Friday, July 29, 2011

V.K. Scott on writing influences

(V.K. is author of the well-written inaugural release DEATH BEFORE SWINE).

How Mystery Found Me
By V.K. Scott

It all started with a song.

When I was sixteen years old, I stumbled onto the music of John Zorn. Commonly described as a jazz artist, Zorn’s compositions range from experimental to klezmer to classical string trios to... Well, you get the idea. The guy’s eclectic.

Looking to expand my musical horizons, I picked up an album titled Spillane at my local CD store (remember those?) with the money I’d earned working the summer at Fry’s. I took it home and put it in my stereo.

My ears were happy. Clocking in at 25 minutes, “Spillane” was a musical journey through seedy nightclubs and rain-slicked alleys. Saxophone riffs faded into the sound of echoed footsteps and thunder. A man’s deep voice narrated: “I feel like I just smoked a deck of cigarettes and forgot to blow out the smoke... There are only so many ways a woman can undress. I thought I’d seen them all.” It sounded like, well, the soundtrack to a fast-moving film noir.

Now, the music won’t be to everyone’s taste (probably not even most everyone). But that’s not the point. The point is this: I read the liner notes and discovered that “Spillane” was, in fact, an homage to writer Mickey Spillane.

Mickey who?

I dug more and found “I, the Jury,” at a used bookstore. After knocking through it in a few days, I was hooked for life.

Mystery had found me.

I do think the seeds of my mystery love had been planted earlier, in reading the Encyclopedia Brown books and watching Columbo with my father.

But “Spillane,” the composition, and Spillane, the writer, were what did me in. It wasn’t so much the whodunit, or even the “howdunit” either. It was the atmosphere, the feel of slithering through a world gone wrong. And maybe, if the protagonist was smart enough, and quick enough, he’d live to fix a small part of it… at least until the next book.

Fast forward another decade and a half. My first book, Death Before Swine, is now out. I’ll give you three guesses what the genre is. It certainly isn’t hardboiled like Spillane (I’ve come to like my mysteries a least a shade or two lighter than noir), but the influence is still there, lurking in the background.

When I think back on it all, the whole series of events serves as a reminder to follow life where it leads me. Whether it’s to new music, new books, or the decision to self-publish, I try to remember not to be afraid of change.

So that’s how I found my genre. How did you find yours? Was it as simple as picking up a book with a neat-looking cover, or was your path more twisted, like mine? If you’re not a writer, how did you find your favorite genre to read?

For updates on V.K. Scott and his writing, you can read his blog at or follow him on Twitter at

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Disintegration on the Summer Book Club

As part of the Summer Book Club, I have a post on Disintegration live at (the same post is duplicated at the blogs of Cheryl Shireman and Sibel Hodge.

One of the Summer Book Club members, J. Carson Black, just signed with Amazon for its thriller imprint. The Summer Book Club is 99 cents for Kindle, proceeds benefiting the Joplin MO library system. It's free at Smashwords, Feedbooks, and other outlets.

We'll have a chat at 3 pm EST on Saturday on our Facebook page for the group

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stephen King Week & Book Giveaways

(This week's giveaway: sign up for my monthly newsletter at and a new subscriber will be selected on Aug 1. to win a hardcover of From a Buick 8. A random subscriber will also be selected to win a hardcover of The Regulators, written as Richard Bachman. US/Canada shipping only, international winners receive a PDF of my graphic novel DIRT)

I was reading on some forum or other about Stephen King and the inevitable "He lost me at..." Like with many modern writers of dark, imaginative fiction, King was one of the main inspirations for my writing--not necessarily because he was the writer whose books I grew up on (I didn't start reading him until probably halfway through his career), but because he is a talented writer achieving success in a genre that every publishing insider says doesn't sell, doing it his way and succeeding.

I've always considered him a mutant talent--a combination of intense literary gifts combined with a storytelling genius, mixed in with a commitment to the craft, a love of words, and a desire to push the boundaries. Not the least of his talents is the ability to sit in his chair and crank out thousands and thousands of words, which is an admirable trait in itself. I can't say I've read everything King has written, and I'm a bit behind on the newer stuff, but that's okay, because he's writing about as fast I can read, anyway.

I read Stephen King, and I say, "I'll never be that good." But something about him inspires me to be okay with what I do, and, more importantly, to dare to do it the best I can.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Austerity: Buying back your time

I've been fortunate to make a decent living doing what I love. I've always enjoyed work, whether it was my years as a bass player/dishwasher, a construction worker/poet, or a journalist/novelist. I've dug ditches in the pouring rain while wading in raw sewer. I know what work is.

And I have a keen sense of worth and value, linked to the value of time. To me, money is literally time (I've written a short-story cycle using this concept). If you work for X amount, then you have bought yourself X amount of free time, or freedom to do what you want. Most of my practical life decisions are based on this idea.

That house? Sure, I have a 30-year mortgage, but I can pay it off it in twelve (it will actually turn out to be fewer than eight). And my quality of life didn't suffer at all. I have never deprived myself of anything I've needed, though God knows I could stand to have skipped a few meals. I drive rusty used cars and use them until they fall apart, taking enough care of them to fulfill their natural lifespans but adding no adornments like studly hubcaps or headers or Thrush mufflers. I just don't care. Gasoline muscle won't make me a man.

Clothes? When I went back to get my degree in 1994, when I was working as a carpenter and maintenance man building student apartments, I found a box of fresh, clean clothes in a dumpster, tossed by some vacating student. I still have many of those clothes. I doubt if I've spent more than $100 total on new clothes in my life (yeah, and I know it shows, but measure how much I care...yes, one year, the time of my life I have earned back by not spending $25,000 on clothes).

When I went to refinance my house a couple of years ago, my credit score was through the roof. The only flaw was I didn't owe enough! Something had to be wrong with me! But I drove in with a ratty car and a lower-middle-class income (you're not all that far above the poverty level if you're a newspaper reporter) and I walked out saving thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. And I did it not just to buy myself more time, but to keep from giving more of my time to the bank over the long haul.

I try to share my views with my family, but it's hard not to come across as a stinky old meanie who won't let anyone have any fun, because all the words for "thrifty" seem kind of small, mean, and petty--miser, frugal, austere, pinchpenny, cheapskate--and imply selfishness, when in most cases, the opposite is true. I am lucky to live in a rural community where we value self-reliance and nobody's trying to outflash the neighbors with the newest tech toy or biggest SUV. In fact, we think people who race to the top of their credit card limits are idiots.

And yet our entire nation is doing it, like we collectively drunk some Kool-Ade in the 1980s and then passed it on to our children. I know people who are about to lose their homes yet have children with $100 a month cell plans. And I am sad to see people lose jobs, but rarely do I see people adjust their standard of living until they are forced to do so. People whose jobs are at risk don't start cutting expenses immediately--they wait and then hope to coast on unemployment checks. It's taken me about three years to (gently, I hope) display to my wife that as long as you have debt, you have no true financial security.

Of course, security is an illusion anyway. I aim for paying off the house, figuring that will be a huge monthly burden removed. But security only comes from faith. So I slip on the rubber boots I used to wear while wading in sewer and walk down to the garden, where God and nature have consistently kept their end of the bargain and always given more than I take. I hope to give back a little of the time I have earned, because I feel like I owe a whole lot. It's just not money I happen to owe.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today I talk about how I am not as good as I used to be over at Elizabeth White's All-Purpose Monkey blog:

Also talking writing and indie publishing at the WG2E blog

And my regular Indie Reader Column this week is "The Words Are Still The Same":

Working on a couple of interesting deals, and I have a HUGE event coming in September--and it's going to put money and gift cards and free books in your pocket. The best way to keep up is to either follow this blog or sign up for my newsletter at

It's going to be so crazy even I don't believe it yet...but I am pretty sure it's never been done and is likely to fail spectacularly. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sibel Hodge: Summer Book Club

Sibel Hodge is the newest featured author of the Summer Book Club. Get SBC free at Smashwords!
About Sibel…
Sibel Hodge is the author of romantic comedies and chick lit mysteries. In her spare time she’s Wonder Woman!

Her first novel, Fourteen Days Later, was short-listed for the Harry Bowling Prize 2008 and received a highly commended by the Yeovil Literary Prize 2009. It is a romantic comedy with a unique infusion of British and Turkish Cypriot culture. Written in a similar style to Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes, Fourteen Days Later is My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Bridget Jones. My Perfect Wedding is the sequel to Fourteen Days Later, although it can be read as a standalone novel.

The Fashion Police was a runner up in the Chapter One Promotions Novel Competition 2010 and nominated Best Novel with Romantic Elements 2010 by The Romance Reviews. It is a screwball comedy-mystery, combining murder and mayhem with romance and chick-lit, and the first in a series featuring feisty, larger-than-life insurance investigator, Amber Fox. Written in a similar style to Janet Evanovich and Myron Bolitar, The Fashion Police is Stephanie Plum meets Harlan Coben. Be Careful What You Wish For is the second Amber Fox Mystery.
Tell us a bit about Be Careful What You Wish For…
Be Careful What You Wish For is the second Amber Fox murder mystery that follows on from The Fashion Police:
For fans of Janet Evanovich, Kate Johnson, and Gemma Halliday...

Armed with cool sarcasm and uncontrollable hair, feisty insurance investigator Amber Fox is back in a new mystery combining murder and mayhem with romance and chicklit…

Three deaths.
A safety deposit box robbery.
The boxing heavyweight champion of the world.

Somehow, they’re all related, and Amber has to solve a four year old crime to find out why.

As she stumbles across a trail of dead bodies and a web of lies spanning both sides of the social divide, it’s starting to get personal. Someone thinks Amber’s poking her nose in where it’s not wanted, sparking off a game of fox and mouse – only this time, Amber’s the mouse.

Amber’s forced to take refuge in the home of her ex-fiancĂ©, Brad Beckett, and now it’s not just the case that’s hotting up. So is the bedroom…

All Levi Carter wanted to be was the boxing heavyweight champion of the world, but at what cost?

All Carl Thomas wanted was to be rich, but would his greed be his downfall?

All Brad Beckett wants is to get Amber back, but there’s a reason for the ex word.

Be careful what you wish for…you might just get it.
Amber Fox is a feisty, wise-cracking insurance investigator with wild hair.  Is she anything like you at all? 
Absolutely! She's got a lot of her in me but I'm not telling you exactly which bits for fear I might incriminate myself!
What was your favorite part of Be Careful What you Wish For? 
Ooh, that's sooo hard! It's my baby so it's all my favourite. I love the fact that it's got a solid mystery combined with a lot of humor, wit, and romance. Probably typing The End is my favourite part - then you know that all the ideas in your head have finally come together.
Will we get to hear more from Amber Fox in the future? 
Amber loves to talk so she'll definitely back to tell another story. Just try and shut her up!
How do you get the ideas for your books? 
It's all the voices in my head that make me do it. I write so I won't have to be medicated!
Do you ever suffer from Writer's Block? 
Sometimes. When that happens I usually drink a bottle of wine and throw ideas around with my husband. Well, that's my excuse for cracking the wine open anyway!
What's your favorite thing to snack on while writing? 
Nuts (no jokes, please!).
Do you plot everything before you start writing or do you just see where the story takes you?
I’m definitely a fly-by-the-seat of my Wonder Woman knickers kind of girl! I think I’ve got Plotophobia. I make most of it up as I go a long - creative or crazy? I’m not sure which.
What are you working on now? 
I'm working on some new ideas for my next chicklit novel which will be called The Hen Party. It's about a group of girls who go to Vegas for...yes, you've guessed it, a hen party. But they end up getting much more than they bargained for. I’m also hoping to start the next Amber Fox mystery at the end of summer.
Do you have any advice for aspiring indie authors?
First and foremost, you have to write a good book with a good blurb and cover if you want to succeed. But to do that, you need to learn your craft well. That’s the first hard bit over with! The second is marketing and promoting, and this is pretty hard, too. What works for someone else won’t always work for you, and it takes up a lot of time that you could spend on writing. But I’ve mingled with some inspiring and fantastic authors and met some great fans because of it. Would you get that if you were trad-pubbed with a marketing department? I don’t think so. Being on a personal level is so much more rewarding.
I think you can do anything you want to in life. You might have to go a different route to get there than you originally thought, but if you never try, you never know what might be. Go for it!
What do you do besides write? 
Promotion takes up a lot of my time, but it's lovely to interact with other readers and authors. I swim, do yoga, walk, read. Oh yes...and the occasional bottle of wine!
More about Sibel…
Sibel talks to WG2E about how she went from 200 rejections to Amazon top 200!
Sibel’s interview on The Eerie Digest, the Online Mystery and Hollywood Insider Magazine.
Sibel talks about plotting her novels on Traci Hohenstein’s blog.
You can find out more about Sibel on her website:
Be Careful What You Wish For is available from:
And Sibel will be doing a live Facebook chat at on Saturday night July 23rd at 6.30 pm UTC/GMT - which for the US is 11.30 Pacific, 12.30 Mountain, 1.30 Central, and 2.30 Eastern. She’ll be giving away an ebook copy of Be Careful What You Wish For to one lucky commenter!

For reviews and purchases of my latest novels: me on Twitter:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Simon Wood: Overnight Success 13 years later

I've been crossing internet paths with Simon Wood for years, since we both worked in the mystery and horror genres and occasionally showed up in the same publications. Simon was kind enough to grant me use of a story for my Curtains collection, and over the last few months his hard work built to critical mass--with some luck, timing, but most of all great storytelling. Simon is one of those writers who has you looking over your shoulder when you're reading, waiting for the next twist or betrayal)


I remember when Marc Anthony exploded onto the music scene a few years ago.  He described himself as a “ten-year overnight sensation.”  I loved the remark when I heard it.  He’d been cutting records for a decade before his first breakout hit, but everyone assumed that he’d just gotten into the business.  The comment let the world know he’d been working his butt off for a long time before success found him, and it also gave you an idea of his dedication to his art.

Marc Anthony's dedication is something I understand very well.   I’ve been working away in the publishing salt mines since 1998.  Whereas success comes quick for some, it’s taken its time with me.  I struggled to find an agent when I shopped my first novel, ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN, and without an agent, editors wouldn’t read it.  I found success in the small press arena where an agent wasn’t a necessity.  ACCIDENTS was published in 2002 with a modest print run of 3,000.  Sadly, the small press struggled with distribution, but I picked up some nice trade notices that helped my profile.  The good word of mouth failed to land me an agent or a major publisher, although there were a few close calls.

However, the good notices enabled me to pick up deals with other small presses.  I finally entered the world of New York publishing in 2007, but again not in the normal manner, which is common for me.  Still without an agent, I took advantage of a pitch session at a conference.  The editor liked what I had to say and three days later, I had a contract offer from Dorchester Publishing on a revised and updated version of ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN.  Finally, I had a mass paperback deal, but Dorchester was a small player in traditional publishing and the book never got the distribution I hoped.

Distribution is a harsh lesson I’ve learned over the years.  Without it, a book’s success is hard to achieve.  I went on to do four books with Dorchester, until their much-publicized financial problems last year.  I found myself in the unenviable situation of trying to promote a book that became unavailable part way through a book tour.

Just as my Dorchester problems were coming to a head, I’d been experimenting with eBooks by publishing my backlist.  I must admit I wasn’t sure what I was doing at the beginning.  I think it took me a while to understand that the digital book market doesn’t work the same way as the print book market.  In February, I relaunched my Dorchester titles.  Between February and June, I promoted one of the titles.  I learned that success in the eBook market is through recommendations from trusted sources.  I sent out review copies and press releases to websites and bloggers with strong followers and their thumbs up worked.

ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN struck a chord with people and momentum took over.  Eventually, someone, somewhere was mentioning ACCIDENTS daily.  The sales spiked in April and kept spiking.  By June, it was in the top 100 books at Amazon.  Then Amazon featured the book at the end of June and sales truly exploded and the book reached the #2 spot.  I’m quite frightened and staggered by the number of sales this titles has had in the last three months.  The nice knock-on effect from all this is that a rising tide raises all boats.  Over the last four months, all my titles have seen a boost.  THE FALL GUY has followed ACCIDENTS’ example by reaching the top 100.  ASKING FOR TROUBLE has done really well for a short story collection and I think WE ALL FALL DOWN will be the next to break.  It has been quietly selling over the last couple of months and I think it will be my next bestseller.

So, from an outsider’s perspective, my success has been recent.  To my wife and I, it’s been thirteen years in the making.  While my fortunes have rarely run to script, one thing hasn’t changed and that’s my dedication to my writing.  My single focus for over a decade has been to have a career as a writer.  I’ve worked hard at my craft, learned the ins and outs of the industry, hustled when I’ve needed to,  sweet-talked and strategized to get the one thing any writer desires—readers.  Finally, that’s happening for me.  Success is sometimes an accident waiting to happen, but it never happen without hard work and determination.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Indie Author Ego Check

An English professor started a writing workshop series here in our little Blue Ridge community (the unincorporated town of Todd: five rebel flags, three churches, and an old general store), and the first guest of the series was a poet friend of the professor's. I told my wife I was thinking of popping in to support it, and she was like, "Okay, Mr. Kindle Big Shot, maybe they don't need your charity. They're doing just fine on their own."

I think she was partly right. My intention was colored by "Hey, I'm a pro" thinking, although no one there would know it. Like maybe going to a poetry reading would be slumming, and I'd be sitting their smirking while plotting to earn my Kindle millions. But part of it was curiosity, and, to be honest, a need to get an infusion of passion for words. Sitting here consuming author blogs and publishing threads is a sure way to go bonkers. "Oh my God, my Kindle rank slipped, the bubble has burst!"

And so much of the current conversation, of which I am a willing participant, is about the state of the publishing industry, marketing, pricing, how often to tweet, who is signing a deal with whom, that I am not even enjoying it that much, even when I am on the verge of the biggest success of my life.

And here comes Joseph P. Wood, driving 11 hours, leaving his family in Tuscaloosa, AL while they are closing on a new house, to read his poetry to an audience of half a dozen. He apologized beforehand, pledged not to take too long, and then proceeded to rock the house with tremulous passion and great literary gift. He exposed himself through his words and cadence, fit words together into dangerous and exciting new imagery, crucified himself and then rolled away the stone.

At the end, he wasn't pushing his Twitter handle or Facebook page. Although he works as a professor, he doesn't need to publish his poetry, and he still does it the old-fashioned way, by querying small presses. The word "Kindle" never came up. There were handmade broadsheets for sale, and he sheepishly admitted he only had five copies of his collection I & We that the publisher had given him. He didn't care if he sold them, but he'd take whatever we wanted to pay.

He spent his own money and days of his life to come share his words, with no hope of compensation or audience building. And he brilliantly said, while obliquely sidestepping the need for "meaning" in poetry, "When I write it, it's mine, but once I share it, it's the reader that possesses it."

He didn't rant about his blog (where you can read how "stoked" he is to be coming to the reading) or direct us to his Amazon "Buy" Page, or even mention his website. He didn't reel in social-media followers. He didn't say traditional publishing was doomed or that paper was dead or that all agents are leeches. ("I’ll save the fancy talk–it’s about why do we believe things in poems.")

Here I was thinking about which character I needed to kill off to gain audience sympathy, which book to write next to reinforce my brand, how to move around my price points to maximize income, how to raise my marketing profile. And I wasn't even sure if I believed in a damn thing I wrote anymore.

Afterward, he said reading always embarrassed him, because he got so passionate and put it all on the line and expected everybody to run away. Me, all I wanted to do was get more product out. Joseph, you rock. It's me who is embarrassed.

Today I just want to write one good sentence.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kevin Bozard: Writing to Please

I met Kevin years ago, back when I was a "real author" and he'd driven up with his mother to one of my book signings in North Carolina. He's never let go of the dream, even when life tells us writing doesn't matter, and he's also following some of my writing advice--hopefully he is picking the correct half, although I am not sure which that is. Ladies and gentlemen...Kevin.)

A writer's life is often boring, even if a little frenzied at times. I'm no exception. I'm one of those unknown authors that's looking for just a little light to fall on me from the top. A little more than ten years ago, I did a lot of reading, but I had never considered writing. It was while reading one of my favorite authors that I got the idea to try my hand at crafting a novel. I thought this would be a simple task, but I was in for a rude awakening, and a serious reality check.

I spent the next 18 months writing my novel, and the question now was, how do I get it published?

In my search to find representation, I also found that there were authors that were self publishing, and this was something that I entertained a thought of doing, even though everything I read about self publishing, said not to do it. I waited another 6 months or so, before finally self publishing my book.

During this time, I kept reading everything I could find, and this is when I stumbled upon a copy of The Red Church, by Scott Nicholson. I read the book, and loved it. I felt that Scott was someone I needed to get to know. I learned a lot from Scott by reading his articles on his website, but I never asked him the thousands of questions I wanted to ask. Questions that sometimes I regret not asking.

Local reaction to my novels was good, but I didn't really care about the money.  I was more interested in writing to please my readers at this point.

After the excitement died down from the second novel, I began writing a third. This was a novel that would almost end my writing career, due to circumstances beyond my control. A few years passed, and I dabbled with writing, but didn't put a lot of effort into it. Strangely enough, it was a friend from another hobby that sparked the fires of writing again. I wrote a third novel, and found that the publishing world had changed a bit. A lot of the authors I'd met in the beginning were now self-publishing themselves. This was where a lot of writers were headed, so I decided to follow the pack.

These new inspirations helped to breathe life in this otherwise defunct writer, and I'm excited about the opportunities of publishing again. I enjoy writing, and that's what a writer's life is all about. I'm writing again to please myself, and to please my readers. After all,  in the grand scheme of things, that's all that matters.

Learn more about Kevin's books at his website:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

J. Carson Black: Summer Book Club

Facebook Alert!  J. Carson Black will be doing a live Facebook chat on Saturday July 16 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time at   Please join us with your questions for J. Carson.

How the Cult of Personality Inspired My Thriller THE SHOP

When I decided to write a new thriller, I had several ideas on the table.  None of them made the final cut.  The idea for THE SHOP came out of the blue, thanks to a cable TV news show.  

Come to think of it, most of my ideas come out of left field.  When one of these ideas strikes, it’s like being hit by lightning.  I get a tingle in my gut and then my mind starts working a hundred miles a minute. 

This time, my husband Glenn and I were watching cable news while eating dinner.  John Mark Karr’s plane was coming into Boulder, Colorado, where he would face charges for killing JonBenet Ramsey.  He’d been flown over from Europe, dining on shrimp cocktail and entertaining his captors—federal marshals, I believe—and generally having a great time of it.  Now the press was lined up along the airstrip in Boulder to cover his arrival.  Picture the private jet coming in for a landing, with all the pomp and circumstance of the Space Shuttle.  The reporters, the news vans, the cameras, the microphones, the breathless reporting on the ground and in the studio: an absolute frenzy!  

Glenn and I looked at each other.  This was a farce worthy of commentary.  This is the new American way: celebrity from nothing.  It turned out later that John Mark Karr was playing everybody.  He didn’t kill JonBenet Ramsey.  But he’d fulfilled his purpose—he’d fed the hungry maw of the media for a short time. 

Something could be done with this—the distraction of celebrity.  That was the seed for my story, THE SHOP. 

In the opening scene of THE SHOP, celebrity Brienne Cross is killed in her Aspen chalet, along with the four finalists of her reality show, SOUL MATE, and the producer of the show. 
I knew right away who killed them.  But why?  

Even the killer wants to know why.  And so he sets out to find the truth.

Getting a plot idea from the instant celebrity mode of television news.  Who knew? 
J. Carson Black is the author of THE SHOP—available for purchase as a Kindle ebook for $0.99 (USD)—a Summer Book Club promotion for a limited time at amazon US and amazon UK.
Learn more about J. Carson at her website and blog at
Follow her on Twitter at

J. Carson Black will be doing a live Facebook chat on Saturday July 16th at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time at
Please join us with your questions for J. Carson.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If you don't believe writing success is luck

I used to get really annoyed when J.A. Konrath simplified all writing success to luck. Of course, that luck has to be born on the back of hard work, because without the work, your timing doesn't matter a bit. And I've slowly come to believe luck plays a huge role in breaking through. I wish my humble success was due to talent, but it's not. A little work, a lot of timing.

You win, Joe. Now I am off to write my Harry Pottermore series under the pen name Steven King.###

M.J. Rose- The Halo Effect

M.J. Rose's erotic thriller THE HALO EFFECT is the first in her series featuring Dr. Morgan Snow of the Butterfield Institute, a sex therapist for a wide range of clients who is drawn into the investigation of twisted murders. It's currently on sale for 99 cents for Kindle. The book trailer is below. If you don't know M.J., she is a true outlier, someone who broke into publishing in the late 1990s by printing and hand-selling her own books back when self-publishing was still the supposed mark of a hack and amateur. Now she's come full circle and putting out her own e-books again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ebook subscription models

Angry Robot, a UK sci-fi press, is doing what Big Six publishers should have done five years ago. It's launched a discounted subscription model for ebooks. Over 12 months, you get 24 books at a savings of more than a dollar per title. That's not knocking it out of the park, but it's a bargain for loyal customers, and Angry Robot also provides an out in case people want to cancel (customers pay full price for any book they downloaded up to the point of cancellation). It not only seems workable, it is smart business and I expect it to proliferate.

In fact, last year I predicted Amazon would be going to a subscription option for Kindle books, mirroring its Prime program for movie downloads. The kicker will be how many downloads you get--if it's only one book at a time, it will be like a Netflix model, where maybe you check out one premium book while other, less-popular titles are freely available at any time. No word yet on how authors get paid under the discounted model, but I'd assume their percentage would be the same (with the publisher making the case that they will sell more books at the lower prices). I'll be digging more into this in my next Indie Reader column.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Listening to The Red Church

Currently proofing the audio files for The Red Church, which will be released through SpringBrookAudio as soon as I finish the proof. SpringBrookAudio is distributor, while Perfect Voices has an interesting co-op production model in which the author subsidizes some of the cost of the talent and then shares royalties on an escalating. The book is read by Aaron Tucker, who I hope will read more of my books.

Under the Perfect Voices model, there are four tiers--the more you pay upfront for the voice talent, the higher your royalty rate and the faster your payback period, assuming you connect with the audience. SpringBrook distributes the book through various sites like, and rights eventually return to the author. So it's a half-indie, progressive model in which the author has a lot of choice but also some investment.

It's odd to hear your own book being read, especially when the reading has dramatic quality. At times I forget I wrote it and get caught up in the story, and feel the movement instead of just intellectually analyzing it. The truth is, I often forget books after I write them and get startled when someone points out a line or phrase. I go "Huh, did I write that? Well, it's pretty cool. And it sort of sounds like something I would write."

Now time to write more. I am getting more interested in writing the third book in the series, ARCHER McFALL, which I have been thinking about for a year or so. Just a few chapters to go on the CHRONIC FEAR sequel before I decide what to write next.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Old Fart Writing Convention

It's been fascinating to watch the uneasy boundaries shift and sway on every frontier of the Ebook Revolution. The uninformed opinions, the narrow-minded perceptions inflated to universal wishes, the selective experiences designed to affirm a certain outcome of what the future will look like...

No, this isn't a publishing industry rant. At this point, the industry deserves sympathy, not vitriol.

I am talking about the "experienced" writers who formerly used their platform to warn against all the perils of traditional publishing and have suddenly become self-publishing experts. You know, the ones who used to sit on the Old Fart Writing Convention panel and stay stupid stuff like "The money always flows toward the writer" while they themselves gave 85 percent to a publisher and an additional 15 percent to an agent. That's like having your mouth at the bottom crack at the far end of the trough, even though it was the only meal in town.

Those writers were among the first to frown at self-publishing. Indeed, another Old Fart panel staple was "Never self-publish." Then, when self-published writers were kicking their asses in sales, and the Kindle catapulted unknown writers over those who had been laboring on contract work for decades, they blinked and looked around, wondering why nobody was sitting before the Old Fart panel anymore.

The reason was because everyone was across the hall in the "How to Self-Publish" panel. The Old Farts, seeing their panel had been abandoned, went to the doorway to peek in. No, they couldn't enter, because this was turf they didn't rule. Entering would be admitting they were out of date and their time maybe had passed. Worse, that their advice was not only worthless, it was actually harmful.

With time, the Old Farts went in and sat in the back room of Self-Publishing, and soon worked their way up to the front seats. By making comparative judgments based on their "experience" ("Blah blah self-publishing should work like THIS because THIS is how publishing used to work. You need to go from A to B to C."), soon the Old Farts were back on the panel. After so many decades, it was assumed they had knowledge. However, it was like Copernicus trying to explain Hawking's theories, something based on an entirely different set of rules that were still inventing themselves.

Unfortunately for anyone who takes Old Fart advice, publishing books hasn't gone from A to B to C. It jumped to D-and-a-half. The writers who had no traditional publishing experience started at D and moved ahead of all the "experienced" writers. The Old Farts are still hanging on to B because it more closely links them to A, an era where A mattered and they mattered. The writers at D-and-a-half don't have any use for A advice, and the newer D writers who listen to A advice tend to move back to B or C.

Heck, I'm kind of an Old Fart myself at this point, even though I'm not enough of one to star on an Old Fart Writing Convention panel. And I am probably wrong about what's going to happen with ebooks and writers. But I'm equally sure the other Old Farts are probably wrong. If it comes down to it, I'm going to trust my D experience and tune out A, B, and C.

I guess the only advice this Old Fart has to offer today is to not listen to Old Farts. Let them serve you drinks in the hospitality suite, nod at their war stories, and then go to back to your room and create E, F, and G.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cheryl Shireman: Summer Book Club

Cheryl's one of the dynamos behind the Summer Book Club, in which nine bestselling writers are selling and giving away a book (free at Smashwords) to raise awareness of the Joplin MO Library Relief Fund.


I’m a Baby Boomer. Which means that I remember bell-bottoms, Happy Days, and having only three channels on the television. I played Donny Osmond albums on a record player. My parents watched Gunsmoke, and on Sunday nights we all watched The Wonderful World of Disney. In the living room. Together. On the only television we owned. Imagine that! I remember the first time I saw Bonanza in color. I remember the first time I heard about remote controls for televisions. The whole idea seemed ridiculous. With three channels, really, how often would it be needed? I remember the Watergate hearings playing on the television when I came home from school.  

I also remember watching feminists (does anyone use that word anymore?) burn their bras and march for equal rights. I grew up believing that a woman deserves equal pay for equal work and that a woman is not defined by the man she marries or by the children she gives birth to. In fact, we were told that both men and children were optional. The idea seemed revolutionary at the time. It still does. Women were mad as hell and they weren’t taking it anymore. We called it Women’s Liberation, and though it was never said, it was certainly implied (and believed in most circles) that a woman who did not work was a bit inferior to a career woman.

That was when such women were called housewives and not “stay at home” moms. Women were divided into two groups – those who worked and those who didn’t. Back then, no one thought that staying home and taking care of a family and home was work. The women of my generation wanted more, demanded more, and believed we were entitled to just that – more. We sometimes looked at our own mothers, most of whom did not have real jobs, as women who simply did not understand that there was more to life than being a mother. If truth be told, we thought they were a bit simple-minded and we secretly vowed to do more with our lives. 

And yet…as this Baby Boomer looks at her life, I realize nothing I have ever done, or will ever do, is as important as being a mother. Not career, volunteer work, graduate school, or any creative pursuit. Nothing else even comes close to being a mother. Period.

One of my children lives half an hour away, another is one state away, and the third is on the other side of the world in Denmark. Yesterday, my husband and I spent the entire day with our two-year-old granddaughter. She then spent the night. As I write this, I hear her gentle breathing in the baby monitor positioned atop the table close to where I sit.

To say that my children, and now my granddaughter, have filled my life with love and joy is an understatement. As children, they expanded my heart in ways I could never have imagined. For the first time in my life, I not only understood, but received unconditional love. As adults, they are three people that I know I can always count on. They will always be there for me. Just as I will always be there for them. Can you say the same about your career?

There used to be a tv show called Fantasy Island. People visited the island and lived out their fantasies – no matter how wild (okay, not that wild – this was primetime family tv in the seventies). Not too long ago, my husband and I had a discussion about that old tv show and asked each other – What would your fantasy be? Mine was easy. If I could have a Fantasy Island day, I would relive one day with my children. My son would be 10, which would make my daughters 4 and 2. We would spend the day doing whatever they wanted. Going to the park, going to the movies, playing games, baking cookies, or just sitting on the floor playing with Legos and Barbies. I would hug them a lot. And kiss the tops of their heads. And take tons of pictures. I wouldn’t cook. I wouldn’t clean. And I wouldn’t worry about my career.

I would watch my son show his younger sisters how to do things, like he always did in his older brother sort of way. I would watch my 2 year-old daughter follow her older 4 year-old sister around the room, shadowing her every move. Just as she did, even through their college years when they shared an apartment near Indiana University. I would watch the older sister taking care of her younger sister, as if she were her baby. Which is what she called her when she was born – my baby.

Bedtime would be later than usual on that fantasy night. I would tuck them into their beds, fresh from baths and smelling of shampoo. The girls smelling like baby lotion. My son would hug me goodnight with his long skinny arms and tell me he loves me. And I would feel the truth in that. I would tuck in my girls and tell them it is time to go to sleep. I would take extra care in covering the older girl’s feet, because she always kicked her blankets off during the night. I would kiss the baby and hold her a little longer, because I would know that, as I type this she is in Denmark which makes visiting tough.

And, as I walk down the hall and turn out the lights, I would call out to all of them, as I always did… “Goodnight. Love you. Sweet dreams. See you in the morning.”

And that would be my fantasy day. Oddly enough, it has nothing to do with my career as a writer. Even though being a writer has always been my dream. My first novel, Life is But a Dream, was published earlier this year. The main character, Grace Adams, is a woman facing an empty nest and the possible demise of her marriage. Grace withdraws to a secluded lake cabin to redefine her life and try to find a reason to continue living. While at the lake, Grace not only finds renewed purpose and hope, but when things take a turn for the worse at the lake, she finds a strength she never knew she possessed. The novel is thought-provoking, sometimes frightening, and often funny (just like life). It is also, very definitely, fiction. 

Even though my “nest” is empty, I am enjoying this time and this new focus on my career. I am not suicidal or lacking in purpose. My husband and I both work from home (he designs websites), we live on a lake, and our schedule is our own. It is truly a wonderful time in our lives. Sometimes I have popcorn for dinner. Enough said. 

But, would my current life be as wonderful if I had not pursued career and graduate school and developed the skills I am using now? Probably not. I managed to combine work and school and motherhood. I believed I could have it all, and do it all, but to be honest – the kids always came first. And being a mother is the strongest and best part of my identity. It is the thing I am most proud of. My greatest achievement. And, once in a while, I miss those days when toys where scattered across the floor, the washer was always running, and we bought eight gallons of milk a week.

If you have children at home, cherish those simple every-day moments with them. They really will be gone in the blink of an eye – sooner than you can possibly imagine. Get off of your computer. Now. Go sit on the floor and play a game. Pop some popcorn, put on one of their favorite movies, and cuddle up on the couch. Live that “fantasy” right now. You will never be able to recapture these moments again. Enjoy them now. There is no greater gift than the love of your children. Spend the rest of your day letting it pour over you. And pour your love right back over them.

As I type this, I can hear my granddaughter waking up. I am shutting my computer off, too. Right now, I am going to go upstairs and scoop her up from her crib. She will probably wrap her little arms around my neck and ask, “Play blocks, Bomb Bomb?”

And we will play blocks.
Cheryl Shireman is the author of Life is But a Dream which can be purchased as an ebook for 99 cents at Amazon US  Amazon UK  Barnes&Noble  or as a paperback for 11.99 at the Amazon locations. Learn more about Cheryl at her website and blog at or by following her on Twitter or on Facebook or her books page
She will be doing a live Facebook chat on Saturday July 9th at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time at  Please join us with your questions for Cheryl!
 (thanks for stopping by, Cheryl!)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday round-up

I'm gearing up for a super dooper giveaway/promo event in September and I'm looking for a core handful of supporter/promoters to spread the word about my books and earn lots of gift cards and good old American cash. I'm still formulating the details but if you're eager and willing, then the more you promote, the more you earn. Details to come, but a good first step is to sign up for my monthly newsletter:

In other news:
I posted on "Author Empires" and J.K. Rowling's massive self-publishing venture at Indie Reader:

I've signed to do short stories in Z: Zombie Stories for Nightshade Books and Unnatural Disasters edited by D.J. Pyle. I think I have a couple of other stories coming, and book news dead ahead, some of it having to do with Chronic Fear (which was originally going to be released June 21).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Self-Publishing Agents: Unnecessary Evils

Two prominent names in self-publishing (Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath) are presenting the case that agents have a desirable role as facilitators for authors who choose to self-publish. Barry makes a rational argument at Joe's blog, and Joe himself is trying it with his existing agent. The basic premise is the agent handles the cover, the formatting, and the uploading and derives a 15 percent commission (the same commission the agent would make selling a book to a U.S. publisher). Joe calls them "estributors" but they are not distributing the book to readers, they are distributing them to distributors, which puts them more in a wholesale role, except of course they aren't selling anything.

I respect their experience (Barry is married to an agent, and he'd probably BE a good agent if he so chose), and Joe is probably the most educated self-pubber on the planet, but I just don't see why agents should be considered ideal candidates for this task. What is an agent's current job and experience? To assess a manuscript and find a market.

In self-publishing, they do neither. Their assessment skills have zero value in self-publishing. Right now they assess with one measure: can I sell this to one of the few dozen editors in New York? Self-publishing requires no assessment, unless the agent says, "Whoa, this is crap, you can't publish this!" And who is going to lose their 15 percent to be that blunt? The agent's second role and experience is also rendered useless. The market is already there, and it's the millions of readers owning electronic devices or ordering print-on-demand books.

Presumably they aren't editing the manuscript (which is a different skill that an agent may or may not be qualified for), but it's certainly not a task the facilitator is handling. Let's assume the facilitator knows cover artists. You still have to describe the book, send suggestions, approve the cover file, and basically DO EVERYTHING you would have done on your own except make the first contact (find your own designer) and the last (upload the final file). And you're paying for it, I assume, unless the facilitator is footing some risk and cost.

Okay, the agent can format your file, or have that service arranged. Ted Risk at Dellaster Design will do a very clean epub and mobi for $89. A one-time fee with a fast turnaround time. The "facilitated" author still has to email the MS Word file to the agent/self-pub facilitator, who then sends it to a formatter or has one in-house. The author has merely saved two steps: (1) receiving the formatted file back from the formatting service and (2) uploading it to the markets.

Even if the agent/self-pub facilitator is writing the product description, that won't be written in a vacuum. The author will still have to outline it,  proof it, and suggest keywords, because even IF the agent reads the book, the agent will never understand it as well as the author (this is actually true of the cover design, too). Time saved: not much. It actually sounds like more work to me.

Employing someone in this role means giving up 15 percent for the entire life of copyright, for a book remaining on sale forever, for a job not only saving the author hardly any time at all, but possibly even CREATING MORE WORK FOR THE AUTHOR!

Yes, now you have an employee/partner to manage, and account for, and play email and phone tag with, and the money that could flow straight to your bank account every month will now be held by someone else who MAY, if you're lucky, dispense it quarterly, removing their share first. In my experience in the publishing world, the biggest risk in the entire venture is letting ANYONE handle your money when you don't have to. Too many things can go wrong. I am not saying fraud is likely, but imagine how hard it would be to audit Amazon if you thought your sales figures weren't adding up. And then imagine how hard it would be to audit an Agent/ Self-Pub Facilitator when sales figures don't add up from multiple revenue streams.

No, I am not suggesting all agents are shady and that 15 percent may magically expand to 50 percent under the table. But what would you do if it did? How are you going to audit six or 10 different distributor payments every month or three? Personally, I'd rather have my money shoot straight into my bank account. And in three years, when all the agent does is trim 15 percent before sending the rest on its way, and is not adding any new value at all, an author may just get a little bit resentful, even if everyone kept their word.

(Okay, I forgot the third role and experience of an agent: handling your money. Don't forget, agents are have no certification, degree, membership association, regulatory oversight, or even uniform code of ethics. Most are self-selecting English grads who moved to New York and hung out a shingle. There aren't a lot of accountants and MBAs on the agency rosters. But you're willing to give them your money just because they once were necessary evils?)

Okay, that being said, IF I thought such a service was valuable (and I clearly don't because my overhead on Liquid Fear was exactly $6 and a few hours of time, and it's earned me more than any book I've ever written, including ones that had dozens of fingerprints on them, and I get paid regularly, and heck, sounds like I'd be a better estributor than almost every agent on the planet, except I don't want to handle your money), I would prefer to have an experienced and downsized New York editor handle the task.

While an agent has never picked out a book cover, editors have. While an agent has never handled promotion, editors have. While an agent has never assessed a manuscript's value in the true marketplace of readers, editors have. While an agent has rarely handled layout or formatting, most editors are at least aware of the process, if not having hands-on experience. Agents handle the very front end of a book, an abstract idea with no intrinsic value. Editors are solidly on both edges of the middle of book production.

But the real question is, why would you assume anyone with experience in traditional publishing knows ANYTHING about what is happening right now? Indeed, it's the outliers who seem to be the most successful, not those who are most closely imitating the old model. I am not relishing the fact that a once-respected profession may soon be on the ropes, but I don't need my blood on the canvas to keep agents in the ring.

There's a great Harlan Ellison line in his story Mephisto in Onyx: "Don't confuse a thousand years of experience with the same year of experience a thousand times." If you want to be the monkey, you'll climb higher if you don't have a gang of carnivorous dinosaurs sinking their teeth into your back.

(Update: I talked with Joe a few days ago and under his deal, the agent pays for cover and formatting, so those costs are included in the 15 percent. Makes the deal SLIGHTLY better, but I still believe it doesn't save any work at all and adds risk and complication. Joe also foresees marketing clout one day but I have to ask, where is the agent suddenly going to learn book marketing in the digital era? Picking up a primer on social media? Writers already know more than agents. We've been forced to do so.)


If you want more of this type of insight imbued with passion and scars and joy, why not try The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success, on sale in July for $2.99 at