announcement

DETROIT 2020 2nd Edition Release and Sale

Hey loyal blog readers,

Just a short post to tell you DETROIT 2020 2nd Edition is now available!

After a long wait, the upgraded version of Dagger and Julia’s action-packed adventure through “Free Detroit” is now available for purchase on Amazon.

It features:

  • A cool new cover by artist Christoper Torres and Designer Kevin Noonan
  • A new layout and additional professional edit (now with 350% less typos!)
  • Previously deleted scenes and an expanded story that give you more details about the gritty world of “Free Detroit” and its citizens

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If you already own Detroit 2020, great news, it’s a FREE UPGRADE. If your Kindle has auto-updates enabled you should get 2nd Edition the next time you open it.

If you’ve never read it before, now is a great time to jump in because it’s on sale for just 99¢ to celebrate the re-release. Grab a copy while it’s cheap and see what all those 5-star reviews on Amazon are about!

Jeff and I also want to thank all of our friends and family that made this project possible. You’d be shocked at how much work was. Seriously, to everyone involved who has supported us in making this crazy book happen, you’re the best!

(While you’re here, I rarely post about my mailing list, but if you’d like to sign up for it, you can do that here. I send a quarterly newsletter with author updates and news, and I’ll never spam you or share your email address.)

announcement, creative writing, publishing, short story

“O Unholy Night in Deathlehem” Now Available

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Hey everyone,

Hope you had a great holiday of your choosing.

A quick note that O Unholy Night in Deathlehem is now available from Grinning Skull Press. You can purchase the ebook here for Kindle on Amazon. Print editions will be available soon as well.

This is an excellent Christmas horror anthology and features my short story “Manufacturer’s Defect” among a bunch of tales by some great writers.

Plus, all proceeds go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation so these seasonal scares are for a good cause.

So grab yourself a copy, support a good cause, and keep those holiday feelings going before you take down the decorations and pop open the champagne to ring in 2019!

article, publishing, self-publishing

Free Books and The Devaluation of Art

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I’ve written on the topic of art devaluation before.

I’m a subscriber and regular listener of the Print Run Podcast because I enjoy their agent’s take on current publishing industry trends. In a recent episode, they touched on the devaluation of art, specifically books, and I tossed around some ideas that are now this post.

I’d like to talk about giving away your work for “free”.

First, I assume you want an audience. That’s probably our shared goal as writers and authors, right? A readership who connects with, and enjoys our work. (To be clear, I am not counting sending out ARC’s or other review copies to outlets. That’s a necessary part of any book marketing plan.)

That said, money is nice too. Even if you take those profits and reinvest 100% of them into pencils, cover illustrations, or an ink cartridge to print query letters for your next book, it can be a wonderful motivator to encourage the creation of new work.

Here are a few trends I’ve noticed over the past year–positive and negative–that seem to be emerging around authors giving away their work for free.

Less Authors Are Giving Their Books Away

It seems like “freebies” are less frequent, outside of contests, in major channels like Amazon and Bookbub. There are still a number of ebooks priced around a dollar, but I find that far more acceptable than simply giving work away.

I still look back on my Kindle giveaways as a mistake. Sales are one thing, but I gave away hundreds of ebooks and have no measurable way of knowing that they ever got read. While this may be a good strategy for authors who have an established backlog to get new readers drawn in, I have always felt it’s the equivalent of a sleazy club promoter trying to get bands to play free “for the exposure”.

The marketplaces are far too crowded to “get noticed” by giving away free stuff. It’s just an outmoded tactic. You’re better off giving away book-related chachkies at a live event hoping they convert paid sales.

I take less authors giving away free books as a good sign, which leads me to my next point.

Buying Books Is a Good Thing

Why? Because cost underlies perceived value.

In a world of supply and demand, scarcity breeds value. Since the “digital revolution” has essentially made scarcity a thing of the past, worth is reduced. Maybe you’re old enough to remember buying CD’s. One album that cost between $15 and $22. Now $20 will buy you a 4 month subscription to any number of music services that have nearly EVERY SONG EVER RECORDED on demand.

Ergo, music is effectively worth about $5 a month. Sure, your favorite song is still a priceless work of art, but don’t tell that to the record execs. Another example is the recent resurgence of vinyl records, which are relatively expensive, but buyers attach value to the highly analog experience of listening to their favorite artists on a record player.

What I’m getting at is when you price your book at $0, there isn’t much reason for readers to care about it. They’re much more likely to read something they plunked their hard-earned cash on than not. Even more compelling is the psychological phenomenon that they are more likely to ENJOY your book, rather than let their brain suffer “buyer’s remorse” after spending said cash.

Giving Away Books Hurts Authors

It hurts all of us. Seriously.

I hate the term “a race to the bottom”, but in this case it kind of is. I used to naively believe that self-publishing was a bold new frontier, and in many ways it is great. That said, the ingenious (and kind of sinister) way Amazon and other online retailers have allowed self-published authors to wage a proxy war against “gatekeepers” on their behalf is hurting everyone. The marketplaces are flooded, with prices going down the drain as everyone tries to undercut for “visibility”. Writers are generating an almost endless supply of books for Amazon’s horn of plenty, and sets readers expectations that books “should” either be cheap, free, or part of an unlimited monthly subscription.

It is insidious because you cannot really blame anyone without sounding like a curmudgeon. Everyone wants books. And why not for cheap, or even free?

Well, because ultimately in this cycle, authors don’t get paid. Even the self-published ones who see better return percentages need to enter the market at low prices and constantly fight the monthly tsunami of new releases.

It’s a slow erosion.

Books Are Worth It

To end this on a more positive note, if you put all this time and effort into making a phenomenal book, or busting your hump to find an agent and publisher, then you should be paid for your efforts.

Don’t feel like you owe readers freebies simply because that is how popular culture and tech have devalued art & media.

Writing is a craft, and craftsmen get paid for their time and skills.

So how do you feel about giving your work away? Have you ever given away free copies of books or submitted stories to non-paying outlets? Is it a strategy that has actually worked for you and your readership?

Tell me down in the comments.

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Why I Started Reading Less Books

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Oh Mr. King, I still believe you, but so much has changed since 1999.

Enter…The eReader

Reading for pleasure is one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve always loved books, and in our hyper-paced, media-obsessed culture, I look to them for quiet solace and entertainment even more than I used to. They are also a source of inspiration to study of the craft or writing, particularly in my chosen genre.

So imagine how my reading life changed when I got a Kindle as a gift way back in 2012.

The thing was a revelation. So many books all at my fingertips, and so much easier to bring on vacation! Plus, that Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and the untapped gold mine of authors giving away their books for FREE! What could be better?

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m totally burnt out on reading. My gusto to read has waned across all genres, but especially horror, and when I do pick up the Kindle, everything on it feels “same-y”. Yes, I am a writer and have mastered powerful descriptive techniques.

…And Then What Happened

After spending a few months with my Playstation in lieu of books, I got the hankering to read something new. Rather than immediately charge up the Kindle, I perused Reddit looking for book recommendations. I stumbled upon The Fisherman by John Langan, which ultimately became my 2017 Book of The Year (read it!)

It charted me on a new path with a huge revelation in the rear-view mirror. Moving forward, I would be extremely picky about which books I actually read, and consider each one as a valuable time investment.

Careful Curation

Reading less books is the last thing Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads want you to do. Right? They pummel you with nearly unlimited choices in an effort to get you just the right book to suit your fancy.

The fact is, they want your money. Quality (outside the measures of their algorithms) is fairly inconsequential to them. In fact, once you’ve bought the book, they don’t care if you read it or not.

I burned myself out reading too many crappy cheap and free books that were set up as “marketing funnels” (gross) or just tossed into the Amazon ebook digital sludge heap, and forgot what good stories were.

Aside: Yeah, I know there is this “anti-criticism” mentality in a lot of internet writing communities that masquerades as “only giving constructive criticism and support”. But lets get real, there are some BAD self-published and small-press books on Amazon. Ones with little thought or care put in before they got slapped up in the marketplace. I reserve my right to levy harsh criticism against anyone who is obviously just phoning it in. They hurt the rest of us who are legitimately trying.

I’m still refining my own system, but here are the key points I now read by:

  • I pay for books. Even if it’s a dollar. Print or ebook. Paying for the book creates a tangible relationship of value in my mind, and drives me to read what I purchase, no matter what I ultimately think about the book when I finish it.
  • I research before I buy. I’ve cut down on impulse purchases. They are almost exclusively limited to great sales on my various “Wish Lists”. Less books means a lower signal-to-noise ratio. Less choice equals greater happiness. I heard that in a TED Talk or something…
  •  I won’t finish what I don’t like. I am a horrible completionist. I used to keep reading books I didn’t like just to give myself closure, or under the pretense of “giving it a chance to get good”. No longer. Even my carefully chosen books must keep me interested, lest they be banished to the Forbidden Zone (a bottom bookshelf where my DNF pile goes to await library donation).
  • I study and contemplate what I read. I read much slower, and try to fully consume (mentally) what I read. Prose, theme, subtext. I give myself a few days in between books to really absorb and contemplate what I read. This is where I’m “reading like a writer” and gaining the takeaways to use in my own stories.

Not only have I re-discovered the pleasure of reading by reducing the number of books I pick up, but I’m also retaining far more of what I DO read, than when I was marathon’ing a bunch of stuff that just congealed into a Goodreads Annual Goal bar.

It came down to treating my reading time, and the books I choose, as a valuable commodities. Quality trumps quantity, always. There are now enough books on Earth to fill multiple human lifetimes, with more published every day. You should definitely be picky about the ones you choose to read in your own.

So here is Stephen’s quote again, updated for 2018.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot of carefully selected, high quality books, and write a lot.” – Stephen King & B.L. Daniels

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The Slow Death of Barnes&Noble

barnes and noble logo

Barnes & Noble recently laid off 1800 employees.

This is one more step along its slow demise along with other “big box” brands being cannibalized by Amazon and other online retailers.

On Monday morning, every single Barnes & Noble location – that’s 781 stores – told their full-time employees to pack up and leave. The eliminated positions were as follows: the head cashiers (those are the people responsible for handling the money), the receiving managers (the people responsible for bringing in product and making sure it goes where it should), the digital leads (the people responsible for solving Nook problems), the newsstand leads (the people responsible for distributing the magazines), and the bargain leads (the people responsible for keeping up the massive discount sections).

I’m conflicted by this news, because I have something of a love/hate relationship with B&N.

Let’s start with the bad points first

  • I don’t ever want to see people lose their jobs. Ever.
  • B&N handled this really poorly. Not unexpected from a large corporation, but still not right.
  • B&N becoming a victim of “efficiency” and “profitability” at the sake of no longer being an interesting place to drink coffee and peruse books. Ayn Rand ultra-capitalism in action.
  • One less place to purchase books in your neighborhood (eventually), and one less e-reader to foster competition in the online space

Now let’s focus on the “good” points

  • Barnes & Noble (and Borders) all but killed independent bookstores in the 1990’s. Their collapse will create a space for small business owners to rise up
  • The lack of any physical bookstore in an area may drive people back to their local library (we can hope).
  • With proper leadership, maybe Barnes & Noble can save itself and get back to selling books on a smaller scale (instead of toys and board games)

There are a few items I purchase regularly at my local B&N, mainly magazines, that Amazon doesn’t carry. Shocking, I know.

The problem is that Barnes & Noble has begun to reek of desperation, in all the wrong ways. Like other big retailers who had their predatory hay day in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and ignored digital sales ::cough, Gamestop, cough:: they are adopting wildly irritating tactics in an attempt to salvage their remaining customers.

I want to buy a book or magazine. I do not want to

  • sign up for your discount card
  • buy more things to “save money”
  • sign up for your marketing emails under the guise of “getting my receipt emailed to me”

These are all annoyances that make myself, and most customers I bet, just want to shop online even more. This latest move to eliminate their full-time employees aka “the knowledgeable people who will provide customer service” will only hurt their shoppers experience even further.

What do you think? Do you shop at Barnes & Noble? Will you sit on the sidelines, shopping at Amazon until you hear about the going-out-of-business sale to get cheap hardcovers?

I won’t mourn the death of Barnes & Noble specifically, but more what its collapse signifies.