Blog Archives

The old ways suck.

Sadly, she can't read.One of the few times I buy paper books is when I do a signing at a bookstore. I figure it’s the least I can do. That’s how I wound up with the hardback version of At Home, by Bill Bryson. It’s a great whacking lump of a book, so good that I bought my parents the Kindle version on our shared account.

Yesterday I was reading while eating, which is when I do 90% of my reading, and this monster book wouldn’t stay open on the table unless I held it with one hand. So tedious. So although the paper version was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I went upstairs, got my Kindle, downloaded the ebook version, and read that.

To tell the truth, I don’t even like to go into bookstores anymore. Looking at all that paper that has to be stored on your shelf, knowing that many of those books will be returned to the publisher and pulped… Honestly, it makes me all twitchy. What would I take with me on a desert island? My phone and some sort of magic cell connection. I don’t want to travel by horseback (ooh, the smell and feel of horses!), I don’t want to churn my own butter, and I don’t want a paper book.

A funny post about short stories, by Steve Hockensmith

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.

Cliché – What’s the original meaning of that word?

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.[6] 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,[7][8][9] including the statement that it is a variant of cliquer, “to click”,[10] though some express doubt.[11][12]

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

Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books.

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. 

I want you to imagine that instead of selling books, we’re selling food.

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.  

My Plea to Self-Published Authors

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Why?

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.

Chihauhua of the Baskervilles now in Paperback

Hi, kids! Just a heads up that the first book in the Tripping Magazine mystery series is available in paperback as of today, and they have dropped the Kindle price to match ($7.99). Remember, you don’t need a Kindle device – you can download a free app to your PC, Mac, iPad, smartphone, Blackberry, or tablet.

 

 

The Portrait of Doreene Gray, second in the series, comes out July 3. Right now it has an Amazon pre-order price of $15.35 for the hardcover, $11.99 for Kindle. That Kindle price will probably stay the same until there’s a paperback, but the hardcover price will likely go up a couple of bucks when it officially comes out.

Reviews for The Portrait of Doreene Gray:

“A little bit X-Files, a little bit Agatha Christie and a whole lotta charming. If you like your mysteries baffling, bizarre and, above all, fun, you’re going to love it.” — Steve Hockensmith, author of the New York Times best seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the Edgar Award nominee Holmes on the Range.

“The three quirky main characters add an appealingly hip edge to the cozy core of Allbritten’s sequel to 2011’s Chihuahua of the Baskervilles” —Publishers Weekly

Want to read the first couple of chapters of either book? Be my guest.

Excerpt, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

Excerpt, The Portrait of Doreene Gray

And if you’ve already read Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, don’t miss the free short story I wrote using some of the same characters.

Cocaine Blues is FREE today!

This is the first book in my favorite mystery series EVER, and you can get it free today (and remember, you don’t need a Kindle device, just download one of their free apps). If you’ve never read one of the Phryne Fisher books, I envy you. You have the whole series ahead of you. Enjoy!

Get it while it’s still a buck…

I’ve submitted a price change to Kindle for Jokers & Fools, from .99 to 2.99. If you haven’t gotten it and want to, now is the time, before it takes effect.

Where Mystery Readers Go

Must Read Mysteries not only sells print mysteries, but also makes readers aware of new releases, sales, and free ebook mysteries through their Facebook page. They’re a fantastic resource, so I was extremely geeked when Mr. Must Read Mysteries (Scott) asked if I’d like to guest post on their blog.

You can find me there tomorrow, Wednesday, writing on Death and Comedy. I think it’s worth reading if only for the joke at the end.

The mystery of Must Read Mysteries – solved!

If you’re a Facebook friend, you may have noticed me sharing a lot of posts by Must Read Mysteries. That’s because it’s a great source for ebook mysteries that are reasonably priced or free. Eventually, I got curious — who was behind Must Read Mysteries, how did they find all these great books, and what was the motivation behind this great service? So I sent a message. Here are the answers.

Who are you?

While on the internet I am a man of mystery, at home I am a husband, father of 4 children ranging in age from 2 to 16, and a life long reader of mysteries, especially hard boiled ones. My wife Stephanie, another mystery lover, also contributes to the page, particularly when it comes to the cozy mysteries.

How did you get into this?

One of our favorite things to do is to go to library book sales and find new mysteries to try and fill in some of the holes in our collection. Unfortunately we ended up with a small house bursting at the seams with 4 kids and thousands of books. So we bought a Kindle and started to supplement the income from our real jobs by selling old pulp paperbacks and lots of mysteries on eBay grouped by author, series, and theme. As eBay became less and less seller friendly (making the feedback system meaningless by not allowing sellers to leave negative feedback for buyers even when they did not pay, taking a 9% cut on the cost of shipping) we created our own site, mustreadmysteries.ecrater.com, to sell the used books. To try to drive traffic to it we created the Facebook page and slowly started building a following. Then last summer we were away from home for an extended period of time, and in order to keep the page active I started putting up Amazon links to mysteries I enjoyed or were bargains. It seemed to generate traffic, and Stephanie enlightened me that if I was going to throw up links that we might as well become an Amazon associate and make a few pennies when people actually bought the books. As a bonus it is fun to share the freebies we find with the people following the page. It is a bit like a treasure hunt. So that is what we did and that is how the page came to be what it is today. The income from the links gives us just enough money to feed our mystery reading habits, and now we have a Kindle that is as stuffed with books as our house used to be.

How you find all the books (unless that’s a trade secret)?

There are several ways, but the starting point is using Amazon’s rather robust and varied search and recommendation mechanisms. I also follow several blogs and keep an eye on favorite author’s pages to see when they have sales. More recently authors have started emailing or messaging me to alert me when they have a promotion coming up. I also have been getting ARCs and gifted Kindle books so that we can do reviews. We have been able to get to most of those, but do not guarantee a positive review.

What feedback have you gotten from fans?

The most common feedback is people thanking us for alerting them to books or series that they were not aware of. There are also several recommendations that keep popping up: 1) start doing B&N links for the Nook, 2) start a page focusing on science fiction/fantasy/paranormal books, and 3) start a blog with more detailed reviews, musings, recommendations, and perhaps having authors guest post about some of their favorite books from other authors. Those are good ideas that we will try to incorporate as time permits. We welcome feedback from the community because it helps us find new things that might be of interest to others and help us stay responsive to rapidly changing trends.

What are your opinions on the future of publishing?

The industry is changing rapidly and my opinions tend to change too. In general I am pretty much in the JA Konrath/Barry Eisler camp that the traditional publishing route does not make sense financially for many (though certainly not all) authors. I have found eye opening some of the very open financial pieces written by Konrath compared to similar pieces by a traditionally published authors like Jennifer Stanley/Ellery Adams. The big question now is what the impact of the KDP select plan where authors can have their book be free for 5 days out of 90 at Amazon. Are people going to expect to get everything free and hold off on making purchases? Might they end up with so many books on their Kindles that they stop buying? Libby Fischer Hellmann had an interesting blog post about this recently.

One thing I really like about ebooks is the way it is making short stories and novellas available that might not have otherwise seen the light of day. I know this is particularly true for the more hardboiled crime fiction. I have been having a bunch of fun reading through the shorter pieces from Nigel Bird, Ray Banks, Keith Rawson, Heath Lowrance, James Reasoner, Edward Grainger/David Cranmer, Patti Abbott, Thomas Pluck etc.

Another thing I think about is the change to the used book market. When we first started promoting lots of used books on the Facebook page, there were complaints from several authors that they would not be making royalties on the sales of used books. I think that used books are a great way of introducing readers to authors that they will later buy new, much like a library is, but as ebooks become more dominant this dynamic is going to change, and it should change in a way that authors are going to earn more royalties off of their back list, especially when the rights revert to them. Right now most back list ebook titles are priced too high, and people looking for inexpensive titles might still buy used books. But as prices go down and e-readers more popular people will buy the inexpensive e-books instead, which should mean more royalties for authors.

Scott

(After I read all that, I had another question.)
Do the kids participate in the business in any way? And do you think it makes them aware of the possibilities of entrepreneurship?

My oldest daughter (16) has contributed a couple of recommendations (Dave Zeltersman’s Julius Katz mysteries for one) and is thinking of doing a similar page for music. So it has definite made her aware of the possibilities. If we do branch out with Sci Fi/Fantasy/Paranormal she would help with that. The 7 year old is a big reader (“How To Train Your Dragon” is current favorite) and the little ones (5 and 2) love having books and being read 2. The 7 year old has the kindle app loaded on his tablet, but it has to compete for time with Angry Birds.