town of "Peculiar" is just a little off becomes fully confirmed.

What actually made this story so charming for me is that there really isn't a "point" to it.  It falls in that short story grey area where you really couldn't classify it under any one genre.  It wouldn't do it justice. It's a funny story for a story's sake.

All three pieces in this collection are just as strong.  So if you are a fan of the whimsical short story, I would highly recommend picking up this work.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review of "Child of Chaos," short story by Ron Leighton

In the town of Kaiyeth on the edge of Birviod wood, Kenhesho discovers the power of fear. A Tale of the Shining Lands.

**May contain spoilers**

I have read/reviewed other work by Leighton and I have to say that his short story writing skills have vastly improved.  He's really done a good job changing the feel of his stories from "rambling" to "concise" without losing any of the fun fantasy feeling.

On that note, Leighton continues to impress with his grasp of fantasy language.  Often times you read stories in this genre and the only reason why you know it's fantasy is from the fact that they are killing orcs.  Not so with Leighton.  And he does it all without doing the "Old English" type of speech.  The end result is that you are immediately pulled into a rich other world of high fantasy.

My only gripe about this story is the end.  The death of the main character felt a little abrupt.  I get where Leighton was going with it. Kenhesho was driven by fear and then fear turned on him.  But that in and of itself is a very powerful concept and should have been more fully played up.  His death should have dragged out a tiny bit longer in order to see the change of the fearful becoming the feared.

But, overall, this was a face-paced, enjoyable story and well worth the read.  I would recommend it to anyone that likes action fantasy.   

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on B&N.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dean Wesley Smith on Making a Living With Short Stories

For those of you that missed the bandwagon, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a blog post that spelled out the math behind making a living with short stories.  It's an interesting post.  Well worth the read.  It's also the same thing I said six months ago but it's always nice to know others support your theory =)

The general gist of his post as that you have to bank on both quality and quantity.  As a short story writer, you have to crank out new stories constantly and be versatile enough to spread yourself out to different genres.  I agree with all of that.  What I didn't agree with was that he suggested pricing standalone short stories around 5,000 words at $2.99.

Which is why it was interesting to me that he followed that up with another post on book pricing.  He talks about consumer expectation.  People have been conditioned to pay $5 for a coffee.  Whereas in ebook land we have a whole crowd of authors that essentially know nothing about pricing models so we shoot ourselves in the foot by trying to sell everything at 99 cents.

Personally, I think this is a skewed view for several reasons.  Dean is unquestionably successful at his writing.  I won't even try to argue otherwise.  But he came into ebooks already established from the old business model.  Same goes for Joe Konrath.  Those guys are correct in that we should value our work but they still have what a lot of us lack: established readership.

And I mean established readership on two levels.  The first is just people that are familiar enough with your author name to trust that they will probably enjoy any new works you produce.  The second level is you as an author have enough writing experience and have developed your style to the point that even if you published a book under an unknown pen name, it would probably appeal to that same target audience.

Dean and Joe are aware of the first level.  But I think that they often discount the second level while doing their "calculations."  It takes years to fully mature as a writer.  To hit that point where you are both writing what you want to write and able to factor in the needs of your paying audience.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Hugh Howey and he said something that I think is really important:  "Give your work away until you can afford to charge for it."  Frankly, setting your book at $2.99 out of principle and then having it never sell is a waste of time.  You're not establishing your readership.  And if you are fresh into the ebook business, readers are your editors.  The feedback that you get from reviews is really the only way you can refine your skill.

So, yes, value your work.  But also realize that if you want to make a living at it you first need paying readers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review of "The Outlaw's Wife," a single story in a collection by Elisabeth Grace Foley

A collection of Western short stories that go beyond the standard action and adventure of the genre to focus on character and conflict. In the award-winning "Disturbing the Peace," honorable mention in the 2010 Rope and Wire short story competition, a sheriff experiences a revelation about himself and his relationship with the people of his town, while in "The Outlaw's Wife," a country doctor worries that his young friend is falling for a married woman whose husband is rumored to be a wanted criminal. From the suspenseful "Cross My Heart" to the comedic romp of "A Rangeland Renaissance," to a Western twist on star-crossed romance in the title story, "The Ranch Next Door," these stories will appeal to a variety of readers, as well as established fans of the traditional Western.

I'm kind of a sucker for westerns.  I love the setting and Foley's collection is a perfect example of how artlessly it can fit into the short story length.  She clearly understands how to add just enough detail for the reader to form a rich picture in their mind and not get bogged down by an excess of scenery description.

"The Outlaw's Wife" I think could best be described as romantic rather than "a romance."  And while I did guess the little twist at the end almost right off the bat, it didn't change the fact that I was absorbed enough in the story to see how everything played out.  Foley's style is one where the journey is far more important than the destination.

If you enjoy westerns, this is definitely an author you'll want to check out.  Even though the focus of this review is on a single story, I did go on to read the rest of the collection.  Every story was strong enough to stand alone.  As we settle into summer, I would say that Foley's collection is perfect for a warm day and a cool drink. 

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this collection on Amazon or B&N.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with Author Daniel McInerny

Thanks for agreeing to interview, Daniel. I love your concept! I think people often forget that some of the most memorable short stories are, in fact, children's stories. Why don't you familiarize us a bit with The Kingdom of Patria?

Last summer I started a company, Trojan Tub Entertainment, which publishes and promotes my humorous Kingdom of Patria stories for middle grade readers. What is the Kingdom of Patria? Well, you've heard of the U.S. Government's mysterious Area 51? Have you ever wondered about Area 1? For 3,000 years a tiny, unknown kingdom has existed in the remote woods of what we know as northern Indiana. The kingdom was founded by a hearty bandy of refugees from the Trojan War who sailed across the Atlantic in a reconfigured Trojan Horse. Good thing they packed extra sandwiches!

In the first book in the Patria series, Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits, Oliver Stoop, age 11, moves with his family to a remote piece of land in the country, and soon discovers that the land his father has bought is part of the Kingdom of Patria (or so the Patrians claim).

For Oliver, Patria is a land of wonders—and for the first time in his life, friendship. There's young Prince Farnsworth Vesuvius, inventor of the Magna-Pneumatic Whizzing Biscuit Blaster, and his formidable sister, Princess Rose, whose inedible, stone-hard biscuits provide the blaster's ammunition. But there's also the rest of the eccentric and lovable Patrian Royal Family, the boy warriors in the Potawatomi Indian Camp, not to mention the Viking kids from the Geat Village, newcomers to the area who only arrived 1,000 years ago.

Yet when the noble Knights of the Blue Sock threaten to drive off the Stoops by force of arms, Oliver has to decide where his loyalties lie, and whether he has the courage to undertake the quest that is both Patria's, and his family's, last, best hope of peace.

The second book in the Patria series is called Stoop of Mastodon Meadow, and picks up with Oliver's story soon after the events of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits. We find him attending the boys' school in Patria, Mastodon Meadow, and embroiled in a mystery in which he and his new friends Prince Farnsworth and Princess Rose are the prime suspects.

These two full-length Patria novels are available as ebooks from Amazon,, and iTunes. There's also an unabridged audiobook of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits available from Worldwide Audiobooks.

Here's the book trailer for the series.

But there's more to the Patria series than the books. On the companion, interactive website, the Kingdom of Patria, there are also free short stories, character blogs, and clubs for kids to join. In terms of short stories, there are two print short stories in the "Read and Listen Online" section of the site, as well as the inaugural series of the Kingdom of Patria Storytime Radio, which will occasionally present audio short stories from the world of Patria.

Your website looks amazing. So professional! Where do you get all your artwork done?

Thank you for your kind comments on the Kingdom of Patria; I'm very happy with how the site turned out. I had a lot of fun developing it last summer with the design team at Snap Design, a web design company and marketing firm near Toronto. I saw an author site they had done and was really taken with their work. A phone call later and we were in business. I'm also pleased that the site is featured on Snap Design's own homepage.

The illustrations on the site, as well as the cover art for the two books, were done by the hugely talented Theodore Schluenderfritz. You can check out more of his work at

Lately I've contributed some cartoons of my own to the character blogs on the site. I hope to do more of this.

I see you have both books and audiobooks available. This intrigues me. Given the fact that it's so hard to sell short stories compared to novels, do you feel like audiobooks are something that help you to reach a wider audience?

That was my hope. My own kids, especially when they were in the middle grade years, devoured audiobooks. However, the Patria ebooks so far have been outselling the audiobook of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits. It's priced pretty reasonably, too, at $4.99--far cheaper than most audiobooks. For that reason I've hesitated recording Stoop of Mastodon Meadow. I did all the voice work for the Stout Hearts audiobook myself, and I think it turned out pretty well, but it was a lot of work. At the same time, I wanted more audio on the site, so I forged a middle path and developed Kingdom of Patria Storytime Radio, a novella-length story in 6 fifteen-minute episodes available directly on the Kingdom of Patria. In future I'll probably record single-episode Patria short stories of twenty minutes or so in length.

How do you make your audiobooks?

I did some research into local studios near my home in the Washington, D.C. area, but in the end opted to record at my home office, with Red Planet Audiobooks (which owns Worldwide Audiobooks) providing some post-production work. I have a high quality mic ("The Snowball") and I use Mac's GarageBand program. For short stories I'll continue to record at home. But if I ever record another novel I would want to do a full-cast recording with a company of actors in a fully-stocked professional studio. Have you ever heard the CD collection of J.R.R. Tolkien's short stories called The Perilous Realm starring the British actor Michael Hordern? That is my ideal of what a full-cast audiobook of children's short stories should be.

I've heard a lot of mixed opinions about the children's book market these days. Do you feel that ebooks are a good medium for children's tales or do people still tend to favor the paperbacks? Going further on that point, is it something that a self-published author could viably do given the obvious cost of having illustrations made?

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, "Skate where the puck is going, not where it's been." When I founded Trojan Tub Entertainment last summer and prepared for the release of Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits, I was eager to be at the forefront of a boom in digital self-publishing for the middle grade audience. J.K. Rowling's Pottermore website, the companion to her Harry Potter books and the place where the Harry Potter ebooks are pretty much exclusively available, was all in the news a year ago. That, and the seismic changes that digital books were causing in the world of publishing, made me think that the middle grade children's ebook market was just about to explode. I don't have any hard statistics to give you, but my experience is that I may be skating a little farther ahead of the puck than I realized a year ago. I do think more and more kids are reading on e-readers every day, but the middle grade market (at least for self-pubbers) is lagging well behind, for example, the adult thriller and romance markets.

There was an interesting study that came out just last week that reported that parents prefer to read traditionally-bound books to their children. But the study focused on little kids who are still reading picture books and early chapter books. I haven't seen a good report about the middle grade audience (approximately 8 to 13). My sense is that the majority is still reading traditionally-bound books. But I'm going to stay in this space, first of all because I love it, but also because I think the culture of reading is trending digital. Not that trad books will ever go away. They won't and I don't want them to.

Illustrations, by the way, are not a major stumbling block for children's authors considering self-publishing. There are lots of illustrators out there and the prices, in my experience, have been pretty reasonable.

How do you market to your target audience?

My principle is to "content market" as much as possible, i.e. provide rich fictional and other entertainment content, some of it for a price, but a lot of it for free, and draw my audience in from there. The free content on the Kingdom of Patria site--the short stories, the activities that the two clubs are involved with, the character blogs, the Kingdom of Patria Storytime Radio--all helps kids and parents become familiar and comfortable with my brand. I've heard it said that on the Internet, especially, people are looking for either information or entertainment. A lot of self-pubbers do a great job at content marketing through information, "How To" articles and the like. All that is great and I consume a fair amount of it, but my approach is to entertain by providing free fictional content that draws people in. That's what interests me most and what I feel I'm best at.

After the creation of great content comes social networking. I'm active on Trojan Tub's Facebook page (come on over and give us a "Like" if you like), on Twitter (@kingdomofpatria), my personal blog on the Kingdom of Patria, Pinterest, and other platforms such as KindleBoards, which is where you and I, Alain, met. The effort of my social networking is not aimed directly at kids, but at parents, other children's authors, book bloggers, self-pubbers, etc., who hopefully will influence what their and other kids read.

I also work hard at getting my work reviewed and talked about at various sites on the web. Like this one! Which I am very honored to have been a part of today. Thanks, Alain!

Thank you, Daniel!