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.

-Den

Check out Dennis' work on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

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



Summary:
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.

Review:
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


Summary:
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.


Review:
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.