Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Standard

Maplecroft (The Borden Dispatches #1)Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting this book, I knew nothing of Lizzie Borden except that old nursery rhyme and that she’d been acquitted. So, an epistolary historical fantasy that, being familiar with much of Priest’s work, was sure to take a turn toward horror? I was in.

And I was glad of it. There were a few minor missteps, but they were very minor. Overall, the book combines Priest’s usual flair for historical detail with the slow-building dread that comes from nightmarish, inexplicable narrative.

In short, people in the small town of Fall River, MA are becoming sick, which means they’re actually transforming into weird inhuman creatures with a connection to the sea. It’s *not* a Shadow Over Innsmouth situation, although that’s obviously what it sounds like here. In real life, Borden’s murdered father and step-mother were ill for several days before they were murdered; Priest takes this detail and runs with it, imagining the elder Borden’s becoming monstrous and deadly, forcing Lizzie to kill them in self-defense.

After her acquittal, Lizzie realizes that others in town are showing the same symptoms as her parents, and sets out to do something about it.

The book seems to be marketed as the start of a series, which frankly weakens the tension by a lot. I also wish there hadn’t been a mention of Miskatonic University. Turning the page and thinking “Oh. This is Lovecraft.” has become more of a disappointment than anything else. The story could have gone anywhere, but once I read that word, I felt possibilities narrow.

I also would have been happier with more Lizzie and less Dr. Seabury. He’s a fine character, but he’s not as interesting as Lizzie and I felt he took over the narrative too much.

But like I said, minor stuff. I haven’t read all of Priest’s work, but this is my favorite so far. It’s tangible, has great characters, and is genuinely spooky. Recommended.



Buy a copy.

“Your Margin Is My Opportunity.”

Standard

The water cooler talk around ebooks and self-publishing is that revenues for self-published authors are falling and it’s not just for authors in the Kindle Unlimited program.

For those who don’t know: Kindle Unlimited works like Netflix Streaming. Readers pay a set fee and can read as many books available in the KU program as they like. One fee, limited choice, unlimited reads.

One of the reasons that self-publishing took off as well as it did was because there was a bunch of voracious readers out there who could tear through a book a day, and they liked buying cheap books. With the sales commission that Amazon took (do not speak to me of “royalties” from Amazon), authors could do pretty well with this readership. Some did very well indeed.

And those authors grew to love Amazon and Bezos himself for fixing the distribution issues that have long limited self-published work. But of course, that quote in the subject header is from Bezos himself, and everyone knew the sweet payouts that Amazon’s been turning over to indie authors would come to an end soonish.

Now it appears to be happening. Instead of taking a commission, Amazon has started setting aside a pot of money, and dividing it between authors. Bringing new readers into your series by making book 1 permanently free isn’t really viable any more, since so many of those readers are in KU. Instead, self-publishers are releasing shorter and shorter works–or serializing their novels–to increase the number of shares they get in that pot.

Still, it appears that Amazon has skimmed off self-publishers’ most fervent readership. Instead of taking commissions, they offer what they like. So much for our margins.

I’m not sure how this affects me. I’m not really aiming for the readership that likes them cheap and disposable. I can’t; I’m not prolific enough. I have to price my work a little higher and hope to attract readers who see my books are more of an event. If I’m aiming for the “This is affordable; I might as well” crowd, I’m doomed. (Those readers are welcome to give my books a try, I encourage it! but I doubt they will in great numbers.)

Not that there aren’t other options: Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Indiebound, etc etc. Right? Except that, speaking for myself, the majority of my sales come through Amazon’s Kindle program. (I should do a post on that.)

The problem, I think, is not that there’s a glut of terrible books. There’s also a glut of really good books. I’ll never be able to read all the awesome books in the world, even if I did nothing else for the rest of my life. Even if your book is great, it can be difficult to catch the attention of new readers.

Which means it comes back to discoverability, and reaching the “early adopters” of the book world–those readers willing to try an author for no reason other than they like the cover or the title. If those readers are giving their credit cards a vacation by turning to Kindle Unlimited, some new way must be found.

At the moment, the only genuinely reliable method is reader word of mouth, which is the least-new thing about new developments in publishing.

Read more on this.

15 Books in 2015

Standard

I don’t usually make New Years resolutions (because why wait for the start of the year to make a change? I prefer to spread my disappointment out over the year) but this year I’m making an exception.

I’m going to read 15 books in 2015, and I’m going to write reviews of them on Goodreads, then post the reviews here.

Some of you are going to laugh at that, because you read 15 books in a month, but I’ve always been a slow reader. So I’m going to try to finish a book every three weeks or so… about the time my library lets me borrow one.

And graphic novels don’t count.

I foresee a year of very few brick-sized epic fantasies, and a lot of mid-twentieth century crime thrillers.

Christmas Kindness

Standard

I debated writing about this, but what the hell. Here goes.

We don’t have very much money. This isn’t a lament or an accusation, just a fact. My family lives without a lot of the things that other people have (car, home, cell phones, cable TV, etc) and that’s largely a conscious choice. We homeschool. We write and paint. We are at home a lot and together, eating meals at the table and spending time together, not eating in our car as we drive from one thing to another.

Still, even though these are the choices we’ve made, sometimes they’re still tough. Very tough. Case in point: grocery shopping. For the last six or seven years, we have pulled a child’s red wagon the eight blocks or so from our apartment to the supermarket, locked it to a bike rack, shopped, then put the bags in the wagon and pulled it home.

It’s not an activity that ever made me feel like an up-and-comer, let me tell you. Worse was when the cheap plastic tread on the wheels split and fell apart, leaving the wagon to rattle on its white “rims”.

So when my wife announced that she was going to take over the shopping, I was glad and embarrassed. If I were more successful, we’d have more fun money for a car or something.[1]

And I started to learn about the staff at the supermarket. I’m not really one for talking to strangers, but she’s an extrovert and will talk to just about anyone willing chat back. So I heard about the staff and what they’re doing, and I had a few conversations with them when I’d stop in for something quick. “Where’s your wife? Tell her this tell her that tell her I said hello.” She even told them about my new book, something I would have never done.

What I’m saying is, she’s the nicest person I’ve ever known, and she’s very comfortable connecting with people.

To get to the point of this story, when she was shopping on Christmas Eve, the supermarket staff were unusually attentive, checking in with her and asking if she was ready to check out. When she went to check out, she was doing her usual thing, facing the register and chatting while she sorted the food.

Then she realized the whole staff had gathered around, and they invited her to turn around, and she realized they had all chipped in and bought her a gift.

IMG_3201

And assembled it, too.

It really meant a lot to her, that gesture of kindness from people who had no reason to offer it except that it was Christmas and they wanted to make her happy. And they did.

It’s been a subdued holiday season with a few big distractions[2] but this was a moment that really made things special.

[1] Yeah, I know about Uber, Flexcar, and the rest. I’m not looking for advice on how we could spend our money better.

[2] Which means I have a new book out.

Holiday book sales

Standard

I was just tweeting about this, but I thought I should share it here, too. I tried pretty hard to get The Way Into Chaos into stores before the holidays (the whole trilogy would have been better, but there was just too much to do) and I did.

I’m really glad I did. Ebook numbers on Amazon:

Amazon ranks

ebook sales

These sales aren’t going to buy me a new house, but they’re better than I hoped for.

Plus, the highest spikes there had nothing to do with me. They werere on days when I was barely online at all. I took time off for the holidays and my son’s birthday, tweeting replies to a few questions, but that was it.

Those sales there are readers buying gifts for their fantasy-reading friends, and posting reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and who knows how many other places. They’re talking about the books on social media, or writing reviews for online magazines.

Obviously, sales are going to slow down now that the Giftmas has passed, but there are a decent number of preorders for books 2 & 3. (I wish more vendors allowed preorders for self-published books.) And there are still plenty of readers who haven’t finished the books.

I just want to say thank you to everyone who shared their enthusiasm. Your reviews, tweets, Facebook status updates, everything, makes a real difference.

Today is my son’s birthday

Standard

My son was born on Boxing Day, and his mom and I have always made an effort to make this day special for him. Not just a little christmas, where he gets a few more gifts but everything is all colored lights and decorated tree. My wive and I used to strip all the Christmassy stuff off the table and replace it with a bright yellow table cloth, balloons, and birthday pie (never cake).

But he’s turning 13 today, so it’s unlikely we’ll be spending the day together like we used to. He got a new gaming keyboard and mouse yesterday, so I expect he’ll want to spend at least part of the day trying to get used to his new “rig.” (God, I can’t believe he calls it that.)

Still, we planned lunch at a local Japanese place that he likes, and we have gifts to give him: a couple of books and some Tshirts from Threadless.

And I have work to do. Some folks are having problems with the books I published, plus I’m trying to work out some publicity, plus I have end of the year payments and tax stuff to do. Will I be online, doing all that stuff, or will I be press-ganged into a co-op game or something?

Time will tell. In the meantime, if you received bookstore gift cards, you can pick up a copy of The Way Into Chaos. Order a paper copy now and, like the Kickstarter backers, you’ll get the version with the massive but invisible proofing error on the back cover. Seriously, readers send me typos all the time, but no one has caught this. (I certainly didn’t!)

“Superheroes are not a genre.”

Standard

Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has a post about lessons learned by the entertainment industry in 2014, and her number one lesson is that subject header above. And I think she’s wrong.

There are two ways to come at the question. First, do we pin the blame of a box office failure on a poorly-used plot structure? Well, you can try, but it’s not very convincing. Eventually, we’ll have something like Raimi’s version of Spider-man which, for all its flaws, made the structure of super-powered-nice-guy-vigilante-with-two-identities-trying-to-stop-crime-in-secret really come together. Audiences went nuts for the first one, and if they’re less enthusiastic now it’s because later iterations have been really, really flawed, and far too familiar.

But are superheroes a genre?

What unifies the books in the horror genre? The emotion they invoke.
What unifies the books in the mystery genre? The central plot question.
What unifies the books in the western genre? The setting.
What unifies the books in the fantasy genre? A plot element.

Some genres are easy to mix. You write a scary story set in the Wild West: Horror western. You write a romantic story with fantasy elements: Fantasy romance.

So the real question becomes: Are superheroes a “plot element” genre or are they a plot structure genre? While it’s true that there’s a standard plot formula that has become associated with superheroes (true with any genre, really), the remainder of the “superheroes are not a genre” argument Ms. Anders makes demonstrates how well they mingle with other genres.

Notice also that those other genres are mainly settings and plot structures: dystopian time-travel, space opera, etc. That’s because the superhero genre is a “plot element” style. You wouldn’t say that Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier isn’t a superhero movie because it has spy thriller plot. It’s both, in the same way that Romancing the Stone is a romance and an adventure.

BTW, did you know that I’ve been pitching my new trilogy as “Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller”? It’s epic fantasy because of the setting and the inclusion of magic, and it’s a thriller because of the pace and tone. Genres based on different things are easy to mix. Genres that are very similar can be really difficult.

Looking at numbers, part 2A

Standard

As an addendum to yesterday’s post about not getting responses to my Kickstarter fulfillment emails, it seems that no matter how old I get, I can still be blindsided by the realization that Other People Do Things Differently.

If you offer me something I want, I take it, all other things being neutral. If I’m in a situation where it’s not convenient to take it, I might put it off a while, or maybe not. I did carry a quart bottle of OJ around on a date night with my wife because otherwise no OJ.

I’ve certainly put off dealing with emails that required a response, but to acquire a thing I wanted? It would never even occur to me. It’s the way I was brought up.

That’s why I assumed I could get good open/ignore stats on a Saturday night from an email sent on a Wed/Thu. However, I spent a large portion of yesterday reading tweets, Facebook comments, LiveJournal comments, and emails from folks who will get around to it, who will do it after they finish a book, who have to fight for computer time, who are doing holidays, who are traveling.

You get the picture. What seems, to me, to be a matter of habit and instinct isn’t really.

Sorry for reading so much into things, you guys.

At least I sold a bunch of copies of my short fiction collection.

Looking at numbers, part 2

Standard

Part 1 is here and it talks about the numbers without giving specifics, but this post will.

No, not sales numbers. Clicks. And not clicks for something I’m trying to sell. This is a situation where “click” = “something people already paid for.”

Obviously, I’m talking about Kickstarter backers getting copies of my new book, plus.

Some background:

Because I had to get ebooks to almost 1200 people, I couldn’t send a flood of emails, especially ones with attachments over 5 or 10MB. That would have gotten me blacklisted by a bunch of ISPs (don’t ask me how I know that).

So I set up a newsletter program that would automate the emails, spreading them out over many hours. I also uploaded the ebooks to a folder on my website so I could send download links instead of attachments.

Finally, I did my best to make things as simple as possible. The email subject line was “The Great Way ebooks are here!” to be totally unambiguous. The list of books included cover pics. The download links were alone in their own section with a single line of text for each of the links. This is what it looked like (behind the cut) for people who backed at $25 or above. Backers at $12 had two fewer covers. Continue reading