Aliens In the Soda Machine Update

Hey everyone!

This is just a reminder that Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales is currently available through Kindle Unlimited over at Amazon as a free read. July 29 is when that changes, after which point it will be available via Smashwords and their channels.

It’s kind of funny – this was always the plan, though it comes just after the latest freakout about Amazon. Which I posted about late last night. (For a take that is different than mine, check out Emma Leigh’s blog. )

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: Amazon and the review system

Okay, so before I begin this little rant, I need to clarify that I don’t hate Amazon. I have my books available through Amazon services, and I love that this is something I can do. There have been a few changes to services lately that are hostile to authors. (Not new in Amazon’s history as a business.) And there have been a few changes that seem a bit hostile to customers.

Before I unpack all of that, I need to provide context. So here are some links outlining the issues I am about to discuss.

First, we have changes to how authors are paid through the Kindle Unlimited feature available to consumers through Amazon Prime: http://www.inquisitr.com/2221623/kindle-unlimited-kenpc-explained-self-published-authors-could-be-looking-at-massive-pay-cut/

Next, we have the increased importance of reviews to the Amazon ratings system: http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/3bsuig/amazon_changes_its_rating_system_now_its_more/

Then we have Amazon deciding what reviewers relationships to individual authors are: http://imysantiago.com/2015/07/02/amazon-a-virtual-marketplace-or-big-brother/

Before the changes to Kindle Unlimited payouts went into effect, everyone who publishes through Amazon received an email detailing what those changes would be. Basically, KU will pay out according to pages read. It stinks for some of us, but we knew it was coming. As an individual, I can tell you that most of my sales do not come through KU. I am not stressed about this, but for a lot of us it eats a significant chunk of change. My stance on that was a sort of grumble and a shrug. Amazon, whether we like it or not, is free to change its business practices and we can always change where we distribute our work (even though right now it is the distributor with greatest visibility.) At the very least it’s a significant point of data for indie publishers to consider when making decisions. It is certainly a sign that it is not wise to rely on Amazon as a sole distributor. But we’ve had plenty of those signs in the past. I hope most of us are strategizing accordingly. I know I am. (The strategy to offset this stuff is to diversify channels of distribution. I enroll in kdp select for the first three months of an e-book’s life and then spread out.)

On the heels of this, however, we were made aware that Amazon plans to make reviews a lot more significant to a book’s rating. Okay, so reviews weigh more heavily the more recently they were posted, and how many up-votes the review received. It will also mean reviews from verified purchases matter more. I get the verified purchase thing. It helps to maintain the integrity of the review system if it comes from someone with a verified purchase. That part makes a lot of sense to me.

Okay, so the response in adapting to this, is to scramble for more reviews, if that’s a thing that worries you. I mean, scrambling for reviews is not new to indie publishers. We submit to bloggers and ask our friends who have supported the work by purchasing a copy to leave reviews when and where they can. It helps boost the signal of a book, spreads word of mouth, etc… Again, review systems being fluid and subject to change, for some weird reason, I don’t get anxious about them. I am grateful when they show up, because holy crap! Someone cared enough about this to take time out of their day to write a review when they were under no obligation to do so and what a gift! Hooray! Coffee for everyone!

Except here is where it starts to get weird and I think Amazon gets into some ethical gray area. (By ethical gray area I mean some seriously out-of-bounds shitake.) Here is where Amazon can say, “Hey, you know that thing we are always asking our customers to do? That feedback stuff? Yeah. We think you know the author so your gift isn’t good enough.”

Um. What?

I don’t think this kind of policing is okay. If that sentence sounds familiar that’s because it was part of a mini-twitter rant I had about this yesterday. How does Amazon figure out how you know someone well enough to invalidate feedback? Some of my harshest critics are people I know very well. Aren’t they telling a customer they just wasted their time? And why is Amazon defining relationships for you? It seems weird and hinky.

To be fair, there are author collectives that leave reviews for each others work, there are paid reviewers, and I’m sure there are a lot of other things that happen on a whole other level of shade that I am not familiar with. Here’s the issue, though. I have left reviews for other author’s works, some of whom I interact with via social media, some of whom I know IRL, some I do not know in any context except through reading, and some of whom I’ve since gotten to know better. I left those reviews because I had positive things to say about the work. Maybe it does look sketchy, but it was a way of showing support. Is it naïve to think maybe that I was doing a good thing? No one actually asked me to leave those reviews. I just did it. But I feel discouraged from doing so now. And if I feel discouraged from leaving reviews in the future, that suggests to me that there are other folks strictly on the customer side of things who might be reluctant to leave reviews because of the possibility that they will be wasting their time.

Oh sure, we all waste some time every day, but I don’t think we like to aim for that.

Another thing that I’d like to point out is that indie-publishing is not easy. It is difficult to generate buzz. We all start by making connections with other people, and let’s be real about this, our audience starts with our friends. If we work really hard, we can move beyond that circle, but our real life human connection is where all art begins to meet audience. That has always been the case. The internet has not changed that. It has perhaps made certain points of connection public,  but since when is it okay for a corporation to make a value judgment about the connections that you make?

My concern isn’t that Amazon is taking steps to enhance the integrity of the reviewing system, it is that it also appears to be making judgments on relationships between authors and reviewers. I get the motivation, I just don’t think it’s ethical.

 

Random Thoughts: Rites of Passage for Writers Part the Second

So in part the first I talked about losing work to whims of fate (okay, technology.) This time I’m thinking about a few other uncomfortable firsts.

We’ve all been at that place where we are perhaps overly enthusiastic about a piece of fiction. I’m talking about early on, before we really know anything, like how to figure out whether or not what we’ve done has any real merit. I kind of miss those days of relative ignorance, when your excitement about a project overreaches your skill and whenever you talk to someone you’re like a child discovering their own creativity for the first time, shoving coffee stained papers into people’s faces with the proud declaration of “Look! I made this!”

And then your friend, because they are your friend and as such are equally excited, begins to read the nascent piece of work out loud, in front of other friends and you realize for the first time how deeply “not ready” the piece is. It is so not ready, in fact, that you want to bury it and yourself inside of some undiscovered cave until most of the people on the earth have forgotten your name. Ah! The shame! The beautiful golden glowing story you thought would change your life forever is filled with overwrought prose and inconsistencies and resembles the scribblings of your pre-k self. You have unleashed this piece of dreck, in however limited a way, on the public because you’ve yet to figure out how to express the story that resides, perfectly, brilliantly, inside of your skull. You THOUGHT you managed to convey it well on the page, but alas… the opposite is true.

You are made aware of your painful status as a novice.

Part of your brain says, “But I have talent! I know I do!”

That’s probably true. But without putting in the work and learning stuff about craft, it’s all still scribbles on a page.

This is one of those testing moments. Do you love crafting stories enough to continue? Do you take that moment of terrible realization and turn it into  an opportunity to learn? Do you dig in and work harder or do you give up?

I know what the answer was for me. I kept going. But what about you guys? Have you had a moment like this? How did you respond?

Random Thoughts: Rites of Passage for Writers: Part the First

So, there are a lot of things that writers go through that are shared with anyone working at other professions that kind of suck, and then there are the things that for writers feel like the end of the known universe.

Last week, I was catching up with Devon Miller, who just moved to the other coast, and she experienced the dreaded LOST BOX OF MANUSCRIPTS.

I’ve done that. Lost whole manuscripts. Once to a computer meltdown, once to wind. Yep. That scene from Wonderboys where the main character watches thousands of pages ride the wind into Pittsburgh’s three rivers? That happened to me. Except it was a much shorter piece, it was not in a major PA city, and there were no rivers. I was later able to reconstruct the story. The second version was probably better. (That particular piece was the novella, Fork You, which appears in Panverse One as well as Aliens in the Soda Machine in Other Strange Tales.) That first piece? I did recover it, but you know, that was my first novel  so it is probably best as something that disappeared. It is easy to say that now. If I recall correctly, when it happened there was weeping. Probably drunken weeping. Of course, having gone through this I’ve learned my lesson, always back your stuff up, and do it in multiple ways. Also, maybe next time don’t drink so much when upset. Friends REALLY don’t like the drunken weeping. Unless it’s in a rom-com or something.

The novella I lost was a different story though. The first draft had been written on scrap paper at a job I was working, many moons ago. It fell out of a hardcover book I was reading at the time. I lost it on the way home where the plan had been to enter it into my computer. I didn’t weep that time, I just re-wrote it. I was frustrated but not devastated. I suppose that’s progress?

One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is to lose the very tools with which we ply our craft. In olden-times, that meant you broke your typewriter ribbon or there was perhaps no ink for your quill. “Egads! I’ve run out of parchment!” one might have exclaimed. You can see where I am headed with this, right? THE COMPUTER CRASH OF DOOM!!!

That’s what’s going on with me right now. No computer. Right now, I’m doing this on a borrowed device. It feels kind of wrong. My work is backed up, but I still feel a bit lost. It seems like I should be able to just shrug it off, pick up a pen and a notebook and perform the writing work as scheduled while I wait for Ye Old Compy to get fixed. I’m surprised by how anxious I am without it, even though I’ve been through it before. Here’s the likely scenario going forward: it will take a few days to get used to working without a net (see what I did there?) and then just as I am getting comfortable again, the problem will be resolved.

How about all of you other writer peeps out there in the blogosphere? What are some writerly rites of passage that send you running as if from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

 

Random Thoughts: In Which I Take Issue With Some Commonly Trotted Out Advice

Yeah, so sometimes I think I’m out of stuff to say about writing. When I keep hearing the line from Ani DiFranco’s Outta Me, Onto You going through my head, “You know there isn’t much I have to say, I would rather just shut up and do…” it usually means its time to ignore everything except working on the next project. I often feel that everything that can be said about writing has already been said about a bajillion times by other folks. But then I start to see some of the same old sayings floating around and it turns out that some of those things either need to be repeated or argued against.

I think the people giving the advice mean well but that it can fall short of being useful. I don’t think that when folks dispense writing advice that the intention is to steer new writers in a bad direction, but who knows. A lot of these are phrases that only have useful meaning after you’ve been doing this for a while.

That said, I have a big problem with the idea that if someone isn’t upset by your writing then you aren’t doing your job. It lends itself to the message that all writing is necessarily antagonistic and that antagonism should be the goal. I also don’t think that the level of anger in your readers is good barometer for your work. While it is true that anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, that is created by an artist and then comes into contact with the public has the potential to cause drama, discomfort and in some cases, rage, I don’t think antagonism is the point of writing. It can be for some. I think it is essential for certain kinds of expression (punk comes to mind) but with fiction I think writers can get lost in writing with the express purpose of being antagonistic. If that’s your voice as an author, then great, but I think maybe telling everyone that their work must be intentionally fight-inducing or it has no value is kind of a crappy thing to do. Particularly for new writers who haven’t figured out what they want to achieve with their writing yet.

The same is true about shock-value but I’ve also seen advice moving in the opposite direction, that to me seems equally bad. The old, “You shouldn’t write just for shock value,” bull.

Sigh.

Here’s the thing. Some authors will be interested in writing about subjects that are shocking. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. WE ALL GET TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS. Sometimes the work might be shocking or antagonistic. All of it is fine. But my point is that neither shock value nor antagonism is the measure of a good work. The measure, for the artist, should be whether or not your finished draft told a good story and accomplished what you set out to do. But advising people to write in order to make certain that they do shock or don’t shock an audience seems crazy to me. It is also something that is based on taste, and everyone knows that taste is arbitrary. Some folks like to read shocking, antagonistic work. Some like to steer clear of things that make them uncomfortable. That’s for the reader to decide. The reader doesn’t get to decide that about your work until it is finished and available for reading. (Also need to point out that what is shocking to one person barely registers on the freak-out radar for others.)

My answering advice is write what interests you regardless of its level of antagonism or shock value.

I could keep poking at that one, but I think that when you receive free advice from any source, think it through before you pick it up and run with it.

What about everyone out there in the blogosphere? What’s some writing advice that rubs you the wrong way?

 

Random Thoughts: The Writing Life – Stock Answers for Uncomfortable Questions

So, on June 7th I have a guest blog post appearing over at http://novelspaces.blogspot.com/

I won’t get too spoilery, but in it I talk about questions that people often ask authors and writers.

As an extension of that, I have a few stock answers that you may feel free to use in the event that you, writer, are asked an uncomfortable writing question.

(These are not serious, by the way. I’m pretty sure following this template will guarantee that people stop asking, though, if that’s your goal.)

Q: How many books did you sell?

A: A bunch. OMG! DO YOU SEE WHAT THAT SQUIRREL IS DOING TO THE STUFFED PANDA IN AISLE SIX?

Q: Is that really how you have sex?

A: Stop trying to flirt with me!

Q: What do you wear when you do your writing?

A: Seriously, stop trying to flirt with me! Your spouse is right there. Also it’s not very sexy. *coughmumbles Union suit.*

Q: Could you write me into your story? Especially into a steamy sex scene?

A: Oh, you mean like where you get chopped up and steam-cooked with rice and vegetables? Like that? Wow. That’s weird. Are you sure you’re okay?

Q: Do you know James Patterson?

A: Are you talking about your sock puppet friends again?

Q: Did you finish writing that book yet? What’s taking so long?

A: Well, it needs to make sense when it’s finished, so there is that.

Q: So that scene in your book… That’s about me, isn’t it?

A: Um, no. And stop it.

Q: Also, how are sales? When are you going to see some money from this?

A: As soon as you wave some in front of my face and buy this copy I happen to have right here.

Q: Do you have a deadline?

A: *looks at watch* Shouldn’t you be at work?

Q: Soooo, how DO you pay the bills?

A: On time.

Q: Have you published anything lately?

A: IF YOU REALLY CARED YOU WOULD ALREADY KNOW THAT! *runs away crying*

Random Thoughts: The Writing Life – Genre Hopping

So on May 28, my friend (and the person who wrote the introduction for Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales)  wrote this excellent blog post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University and in it he mentions genre hopping. It is something that I have a tendency to do. What Dario says in there about experiencing great success with a non-fiction travel book versus the excellent thriller Sutherland’s Rules got me thinking about that. Genre distinctions are useful in terms of pointing potential audience in the direction of fiction that they might like, from the publishing standpoint it’s a marketing category. Genre tells publishers something about audience and gives them/us a starting point in terms of how to market a work. For indie publishers, particularly just starting out, we are just beginning to navigate marketing. When we genre hop, we set ourselves up for extra challenges in that regard. Moving from contemporary fiction to, for example, a  collection of short stories in the new weird genre as I have done between Haunted and Aliens in the Soda Machine can mean that we are starting from scratch between marketing approaches. What is more interesting to me (and probably tells you where my heart really is in all of this) is the writing process, and what leads us, as authors in the process of creation, to do things like genre hop when conventional wisdom indicates that we shouldn’t do it. I think, in my case, it starts with reading habits that began well before I started to write fiction seriously. I’ve always read widely. Even since I was a little kid. I read everything I could get my hands on. When I ran out of books I would break into my parents’ collection and read things meant for adults. I think what that has meant for me in terms of writing is that my writer brain refuses to align itself with a singular category. The stories that take proto-shape in my head naturally genre hop. So the focus becomes not categorization but just telling the best story that I can in whatever form best suited to that story. It also means that things will happen during the proto-stages of a project to change the direction of a story. Haunted was an example of this. I’ve mentioned it in interviews, but Haunted was a novel meant to be contemporary fiction about a family dealing with grief. As I was writing it felt that something was missing. The missing thing turned out to be the voice of the deceased. And so a paranormal element was introduced to the work. There is a sequel, and of course a third book planned to follow the misadventures of the McTutcheon sisters. The second book explores the relationships within the family as they move on with their lives and as such is straight up contemporary fiction. By the time we get to the third book, however, it fulfills the promise of the first novel, with multiple ghosts haunting a bar. I am aware that makes this particular trilogy a bit wonky for purposes of categorization. As fiction, the hope is that each book will succeed because the reader cares about the characters. But in terms of genre distinction and marketing I’ve definitely set myself up for some serious challenges. I mean, this is a trilogy that will hold together but within that each book has a distinctly different flavor. My genre hopping writer’s brain has dictated the terms here. As an indie publisher, it is a pleasure to be able to experiment in this way. The weirdness of genre as it presents in this series is one of the reasons that I chose this particular set of projects to self-publish. Sometimes, writer-brain wants what it wants. (Which is not to suggest that I’m whimsically following the mythic muse down whatever path s/he chooses. Far from it.) I also have the freedom to do this right now because I’m a relatively unknown writer. Point 1 for obscurity, here. In the works, I have other things that more readily fit into distinct categories. But they aren’t necessarily all the same genre. I have never read that way, so it makes sense to me that I don’t write that way, either. I think the trick is to genre-hop with some sort of purpose, but there isn’t an established path for genre hoppers, even though I suspect that there are more of us out there than is immediately evident. So, what about you guys? Readers and writers alike, do you genre-hop? What are the benefits and challenges you experience there?

Happy Memorial Day! Also, More Bookpimpery!

Hey everyone! Last day to get Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales at a discounted price on kindle. (2.99, to be precise.)

As for Memorial Day, thank you to all who have served.

We are getting to the end of May, which means that we are almost at the end of the first month of the digital release of Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales. Thanks to everyone who stuck around on all the various social media platforms while I shouted about the most recent release in Reggie-land.

So in honor of having gotten through this first month of release without getting stabby, I’m opening the Spotty Blog for topic suggestions.

What do you guys want to know about?

Bookpimpery! Hoorah!

Hey everyone! This is just a friendly reminder that Aliens in the Soda Machine and Other Strange Tales is undergoing a Kindle Countdown Deal over Memorial Day Weekend! Today it is .99 cents.

Yay bookpimpery!

Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TTDWT8K

…and of course, if you feel like it, share the link to help support all things Reggie.

And now I shall go get my parrot away from my coffee…