Just want to take a moment to pimp fellow mystery author Steve Hockensmith, who writes a bunch of stuff, including the Holmes on the Range series, which I love. In his recent blog post, he writes about the art of the short story.
Mystery Most Cozy is both a website and a Facebook page that’s a great forum to talk about cozy mysteries. Unlike a lot of other sites, it’s not cluttered up with a bunch of self-promotion. I’ve gotten a lot of great recommendations from them. Right now, they’re celebrating TEN YEARS with a series of author interviews, and I was lucky enough to be one of those authors — and yes, one lucky commenter will get the first two books in the Tripping Magazine mystery series (plus I’m going to slip in some other nice surprises). There’s a little more to it than commenting, actually. Here are the instructions.
So what are you waiting for? Oh, right. A link.
My best, funniest interview ever is up on Scene of the Crime, and it includes a page from my SUPER SECRET journal from when I was a kid. What dark thoughts lurked in my childish noggin? Apparently they involved novelty socks. You can read it here.
Recently, I decided to try watching Battlestar Galactica. Angel Joe and I never saw it when it was current, and we haven’t watched Sci Fi in ages, but Battlestar Galactica is mentioned so often on The Big Bang Theory that I thought we should give it a try. My verdict: I was fascinated by the whole Cylon premise, but disliked the unremitting violence. It’s all, Pow, pow, kaboom! Yell, yell, yell! and Thwack, thwack, blood. But Joe wanted to keep watching it. Now, he’s never been into that kind of thing, and I suspect there’s something else going on — namely, he’s found something he likes reasonably well that I don’t, and this allows him to watch without my constant interruptions. My dad and I are the same way. We need the video paused while we have a snack, a drink, a pee, a little tidy, some petting of the critters, whereas Joe can lie on his shoulder blades for three hours straight. The divot halfway down the back of our sofa is from his head. So we compromised. Joe watches BG with headphones on while I putter around doing other stuff, and I ask him about the Cylons later on.
So a couple of nights ago, he was watching BG and I was upstairs experimenting with a new singing persona, slapping on new make-up over old, taking pictures in the unflattering LED lighting of our john, and generally achieving the look of an aging drag queen. I went downstairs for something, and instead of blessed silence, I heard the hissing of water coming from somewhere it shouldn’t — namely, from under our kitchen cabinets. A pool was spreading toward the middle of the floor.
Joe (lifting one side of headphones): Yeah?
Me: The kitchen is flooding.
Joe turned off the water and we sprang into action. My one regret is that no one was there to film a computer geek and a woman in a tiny top hat and corset get down on their hands and knees to mop up water with microfiber dog towels.
That’s the best of the story. The hose from the water filter to the refrigerator water/ice dispenser had gotten crimped under a cabinet and worn through. Joe replaced it the next day, and I’m wondering if there’s money to be made by installing webcams all over the house.
Scary messages in the soup, slugs in the bedroom, strange lights in the woods — and a painting that seems to age while its subject does not.
All that — which may have Oscar Wilde chuckling in the clouds — takes place in “The Portrait of Doreene Gray” (306 pages, Minotaur Books, $24.99), the second in Esri Allbritten’s series of Chihuahua mysteries featuring the staff of Tripping, a magazine devoted to the paranormal: editor Angus MacGregor, writer Michael Abernathy and photographer Suki Oota.
This time out, the three are off to Port Townsend, Wash., where rich, 58-year-old Doreene has put the painting by her twin sister, Maureene Pinter, up for sale. Determined to make a feature story out of the supposedly magical portrait, the journalists soon see the stakes elevated when death enters the picture. Meanwhile, Doreene’s Chihuahua, Gigi, finds herself depending on the kindness of strangers.
Clever and comical, Allbritten’s second outing is as entertaining as its predecessor, and the reader’s verdict on it is reached quickly: Aye, Chihuahua.
Yet another good writer/reviewer. I like “death enters the picture,” and I LOVE “Aye, Chihuhaua,” ’cause he spelled “Aye” the Scottish way, not the Mexican way. Clever.
Here’s a link to the full article. He reviews four other books.
Angus, Michael and Suki bring the banter to the Killer Characters blog today. It’s like a short bonus chapter of The Portrait of Doreene Gray. Come on over, ask them a question, suggest a location for a book, or tell about some inexplicable experience you’ve had, especially if it’s motel-related.
It wasn’t until I read my own first line in a review of The Portrait of Doreene Gray that I realized I’d used one of the oldest writing tropes in the book.
Outside the darkened windows of Doreene Gray’s second floor bedroom, a squall buffeted the house and whistled across the gingerbread trimming.
Yup. I’d essentially written, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Then I thought about the word “cliché,” and then I wondered what the heck it meant in the original French.
Wikipedia to the rescue.
The word is borrowed from French. In printing, a cliché was a printing plate cast from movable type. This is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly as a single slug of metal. “Cliché” came to mean such a ready-made phrase. Many authorities say that the French word “cliché” comes from the sound made when the molten stereotyping metal is poured onto the matrix to make a printing plate, including the statement that it is a variant of cliquer, “to click”, though some express doubt.
Pretty interesting, non? Anyway, this is all by way of pointing out that there’s a new review for Portrait. Bonus points for her use of “inveigling.” Haven’t heard that word in ages.
Your most loyal readers are invested in you, the author.
Pre-internet, “you” consisted of your writing voice, an author photo, and the occasional interview. Now we have the option of engaging our readers with stories of our lives, our writing process, and the interesting things we learn during book research — all of it augmented with pictures, videos, and the opportunity for readers to have a conversation through comments.
This is where short stories have a serious promotional advantage over free books.
I want you to imagine two scenarios of reader engagement.
1) Free Book Offer
You give away your book for a certain period of time. The word goes out over FB, Twitter, through your blog, and if you’re lucky, an aggregator of free book offers. Readers looking for free books click the link to your book. The best of these people first read the description of your book and only acquire if it fits their preferred genre. The worst will read anything, and if it’s not to their taste, they may leave a crappy review on Amazon or B&N (this happens). Because they went directly to the book’s purchase page, there is no need for them to visit your website or learn more about you. If your ebook is being given away through a print publisher, there may not even be a hotlink to your website at the end of the ebook. If there is, it’s often unhandy to surf the Web on a dedicated ebook device.
2) Free Short Story Offer
You give away a short story, set in your series’ universe and with your characters, on your website. The word goes out as before, ideally with a photo that is larger than the average book-cover thumbnail. The reader goes to your website, sees a photo of you, sees the covers and titles of your other books in the sidebar or banner. Ideally, they begin reading the story immediately, because it doesn’t require a big time requirement. You include photos in the text that evoke the location, any featured animals, something that sets a mood. At the bottom, within the text, you include a personal note that says you hope they enjoyed it. They should feel free to pass it on. You encourage them to sign up for your email list, so they know when more free stories come out. Look, the email sign up box is right there on the right, see? And of course, if they liked the story universe, here are links to the first few chapters of your books, with links to buy at the end.
Unlike a temporary free book offer, your short story will always be free.
That blog post will work for you ad infinitum, not for a limited time. Along with other items on your website, that story is searchable, and contains key words that bring readers to your site through Google searches. If you want, you can put your books on sale when you promote a new short story, to sweeten the deal.
Let’s say there were as many manufacturers of food products as there are authors, and they came out with new items as often as we come out with new books, and they gave them away for a week at grocery stores. What would happen?
People would never have to buy food again.
When you go to a grocery story, those food demo people aren’t giving away free dinners. No, they give away samples, and often a coupon to buy the full item at a discount.
We should stop giving whole dinners away. Get your readers to your website and give them a free sample. Engage them with photos, stories of your life, and links to free chapters of your other books. Give them the opportunity to buy a book on sale, if you want.
When enough authors give away books, people never have to buy books again.
This blog post is a follow up to My Plea to Self-Published Authors, which talks about ways short stories are better for readers as well as authors, and one author’s success with short stories. I hope you’ll consider passing these articles along, or writing your own post on the benefits of giving away short stories rather than whole books. If you do, send me a link to your post through my Contact Page, so I can pass it around.
Next time, I’ll talk about what Amazon could do to help us sell more books.
Don’t give your ebooks away.
Even one day of pricing your ebook at $0.00, multiplied by countless authors, means readers never have to buy a book again.
Hey, I’ve given away books in the past. But then I discovered that, as a reader, I could find enough free ebooks on one Facebook page, in one genre, in one week, to meet my reading needs for the next year. Sure, some of them are dreck, but there are enough enjoyable books to keep my entire family happily reading for free. And this is not a good thing.
There has never been a better time to be an author, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.
The ebook is a revolution right up there with the printing press. For the first time, authors can market and sell directly to consumers. Now, I understand that we don’t have any control over whether Amazon gives our books away. But Amazon provides only a fraction of the freebies out there, and they do a lot of promoting of those authors, so that compensates. Let’s take Amazon off the table and discuss what we can control.
How can new self-published authors promote their work, if not with free stuff?
- Write short stories set in your books’ universe, and give those away.
A good author friend of mine, Lynda Hilburn, has had tremendous success with this strategy. Every time she put out a free short story and notified the Kindle boards, all of her books got a bump in sales. She was making serious money on her self-published books – enough that a big-name agent took notice and got her a print offer she couldn’t refuse.
Free short stories instead of books benefit readers, too.
- You can judge an author’s voice in the first couple of pages of a book, but you can’t judge their ability to tell a story until you read the whole thing — and readers often wish they had that time back. A short story lets readers know if they like an author in a fraction of the time.
- Short stories can be placed outside the time frame of the author’s fictional universe. Let’s say I’m offered a free book, but it’s third in the series. That’s not an ideal situation. I’d prefer to sample the author without any spoilers for books one and two.
The lure of free is too strong.
When Amazon made their free Kindle reading app available, my purchases of books skyrocketed. But when everyone started giving books away in promtions, my purchases plummeted to the few authors I was determined to support. The lure of free books is too strong for most of us. We wind up reading books out of order, moving on to the next free thing instead of buying an author’s other books, and spending a lot of time half-heartedly reading full-length books, trying to decide if we like the story enough to keep going.
So that’s my plea. Give away a sample of your talent, then price the ebook such that readers don’t hesitate to buy — the cost of a nice cup of coffee seems to work well. And of course, giving one book away in a contest, or for charity, is a different thing.
Please spread the word.
The internet is huge. If even a fraction of authors continues to give their books away, we’re screwed. I hope you’ll share this post or write your own. Get the word out.
Don’t give your ebooks away.
Feel free to read my follow-up post, Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books, which explains how to use short stories to increase reader engagement and bring more people to your website.
Heads up: Angus MacGregor will be on Dru’s Book Musings tomorrow to talk about what it’s like being the editor of Tripping Magazine. (Your guide to paranormal destinations.) And yes, one lucky commenter will win a hardback copy of my newest book, The Portrait of Doreene Gray.
If you’ve read both my books, drop by anyway and ask Angus some personal questions. He loves those.
In honor of Angus, here is a photo of a very fat Chihuahua in a kilt.