Sunday, July 29, 2012

Writing a mystery.

(Felix Valloton, Swiss, 'At the Cafe,' 1908.)

When writing a mystery it’s important to pay attention to the expectations of the readers.

While the occasional person who reads your book might be a first-time reader of the genre, the odds are that they have read quite a number of mystery books, and they’re looking for certain things. They hope to get something out of it, which is an entertaining puzzle that ultimately makes sense.

It’s self evident that readers of romance are a looking for romance, readers of westerns are looking for justice, and readers of horror are looking for thrills and chills.

In the mystery I’m writing now, ‘The Art of Murder,’ which takes place in Paris during the '20s, I have read and thought about what others have to say on the subject. While the genre probably does have limitations, not least of which is structure, you could probably do what you want with it. Most are familiar with Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s noir futuristic mystery where Harrison Ford tries to catch a bunch of murderous replicants, who escape their world of labour and confinement and sort of go looking for what to them must seem like eternal life.

But in my book the technique varies perhaps in the technical sense. So far, I have just under 50,000 words and no chapter titles. How does that affect the writing? In some ways not at all. But by not picking a chapter title, and then writing what comes to mind regarding that title, the structure of the book is still open. Most would agree that the body should come first in a mystery novel. One source says in the first three chapters, and I can’t argue against it without sort of committing myself to proving it in writing…be that as it may. But now when the time comes, I can figure on a 65-70,000-word novel, decide just exactly how many chapters it should have, and then simply divide up the material accordingly.

This is purely nuts-and-bolts stuff. The actual content doesn’t suffer. In fact, it makes it easier to write. When I have an idea, I simply tack it on to the end of the book. When I come to the end of the idea, I put a scene break. I use three asterisks, jammed up against the left margin. There is no stylistic or format considerations here, although the copy I write for fiction is as clean as the copy in this blog post.


And when I get another idea, I tack that on too.

What this does is to keep the material flowing, even if it’s only 250 words. The next bit might be 700. Who cares? When I go through the book fleshing out sights, smells, and sounds, the feel of gravel on a wood floor in stocking feet or whatever, I can just pay a little descriptive attention to the sections that need it. Those that need more get more. And each chapter can be about the same length, as logic and structure seems to dictate.

As for a body in the first chapter, no one can really say just how long the first chapter of a mystery really ought to be, but I think in mine he’s pretty much in the first paragraph; or at least one of the bodies is.

As this series was inspired by Georges Simenon there is in fact a double mystery, which I sort of refer to as a ‘figure-eight’ structure. It has two loops, a variation on the circular story structure. Going by Ridley Scott, structure doesn't interfere with saying what we want to say, and it can cross genre barriers without losing everybody.

Anyhow, I don’t care if you’re selling a whole lot of books or just a few, but there is a whole ‘nother world outside that door and between my novel and this post I’ve done 1,150 words today. And I’m not a replicant, slaving away on some prison planet, doing the bidding of some evil master who merely exploits me like a steer or a hog.

The life outside that door is also worth living, and no one gets out alive anyway.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Interview with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author of The Davi Rhii Saga.

When you look back, has your writing improved, and if so, in what ways?

It’s a journey, so of course I am seeking to get better every day. For one thing, areas of craft I used to have to intentionally focus on in a later, dedicated draft are now internalized and incorporated from the start. I polish them in later drafts but the foundation is already there. For another, I am learning how to write with description and more emotion. Screenwriting stripped me of the need for it, which is my background and Bachelor course of study, but in novels it’s at the heart of bringing a story to life. I continue to work on that. Certainly I can see improvements in motifs and themes as well as how I build character. Also, ideas about how to deal with POV and find unique approaches to scenes seem to come easier these days.

You believe heroes don’t have to be deeply-flawed individuals. Do you often write something as a reaction to something else?

Actually, I think all humans are deeply flawed. I think depravity is a common condition of man. But what I don’t believe is that everyone seeks to rise above that and counter that nature and focus on doing something to make themselves and their world better. And those who don’t seek this are not heroic. They are the antithesis. Heroism, in some way, involves selfless sacrifice and a focused effort to not let your weaknesses drive or control you. Those who suffer their weaknesses get little admiration from me.

Why a trilogy? You spent over twenty years visualizing it in fine detail.

I’m tempted to say nothing here because you make me sound better than I will. I visualized it quite a bit as a teen when I came up with it. Revisited the idea a few times during college, then pretty much forgot about it until I was trying to write novels and had failed already at my first try. I remembered the antagonist’s name, the protagonist’s father’s name, the first line of the book and the basic premise. The rest was pretty much reinvented from there. I suppose subconsciously old ideas probably came back to me and were incorporated. But I had no idea what book 2 would be until I started writing it. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell the tale. It seems to have worked out. Going into book 3, which I start next week, I have a pretty clear idea now what that needs to be based on the others though.

Some of our fellow authors are English teachers. Does that worry you?

No. I freelance edit for pay. No one’s perfect. If they want to nitpick, fine. It doesn’t lessen my talent or value as a writer. And people make deliberate choices for voice or style to forego grammar all the time. Even those with English degrees. It may be a pet peeve for some other writers but that’s their problem not mine.

Tell us about this Davi Rhii Saga. What is the basic premise?

A prince discovers he was born a slave and secretly adopted. He sets out to find out who he is and what that means. Along the way, he discovers an injustice and decides he has to set it straight. This alienates him from family and friends, especially his uncle, who is the dictator enslaving his birth people. When he helps them fight for freedom, he becomes hunted and unleashes an age-old conflict. Along the way, he finds love, a new family, new friends, and a new understanding of himself and the world.

Do you tend to see characters as good and evil, or are there moral grey areas? One reason why I ask is because of henchmen, those faceless and nameless individuals. What sort of motives dictate their behaviour? Are evil henchmen victims too?

In line with my earlier comment, no one is perfect or completely good or bad. We all make choices. And we all follow our instincts differently. Some surrender to them, some fight them. Are some manipulated? Yes. And some know it and allow it anyway for various reasons. Are they accountable for that choice? Yes. When it’s a choice. When they are victimized, which some can be, they are more sympathetic but that doesn’t entirely erase bad things they did. You can choose not to obey if you really want to. You might be killed for it, but you did have a choice. And choosing to preserve yourself is a choice which can be selfish. It’s complicated, I realize, but in the end, it’s not a one hundred percent absolution.

If you won the lottery, would you still write? Would you quit, or would you simply hire the best editors, cover designers, and just keep going? What would be the motivation to do that?

I don’t write for money. It’s nice when that happens though. I write because I have to communicate and get these stories out and this is my medium for doing so. The fact that readers and others respond well certainly encourages it but I still get rejected a lot and all writers do. If it was all fun and easy, it would not have nearly the meaning, I think. But I’ll never face this question because I don’t play the lottery. I consider it a complete waste of money. Look at the stats. Whatever I do though, I will seek the best editors, cover designers, artists, etc. which I can find and afford to help me make it the highest quality possible. Always.

Like why do it at all, or why does it have to be more than a hobby? There is some mission as a writer, isn’t there? A writer takes some responsibility for the world around him.

The writer’s mission as I see it is to release stories inside him or her to the world and see what happens. They become a part of the living tapestry of the world and the world interacts with them. For some, that manifests in popularity, fame, wealth. For others, it’s almost unnoticed and continued obscurity. Some make a living or significant income from it. Others don’t. You don’t write because of what you want to see happen but because you have something to say.

As far as responsibility though, I absolutely believe you bear responsibility for what you put out into the world. If you glorify rape and someone imitates a rape scene in your work and says it inspired them, you should feel responsible, even though that person made choices. So I think you must exercise the gift, talent and responsibility of writing well. I don’t put stuff out there in the world I’m not willing to bear responsibility for, that includes sex scenes, language, certain levels of violence, etc. I write stories the way they need to be told, but I don’t buy the myth that they aren’t real or true without four letter curse words and graphic sex and violence. Because I think readers are smarter than that and they are creative. It used to be we wrote to stimulate and engage our readers as participants. Remember the “choose your adventure” books for example? Now, it’s almost like writers want to spoon feed them everything and control how the novel comes alive for and interacts with the reader. I don’t think you can really do that. So you write intentionally and with care and then you set it free. You are responsible for that output.

In a stand-alone novel or story, do you leave a door open for a sequel, even if you have no real ideas?

Depends on the story or novel. I think good characters, settings and stories always bode possibilities for further exploration. You don’t have to just set up open ends you can exploit. They are often organic to the story. Every novel or story is just a brief window on a specific period in the life of the characters and the world. There’s always more to be told and to know.

Tell us a little about your hometown, Ottawa, Kansas.

Ottawa is a town of 13,000 people in East Central Kansas just between Interstate 35 and Interstate 70. It’s 45 miles from Kansas City, 18 from Lawrence (home of K.U.) and about 2 hours from Wichita. Its downtown is on the National Historic Register for Victorian historic buildings. It has a rich history including one of the older private universities in the state. It’s blue collar and tends to be a bit more of the less educated, rougher around the edges people, but it’s quiet and safe, and not heavily crime ridden (outside of, sadly, domestic violence issues), and it’s close to big cities yet far enough out as a Kansas City satellite to allow a small town, less stressful life that’s very conducive to writing and healing for someone like me. It would be a great place to hold a writer’s retreat. Someday, perhaps I will.

If money wasn’t a problem, would you go off to some other country? Would that really help in the process of writing?

I would love to buy a place in Ghana and Brazil or somewhere and write full time, travelling when I needed to. I think my writing would improve because I would learn and grow so much and new environments and lessons always bring strong bursts of creativity. Plus it would infuse and inform my writing with new elements, ideas, themes, etc. that would invigorate the work and the writer both.

Your books are on sale right now? Tell us about the deal and what we have to do.

I’m offering a discount for a package of the two Davi Rhii novels and prequel short story ebook on my website at  as well as 33% off The Returning paperback and ebook, both signed by me, for a limited time. I also have contests to win copies by helping as book ambassadors, and a book trailer contest which can be found here:

In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancĂ©e, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Experiments in Publishing.

(See Active versus Passive Blogging. Photo by Louis)

A series of experiments in publishing.

For July, I am conducting a number of small experiments in publishing. The first experiment involves Twitter. Over the course of the last few months I was tweeting about two or three product links per day in addition to links about writing, publishing, the industry, and other related materials. For the month of July I have not been tweeting product links to my books. Most tweets were for Amazon Kindle books. Amazon is the biggie, and we all want to do well there. But it might be wise to stop chasing that best-seller dream and focus on building a core readership. If one thousand loyal fans bought one $2.99 book per year, that would be $2,000 in revenue. Ten thousand fans, buying one book a year for $2.99 would get me off disability. It really is just that simple.


I still crack the odd joke and tweet items of interest to my followers, and cross-post on a number of other platforms. With multiple accounts and some duplication, I probably only have three or four thousand unique followers, with friends and followers on all platforms adding up to less than 10,000 overall; e.g. on Facebook I have 1,492 friends.

The rationale is simple. Various sources have suggested that over-promotion is self-defeating and an audience becomes saturated over time. Often the solution is to continually build an audience. But the reach isn’t the only measure. Often there is no measurement of ‘quality’ in terms of an individual audience member. It’s also disproportionate, in that it might take a hundred new followers to generate ten real, qualified page views, and a hundred ‘good’ page views to sell one book. At this rate, it’s not a good idea to start buying followers. We might only make two bucks a book. Name recognition doesn’t take very long, not in any size of audience. That’s taken care of with a few repetitions.

Measuring results.

The way to measure the results of the experiment is very simple: compare July sales to months when we did tweet.

My second experiment involves Smashwords’ July month-long sale. All of my full-length novels are marked down 25 %, but I’m not tweeting or doing any other promotion except blog posts such as this one in particular. Page views are not high on SW for my titles, although I have given away about thirty copies of ‘Core Values,’ which is free on all my sales platforms right now, and it will be for some time to come.

So we’ll see just how we do without promoting a sale on Smashwords.

A third experiment involves the notion that we simply have to write more and publish more and this alone sort of promotes us effectively. I’m not denying it, and I’m not confirming it. What I am doing is trying to see if it works in my own case. That’s because each and every author has a different personality, and a different audience or readership, and a different set of goals both financial and artistic for the work.

Publishing shorts on an experimental bssis.

For this experiment, we take stories out of our folder, polish them up, get a free, copyright-free, royalty-free marketing image, an ISBN number, which are free here in Canada, and take some time to make an eye-catching ‘cover’ for it. Then we publish on Lulu, Amazon, Smashwords, and through Smashwords it will ultimately go into all the other distribution channels such as iTunes, B & N, Kobo, Diesel, etc. I’ll worry about Google books another time.

The rationale for this experiment is simple. I see other people, virtually all of whom are using pen-names of one sort or another, and they’re publishing all sorts of shorts on different sales platforms. Yes, Lawrence Block does it too, and everyone knows him. But I cannot and should not compare myself to Lawrence Block for just that reason.

Here is my new short story, 'The Jesus Christ Show,' available from Amazon, Lulu and Smashwords.

Why are we making the experiment?

I would like to know what sort of results unknown (or unidentified) authors are getting. I will publish two or three short stories in the next few weeks. This leads to another experiment: publish on Amazon or any platform at an appropriate time of day.


Basically, I plan on getting up on Friday morning and publishing a story. On Amazon, it takes about twelve hours to go live. Obviously you need to have everything all ready to go, including pic and blurb and relevant metadata. By anticipating this delay, I might get a story to pop up in horror, or science-fiction, (or whatever category,) during prime time Friday night. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on the short story in question. Also, will this have any effect on overall sales, surely the only ones that matter to someone with a number of titles?

Shalako Publishing was conceived in February, 2010. It has involved a learning curve from day one, and that learning curve is continuous. You can’t learn anything if there is nothing there to be learned. So what do we do in an absence of facts?

We experiment, and find out for ourselves. And that way, we don’t have take anyone’s word for anything, besides, what might be a good answer for them, might not be such a good answer for us.

We are all different, and so are our needs, our gifts and our aspirations for our work. If you were wondering about the photo above, it relates to active blogging, and it shows our results. Clearly, on this one issue, we are doing something right. Can it be done better? When I come up with a idea, I will try to do just that.

Comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting paid is part of the job.


If you’re going to write and publish, it’s important that you get paid for your work. Reading the terms of service from Amazon or Smashwords, it all sounds pretty simple. You fill out a couple of forms, or take a 30 % withholding tax cut by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. You can get a cheque, or you can get EFT. Fair enough.

This morning I picked up the form to get a birth certificate. I had one around here, but I can’t find it. As soon as I started filling the thing out, I realized why I didn’t get it done six months ago. They’re asking $35.00 for a replacement birth certificate, where a first time certificate is only $25.00. For a first time certificate, they don’t have to check previous records, only take the information. So it’s cheaper for them to do.

But they’re also asking questions that I can’t answer. Questions like, ‘What is the name of the doctor who delivered you?’ and I just don’t know. ‘What was your mother’s exact age at date of birth?” and, ‘What was your father’s address at date of birth?’ are questions I can’t answer off the top of my head. You can’t just make it up or try to be close. The reason is very simple: they’re going to find that old birth record, (hence the extra $10.00,) and it had better match up. Otherwise they’re going to send it back to you.

Okay, why is this important? This is about getting paid. I need a birth certificate so that I can get a passport. I need to send the birth certificate and passport to the IRS in order to get an ITIN. I’ve already had stuff sent back by them. That’s an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Then I send that form, the W8EN or whatever, to Smashwords, and then they send reports and forms and stuff to the IRS. This means that I can take advantage of the treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Then I don’t get a 30 % deduction at source for U.S. income taxes. The same basic process holds true on any other platform.

And it’s still not as simple as that. When you have books in Amazon, you either make $100.00 in royalties in any given month, and pay a cheque-writing fee, or you don’t get a cheque. My understanding is that all previous unpaid royalties will be paid at once, once this threshold is met. Otherwise it’s held in trust, at no interest paid. Or, you can make the $10.00 monthly threshold for Electronic Funds Transfer, (EFT.) Unfortunately, Amazon does not deal with Paypal, although Smashwords does, and in fact I have gotten royalties (and a 30 % hit,) through Smashwords.

People in the U.K. can get paid, because Amazon U.K. operates there. They have Kindle Direct Publishing. As far as I know, we do not have Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing in Canada. No one really saw this as a problem, because we can publish our books from Canada to the U.S., and through them to other Kindle stores. If you’re not selling a lot of books, or aren’t too worried about taking royalties just yet, no problem. But I would like the money. I need to invest back into the business. The problem lies in getting paid. Even if you’re not selling a lot of books, you need to get paid for your work. So the problem is, first to save the 30 % withholding tax, and then to make either the lower or higher threshold.

In April, I made about $72.00 across a number of platforms from my e-books. In May, it was about $66.00, and in June only about $51.00. Even so, this money would be useful.

Another little snag is in getting a professionally-designed marketing image. I have a Paypal account. In order to put money into it from my Canadian bank account, it looks like I might have to sign up for Interac payments. Yet I would use the account about four times a year or less, and of course there must be some fee or fees involved.

I’ve also heard of something called ‘Access USA’ accounts from CIBC. They have a branch or a partner somewhere in the U.S. and maybe I could get EFT payments into that account, and then transfer the money into Canada. So far I haven’t gotten around to it, and someone told me there might be a monthly fee.

Incidentally, the passport is at least $80.00. But I could just go across the river and open an account if I had one. It’s two kilometres if you’re a good swimmer. (Or, you could just take the bridge.) Then there is the whole series of time delays. It will take so much time to get the birth certificate, so much time for the passport, so much time with the IRS, and so much time with Amazon and Smashwords. Only when I have all this in place, will I get paid at the end of the next quarter or month-end after that. Bear in mind I have books on Lulu and Createspace…etc.

I can’t help thinking that all of this procrastination hasn’t been helping the process along, but it is a process and now I have to call my mother and see if we can figure out exactly how it happened over half a century ago. That whole 'guarantor' thing is bullshit, too. I'm supposed to drag the Mayor or somebody along with me. I'll bet it's a big effing runaround. Blame all those terrorist publishers, they're spoiling it for the rest of us.

As far as purchasing a cover image and paying for it by Paypal, which is what most artists seem to prefer, if I sold a story, and got paid via Paypal, then I would just leave the money in that account rather than transferring it to my Canadian bank. Then I could buy one fricking marketing image. That’s all I want right now. Right? So now, as part of my training as a writer, we get to learn a little bit about international banking, and electronically transferring funds across state and national boundaries, avoiding unnecessary taxes, et cetera.

The flexible system would allow me to withdraw cash while in the U.S. or Canada, transfer money from one country to another, and take royalties every month or quarter from all service providers when I meet the thresholds, either for EFT or paper cheque.

The total cost of setting this up will be something on the order of $150.00 to $200.00 and a certain amount of my precious time. The Mayor will require some buttering up, as I've been pretty hard on the silly old basket in the past. Everything is politics, and all politics is local politics...right?

If I think of it in terms of laying the groundwork for great things to come, then it will all seem worthwhile. Because it’s a necessary and functional part of my dream. Assuming you got a traditional publishing contract, you would still want to get paid, and all of this seems to be relevant to their royalty system as well.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Writing for escape versus writing as a job.

Proposed cover for 'The Art of Murder,' to be released November 1/2012.

When I first began writing fiction it was more of an escape than a job or career. At that time, I would write a few thousand words in a day, once hitting 11,000 words. That impressed me at the time.

Back then I was perfectly aware that I knew next to nothing about literary style, or even standard manuscript style. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was actually writing. What mattered was that I was experimenting, and learning how to tell a story. When I moved about a year ago, I burned seven or eight incomplete manuscripts, all manually typed out or printed on some early-generation computer that I didn’t even really know much about! But I learned.

Like a lot of writers, it took some time to become a professional. At that time, I thought I was being professional, and I suppose my basic persistence, an ability to simply work, helped a lot.

Stubbornness really helps.

It’s not like I hadn’t had a job before, right?

But in so many ways it represented an escape—a dream. I dreamed of making a better future for myself. When I was writing, nothing else existed. And I escaped into the worlds I created. At the time, my life wasn’t going anywhere, and I knew it. I knew it very well. At the age of about forty-four, I looked ahead to where my life was going, and how little I had actually done with my time, which as most would agree is precious. You can’t put a price on your own life. No one knows how much time they have on this Earth.

That’s just the way it is, and I was determined not to waste another minute. Can you blame me?

And so I decided that doing something was better than doing nothing. Don’t get me wrong. Working on a construction site at a job I liked well enough, and could do well enough, was a kind of satisfaction. It paid the bills. I was the best writer on that construction site. No one else cared, no one else dreamed of it in the same way. It was only when I got out into the world, the world where real writers live and work, that I was confronted with my own limited skill as a writer.

That’s when the professional attitude really began. There was no way in hell that I was going to give up on the rest of my life. It’s too precious to me. I’m too good a man to waste. Laugh if you want. And this was my dream, so I began to read everything I could on writing. I read about the industry. I read about self-publishing, and blogging, and promotion, and social networking, and economics, and science, and nature…the list goes on. I read comic stuff, odd-ball news stories, everything.

My writing improved. I don’t write quite as much. It’s not so much about escaping present circumstances. It’s about creating another world, one that is finely detailed, and into which some other reader might escape and find pleasure, knowledge, or adventure. It might be a place for them to have some fun, or even just to escape their present existence for any number of reasons which are personal to any reader. At some point I realized that I had a little bit of the teacher in me. What kind of a scary discovery was that? Pretty scary.

And now I am no longer a construction worker. Now I am a writer. From the time I first really began banging out the crap-fiction, to the point where I am at now, has been a long journey. It’s not over yet. It’s about the money for some, and the dream of glamour or adulation, or even just a nice luxurious life where you can do what you want and go where you want.

For me, it really is about writing a good book. I want to do it well, and I want to compete with the best writers this world has to offer. It’s a professional attitude. But this is the only attitude for me, and I’ll tell you why: I would rather a long and painful climb to the top, one where there is every chance I will struggle and fail, and in some ways become exalted in my human status, thereby becoming a much better person than I was before, than engage in some race to the bottom, into the primeval muck and murk of writerly depravity, in some ultimately futile quest for riches and praise, and hedonistic gratification of the senses…and no chance of failure. No, this is not about the money.

I would rather give my blood, my sweat, my tears and my toil, suffering and sacrificing in obscurity, on just the off chance that some reader a hundred years from now will read a book and enjoy my book and who knows? They might even get something out of it.

To say that you can’t do that with pulp or genre fiction would be a mistake. Authors long-dead are still read, and remembered, and loved for all kinds of works that at the time, and long since then, people have disparaged for one reason or another. Some of those critics are even right. Some of them aren’t even particularly good books. But still, lots of people still enjoy those books and get something out of them.

That’s my job, now. I've trained myself, and worked very hard to be in this position, just so that I could do this thing. In a way, I have already succeeded in my dream to escape. For surely I have escaped.

My life is completely different now.

Comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why people love a series.


I'm reading a book on Byzantine art. It's a big thick book and I've read it before. There is a strange sad moment when I realize I'm coming to the end of a good book. First, I'll have to find something else to read, second, it's like I don't want to leave that world. The world of Byzantine art is a tight little world, completely removed from my everyday world. It represents an escape from humdrum reality.

This is probably why a series is better than a stand-alone novel: people like the world you have created, and don't want to leave it.


World-building isn’t just for science fiction and fantasy. I have to thoroughly understand the world of Paris in the 1920s to write a mystery novel set in that place and time. If I do it well, the reader enters into that world and lives in it for however short a time.

My mother loves romance novels. She doesn’t read erotica. To please a reader like my mother, a book with romance is far preferable to a book with erotica. Not every character in a romance novel is particularly likeable, and neither is every character in a work of erotic fiction a bad person or the sort of person my mother might not want to meet. She never goes there, because she’s not interested.

My grandfather loved horses, and so therefore he loved Dick Francis novels, and Louis L’Amour novels, and Max Brand novels. Why he and my grandmother also had books on the shelf like Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, or Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason, or Ross Macdonald, or Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne mysteries is another question.

In some ways genre fiction serves a need for a kind of intellectual adventure, maybe even a moral adventure where all the generally accepted standards of civilized behaviour go out the window, and a new world is created where the six-gun rules, or where the protagonist cannot get any help from duly-constituted authority, (a common element in both westerns and Dick Francis.) Readers make a quick mental shift from their mundane daily existence to a far different place where the problems and solutions are not such a trade-off. In daily life, sometimes there are no good and easy solutions. We must often choose the lesser from a group of evils, and oh, wouldn’t it be nice sometimes if there were only two choices! But in some ways the world of fiction is a less complex world where the protagonist is written so as to be more mobile, and the needs of the body or even the family are downplayed.

John Wayne never had a home.

My dad always used to make me laugh.

“John Wayne never had a home—he always slept in the back of the sheriff’s office.” In some ways that’s very true.

Travis McGee had his cabin cruiser, Mike Shayne lived alone, Perry Mason had Della Street and Paul Drake, but again he was a bachelor. In a Dick Francis novel, the leading character usually met a nice woman, but generally they lived a more solitary, more mobile life where certain responsibilities were simply absent. Their weekly pay cheque is rarely in doubt, hence the rich and successful protagonists like Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd. The romantic elements, which is maybe a bit different from what we mean when we say ‘romance,’ in a Louis L’Amour novel, included a solitary protagonist arriving in some remote town and almost invariably making some sort of declaration for the heart and hand of the most beautiful (or often the only beautiful) woman in town.

Single males are mobile.

When we think of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, or Hercule Poirot and Hastings, we are almost invariably referring to single males, but of course that reflects some ease of writing. It’s harder to deal with a family man. James Bond was married in one book, and as I recall the lady was killed fairly quickly by the author. But Ian Fleming had to cut Bond loose, in order for him to have the mobility required for a fellow to go gallivanting all over the world fighting international conspiracies to start World War Three or whatever.

Readers don’t understand these limitations. They don’t care about them at all. What they want is a kind of escape, a kind of adventure, a glimpse of some exotic locations, in short they want to be entertained. The readers' imaginations are not nearly so limited as our ability to write an entire world, a good plot and some good characters and keep it in the 60,000 to 110,000-word range.

In terms of multi-generational historical sagas, these books are often 300,000 words, or end up as a series of thick books that draw a very loyal audience that loves that world, whether it is Regency, or the sort of world that Jane Austen talked about, or other types of stories that readers love. Even children’s books, ‘The Borrowers’ comes to mind, can often lead to a series that people love and simply must have.

Readers love the worlds that we have created.

Readers come back to an author because they like the worlds that they have created, and want to be there as much as possible. It’s not wise to disparage reader’s tastes, although some authors seem to do it frequently.

But bear in mind that teenage girls who love the ‘Twilight’ series of books will probably have them or similar books on their shelves thirty years later.

Laugh if you want, but you’d be better off trying to write something for an identifiable audience somewhere, and if you have any success at all in building a readership, be grateful and just keep going. When Jack Higgins mastered the WW II espionage/suspense genre, or Alistair Maclean mastered the thriller, or Robert Ludlum mastered his branch of the craft, they also mastered their understanding of their readers. They didn’t just quit and walk away. All of their work has certain common elements.

“Hey! I loved your book. When is the next one coming out?”

That is a pretty good sign that you are on to something. When I think of someone like Alistair Maclean, it doesn’t even have to be a series, it merely has to be in the right genre. That’s good genre fiction.

Comments are always welcome.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Virality of the Medium.


When I got on the internet three or four years ago, it was with a sigh of relief. I’d been suffering from frustration. A writer can’t compete in the modern world, without the internet and all of the opportunities to save time, money and effort in research, marketing and promotion. At the time I knew nothing about electronic publishing.

I always thought ‘desktop publishing’ meant spiral-bound books that involved binding a bunch of coupons from local businesses and then going from door to door trying to palm them off for twenty bucks to folks who were never going to use a tenth of the coupons but figured if they only used two or three they would get their money back. This always seemed like woolly thinking on the part of buyers to me, unless they were buying on pure charm, which maybe I don’t have much confidence in. Why would they want to work so hard?

Starting off with a free blog, and then signing up for Facebook due to an e-mail invitation from a person I had submitted a story to by e-mail, was a natural progression of events. At one point I had five blogs, but streamlined that after a while. Then I got on Twitter, and a half a dozen other social networking sites.

Now I have signed up for so many social platforms I can’t even remember some of them. I have a regular beat, and I am always trying to find new sources on any number of topics. The internet has gone viral in my brain.

But the virality of media doesn’t stop there. When I read that the more distribution channels you have, the more books you will sell, I agreed—why wouldn’t I want my books in as many stores as possible? So many more chances to make a sale, right?

When Apple iTunes opens up thirty-two stores in different countries all over the world, and when Smashwords adds a couple of new distribution channels, (one of whom has four of their own,) and when Amazon decides to open up stores, as they did a few months ago in Spain, France, and Italy, just as they have stores in the U.K., and Germany, at some point the distribution goes viral. That’s both heady and kind of frightening. Think about it. Maybe I’m selling fifty books a month on ten or twelve channels, but there are authors out there selling a thousand books a month on a limited number of channels. They might be in (or on) Amazon U.S. and U.K. and nowhere else. What about a million-seller? Like Amanda Hocking or John Locke; or Joe Konrath in any of his personas. Nothing is stopping them from being on fifty or a hundred or a thousand channels in ten years or so.

This helps to explain why there are so many new and unproven writers writing stories and publishing them instantly, many of whom have never in their lives submitted a story to any sort of editorial review. This is amazing, and a completely different world than before for a writer. It does not lessen competition. I think it increases it, for surely before, a good percentage would have backed off from a major pro magazine for their first efforts. They might have started out small. As it is, readers are swamped with millions of reading choices in one single online store.

Maybe my dream of selling a thousand books a month just got a little closer, because what started off as a half a dozen distribution channels is looking a lot more like fifty or so. I mean, at some point I can’t even count, because Google Books, (yes, I’m in Google Books,) has channels in the U.K., Germany, and other countries, including Australia, etc.

The marketing platforms themselves are in a race to go viral. If I did no marketing at all, in ten years I might be selling a thousand books a month just with the titles I have. I might never have to write a book again. I’m sure I will, of course. There’s that ineffable thing called ‘art,’ and the higher-quality products must surely win out over the long term. Under the old model, a book had six months to prove itself, if not, it was whisked away from the eyes of the public.

The short term looks pretty crazy. I say that because some lucky son or daughter of a gun is going to write the next ‘Twilight’ or ’Harry Potter,’ or ‘Hunger Games’ and go viral on a global basis. They might go down in history as the first billion-dollar independently published writer in the whole history of the world. This is a distinct possibility when you think of Michael Crichton, who wrote ‘Jurassic Park,’ which grossed about $914 million in its first year of film release, or J.K. Rowling, who reportedly made a similar figure from the Harry Potter books over the course of some years.

Incidentally, film rights, foreign language rights in print, film, video, game, display or electronic or audio media are still available for all titles published by Shalako Publishing. Contact the author via Facebook or Twitter for further discussion.

Last year I sold or gave away about 17,500 e-books. I made ‘x’ in revenue. Divide the revenue by the total number of books sold and you have an average sale price. In Canada, under the old publishing model, people were generally considered to be best-selling authors when they had sold over 5,000 books…at any price. Under that model, the percentage-ratio of freebies to sales was significantly smaller, although I don’t have exact figures.

I’ll let you know when I figure that I’m a best-selling author, because under the new model I really don’t know how to define it yet.

This year, I’m going to give away fewer books, make more full-price sales, and revenues are on the way up. What sort of a curve we can expect is a mystery and will remain so for some time. Anyway, I have to get back to work on my ninth novel, because the more products you have, the more the customer has to choose from.

I really don’t care what part of the world they live in.

Here is a more doom and gloom, 'The Dead End of DIY Publishing,' perspective on self-publishing. (The Phoenix.)

There is an interesting Kindleboards discussion here.

The only conclusion I have dreawn is that it's not necessarily a dead end, but a different way to begin.

As an added bonus feature today, here are some Frank Herbert quotes from 'Dune.' (Generation Terrorists.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How to set up a Kindle, setting up Netflix and TV.

Courtbean's Kindle

How to set up your Kindle

When you come home with your Kindle new in the box, you must first charge it and power it up. According to Amazon, it takes 4-6 hours. While charging, an amber light will appear, when charge is complete, a green light will appear.

Charging and Powering Up your Kindle.:

Before going on to anything else, you must first register your Kindle. This is necessary so that Amazon’s content is available to the reader. Then in order to shop for content, (or at least purchase it,) you have to set up an Amazon account, and this will take a couple of minutes. Make sure your e-mail address is accurate.

These links load fairly quickly.

Here are the controls of a Kindle: (There are higher-end models with enhanced features.)

Buying and downloading content for your Kindle. (Video.)

Using your Kindle Fire. (Video.)

Browsing with the Kindle DX wireless. (Salon.)

How to set up your Kindle to watch Netflix and TV. (Askville.)

Download Netflix App. (Android. Free download.)

Good luck with your new Kindle and enjoy your reading experience.

Photo Credit:
‘Courtbean’s Kindle.’ Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 Courtney Boyd Meyers