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Tag: indie publishing

Now For the Real Fun!

I’ve gotten to the real fun part of Laughingstock – the one where someone else gets to do the work, and I can simply criticize and/or suggest improvements. I’m talking, or course, about COVER DESIGN.

Sure, it’s fun creating worlds out of my fevered imagination and bringing them to life. Not quite so fun revising and revising and REVISING, so that by this time, I’m glad to unwind at least a little. Of course, still apprehensive that the cover will not adequately pique potential readers’ interest, regardless of what I think. Then there’s the possibility of running into issues with Amazon Ads, as happened with Fester.

I’m going with the cover artist who bailed me out with the Fester problem – Stuart Bache. Stuart’s a consummate professional and a lot of fun to work with, so this is always a fun part of producing a book. We’re still in the preliminary stages, but I’ve already got some concepts to share. Here we go!

Concept 1

I like this concept, as it definitely hits the stand-up trope with the stool and the mic stand. At first, I was a little put off by the way the title is broken onto two lines, but the longer I’ve thought about it, the more it works with the content of the book.

Concept 2

Currently not as enthused with this concept, although that could change. The tragedy/comedy masks are compelling. It’s good comedy is dominant, but the tragedy mask is kind f a downer. Of course, there is tragedy in the story – I’m just not sure if I want to give it equal time on the cover. Bonus points for having the title on one line, though.

I’m looking forward to developing the design with Stuart. Right now, I’m leaning towards Concept 1, as it better conveys the stand-up comedy theme better than the masks.


Literary Limbo & A New Story

As this challenging year draws to a close, I’ve found myself in a sort of literary limbo. I completed five (count ’em – FIVE!) drafts of the new novel Laughingstock. However, due to a variety of personal reasons, both good and bad, I was a little late out of the gate arranging for some pre-publication services: cover design and editing.

For the cover design, I wanted to go with Stuart Bache’s Books Covered, who did a good job on the redesign of the cover of Fester after I started having trouble with Amazon Ads’ protectors of morality and righteousness. However, I should have reached out earlier, since Stuart’s shop is backlogged and won’t be able to start on the cover design until January.

Then there was the matter of editing. I really wanted to go with the editor I’d worked with on Fester, as she was a pro – and a hardcase, who twisted my arm to make changes that I originally didn’t want to make, but ultimately made the book better. Unfortunately, she is no longer doing freelance editing, as it wasn’t paying the bills (at least that’s what she told ne – maybe she just didn’t want to deal with me again). I reached out to the editor who had done Jackrabbit and Powwows, but she basically ghosted me.

I ended up going back on Reedsy and casting about for a new editor. I ultimately decided on a UK-based editor, after making it clear that I did not spell “color” with “u.” I sent her the manuscript nearly three weeks ago now, and haven’t heard a peep from her since. Perhaps it’s because that the MS has been polished to exquisite perfection over the course of five drafts and needs little work and is totally self-explanatory (I’d sure like to think so.) More likely, British editors perhaps don’t do as much hand-holding as American ones, and will just edit the bejesus out of the MS, and return it in bestseller-list shape (I’d sure like to think so). Anyway, the final payment is due next week, so I imagine I’ll hear something by then.

In the meantime, I’ve got some time on my hands now that I’m in literary limbo with Laughingstock. If I was really motivated and forward -thinking, I would be planning my sales campaign for the new book. However, as we’ve already established, I’m no good at sales and hate it.

I’m not a salesentity, that’s for sure – I style myself a writer. So I’m taking this time to work on a fun project that I’ve been wanting to do for a bit, and not worry about making it marketable or commercial. Writing for self-amusement, in other words.

Ever since I wrote the “short” story Reset, I’d thought there were possibilities for a sequel – or perhaps several. Reset was based on a very strange dream in which I was back in junior high school, but with all of my adult experiences and memories. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this one was so freaky that it stuck with me for days, and persisted in my memory until I actually started writing it down. It ended on a cliff-hanger, which basically provided me with an open door to do something else fun with it.

So I did. In the new story, called Dungeon & Dragon, the protagonist, Scott Gray, wakes up (or comes to) in an entirely different and even weirder place. As the title implies, it is a swords and sorcery fantasy world. And that’s just the start! Next story, Scott could wind up on a spaceship, or in the Wild West, or the Golden Age of Rome. Sky’s the limit, y’all!

Since the point of this is to have fun, I’ve decided to post the sections as a write and revise them. Of course, reader input is welcome. Might as well make this a group effort. So check out Dungeon & Dragon, and have fun!


Fester
Fester – makes a great holiday gift!https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733269940

Wind ‘Em Up & Watch ‘Em Go to Unexpected Places

Hello friends! I’m enjoying what has so far been a very pleasant summer in Portland. I’m closing in on completing the third draft of a new novel, called Laughingstock. I hope to have it published by the end of the year.

Laughingstock is about two comedy nerds, Chuck and Duckie, who as teenagers psych each other up to actually try performing as a comedy duo. After some miscues, they find that that they’re enjoy it and are good at it. Just as their nascent career is starting to take off, Duckie’s family moves (to Fester, Pennsylvania, of all the awful places). As with so many long-distance relationships, they grow apart. They continue to pursue their careers separately, with varying success. Chuck makes the move to Los Angeles, where his star rises quickly and he lands his own network comedy show. Duckie, meanwhile, languishes in the comedy backwater of Portland, grabbing whatever gigs he can manage and paying the bills with dull third-shift jobs.

Just as Chuck’s show takes off, he abruptly disappears. Duckie undertakes a search to locate his old friend. His wild search involves many strange people and circumstances, including the legacy of Mickey Gross, a legendary comedian who supposedly died of cancer five years prior. Duckie’s search leads him to a remote island in Bristish Columbia, where he discovers a strange comedy secret that has been concealed for decades.

Compelling stuff, eh, kids? I sure hope so, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it. (Which is almost entirely the point; I sure ain’t in this for the money!) I’d really hoped to be done with Draft 3 earlier this spring, but it sure didn’t work out that way. However, just when I think I’m approaching closure, one of the characters goes off the rails and I have to figure out how to incorporate their unexpected behavior.

I’ve spoke before about my “pantsing” approach to writing: the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to storytelling, as opposed to “plotting,” where most of the action is plotted out before Word 1 is written. I’m just too impatient to be a plotter; it’s pantsing all the way for this guy.

Which is a lot of fun, but not conducive to speedy writing. For example, in Laughingstock, Duckie meets the estranged daughter of Mickey Gross, and they unexpectedly fall into a torrid love affair. Honestly, I did not see this coming. Of course, it provided an excuse to write some steamy sex scenes, and diluted the “sausage party” vibe that comes from writing about male-dominated activities like stand-up comedy. (As a comedy nerd myself, I’m gratified to see more women rising to prominence in this field.) Good things come from pantsing.

Similarly, in Fester, Paul Plummer was originally meant to be a minor character who would sort of fade into the background after the first act. Instead, he ended up being on of the main characters of the novel. It was fun to sort of conceive of these characters and then set them loose to see what happens. I’ll also do this deliberately if I get a little stuck. For example, Laughingstock has a network executive named Don Bundy. I wasn’t sure what Don was all about, so just to find out, I wrote a scene showing what Don does in the evening when he goes home from work. It turns out that Don is a lot creepier than I’d originally thought. The scene was excised from the second draft as it didn’t really move the story along, but it provided invaluable insight into Don’s character which was very useful for the rest of the story.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The novel is progressing slowly – not because of authorial laziness (well, not entirely) – but because these darned characters act like they have minds of their own! Onward!


Intelligence – Artificial and Otherwise

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure

How amazingly unlikely is your birth

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space

‘Cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth!

Monty Python, “Galaxy Song”

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve rapped with ya, but I’ve been busy reading old editorials from The Onion.

No, actually, I’ve been busy doing things other than writing, alas. April was a bit of a mess, having to make a short-notice cross-country trip to deal with family issues, then getting the RSV virus, which pretty much laid me out for two solid weeks. No fun.

I had honestly thought that I’d been done with the third draft of my new novel, Laughingstock, at this point. Unfortunately, it’s not to be – at least not yet. I know there may be literally dozens of fans out there clamoring to read this. I can’t blame them, as it is shaping up to be pretty good. There are still a few rough patches that need to be smoothed over, but what I can’t take care of in Draft 3, surely the editor will be able to address.

Which brings me to another issue that is delaying the moving forward of the project – I can’t really afford to hire an editor right now, nor shell out for the cover art. It’s a drag, and I hope that I’ll be able to do so in the immediate future. However, one of the unfortunate truths of indie authordom is that the author has to pay for these up-front costs out of pocket, as well as ongoing advertising costs, etc. This is not a business for those looking to get rich quickly.

There are those who would have you believe otherwise. A lot of jibber-jabber in that direction nowadays revolves around artificial intelligence (AI). AI platforms such as BlowHard and SplatGTH have been featured on a daily basis since the end of last year. Most of these platforms are language-based or art-based, and I know a lot of writers and artists who have been having a blast playing with them.

I’m not one of them.

I’m taking a very cautious wait-and-see approach to Artificial Intelligence. Any technology that made Stephen Hawking nervous should be approached with extreme caution, I think. Seeing how much of a shit-show social media turned out to be, I think I’ll just keep my distance for a while. Maybe that makes me a Luddite – I really don’t care. I turned 55 a few months ago. I feel that gives me the right to be cranky and suspicious of new stuff. ‘Scuse me – I gotta go holler at some kids to get off my damn lawn!

Okay, I will admit that I can think of at least one area where I would be willing to entertain the use of AI in my writing process: proofreading. I did not have my manuscripts professionally proofread previously, and I came to regret it. For Fester, I just did it myself. In restrospect, this was silly. Sure, I caught some typos, but certainly not all of them. It’s not going to happen when you read the same 100,000 word MS over and over again. You’re too familiar with the words, and your eyes just sorta slide off of them.

The trouble is that professional proofreading can be expensive – usually a penny a word. That’s a cool grand for a 100K word MS. This was more than my editor charged! So I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m leery of sinking more money into a project that I will most likely never make back. On the other hand, I’d hate to be contributing to literary people losing income due to the Rise of the Machines. On the third hand, I sure as hell don’t want to try proofreading my own novel again.

It’s a bit of a quandary, fer sure. However, given that I have yet to finish writing the thing, it’s all hypothetical, at least for now. So I’ll just quit bitching and leave you with a little treat: Stephen Hawking singing the Galaxy Song. Enjoy!


Welcome to “Book World” – Enter at Your Own Risk

In late 2020, fans of indie romance writer Susan Meachen got shocking news: she had recently died. Even worse, she had taken her own life, and it was intimated that online bullying had driven her to do so.

Meachen had been an active member of a number of online communities of indie romance authors. Any number of online author communities exist for different genres, and I can attest that they can get ugly. Just like any other part of the Internet – and especially social media – some people participate in such groups seemingly for the sole purpose of dumping on others.

Not surprisingly, the indie/romance world is especially drama-ridden. Meachen had earlier intimated about her struggles with mental health issues to her 700+ followers on her Facebook page – known as “the Ward,” a reference to a psych ward. Regardless, they were shocked when a post on Meachen’s account by her daughter in September 2020 announced that Meachen had taken her own life, and strongly intimated that online “book world” bullying had been a contributing factor.

Naturally, Meachen’s online fans and friends were devastated. Some pitched in to edit Meachen’s final manuscript for publication. A short story anthology called Bully King Anthology, which was dedicated to Meachen, with the tag “Let’s keep bullying where it belongs – In fiction.” There was also on online auction to help cover the expenses of Meachen’s funeral.

As the months after Meachen’s death rolled on there would be posts on Meachen’s FB page from her daughter, many calling attention to mental health issues. Eventually, a new admin called T.N. Steele began moderating and posting to the Ward. Strangely enough, Steele shared the same birthday and anniversary as did Meachen.

The mystery was solved on January 3 of this year, when the following post hit Meachen’s FB page:

Indeed, the fun did begin. Many people were outraged that Meachen had falsely reported her own suicide, then seemed to try to profit from it as well. One former friend contacted FBI’s cybercrimes unit. There was much recrimination about the anguish caused by the fake death announcement, and similar concerns related to mental health issues.

The media had a fun time with it, although mostly in a superficial, frothy “ha-ha-look-at-the-lengths-these-indie-authors-will-go-to” sort of way, perhaps with a soupcon of concern about mental health issues.

The mainstream “traditional” publishing industry weighed in with an unsurprising level of condescension. “Mainstream” book reviewer Laura Miller wrote the following in Slate:

While Meachen and the other writers who befriended her virtually refer to their community as “the book world,” what they’re talking about has little to do with what most outsiders would associate with that term: the mainstream publishing industry, the professionals who work in it, and the authors whose books fill your local bookstore. Meachen’s “book world” is the community of self-published romance and erotica writers who sell low-cost e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks, primarily through Amazon.

Snotty, yes – but the “book world” for indie writers is just as real – and drama-filled – for indie writers as the traditional publishing industry is for folks like Ms. Miller. The New York Times pointed out in an op-ed that the traditional publishing scene is not without its own scandals and drama. The point being that even if your glass house is a 29-story building on Broadway, you should be careful about chucking stones.

Then the NYT came up with a more nuanced take on the story that cast Meachen in a more sympathetic light. A resident of rural Tennessee, Susan Meachen found herself at loose ends as her husband Troy was away from home for long stretches as a long-haul truck driver. Meachen discovered her “book world” by immersing herself in romance novels, often going through them in less than a day.

Then she began writing them, and entered the singular purgatory of indie authorship. It can be a difficult world, one with a constant need for attention and validation. These, unfortunately, can be achieved for some by slagging other authors in online forums, on Goodreads, on Amazon reviews and elsewhere.

Add genuine mental health issues into this environment, and things can quickly deteriorate. Meachen had been diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder. The feedback of the indie/romance “book world” was a double-acting whipsaw, elevating the manic highs and depressing the dismal lows. Meachen’s family began to express major concerns about her well-being and possibility of self-harm.

In September 2020, while Troy was on the road, Meachen’s daughter checked in on her and discovered her semi-conscious, after having taken a large quantity of Xanax. Obviously terrified by the effects that “book world” were having on his wife’s mental health, Troy instructed his daughter to post the announcement of Susan Meachen’s death, hoping to sever the connection between his wife and an online community that was harming her.

This was the first of a series of questionable choices made by the Meachen family. Besides the (admittedly small-scale) donations solicited in Meachen’s name, there was also the issue of her apparently lurking amongst her mourners for two years as “TN Steele.” Meachen herself seems surprised at the controversy and attention that her resurrection has garnered. Apparently, the fuss has died an ignoble death, and Susan Meachen has been effectively canceled and cast into the outer darkness of social media nothinghood.

So what’s the point of this? I was actually hoping that something would come to me as I wrote this, but other than being a moderately-interesting but slightly-slimy tale of the intersection of social media and grimier parts of human nature. If anything, it’s an illustration of the uglier part of indie writing and publishing. There’s a lot of dog-eat-dog competition out there, especially in popular genres such as romance. A microcosm of social media in general, there’s a constant need for attention and validation that can be poisonous to even those who beam down to “book world” with relatively good mental health. It can be tough out there. As a wise guy once said, “Life sucks; get a helmet.”1


1 Note that this is not to diminish the problems of those struggling with depression or any other form of mental illness. “Helmet” is meant metaphorically to mean any mechanism to help mitigate from external harm, like turning off your computer and going for a walk.


Time for Some Fall Cleaning

Fester
All new Fester cover

Fall came late to Portland, but when it finally appeared it hit like a ton of bricks. Cold, wet, windy bricks. After a summer of amazing authorial indolence, I’m finally get up off of my keister and getting some things squared away.

New Book Cover

First, I have a new cover for Fester. I was conflicted about replacing the original, as I really liked it. My good friend Ken Huey did a superlative job on the cover. He gave me exactly what I asked for. The problem was that I didn’t really know what I should be asking for.

Fester
Original Fester cover

Right out of the gate, it was attracting flak along the lines of “you’d better hope than no lawyers from Warner/DC see that cover.” Apparently some felt that one of the figures on the cover resembled a character owned by a litigious multimedia conglomerate.

I shrugged that off, but the real hassles began when I started advertising on Amazon. The Amazon Ads content moderators felt that the cover was “gory,” for reasons I couldn’t discern and they wouldn’t explain. So, I yanked the ads and saved my advertising pennies to pay pro cover designer Stuart Bache to come up with a new design. I’m pleased with the new cover, even though I’ll miss the old one.

(And if you have a copy with the original cover, encase it in Mylar immediately and buy yourself a copy with the new cover. The original is sure to be a collector’s item in some alternate universes.)

New Novel Manuscript

I’m still moving ahead on the second draft of Laughingstock. I hoped to kick it into overdrive during NaNoWriMo this month, but alas it was not to be. First, a cross-country trip took the wind out of my sails right at the beginning of the month. Then, the ructions surrounding the cover redesign took up a lot of time that I otherwise could have spent writing. Finally, I’m a lazy bastard with dozens of excuses for doing other things when I could or should be writing.

So, what I will try to do is to have my own mini-NaNoWriMo in December. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50,000 words in a month. I know that that’s still a steep order, but I think I can crank out at least 30,000 words during December. I think it’s possible to do 1,000 words a day. Currently, I am re-writing the second act of the story arc, so those 30K words are going to have to be original stuff. Absolutely doable!

New Social Media

Given the poop-show that Twitter has become, what with the invasion of billionaire buttheads whose daddies didn’t love them, I’ve decided to bail on Twitter entirely. It is unlikely that many people will be upset or even notice. Seeing as how the plat form was little more than a timesuck (just like all social media), I doubt I’m going to miss it.

Instead, I will now be not-really-doing-much-posting to Instagram instead. The URL there is instagram.com/crawfordsmithauthor/

Keeping with the theme of moving away from the Sweet Weasel Words “brand” (shudder), and sticking to my own name, I will also shift to a new FB page: facebook.com/CrawfordSmithAuthor. I will continue posting on the SWW page for now, but intend to phase that out entirely by the end of the year.

Everybody have a great Thanksgiving, and I will be back soon with an update on all these marvelous doings!

Time to Drop the Pantsing?

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been muy loco here at Sweet Weasel Words.

First, I’ve been spending the last several months posting a serialized version of a novella, called For They Shall Hurt. It’s a chilling story of friendship, misplaced faith and murder. It was an interesting process, although not without criticism. Some readers didn’t like to have to wait a week to read the next chapter. I like to think that I was imitating other authors who serialized their stories. For example, Stephen King’s The Green Mile was originally published in six serial volumes in 1996. In turn, King references Charles Dickens’ novels, many of which were serially published in magazines or as standalone “chapbooks.”

This is where any resemblance between Your Humble Author and the likes of King and Dickens ends. My decision to publish FTSH in serial form had more to do with the feedback I received from my writers’ group. I actually finished the first draft earlier this year, but I didn’t post the chapters until I had received feedback from my writing peeps at each week’s meeting.

Now that the novella is complete, I’ve turned my efforts to my next novel manuscript, tentatively titled Laughingstock. Right now, the MS is topping 115K words, which is about 25,000 more than I’d like to have for the final product. Also, I still haven’t finished the first draft; another 10,000 words is not out of the question.

In a previous post, I discussed the difference between “plotting” and “pantsing” in story construction. I am absolutely a pantser, and have really been pantsing the hell out of this story. Especially as the story approaches its conclusion, I’ve basically been driving all of the characters to the same place and seeing what the heck they end up doing. Now, I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can see a clear path to the end of the story.

The question for me is whether I should try to plot or outline that path that I can see through the haze, or just keep pantsing to the end. Doing the former would most likely speed up the writing process, which is a good thing. On the other hand, pantsing has gotten me this far, and I am loathe to abandon it now; similar to the way some baseball players don’t like to change their socks when they’re on a winning streak. (NOTE: I change my socks nearly every day.)

So I guess I’m not going to drop my pantsing for now, seeing as how I’m in the home stretch. I hope to be able to give a definitive report on this approach shortly.


Battling Bezos’ Bozos

Okay, gang, time for my favorite type of post: whining about book promotion and marketing. (Actually, I’d prefer to be fat and happy and selling a lot of books. It might be a while before I achieve that, so . . .)

As a goal for the new year (I don’t make resolutions), I decided that I was going to kick out the jams on book promotion and really try to do something about Fester‘s lackluster sales. There are different paths to different marketing goals, but as I was interested in boosting sales, it seemed like focusing on Amazon ads would be the best bet. After all, people on Amazon are almost certainly looking to buy something right then and there. For other platforms, such as Facebook, advertising would be more useful to increase brand awareness (whatever that is).

To get a better handle on Amazon’s complex advertising platform, I bought a couple of books and a spendy online course that offered to provide easy-to-follow steps to get a handle on this complicated process. I did my homework, came up with a very basic advertising plan, and eagerly navigated the Amazon ads console to set up four new ads, each of which had slightly different settings. The idea was to gather data to help determine how to better refine my advertising strategy.

The first three ads launched without a problem. However, for the fourth, I got an email from Amazon advertising saying that my ad had been rejected because the ad contained “excessive violence or gore.”

This was patently ridiculous. The ad – which was just the book cover – contained no such violence or gore. (You can see the book cover below.) I checked Amazon’s Creative Acceptance Policies, which admittedly I hadn’t bothered reading before, as the cover seemed pretty anodyne.

I checked the policies about what constitutes “excessive violence or gore.” According to their policies this includes but is not limited to (italics mine):

  • Brutality, graphic depictions of blood, open or sutured wounds, scenes of torture, dismemberments, or mutilations of bodies (including cadavers).
  • Overt references to or images implying or depicting rape and sexual molestation.

Clearly, this didn’t apply to the cover of Fester, so I filed an appeal. When the rejection was reviewed, it was upheld. The reviewer said: “When we reviewed the ad, we determined that the ad (Campaign Name: Fester – SP – Manual Category – Down) contained violent content. To ensure a good customer experience, we don’t allow ads containing images of human or animal abuse, mistreatment, or distress.”

I was genuinely nonplussed. The first perplexing thing was that the reason cited for the rejection of the appeal had nothing to do with the “excessive violence or gore.” I re-read the Creative Acceptance Policies, and notices the includes but is not limited to phrase. These are utter weasel words, which you’d think I’d be in favor of, given the name of this publishing company. Weasel words they may have been, but they were certainly not sweet. Basically, Amazon seemed to be saying that they could make the rules up as they went along.

This notion was reinforced when I considered that I had run ads for the same book five times previously (the three new ones plus two experimental ads from last year). All of these were accepted. Amazon was more than glad to take my money to advertise something from which they take a cut. Clearly, the “policies” were not being applied consistently. I figured that the first rejection was an overeager newbie, or an Amazon employee having a bad day. The judgment for the appeal seemed more like summary punishment for having dared question the mighty Bezos Machine.

After some back-and-forth on a FB group, I decided to go ahead and appeal the appeal. I was hesitant, as it seemed risky. I had three other ads running, and I didn’t want them to get yanked. If I kept fussing, I might get the book cover – and myself – on a permanent shitlist. After all, the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.

I also figured that the odds were in my favor: I was batting .833, with five out of six ads being accepted. If I just started over with new ads, I could probably just let them slip by whatever inconsistent scrutiny Amazon might apply.

I eventually decided to appeal the appeal and try to make an argument to Amazon. It seemed like the right thing to do; I will almost certainly be punished for it. If I lose the appeal appeal, I’ll probably just have to get a new book cover. Can’t really afford that right now, as I spent all my money on the fuckin’ advertising course.

At the end of the day, Amazon is the eight-zillion pound gorilla for the indie publishing community. Without Amazon, one’s sales channel options are significantly narrowed. So I will, if necessary, bend the knee to Bezos’ Bozos and offer my heartfelt contrition.

Then I’ll whine and talk smack about it here.


New Deal Year

Well, 2022 kinda looks like it’s gonna bite pretty hard; here’s to a hoping for a repeat of 2015 – a much more propitious year!

Happy New Year, and here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery from the holiday season and maybe a glimmer of hope in the new year. This is a time of reflection and aspiration, where we look back at the mistakes of the past year, and look forward to the mistakes of the upcoming one.

As the Primary Scribe of Sweet Weasel Words, there were many things to celebrate in 2021. Well, by “many,” I mean two: publication of Powwows and the publication of Fester. Being a sole-prop APE (author, publisher, entrepreneur), every new title is an adventure and a learning experience.

Powwows was originally a story line from the monster first draft (~150K words) of Fester that was excised to bring the manuscript down to a tolerable size. I still liked the story quite a bit, so I hit on the idea of editing Powwows as a separate novella that would be released a few months prior to act as an “appetizer” by introducing the reader to the built world of Fester, Pennsylvania and make them eager to read the full-length novel.

In theory.

In practice, I suspect I used up all of the goodwill in my friends-and-family fan base with Powwows. I got a fairly decent response from the gang about the ~18K word novella, but when the 90K word Fester hit the shelves, the response was, to coin a word, sub-monktastic. The attitude seemed to be “Oh, Christ, he’s published another one?” Plus, college football season was just starting up, so there was very little time for people to bother reading something I had spent 13 years crafting. OK, well “writing” might be a better word than “crafting,” but still…

So, take that as an object lesson: be careful of how you time your publications, so as to avoid reader burnout.

Looking ahead, what is in store for 2022? Or 2015? Well, I’m about 50K words into a draft of a novel called Laughingstock. It’s about two stand-up comics who get started in show business together as teenagers. As they grow apart, one experiences success in the laugh business while one continues to toil in small-time comedy backwater. As the successful one reaches the apogee of his success, he suddenly disappears. His friend embarks on a quest to find his friend – and take on the sinister Wolff Network.

I’m still not sure where the story is going to go, but I did get in the habit during National Novel Writing Month of seat-of-the-pants writing, which often takes the story in amazing and unexpected directions. I’d like to get the first draft of Laughingstock finished before mid-year.

Waiting in the wings is a sequel to Fester. During a trip to the unusual and interesting town of Astoria, Oregon, I came upon a fascinating story that would serve as a framework for a sequel. I came back from that trip with a 75% complete outline for the story. I was quite eager to get started on it when I returned from Astoria, but decided instead to forge ahead with the Laughingstock MS. I think this will allow the Astoria story to age on the shelf, as it were – and make for a more compelling story when I get down to writing it.

It’s been an interesting 2021; it promises to be an equally interesting 2022. That’s why I’m looking forward to 2015. Have a great year!


More Gruel, Please!

“Please, sir, may I have an Amazon review?”

Well, my latest novel, Fester, is as published as it’s going to get. That means that I now have to go out and actually sell the sumbitch.

This, for me, is not fun. Some people love being a sales-entity*, but not me. For me, it’s like pulling teeth. However, as a one-entity operation, I have to be the author, the publisher and the sales-entity. As the philosopher Meatloaf pointed out, two outta three ain’t bad. Regardless, slacking on marketing is not going to get my book in front of readers, which is the object of the exercise.

I have been researching how to maximize book sales for indie authors**, and the bottom line is that you can’t really get anywhere with sales without spending on advertising. OK, I can get behind that; it takes money to make money. But here’s the rub: you shouldn’t really be spending money on ads unless you have a minimum number of Amazon reviews in place (~10). There’s no point in driving people to a point of sale without them seeing a number of (presumably positive) reviews once they get there.

Now I am in the uncomfortable position of trying to wheedle Amazon reviews out of my friends and family. This is, to me, odious – I feel like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. I had some issues with this when I was promoting the Fester prequel, Powwows. I offered free copies of the eBook ( Powwows was eBook only) in return for an honest Amazon review. This met with limited success. I think the issue in this case was that people downloaded the book and then forgot about it. Or maybe I’m just an impatient asshat. Probably both.

Regardless, I thought I’d try the same thing with Fester. At first, I offered a free digital copy for an Amazon review. Then, when my author copies finally arrived, I began offering a free hard copy for a review. When I made that offer, a relative who has also self-published books via Amazon suggested that I crank it up a notch, in order to make sure these were verified purchase reviews.

To that end, I decided to offer a $10 Amazon gift card to anyone who bought the book on Amazon, left a review and sent a screen shot confirming this. This seemed a little ethically mushy, but it’s a cutthroat environment out there for self-published and indie authors. I figured what was the harm? I’d get my number of reviews up to double digits, discontinue the offer and proceed with my advertising campaign.

The problems started when I unwisely cross-posted the offer to a FB indie author group that I had signed on with. The moderator of this group is a harridan – y’know the type: they’ve got a tiny chunk of the web they control, so they control it with an iron fist. This moderator saw my offer and went ballistic. Soon, I was getting nastygrams about how people like me were why the indie publishing world had a “bad reputation.” (This was news to me.) The moderator and a number of like-minded pedants were stalking my Twitter feed, and leaving nasty comments on unrelated posts on FB, etc. One of them even ratted me out to Amazon, claiming that I was “…abusing [the] system by offering incentivized reviews, incentivized purchases, sales manipulation, ranks manipulation, etc.”

This abuse seemed a little over-the-top for what I regard as a noob mistake. So I deleted the posts that had so offended the indie author pedants. Then, I checked the official rules*** and discovered that “incentivized reviews” used to be kosher, but they changed the rules a few years back. That’s the problem with Amazon: indie authors are pretty much at Amazon’s mercy if they want to sell book one, so they get to change the rules whenever they like. Also, it seems like there are underhanded ways to abuse the system on a large scale, which was a far cry from what I was attempting to do. Certainly, it seemed like overkill for my misguided attempt at book promotion to compel a complete stranger to act as a corporate snitch for Jeff Bezos.

I looked at some of the other rules regarding book promotion and Amazon reviews. They’ve got all sorts of rules, some of which border on the ridiculous. For example, it is OK to offer a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review – which is absolutely what I was doing. However, the reviewer is supposed to divulge that fact in the review.

Other rules regarding submission of Amazon reviews are a little more Orwellian. Technically, you are not supposed to get reviews from any friends or family. OK, I can (barely) understand rejecting reviews from the same household, but the whole friends and family group? Fuck that noise. Are we supposed to submit a list to Amazon or something? Bullshit. That company has too much of our personal information as it is.

So that’s where I’m at now – still pissy and frustrated. I’ll try to be cognizant of Amazon’s ever-shifting rules going forward, and avoid indie author groups in general. Fthang!




* I started to go with “salesman,” but realized that was sexist. I then thought about “salesperson,” but realized that term was prejudicial against non-humans and ghosts. “Sales-entity” seemed like the most inclusive term for this situation. Also, if anyone knows of a ghost who is looking for a sales position, please let me know.

**There are yea number of places that will , for the proper fee, provide instruction on how to maximize indie book sales. In fact, I was all ready to put my cash down on one of the more reputable courses, but then the radiator in the car blew up, so that was that. So it’s just muggins here who gets to work it out on his own.

*** Which, in retrospect, I should have done first. Eh, I’ve always leaned towards the “salt before tasting” philosophy., anyway