Monday, December 30, 2013

Hurrah! Moving forward in 2014

Whenever I've looked at the sales information on my Smashwords account, I've seen reports of a few sales directly through their website, and a bunch of zeros for all the other places they distribute my books. I assumed this meant that the books weren't selling any copies anywhere else. And then, yesterday, I realized there was a little 2013 button showing up on the page. I clicked that button, and saw that copies of the books have been selling, especially Zombie City, especially through Nook. It was a wonderful, and significant, surprise.

See, I'm a pretty insecure guy, and even though I've been writing for almost 20 years now (since I was 15), I still sort of tend to think that no one out there is going to want to read my stuff. It hasn't stopped me from writing--indeed, writing seems to be a sort of compulsion that I can't stop doing, no matter what--but it has inhibited my self-promotion efforts, and impacted my motivation.

Up until yesterday, I'd figured the Zombie City series was a failure. I'd sold about a dozen copies through Amazon, and just a few more than a dozen through Smashwords, in the three months since I'd published the first episode. I figured people weren't that interested in it. I didn't try to promote it, or to find any reviewers willing to rate it. I'd even decided to put it on the backburner for a while, to see if I could come up with a different story that people might want more.

But yesterday I found out that people have been buying it. There have been about 55 Smashwords affiliate sales for Zombie City, mostly through Nook.

I know, I know: 55 sales is pretty small potatoes. Still, I was excited, especially by the third episode sales. I reason that if people are going on to buy the third episode, they're pretty invested in the story. Not everybody keeps going, but more than half of the people who bought the second episode also went back to buy the third.

For me, that's validation I can use to beat back the paralysis my insecurities had given me about that project. It tells me that there are some people out there who want to read what I write.

So here's my plan:

1) I'm going to jump back into the Zombie City series. I hope to finish Episode 4 before the end of January, and maybe wrap it up with a fifth episode sometime in February.

2) I'm going to try to get Episode 1 to price-match for free on Kindle. Right now it's free everywhere else, but Amazon hasn't price-matched it yet, and I haven't really made any effort to get them to do it (cause I figured no one wanted to read it anyway).

3) I'm going to start trying to promote the series. Most importantly, I'm going to start contacting reviewers, in hopes that I can get a few ratings to show up for it. Right now, none of the episodes have any ratings, and I get the feeling that people are much less likely to try a book if they don't think anyone else is reading it.

4) I'm going to get more active in my efforts to build a mailing list. So far, the only thing I've done to get people to sign up is post a widget link on this blog, which hardly anyone reads. I'm planning on including a link to the sign-up in the books themselves.

Basically, in general, I'm planning on working harder at this whole self-publishing thing. There's definitely a lot more effort I could put in, and seeing that there are people out there who want to read my writing has motivated me to try harder.

Friday, December 27, 2013

KBoards: too wonderful?

I recently joined the KBoards forum, specifically to participate in their Writer's Cafe section. I only signed up a few days ago, but signing up has already proved to be both wonderful and horrible. Wonderful because there's a massive amount of information, a huge pool of highly involved authors posting about their approaches to self publishing and the results those approaches produce. Horrible because I've been spending way too much time on the site, reading what people have to say. Hopefully I'll learn to manage the temptation to keep checking up on things over there.

Monday, December 16, 2013

There SHOULD Be Blood: Regarding Violence

As I've mentioned here before, I'm a fan of Lindsay Buroker's blog. She offers an incredible amount of information about her strategies for self-publishing, and she brings in excellent guest authors who provide expert info on a variety of topics. It's largely because of my appreciation for her blog that I went and downloaded a copy of her novel the Emperor's Edge. I liked the book, and I can see why the series is so popular: well-paced action, good-plotting, great characters, and some very vivid writing--I'll probably never forget the way Buroker described an assassin's body flowing like liquid through certain movements, and then snapping into rock-hardness at the moment of delivering a strike.

But!... there is one element of Buroker's writing that conflicts pretty stridently with my story-telling aesthetics: the way she portrays violence. Or to be more specific: the way that violence is a key part of her stories but sort of "glossed-over" at the same time. That assassin I mentioned at the end of the paragraph above, for example, is very convincingly portrayed as intimidating and ruthless. And yet, when he kills we don't really get a sense of horror from the description. There's very little blood or pain in the descriptions of the vast majority of the deaths in the book. Usually the assassin's victims are mere obstacles, and when they die they shed little more fluid than a cardboard cutout would.

Buroker is definitely not the only author to approach violence in this way. In fact, I'd say that her approach toward the portrayal of violence is pretty much in keeping with how most contemporary storytelling handles violence--as a mostly bloodless, PG-13, okay-for-kids type of thing (though there is a growing portion of popular storytelling, especially on cable television, that almost seems to delight in taking the other route: exaggerating violence to levels of cartoon-like gore--the True Blood vampires popping like blood-balloons--or taking a sadistic/macho glee in it--which seems to happen in shows like Dexter or Sons of Anarchy). The fact that an assassin--that is to say, a person who kills people on a regular basis, and only rarely for reasons of self-defense--can be cast as a hero instead of a sociopath is in itself pretty revealing about what today's audiences deem empathetic and worth-rooting-for.

In truth, now that I think about it, mentioning Lindsay Buroker as a way to introduce this topic is potentially misleading, too. It's not like I'm claiming she's responsible for setting the trend; as I've already mentioned, I think the violence in her work is reflective of a larger social shift, in which we are moving from telling stories, intended for a general audience, where the villian is "vanquished," to telling stories in which he is killed. And it's not like the goal of this post is to criticize Buroker's writing in particular--as I've also already mentioned, I respect and admire Buroker. But!... I started this post talking about Buroker because it was a specific scene in Buroker's novel The Emperor's Edge that started me thinking about this topic.

In the thirteenth chapter of the book, the main character witnesses a gladiator fight. There is some mention of the conflict she feels seeing two men forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of a crowd, there is even an allusion to the fact that the men look like friends being forced to fight (which is in itself a rather horrific idea). But the fight itself is sort of a peripheral thing to the action of the story, not a key event worthy of significant description, and this is how it ends:

"In the pit, a dagger found a chest, and the crowd cheered."

A dagger found a chest. That's about the most bloodless, oblique way of describing one person killing another that I can think of. It almost makes it seem like the dagger just happened to encounter an object which just happened to be part of a person. Because of the context, and what follows, we can assume that the person who had the chest that was "found" by said dagger died because of it, and that the person who did the killing felt horrible about it. But even in that moment in which the dagger finds the chest, our attention is diverted from that central happening and instead redirected to the crowd, which "cheered" the action that we've already skimmed past.

I think I understand why Buroker handles the scene this way. She doesn't want the death of one insignificant gladiator to distract the reader's attention from the story's plot. She worries that if she gives any weight to the death, or any detail that hints at the gruesomeness of a man being killed by a knife to the chest, it might make the reader pause and go "Geez, wouldn't that hurt" or "isn't that awful." The incident is mainly being used to reveal something important to the central story, namely the lack of human compassion felt by this crowd, and by the characters who have set up the event. They're so cold, they're so evil, that they'll make one friend kill another just for their own amusement.

Problem is, by using the "bloodless death" of a gladiator as a tool to show the crowd/characters' lack of value for human life--by reducing a man's death to something as oblique as a "dagger finding a chest"--the writer herself is failing to display the very characteristic who's lack defines the crowd/characters as evil. By using a death as a mere tool, and stripping that death of any blood or visceral weight, the writer make that death meaningless.

And maybe death shouldn't ever be meaningless. Maybe we're going down the wrong path when we'll plot a gladiator battle just to prove a point about a character or a crowd. Maybe, if we're dealing with death, we should make it bloody.

Maybe we should make it positively horrible.

I'm guessing there are people reading this post who think I'm going off the deep end a bit. "It's just a story," they'll say, and in a way I suppose they're right. In our culture we have a strangely casual relationship with death. Most of us eat animals that we almost never see alive, and never ever have to kill by ourselves. And at the same time, every television show or movie or story we read seems to have a death in it, or probably multiple deaths. We witness dozens--maybe hundreds--of fake deaths every week, but are almost never confronted with a real death--an event that happens maybe a few times in the course of the average person's life, and even then it's embalmed and made-up to look like something other than what it is.

So death becomes an abstraction for us--a bloodless, body-less thing.

In my writing I strive not to deal with death in this bloodless way. Whenever someone or something dies in one of my stories, I want there to be an element of it that unsettles the reader. Here's an example, taken from my novel Blood Brothers:

"He opened his eyes and looked back at Grillis. The young woodcutter’s face had gone even darker in color—now it looked nearly purple. His eyes were still open, bulging, though now they seemed to look past the cleric, off into some indefinite place. His legs kicked feebly, the heavy boot heels scraping against the cobbles.

"Athemon took the dagger out of his sleeve, transferred it to his right hand. He stepped toward the struggling pair of men, dagger in hand. The hammering in his head grew strong, and the world around him seemed distant and dreamlike—everything bright and honey-colored. He focused on the cleric, trying to ignore the pain in his head.

"The cleric had very blue eyes, and they were riveted on the dying woodcutter’s face.

"Athemon put the knife into the side of the cleric’s neck. It went in easily for the first several inches, and then hit something hard. The cleric turned his head to look at Athemon—an expression of horror on his face—and the motion made the knife’s point slide forward on a new course. The side of the blade slipped out through the front of the cleric’s neck, a shower of blood accompanying it.

"The cleric fell away from Athemon, to lie on his back beside Grillis. His hand came up to his throat, and he opened his mouth as if to speak, but no sound came out. Just more blood, gushing through his fingers. A moment later, he was dead."

In this scene one of the principle characters is saving the life of one the other principle characters. It's a heroic act, and yet it's described in a horrific way, which taps into my thought that death should always be horrible. I think it's also worth noting that there is plenty of blood in the description, which is also as it should be, at least in a scene describing a man's throat being cut. The sight of blood and gore make most of us uncomfortable, and that connects in my mind to the fact that we're uncomfortable with death. Which is a good thing. Which is something we shouldn't be glossing over.

In my opinion, anyway. If anyone wants to chime in with thoughts of their own, please feel free to leave a message in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Zombie City: Episode 3, and other news

Zombie City: Episode 3 is now online! Here's the description:

"Sometimes killing isn't wrong. Sometimes it's a mercy. Sometimes it's the only responsible thing to do."

In the third episode of the Zombie City series, Shane finds himself on his own again, with innocent blood on his hands. San Francisco has been completely overwhelmed by the infection. Any survivors have gone into hiding, leaving the streets to the lurchers. When a primary escape route is destroyed, Shane realizes he's trapped amongst the cannibal hordes, and he's running low on hope.

Click here for Amazon.

Click here for Smashwords.

It should be available on Nook and Kobo and elsewhere pretty soon.

Also, to celebrate the release of Episode 3, I'm temporarily making Episode 1 available for free. Click here for the Smashwords version. (Kindle version hasn't switched to free yet, but I'll update when it does.)

In an effort to spread the word, I put a post up on Craigslist. I'm not sure if this will be a successful way to advertise or not. If it is, I'll let ya'll know.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

studying Howey's story

Have you heard of Hugh Howey? He's one of the biggest success stories in self-publishing. One of his stories was optioned by Ridley Scott for a potential feature film. He's turned down seven-figure offers from major presses wanting rights to his ebooks, and eventually negotiated a print-only deal with Simon and Schuster (keeping his ebook rights for himself).

My brother told me I should read Hugh Howey's blog to try to find out the secret to his success. So I started at the beginning, and read a bunch. I don't know if I discovered Howey's secret, but I did learn a few things.

Howey started out pursuing traditional publication, and succeeded in signing a deal with a small press for his first novel. After the first novel, he quickly (in the course of the next year) wrote three follow-up novels, but he published them by himself, on Kindle. During this time he also cranked out a novel for NaNoWriMo 2010 called Half Way Home, which was also self-published.

Throughout the buildup to his small-press release, and after it too, Howey seemed to do all of the right things. He wrote the aforementioned followups, he worked at spreading the word about his books, he worked at building an online presence and developing himself as a "brand." His efforts resulted in some success, but it was limited.

And then he broke out with Wool, a novelette that he made no efforts to promote, and which he never really expected to go anywhere. For some reason it did, getting hundreds, and then thousands, of sales, building more and more interest, all on its own. Wool created the snowball effect I mentioned in a previous blog.

Howey didn't seem to understand why Wool was having the success it was. But that didn't stop him from making an effort to capitalize on it. Once he realized Wool was becoming a break-out success, he cranked out 3 followups in the course of a month, and they helped to blow that break-out into one of the biggest book success stories of 2011. Eventually he published a total of nine Wool-related titles. They have sold more than a million copies, and have been translated into at least 24 languages.

So, what's the main thing I learned from the above?

Howey's success came as a surprise to him. It wasn't a novel-length work, it wasn't part of a series when it first started selling, and he wasn't putting effort into promoting it. It seemed to take off all on its own, but when it did, he seized the opportunity it presented.

What kind of strategy can I come up with after studying Howey's story?

Give up on self-promotion. Give up on spreading the word, and building a fan-base. Give up on "professional cover design and formatting." Give up on writing novels. Give up on writing series. Instead, focus on writing and publishing short, self-contained stories. Keep cranking them out. If fortune hits, be ready to turn the lucky story into a series. And do it quickly.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


About six years ago I was working as a carpenter in San Francisco, completely re-doing a house in Noe Valley for a rich Google exec. The project was so involved that we actually cut the house off its foundation, hoisted it into the air, and built another level to lower it down onto--effectively turning a three-story building into a four-story. (Probably would have been cheaper and easier to just demolish the whole building and start fresh, but San Francisco has some pretty restrictive building codes that we were able to get around by preserving some of the original structure, and the Google guy had plenty of money to burn.) Shortly after hoisting the house, the general contractor in charge promised all the grunt carpenters a free iPod if we could get things ready to drop the house by a certain date. We managed it, and we got our iPods.

In all honesty, I'm not too fond of the iPod, or the iTunes program you have to install in order to use it. I feel like the program is always mucking about with my music collection--my iPod ended up jammed full of repeated songs, and irritatingly void of full albums. Plus it seems like iTunes wants me to update my version every other day, which is a drag, and which seems to screw around the rest of my computer. On top of all that, the iPod battery lasts only a fraction of what it used to, and replacing the battery isn't really a feasible option.

But there is one good part of this story: through iTunes I discovered the Druidcast. It's a monthly podcast sponsored by, and affiliated with, the U.K.-based Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and hosted by Damh the Bard. I originally downloaded the first four podcasts, and then something went weird with my iTunes and I didn't get any more. But those first four episodes were marvelous--they introduced me to an eloquent, organized, friendly form of neo-paganism, with an active group of intellectually-stimulating folks who cared about some of the things that were beginning to become important to me.

For a long time I was limited to those first four episodes. I listened to them all more than once, and they helped form part of the foundation of my interests in mysticism, pantheism, spirituality, and the natural world--especially the idea that nature can provide succor from the challenges of modern life. Those first four episodes planted seeds that would later bear fruit in many of my creative endeavors, most notably for my novel Blood Brothers--Verlvik's view of the world, and Athemon's special abilities, both reflect ideas and thoughts that started germinating in me during the time period in which I discovered the Druidcast.

I never went on to explore the other offerings of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, but recently (finally) I've gotten around to downloading further podcasts. I've listened through the seventh episode now, and they continue to be just as crucial as the first four.

To help give you an idea of the sorts of things the Druidcast covers, and which I find inspiring, here's a transcription of a snippet of Philip Carr-Gomm--the leader of the Order--speaking of the life of the order's founder, Ross Nichols:

"The message I take from him is it's worth striving for ideals--even if you've been wounded, even if you're going through difficult times, or the world is going through difficult times, hold on to those ideals, and cherish them. Create if you can some kind of sanctuary--a little place, a corner in your garden or in your home, or if you can get away to a little patch... do that, hold on, and keep connecting as much as possible to the natural world and to your spiritual path. And this will manifest, your dream will come true. It may not come true in your own life... [but] the benefits and the blessings will pass to lots of people, people all over the world. Which is what you can see now with the Order."

If you're interested in hearing the Druidcast for yourself, you can access all back episodes by clicking this link.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the fussy librarian

It's been almost five months since I self-published Blood Brothers, my first full-length novel, on Amazon. The book has gotten good reviews (15 reviews at the time of this post, with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars), but it hasn't managed to build a significant audience, and it's lost most of the momentum from its initial release launch. Chances are, if I leave the book on its own at this point, it'll probably fade into total obscurity.

With that in mind, I've been looking at different promotional opportunities. I've heard of other indie authors paying for advertising, but I'm trying not to spend any more money on Blood Brothers until the book has earned back what I've already spent on formatting and cover design. Fortunately, I've stumbled across a promising-looking advertising opportunity that isn't charging for its services... yet. The Fussy Librarian is an email service promoting free and bargain books to ebook readers--you give them your email address, and they email you recommended titles. There are other websites that offer similar services, but as far as I know, The Fussy Librarian is the first to let people choose not only the genre of books they want to get announcements for, but also the levels of violence/sex/profanity that they're comfortable reading--from none to plenty. Here's how they announce their services:

Readers: Did you know you can get your very own librarian, for free. It’s true! Choose from 30 genres, select content preferences and she’ll send you daily ebook recommendations.

They've agreed to include Blood Brothers in their November 3rd email for Fantasy readers who don't shy away from depictions of violence. Here's hoping their service helps my book connect with some new readers!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

the problem with Woody Allen's new movie

I've watched Woody Allen's last five movies in the theater, and I'm not big on going to theaters. In other words, he's on a roll as far as I'm concerned. Every movie has been a cut above the usual stuff that I can't be bothered to shell out $10+ to go see, and some of them (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for example), made five-star status in my book.

But his newest movie--Blue Jasmine--is a bust.

It's so much of a bust that I forgot all about it less than twenty minutes after walking out of the theater. In fact, the movie made so little of an impression on me that I only just now remembered it existed, and that I saw it.

I had high hopes going into it, too. The reviews were good, peppered with Oscar buzz for Cate Blanchett, and accolades for Allen himself. One critic went so far as to claim the movie was a "quantum leap" for Allen. Consider that claim for a second. Old Woody's been making movies for just shy of 50 years. His films have earned 23 Oscar nominations, and 4 wins. Sounds like he's already got things pretty figured out, and now a critic is claiming this new film is a "quantum leap" above the rest of Allen's stuff. What the hell does that even mean? Does the movie reveal the meaning of life, or something?

Just in case you were wondering: the movie doesn't reveal the meaning of life. And it doesn't live up to the hype, either. Not even halfway.

Here's why: remember that roll I mentioned earlier, the one that Allen is on? One key element of it is the way Allen uses the settings of the movies like actual characters. The culture of each place becomes integral to the plot. In fact, the city-settings are so important they're mentioned in the movie titles: Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The hype about Blue Jasmine was that he'd been giving San Francisco that treatment. But then he didn't.

Have you seen the movie? It's a New York movie, filmed in San Francisco. The Mission District is Allen's stand-in for Staten Island--you hardly even see any Latino people, and definitely don't hear a word of Spanish. Union Square becomes Park Avenue--a bunch of rich shoppers, not a tourist in site. There isn't even a single Asian character, and more than half the people who actually live in San Francisco are Chinese!

Instead, you've got all the New York stereotypes plugged into a San Francisco setting: loud-mouthed, blue-collar Italian-American characters; snobby blue-bloods for those blue-collar boors to clash with; people jumping in and out of Taxi cabs. All of that is New York.

In the real San Francisco, the Italian-Americans are actually Italian. They hang out in North Beach, wear fancy suits, and speak with Italian accents. The old-money blue-bloods are a marginalized group relegated to Nob Hill, with relatively little presence in the wider city. San Francisco's real money-class is the dot-com startup CEOs.

And that points to a crucial thing about San Francisco that Allen's movie missed entirely: its love of the new, the innovative, the exotic. San Francisco is a city that has always been in love with the wider world. New York is a city in love with itself.

Because of the writing I've been doing recently (my new series is set in San Francisco) I've been thinking about this stuff a lot, trying to understand what San Francisco is, what it means. I lived in San Francisco for more than a third of my life, and I still think a complete understanding of its nature is beyond me. But one thing I will say, with no hesitation whatsoever: my writing comes closer to the real San Francisco than Woody Allen's film does... even if the San Francisco in my stories is being overrun by zombies.

And you can tell Woody I said so.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Zombie City: Episode 2 now available!

The Zombie City series continues with Shane's escape from the murderous halls of the ZapPow! company offices. Unfortunately, the infection has spread to San Francisco's streets, and South Beach is now swarming with sick, blood-hungry hipsters. Shane finds temporary shelter, and other survivors, on the rooftops. But survival comes at a cost, and Shane's companions aren't patient with slow learners.

Click here to go to the Smashwords page.

Click here to go to the Amazon page.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zombie City: Episode 1 is now available!

What would you do if all the hipsters turned into zombies?

Shane moved to San Francisco to write, following in the steps of his Beat Generation heroes. Twelve years later he's pushing thirty, flirting with alcoholism, and not writing at all. His life revolves around his dead-end job as a janitor at a tech startup, cleaning up after work-obsessed hipsters who dress like artists but think like yuppies. On the day Shane realizes he needs to get out of the City or give up on being a writer, a horrific infection breaks out amongst the startup workers, plunging San Francisco into a nightmare of cannibalism and murder.

San Francisco is dying. Welcome to Zombie City.

This is the first episode in what will be an ongoing horror-fiction series. It comes in at about 25K words (about 100 pages), and costs 99 cents. It's available now from Smashwords in pretty much every ebook format (including PDF, Kindle, Nook, and Kobo formats). It's also available on Amazon, if you want to buy from your Kindle or direct from their store.

The book should be available everywhere else (Nook Store, Kobo Store, iTunes) in a week or two. There are currently no plans of releasing the book in print format, but if you really hate reading from a screen, the PDF version at Smashwords is easy to print.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Athemon is free!

About a month ago I created the "Athemon and the Infernal Voice" ebook, and wrote about it here on this blog. Basically, "Infernal Voice" is the second chapter of Blood Brothers, in which the Athemon character is introduced. Although it's technically an excerpt of a larger piece, "Infernal Voice" works as a short story, with a beginning and a middle and an end. My plan was to make "Infernal Voice" available for free in as many places as possible, in hopes that people would download the story and then go on to purchase Blood Brothers, in order to see how Athemon's story progresses beyond his introduction. Creating and posting the book to Amazon and Smashwords was the first step. Getting it to price-match as free was the second step.

As far as I can tell, the second step was accomplished today. I checked my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account, and saw that 18 "free (pricematched)" copies of "Infernal Voice" had been downloaded. When I looked at the Amazon page for "Infernal Voice," it ranked #6,576 in the Free store, #39 in the Free Fantasy Coming of Age, and #41 in the Free Dark Fantasy list. I also noticed that one copy of Blood Brothers had been bought on Amazon today--possibly as a result of someone wanting more after finishing "Infernal Voice."

On a whim, I went to the Barnes and Noble website, to see if "Infernal Voice" was finally showing up as a free download there. It is. I'm guessing that its appearance at Barnes and Noble is what finally prompted Amazon's price match. I put "Infernal Voice" up on Amazon a month ago, but the cheapest price you can select for a book on Amazon is 99 cents. In order to get it to show up for free, on a permanent basis, you have to make the book available for free elsewhere, and then Amazon's bots find out and price match it as free on Amazon, too. The book has been available for free since the first day I put it on Smashwords, which was August 26th, but it didn't get price-matched at Amazon until today. I'm guessing that means Amazon's bots don't check Smashwords, but they do check B&N.

Anyway, here's hoping this free-excerpt technique helps Blood Brothers find some new readers.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Green Man

I've a particular fondness for the Green Man, a character that appears again and again in European mythology. He's most often seen as a design element in old Cathedral architecture, but his face pops up here and there, often in places you wouldn't expect it. His appearance can vary, but it pretty much always incorporates leaves and other vegetation as part of his facial features--sometimes the leaves are on vines sprouting from his mouth, sometimes his face itself is made of leaves. Sometimes he's scary looking, menacing, tortured. Sometimes he's mysterious.

I've already mentioned, in a previous blog post, some of the elements that inspired the Verlvik character. But that post grew so long that I decided to leave the Green Man out. Still, because of my love for him, I decided he deserved mention too.

His influence on the Verlvik character might be most apparent at the end of Chapter 14, in which Athemon sees Verlvik for the first time:

Something rustled again in the bushes off to his left. Athemon watched the bird, fascinated. And then he felt a tap on his shoulder. Confused, he looked around. Grillis was still asleep, sprawled on the moss bedding. Perhaps Athemon was imagining things. But then he felt a tap on his shoulder again, and looked down on the grass at his side.

Two tiny bird skulls lay on the wet grass.

Alarmed, Athemon leapt to his feet, his head swiveling right and left, scanning the close-growing shrubs, the broad-fanned ferns. His eye passed over one particularly large bush twice before he realized there was a person’s face peeking out through its leaves.

A face. A green face, as green as the leaves around it. It was watching Athemon.

“Grillis!” Athemon shouted, stepping back.

Instantly the fighter was on his feet, mace in hand.

The face grinned, showing teeth as yellow as old ivory, a gap where the left eyetooth should have been. The right eye was an uncanny green, clear and bright as a gem. The left eye was covered with a milky film. Thick locks of ginger hair, knotted and tangled until they looked like lengths of rope, framed the face and tumbled down over a pair of slight shoulders.

The person stepped out from amongst the ferns. He was about the size and height of a ten-year-old, but something in his eyes told Athemon he was no child.

There was a necklace of bones strung around the little fellow’s neck, a thick belt of knotted brown hair around his waist. He had a short, straight stick strapped to his back. Except for the necklace, belt, and a loincloth—which looked like it had been made from pounded bark—he was naked, and all over his body his skin was just as green and dark as his face.

He stepped toward Athemon, still grinning, and nodded his head several times. And then he spoke.

“Cernunnos,” he said. “I have been searching for you.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Snowball Theory

Why do some books sell like crazy, and others... don't? A lot of people have spent a lot of time pondering this topic, myself included. One idea that people seem to come up with is: book sales are like a form of mass. The more sales the book has, the greater its mass becomes. The greater its mass, the greater the gravity it exerts, pulling even more sales its way.

Take The Da Vinci Code as an example. It's one of the bestselling books of all time. It reached a sales momentum that actually seemed to propel itself forward to greater sales. Everyone was talking about it, and because of that, even people who don't normally read felt motivated to buy a copy, just so they could participate in the conversation.

That was back in the days of mega-bookstore dominance, when every town of notable size had at least one Borders bookstore and/or one Barnes & Noble, and the mega-bookstores fueled bestsellers sales. They offered bestsellers at significant discounts. They arranged the store displays in ways to maximize bestseller visibility.

Things have changed a bit since then. Book sales are no longer overwhelmingly channeled through the megastores. Borders went bankrupt, and rumor has it that Barnes & Noble is hurting too. Online sales, of both print books and ebooks, have claimed a growing portion of the pie. How will that effect the bestseller-phenomenon?

I think it'll make it even more pronounced.

From what I've seen, online booksellers tend to exacerbate many of the factors that feed into the bestseller-phenomenon. Mainly, they give more visibility to titles that are selling more copies. An online store is sort of like the old mega-bookstores, but instead of displaying books on tables and shelves, they're displaying the books on a screen. The more copies a book sells, the more likely it is to appear on the screen. And instead of dealing with a few dozen--or even a few hundred--people walking into a physical store on any given day, we're dealing with hundreds of thousands--even millions--of people looking at a screen.

Some readers might point out that there isn't one specific screen that all people see. Online booksellers like Amazon customize the screen to the viewer--if you like Fantasy fiction, they'll make sure that some of the books on your screen are Fantasy books. But I think that the underlying factors are similar. Not every Fantasy book you see on your screen will be seen by other people who like Fantasy, but there will probably be some titles that are shown to every reader of Fantasy books. And the more copies those titles have sold, the more likely it is that you'll see them.

More sales mean greater visibility. And greater visibility leads, exponentially, to more sales. I call it the Snowball effect.

What this means for self-published authors, in a practical sense, is that you're facing obscurity unless you can generate sales. If a month goes by without a title moving any copies, that book will receive none of the benefit of greater visibility. People won't see it unless they go looking for it, and since there are more than a million self-published books on Amazon alone, people are going to have to look pretty hard to find your book.

It's like your book is a pebble sitting on top of a snow-covered mountain. If no one buys a copy, the pebble just sits there. As the hours and days and weeks go by, your pebble sinks into the snow, and more snow falls on top of it, and pretty soon it's lost. What you need to do is prod at the pebble--try to get eyes on it, try to generate sales--and keep prodding until you can get it to move. If you only get it to move a little--sell only a few copies--the pebble loses its momentum and stops moving and starts to sink. But if you can give it a good jolt and start it sliding, it's more likely to have snow stick to it. And if it starts rolling down the mountain, and keeps picking up snow as it rolls, you've got the chance for it to become something big.

So, the initial efforts are the greatest. There are millions of pebbles out there--they're small and hard to see. Once a pebble starts rolling and taking on snow, you won't have to be as diligent to keep it rolling. It'll start to roll on it's own, at least for a little while.

And the good thing for self-published authors is the fact that we don't have such a strict time limit to get that forward momentum started. Physical books get taken off the shelves after a few weeks if they don't sell. Ebooks are still there, still available. We can keep trying to get the snowball rolling. Our main limitation is our own energy (which is a very real limitation).

Of course, that's how things look to me now, with Blood Brothers an inert pebble. I've never really got a snowball rolling, so I don't even really know if there is a snowball. Maybe I'm totally wrong about all of this.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

new description for Blood Brothers

So far I've written three different versions of the book description for Blood Brothers. The newest version is an effort to maximize "punch" and "hook-iness". I was hesitant to use this approach before because the book itself isn't written in such a style--personally I think this style is most appropriate for Suspense/Thrillers. But hey, I figured I'd give it a try and see if it affects sales. Check it out:

A Bloodmark--a dark red stain marring one side of his face. Grillis was born with it, and because of it, the townspeople of Bonnehampton want nothing to do with him. The only person to ever show him any kindness is his grandmother. And now she's dead.

Horn head. Goat-son bastard. Witch. Athemon is of the Caprine race, and because of that he's been called all of these things. But Athemon learns that his race can be a source of power instead of oppression. And when he starts to harness that power, his own family turns against him.

She is the mist that moves in the forest. She is the mother of all things. And She has chosen Verlvik for Herself, marking him in his body and his spirit. What She has claimed must be given. And what She has claimed is Verlvik's very life.

Grillis. Athemon. Verlvik. Three young men, struggling to survive in a world where monsters roam, and where men are monstrous. A world where a single stroke of an axe can start a series of events that will threaten an entire nation. A world where brotherhood offers the only hope of redemption, and brotherhood isn't something you're born into, it's something you earn.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Blood Brothers on Kobo

Blood Brothers has been approved for Smashwords' Premium Catalog distribution, and they already made it available on Kobo. Click this link to go to the Kobo page.

Athemon and the Infernal Voice, a free short story excerpted from Blood Brothers, is also available on Kobo. Click this link to go to the Kobo page for it.

I noticed that both books are listed as "#358 in Sci Fi & Fantasy, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy". I'm pretty sure not a single copy of either title has sold yet, and I wonder if the #358 ranking shows that Kobo doesn't have very many Sci Fi or Fantasy titles. The little searching I've done on Kobo sort of gives me the feeling that it's mostly a bunch of weird porn. (Before a title with my name went up, a search for "M.F. Soriano" brought up all kinds of crazy results; the most memorable being "Bred by the Yeti".)

I've unpublished the Athemon and the Infernal Voice title from my Nook Press page because I didn't have the option of making it free. Now that that title has been given Premium Catalog status on Smashwords, I'm hoping it'll find its way to Nook through that channel, and that it'll show up for free. Hopefully it won't take Amazon too long to price match (Infernal Voice currently shows up there for 99 cents).

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Blood Brothers now on Nook and Smashwords

Blood Brothers is now available on Barnes & Noble Nook, and on Smashwords.

Click here for Nook.

Click here for Smashwords.

(Smashwords is currently reviewing the book for Premium Catalog inclusion, whereupon it'll be available on Kobo and the Apple ibookstore and pretty much everywhere else.)

I also want to mention that I've been pleasantly surprised with Smashwords so far. I'd never used the company before--my approach to D.I.Y. is usually to try to do everything myself, directly, and Smashwords is sort of a middleman service. But I'd heard of other authors like Lindsay Buroker using Smashwords, and I figured I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did. I like their orientation toward keeping things simple, and I appreciate the efforts Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords) makes to provide support to indie (self-published) authors. Among these efforts, Mark has written two different books about how to self-publish more effectively and have better success doing so. The books are titled Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, and The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, and they're both available for free (click the title of each book to go to the Smashwords page for it, though you can also find them on Kindle and elsewhere). I've read through both books, and while I've already come across some of the strategies and information they offer, I've also found a lot of new ideas in both. Here are a few things that come to mind:

1) Mark stresses the importance of making your books as easy for your readers to find as possible. That sounds obvious, but he gets specific about things I'd never thought of. For example, he doesn't recommend using initials in your author name (like, for instance, M.F. Soriano... whoops!), because it makes it harder for people to search for you. They might put "mf soriano" in the search bar instead of "m.f. soriano", or maybe they'll mix up the letters, and your books won't necessarily show up in the search results. (And what "mf" in particular will get you can be pretty eye-opening; I was actually contacted by a reader who'd tried to search for me on Kobo, and the "mf" brought up all sorts of crazy titles. Try it for yourself and you'll see.)

Also related to this: if you have more than one book in a series and they're already all written, put them all out at once. Don't try to release them on an ongoing schedule. If a reader has to wait for the next title to come out, they might not ever remember to buy it.

2) Although Mark goes to lengths to give indie writers hope, and to make them feel valued and supported, he also states pretty plainly that selling books is very hard, and that the vast majority of books (either independently or traditionally published) never sell very many copies. Because of that, he recommends spending as little as possible in self-publishing ventures--preferably nothing. I've pretty much come to that conclusion myself. I decided to contract professional services for Blood Brothers, and although I feel like the price was good (total cost for cover design and formatting for both ebook and print editions was $460) and I'm happy with the work I got... it takes a lot of sales to earn back even $460 when you only earn a buck or two per copy sold.

3) And speaking of money, though it is an obvious goal in most publishing, Mark stresses that there are other factors that are more important to a writer's career: namely, finding readers. If you're likely to earn the same amount of money at two different price points, Mark recommends choosing the price point that will move the most copies. If that means selling your book for half as much, but selling twice as many copies, that's what you should do.

4) Another little aside about money. Usually, selling a book directly through the store (like uploading it yourself to Barnes and Noble, for example) will get you more money than you'd earn if the book passes through a middleman like Smashwords. But in one important case, that's not true. If you upload the book yourself on Barnes and Noble, and set a 99 cent price for your book, you'll earn 40 cents a copy. If you put it up on Smashwords with a 99 cent price, and they distribute it to Barnes and Noble, you'll earn 60 cents per copy that sells there. This only works at the 99 cent price point, but it's something to consider.

There's a lot more to learn, and a lot more to be said about Smashwords. I'm still waiting for Blood Brothers to be approved for the Smashwords Premium Catalog. When that happens, I'll have more to share.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Blood Brothers Kindle exclusivity ends, & other news

When I put Blood Brothers up on Amazon I enrolled it in their Kindle Select program, which meant Amazon had exclusive rights to the eBook for three months. Yesterday, that exclusive period ended. I'm now in the process of making it available elsewhere--starting with Nook (which I uploaded to today) and planning on Kobo and the Apple store and maybe Smashwords.

Before the Kindle-exclusive period ended, I made Blood Brothers available for free download on two additional days--Monday and Tuesday of last week. Amazon gives you five free-download days when you make a book exclusive, and I'd already used three days shortly after the book went live. The book got a lot more interest this time, with about three times more copies being downloaded and a high-ranking of #6 on the Epic Fantasy bestsellers page (and this despite the fact that I didn't pay for any sort of promotion, like I did the first time). I'm guessing the greater interest resulted from the number of positive reviews the book has received.

Still, I don't think the free days helped me. There wasn't any bounce-over to the paid bestsellers list, there haven't been any greater than normal sales, and there haven't been any new reviews. If free-download days have the potential to help boost sales, Blood Brothers must not be in a position to benefit from it yet.

In other news, I've noticed that the price discount Amazon had been offering on the print version of Blood Brothers has slowly began to shrink away. At it's best, Amazon was selling the book for nearly 20% off the cover price. As of this post, that discount has dropped to about 13% off. If you're interested in buying a print copy, you might want to do it now--the price might keep going up. Click here to go to the Amazon page.

Also, I'm almost ready to start publishing my next project, a zombie-horror story set in San Francisco. Originally I'd planned on releasing it as a novel, but the story ended up developing in a way that made it work as a series of novellas. I've been rewriting it to fit that format, and plan on releasing the first part of the series sometime in the next two weeks. The working title is Zombie City, and here's a cover I've put together, using a picture taken by Gianluca Ramalho Misiti.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Athemon and the Infernal Voice

Most of what I read regarding self-publishing strategies comes from two authors: J.A. Konrath and Lindsay Buroker. Recently, I've been thinking about a few points they make, and trying to figure out a way to test their strategies on my own projects.

J.A. Konrath often mentions the idea that the number of titles available in an online store like Amazon equates to (more or less) virtual shelf-space. He reasons that the more titles you have available, the larger your virtual shelf-space; and the larger your virtual shelf-space, the more visible you will be.

Lindsay Buroker is a big proponent of making the first title in a series available for free. She believes that doing this raises the visibility of her series and gives potential readers a chance to try her stuff without financial risk. She attributes some of the success of her Empires Edge series to this.

I've come up with an idea that tries to harness the benefit of both of the above concepts. I've taken the second chapter of Blood Brothers and republished it as an eBook short story called "Athemon and the Infernal Voice", and now I'm going through the steps to try to make it available for free in as many places as possible.

Now, a free short story isn't nearly as enticing as a free novel, which means that my offering can't match the appeal of Buroker's. But Buroker has seven novels in the Empires Edge series, so she can afford to give a whole book away for free. I'm not at that point in my career as a writer--it took me almost two years to write Blood Brothers, and it might take me another two years to complete a sequel. Meanwhile, I've still got to earn enough money to balance out what I spent on cover design and formatting, and if I give the book away for free forever, I won't have a chance to do that.

It's also true that the material I've excerpted for "Athemon and the Infernal Voice" is already available online for free, in the "Look Inside" sample on the Amazon page. But my plan is to make the excerpt available in lots of other places too, starting with Wattpad (a free-reading website that Buroker uses for promotion). And, having more titles with my name on them will hopefully provide more visibility, too--or at least Konrath seems to think so. In any case, because I made the cover myself (finding the image on Creative Commons), and because I didn't get it professionally formatted, "Athemon and the Infernal Voice" hasn't cost me any actual money to produce. So there isn't an obvious financial risk.

Hopefully it'll help. At the least, I don't think it's likely to hurt. And if it doesn't somehow blow up in my face, I'm thinking about doing a similar thing with the first chapter in Blood Brothers, which works as an introductory short story for Grillis.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Verlvik: behind the curtain

With the Amazon reviews going up for Blood Brothers, I've been noticing particular interest in the Verlvik character. On the one hand, a lot of readers love him, considering him "completely alien... yet completely magnetic." On the other hand, one reviewer (so far) thought he was a cringe-worthy stereotype of a native American.

I'm not surprised that he's a polarizing figure. He's a lot farther out there than any other character in the book, at least when it comes to the types of characters I'm used to seeing in Fantasy fiction. Despite that, he does come from somewhere more than just my own head. I'm the type of writer that puts stock in the advice that before you even try to write a book, you should read several hundred others. Verlvik is an example of how the things I've read blend together in my brain, and come out through my fingers when I write.

If you're the type of reader who doesn't want to see behind the curtain of the creative process, if you're concerned that learning the source of a character will somehow lessen that character's vitality, you might want to stop reading now. But if you're curious about the things that inspired the creation of Verlvik, read on.

Without a doubt, the single source that had the biggest influence on the creation of Verlvik was the book shown above, Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner. Gardner's book first came out in the 1950s, and is considered one of the texts that lead to the creation of the modern-pagan movement. It's packed with unusual ideas, but the idea that caught my imagination most strongly was Gardner's contention that British/Irish concepts of faeries come from an actual pygmy race that used to live in the British Isles, alongside but separate the other groups living there at the time. Gardner believes this race is the same group that archeologists refer to as the Picts--he even goes so far as to say that the word "pixie" comes from the word Pict. He draws on other archeological suppositions about the Picts--that they painted themselves green, that they used poisoned arrows--and segues from there into the core topic of Witchcraft Today, which is the description of a religion developed by the Picts, known in modern times as "witchcraft". Key to Gardner's concept of this religion, which he calls Wicca, is that it has two gods (a male horned god, sometimes referred to as Cernunnos, and a female mother Goddess), and that it relates nature with divinity.

The next source that led to the creation of Verlvik was an article about the Hadza tribe that appeared in the December 2009 issue of National Geographic (the picture above comes from the article, and you can read the article online by clicking this link). The Hadza tribe are described as one of the last remaining examples of a group of people living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that was common worldwide about 10,000 years ago, and the author (Michael Finkel) approaches the article from the angle of "what knowledge is gained by living this way?" I found the article incredibly interesting, especially the sense it gave of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle imbuing the people who practice it with a worldview marked by the lack of boundaries between the natural world and the person living in it. Certain other details--the Hadza attitude to eating animals; the cuts women make beneath their eyes to encourage themselves not to cry--were highly influential to my depiction of Verlvik's tribe and of his place (or lack of place) within it.

Probably the third most influential source to Verlvik's story was Carlos Castaneda's book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge". This is Castaneda's first book, originally written as his master's thesis for the school of archeology at the University of California. It's broken into two main sections: a first-person narrative of Castaneda's experiences with a Yaqui sorcerer named Don Juan, and a more scholarly analysis of the structure of Don Juan's beliefs. What I found most interesting was the way hallucinogens were used as religious sacraments, in various elaborate ceremonies, by Don Juan--especially the way that those sacraments modified the user's perceptions of the world around them and their place within it.

Another major source of inspiration, especially relating to Verlvik's concept of "all is one", comes from Sharman Apt Russell's book Standing in the Light. Russell's book was one of the first to expose me to the idea that all things, scientifically, are just different forms of the same materials. Her book also lead me toward the Scientific Pantheists, a group that has developed an approach to a nature-centered religion that also embraces scientific knowledge.

These four texts form the core of the inspiration behind Verlvik, but details of his character and story were further fleshed out by dozens of other sources, a whole hodgepodge of books and probably more than a few movies, as well as just general hearsay information about various topics. The Back to the Land movement--in its American, largely-political forms (such as that described in Helen and Scott Nearing's book The Good Life), and in it's Jamaican, religious iterations (as referenced by artist-activists like Burning Spear, and as portrayed in movies like Rockers and Countryman), were deeply influential. I'd say that Verlvik's appearance--small, with ginger dreadlocks and green skin--comes from a mix of Gardner's Celtic Picts and Jamaican Rastafarians. His personality and worldview come from a mix of the faerie stories from the British Isles (especially relating to the capricious personalities of the faeries, so often contrasted with human behaviors and attitudes) and the "part of nature" philosophy of various hunter-gatherers. His battle with the behemoth is a reference to a theory about the small size of the pygmy tribes in Africa (to be considered a man and have rights to a wife, tribe members had to kill an elephant; small-stature, which allowed men to get beneath the creatures more easily, thus became evolutionarily favored). His sing song voice, with "each syllable a different pitch", comes from the local pigeon accent in Hawaii. His use of a blowgun, as well as the forest home and the tribal Common Grounds, are references to Amazon tribes. A few events--such as his smoke-spoken vows with Kalvrava and his burial underground (which is sort of like a modified vision quest)--were vaguely inspired by native American rites blended with Christian concepts of baptism and being "born again".

Despite the wildly divergent influences, I personally think Verlvik came together in as a very vital and real character. He found his way into the story almost on his own--I'd started the book by alternating between Grillis and Athemon, and it wasn't until Verlvik wandered out of the forest in Athemon's fifth chapter that I had any notion of him at all. I think my subconscious mind recognized a need in the book--a character who could balance Athemon's oppression and Grillis's rejected state--and Verlvik was born to meet that need.

In the end, not every one will love him. But I do, and I'm proud to think I had a part in his creation.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The ElectroLive Murders

The first title I ever put up on Kindle, and the first effort I made at self-publishing, was my novelette The ElectroLive Murders. Originally I published it under the pen-name Don Broma because I was worried that self-publishing a piece would hurt my chances of pursuing traditional publication with other projects, and so I wanted to keep my real name hidden. Since then there have been plenty of high-profile deals offered to authors who came to attention because of their self-publishing efforts, so the same taboos don't really apply--and I've also decided that I'm not really that interested in pursuing a traditional deal, anyway. So, when I put Blood Brothers up on Kindle, I went back and changed the author name to my real name.

I recently went through the process of adding this title to the nook store, and doing so refreshed my memory about it. I still think it's a great story, lots of fun, with a compelling hard-boiled tone and some novel sci-fi ideas. I don't think it's managed to find the audience it deserves yet, but we'll see if making it available on nook helps.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

why I write and why I publish

The Amazon reviews are starting to show up for Blood Brothers, including a particularly extensive and thoughtful take on the characters and the story by "humanitysdarkerside", who also has a blog and posted the review there.

Getting a review like this--a review that shows an attentive reading by someone who enjoyed the book--is incredibly fulfilling to me. The main reason I write is because I love words and I love getting lost in my own imagination. But the reason I publish is because I hope that people will read what I've written and feel some sort of connection to it. I think this review shows that connection, and I'm both thrilled and grateful for it.

The offer I mentioned in my last post is still on the table: I'll gladly send a free eBook copy of Blood Brothers to anybody that's willing to write a review of it. Please email me if you're interested: mf.soriano {at} yahoo {dot} com

my take on J.K Rowling's pen-name news, and an offer to my "potential fans"

A recent piece of news that caught my attention: J.K. Rowling outed as author of acclaimed crime novel 'The Cuckoo's Calling'

If you click the link you'll get a story that leads with flattery about the crime novel in question. The article's first sentence says the book has been "hailed as one of the best debut detective stories in years". Two sentences later we're told that Rowling's "cover was blown when the Sunday Times newspaper became suspicious that such an assured piece of writing could have been created by a first-time novelist".

In other words, the news story's angle is that this is a great book, and the book's very greatness is what led to Rowling being outed as the author.

Sort of makes me wonder if the story was written for a newspaper that's owned by the same company that owns Rowling's publisher. The article reads more like a publicity piece for a product than a news article.

It isn't until the eighth paragraph in the article that you read this: "The novel had sold around 1,500 copies in hardback. However, in the hours after Rowling was named as its author, it shot up the bestseller charts. It was listed as the third biggest seller on on Sunday"

I saw, in another article elsewhere, that the book was released eleven weeks ago.

So, 1500 copies in 77 days, or about 19 copies a day, which puts it at the 4,709th place on Amazon's bestseller list. And now, after it's revealed that Rowling is the author, the book moves 25K units overnight, and Rowling is #1.

There's a lot you can read between the lines with this story. You might wonder, for example, if the "outing" was truly the result of a reporter's canny sleuthing, or whether it was information deliberately leaked in order to create a story (and sell lots of books).

But what I'm most interested in is this: the article says the book was critically respected upon it's release, and it got a decent release boost from a major publisher (Little, Brown & Company), and yet it was only selling 19 copies a day. I haven't read the book, but if we go with the critical consensus and say it's really good, we're left with the knowledge that a really good book, in a popular genre (crime fiction) is still, despite how good it is, not going to sell very many copies if its author is unknown.

Where does that leave people like me? I think my book Blood Brothers is an excellent book, but I'm a no-name author who has chosen to forgo the traditional publishing route, and therefor has no big business to help get me the book out there. I don't even have access to the "critics" who "acclaimed" The Cuckoo's Calling. Furthermore, Blood Brothers is in a less-popular genre (Fantasy), and it's pretty unorthodox for the genre it falls into.

In other words, everything indicates that Blood Brothers doesn't have a chance of selling any copies, let alone 19 a day (let alone 25K overnight).

And you know what? I'm okay with that.

I still feel like it's a great book. I still had a lot of fun writing it, and I'm still very proud to think of what I managed to pull off. In the end, that's what matters to me.

But, because I love the book, I'm still willing to put some energy into trying to help it find an audience. And the idea I've got now is this:

If you want to read Blood Brothers, I'll give you an eBook copy for free if you agree to write a review. Email me: mf.soriano {at} yahoo {dot} com

(Two people have taken me up on the offer so far. Will you be the third?)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

emotionally driven horror

Since I've already posted excerpts featuring the other two characters in Blood Brothers, I figured I'd post a third excerpt to introduce Athemon. While Grillis's point of view lends itself to descriptions of action, and Verlvik's POV lingers on metaphysical and mystical experiences, Athemon perspective results from a lifetime of vicious racial oppression. He's been viciously traumatized, he's got a huge chip on his shoulder, and he is just beginning to discover the power to give back some of the pain he's been given. So, a lot of the scenes shown through Athemon's eyes are shown through the lens of horror. Here's an example:

A hard shove knocked him out of his reverie, knocked him hard enough to make him sprawl on the ground. He rolled over quickly to face his assailant.

It was Hanswerth.

“Good morning, horn-head,” the portly bully said cheerfully. “What are you doing out of your pen?”

Jollsen and Rogyle, standing on either side of Hanswerth, chuckled at their leader’s wit.

Athemon looked up at them, saying nothing. He thought of his father’s warning the day before: don’t provoke the humans, or you will not be able to stay in this house.

Hanswerth smiled down at Athemon for a moment, and then abruptly dropped the smile. “Stand up when I’m talking to you, caprine,” he said.

Athemon stood up warily, careful not to look the butcher’s son in the eye.

“You should be happy I’m talking to you,” Hanswerth said. “You should be grateful for every chance you get to speak with your superiors. Come on, horn-head. Let me see you smile.”

Athemon’s face flushed dark with anger.

“I said smile!” Hanswerth barked.

Athemon closed his eyes, and thought of his father’s command: be humble. A sick feeling filled his stomach. He focused on the corners of his mouth, tried to lift them, willed his lips into a thin smile. It isn’t easy to smile when you feel like crying, but he did his best.

And then a heavy hand smashed into his mouth like a brick. His knees dropped out from under him, and he sprawled in the trash again. His mouth began to fill with a salt-copper taste, and a thin flow of blood streamed out over his chin. He thought of his uncle: we must punish the body to fight the sin. He thought of his father: be humble.

“What do you think you’re smiling at, you dirty goat-son bastard?” Hanswerth shouted. He sank his boot into Athemon’s side with a thud. The small caprine felt his ribs crack, felt a sharp ache spread up through his spine to his brain. He fell onto his side, and curled into a ball of agony.

Be humble. Punish the body to fight the sin.

For several moments Athemon knew nothing but pain. And then, as the rest of the world came back, he could feel the three boys standing over him. Their hate washed down on him like heat from the sun.

“Actually, we’re glad to find you, Athemon,” Hanswerth said, sounding jolly again. “You can help us clear something up. Thanks to you, we know that caprines really do have horns. But we still don’t know if their balls are pointed like a goat’s.”

Athemon felt hands grabbing at the waistline of his trousers, nearly pulling him off the ground. He tried to push the hands away, but a fist smashed across his face again. He heard his uncle’s voice: punish the body to fight the sin. The hands ripped at the drawstring to his trousers. He heard his father’s voice: be humble.

And then he heard another voice, a calm voice, a deep voice. He heard it more clearly than the cruel laughter of his tormentors, more clearly than the beating of his own harried heart. Burn them, Athemon, the voice said. Burn them!

A sudden rage filled him, flooding through his body like his blood itself was molten. The pain in his lip, the sharp ache in his ribs, fed that rage, stoked it like fuel thrown on a fire. He drew on the rage, pulled it into his heart, embraced it. It burned like a firestorm behind his sternum, growing and growing. And just when he thought he might explode from the power of his hate, he channeled that power into his outstretched hands. Athemon opened his eyes, saw heat bending the air around his hands, saw Hanswerth leering down at him. He reached out with both hands, grabbing the bully by the face, driving his thumbs into the butcher boy’s eyes. Burn them, Athemon! Burn them!

Sudden screaming brought him back to his senses. The air was thick with the stench of burnt meat. Athemon looked up, saw Rogyle and Jollsen standing back, a terrified expression on their faces.

“Look at his eyes,” Jollsen said. “Look at Athemon’s eyes!”

They turned and ran, stumbling in the trash, clawing past each other in their desperate need to escape.

The screaming hadn’t stopped. Athemon looked down at his hands, saw them clutching Hanswerth’s face, thumbs still buried in the fat bully’s eyes. He pulled his hands back. The bully’s eyes were now smoldering sockets, blood running from them like tears. And where Athemon’s hands had touched the bully’s face, the skin had blackened and burned away, exposing the muscle, tendon, even the underlying bone in certain places.

Athemon stood up, and looked at Hanswerth with fascination. The bully writhed on the ground like a wretched animal, his mouth still stretched wide with screaming. Athemon thought of all the cruel laughter that had come out of that mouth, all the harsh words and hateful taunting. And then he thought of his father’s command: be humble, don’t provoke the humans. He realized now that he could not return to his father’s house.

Pickers scattered throughout the dump were watching him, he realized also. There were a few destitute humans, one filthy dwarf, and even a handful of caprines. None of them had come to help him when the bullies were attacking him. But he hadn’t needed their help. Thinking about that, he reached up and touched the leather skullcap on his head. “I don’t need their help,” he said aloud, and then pulled the skullcap off.

Hanswerth was still screaming. Athemon wadded the skullcap up and used it to plug the fat oaf’s mouth. Then he lifted the corners of his own mouth in a smile. It was an honest smile, though the bully wasn’t able to see it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

my experience with eBookBooster

My book Blood Brothers has been out for a little over a month, and I'm trying to spread the word. To that end, I recently paid for the services offered by eBookBooster, an ebook promotion website that I found out about through J.A. Konrath's blog. I figured I'd write about that experience here, to let other self-publishing authors know how it went for me.

If you go to eBookBooster's webpage, you'll see it's a pretty simple affair. Basically, the website offers to "Submit Your eBook to 45+ Sites for Only $40!" The thought is that you fill out a form once, on eBookBooster's webpage, and then eBookBooster uses that information to submit your book to a group of websites that feature bargain and temporarily-free eBooks. The websites in question are listed in a separate column on the left side of the page.

It sounded good to me, and J.A. Konrath--a guru of self publishing--recommended it. So I paid the $40, entered my book's information, and crossed my fingers.

When the first day of my promotion came around a few weeks later, I went back to to follow the links on the left-side of the page. I wanted to make sure that mention of my book had appeared on those sites. I got about halfway through the list, and I started to notice a few things.

First of all, almost none of the sites had mention of my book on their homepages. I dug a little deeper, clicking through to other pages or sometimes doing a site search for "Blood Brothers", and in the end only 6 sites (of the first 20+) had any sort of mention of my book, at all. (And frankly, the value of a mention that you have to search for seems pretty minimal. If it isn't on their homepage, it probably won't be seen by very many people).

Second, a few of the sites seemed to have almost nothing to do with books. Freebies 4 mom, for example, is mostly a listing site for moisturizer samples and coupons for Pampers.

In the end, I've had better results with previous promotions without using eBookBooster or any other promotion company. I suppose it's possible that my superior results with past promotions relate to the possibility that free-download promotions don't really work nearly as well as they used to. There's no way to really know.

But one thing I do know: I'm not planning on using eBookBooster again.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blood Brothers in the U.K.

I'd never really thought about it before, but publishing a book on Kindle makes it available to a global audience. And other countries don't use the same website--there's a different website for each country. Recently I noticed a little drop-down menu on the sales-reports page of my Amazon site. I scrolled through some of the other countries and saw that copies of Blood Brothers have been downloaded in Germany, Italy, Brazil, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Cool!

Further investigation revealed that someone using the name "mpfc" has posted a review of Blood Brothers on the Here's what they wrote:

Couldn't put it down...I loved this book, I got pulled in from the start and finished it in about three days. Really well written, excellent characters, I even cried a bit! Looking forward to Mr Soriano's next work.

I have no idea who mpfc is, but I definitely appreciate the review. Knowing that someone enjoyed the book, related to the characters, appreciated the writing--it means everything. So thanks!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Stages of an Indie Writer

Here's a link to a great article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. One of the most interesting things in it, for me at least, is the comparison of "new" and "old" publishing, and the idea that writers accustomed to traditional publishing don't often recognize what success looks like in self-publishing. She writes:

In the old [world of publishing], books had to sell fast because they’d be off the shelf in three months (or less). In the new, the book is just starting to get noticed a year after publication. It might have its best sales month 29 months after publication.

If you're interested in publishing, I highly recommend you read the rest of the article.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

solid, gritty, pulpy

The first excerpt of Blood Brothers that I posted on this blog was meant to illustrate the fun I had with "overdoing it"--indulging my desires to write in a lyrical way about far-out, mystic ideas and experiences. A lot of those sections take place within the chapters told from the Verlvik character's point of view. But I also had a lot of fun with more action-oriented (or, as Jim Butcher puts it in his interview with Patrick Rothfuss: "solid/gritty/pulpy") writing, and a lot of that writing comes in the chapters told from the perspective of the Grillis character.

So, to balance the previous excerpt, I figured I'd post an excerpt showcasing the gritty/pulpy action in Blood Brothers. Here's an example:

All the bewilderment in Grillis, all the shock and horror he felt, galvanized in that instant into rage. Before he had a chance to decide to act, before he’d consciously chosen an action, he was in motion. He rose up through the trap door like an avenging ghost, and stepped onto that killing floor with the axe head soaring into the air above him. Transfixed as they were with the gruesome spectacle, none of the men there noticed his ascent. But these weren’t men, Grillis knew in his heart. These weren’t men, these were monsters.

With all of his body bending backwards like a strung bow, Grillis brought the axe head back, and then he sent the first blow flying. It came down square on the crown of the nearest cleric’s skull, and kept on moving, down through the brain, through the spinal column, to finally clear solid matter just below the cleric’s shoulder blades. The man toppled forward lifeless, like a felled tree. Before his body hit the ground the axe was on a new path, up and over Grillis’s right shoulder, and then soaring back horizontally to the left, to tear through the side of the next cleric’s neck. The force was so great it sent the man’s head flying, flipping ear over ear in the air, spraying rings of blood.

Grillis’s mouth strained wide, crying outrage. It must have made a terrible racket, though he couldn’t hear it. All the sound that existed for him in that moment, as he stepped toward the third cleric, was the rush of blood in his ears.

By now the third cleric had warning of the danger closing in on him. But as he turned to face Grillis, and saw the woodcutter’s blood-spattered face, saw the carnage wrought in a mere handful of heartbeats, he quailed. His mace came up in a weak-handed blocking position, no match for the force of the twelve-pound axe. As Grillis brought the axe back from the blow that had beheaded the second cleric, he turned the motion into a vicious backhanded swing that swept the mace away, and smashed square into the third cleric’s mouth with the back of the axe head. Fragments of tooth and bone flew into the air as the man’s mouth caved in, and his limp body was thrown heavily against the wall, making the whole shack quake.

Grillis brought the axe into a ready position in front of him, and turned toward the remaining men in the room. There was a moment’s pause, and then several things happened simultaneously: the third caprine, who must have been Athemon’s father, turned and ran out the shack door; Ciranon’s hands went to the iron collar at his neck, and seemed to pass through the metal as though it were smoke, leaving the collar to fall to the wood floor with a clank; and another cleric, this one wearing brilliantly polished plate-mail armor over his tunic, raised his hand to point at Grillis, and spoke.

“Halt, demon!” the armored cleric boomed. It was the voice that had silenced Ciranon’s plea mere moments before. “Behold the light of the Goddess!”

Though the only sunlight in the room came through the door behind him, the cleric’s armor suddenly flared with light as though it were reflecting the brilliance of the sun. Grillis stumbled back, his left hand leaving the axe handle to try to shield his eyes from the glare. He heard Ciranon shout out a warning. Desperately, the dazzled woodcutter swung his axe one-handed.

It connected with something hard and brittle, and instantly a dozen points of pain opened on Grillis’s face. Less than a millisecond later a massive force smashed into him, knocking the breath from his lungs, carrying him backward to bang against the shack wall. The force was more than the shack could take. A sharp creak, almost like a dog’s yelp, filled the air, followed by the explosive cracking of wooden beams splintering apart.

“It’s coming down!” someone shouted.

Grillis threw his arms up to shield his head. The wall behind him gave way, the pressure pinning him to it seemed to jolt from some heavy blow, and then all was raucous sound and confusion.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

why I'm not interested in watching Brad Pitt's World War Z

I like zombies. I'm a big fan of George Romero's movies, and Simon Pegg earned a special place in my heart with Shaun of the Dead--a place that continues to flow forth goodwill despite the fact that most of the other movies he's been in have been pretty disappointing (the new Star Trek movies being an exception). But I'm not at all interested in going to see Brad Pitt's World War Z. Why? Let me tell you why.

It's not a zombie movie.

Zombies, in my mind, are compelling subjects for very specific reasons:
1.) they represent the inevitability of death
2.) they represent the triumph of oblivion over thought and consciously directed will
3.) they are human in form, but possess no humanity.

When you take those things away, when you feature a zombie that doesn't have those characteristics, you remove the essence of what makes the zombie concept interesting. And, from everything I've seen or read about the World War Z movie, it looks like they've failed to incorporate all of those crucial things.

First of all--and this is a problem that many recent zombie movies have fallen into--the zombies move way too fast. Crucial to the George Romero portrayal of zombies is the fact that his zombies are slow, lurching things. They're corpses, reanimated bodies in various states of decay. It makes sense, therefore, that their bodies are not in optimum athletic condition. It makes sense that they aren't capable of outrunning an Olympic sprinter.

And that reduced ability highlights the first point I mention above: zombies represent the inevitability of death. Despite the greater physical condition we possess, zombies are inescapable because of their inevitability, which is like death itself. The knowledge that our physical condition, even when we're in the prime of our lives, is a temporary thing--that's a compelling thought. And zombies represent that thought in a carnal form.

Now on to the next problem: the zombies are displaying organized, cooperative behavior. I read an article about the making of World War Z, and in the article the film-makers say they wanted to do something "new" with zombies. So they drew from natural phenomena--salmon swimming upstream, animals hunting in packs, ants swarming onto each other until their bodies create a rising column (like in the picture). And this detracts from the second point above: zombies represent the triumph of oblivion over thought and consciously directed will.

In certain ways this second point actually just builds on the first point. Zombies show us, by their mindless action, that our cleverness and our determination--just like our physical ability when we're in the prime of our lives--don't make us safe. We're smart, we're capable of concentrated effort and deliberate action, and yet such things pale in the face of a relentless, mindless horde of zombies. The Brad Pitt movie--by having the zombies show the ability to work together, by showing that they can think--removes that feature too.

And finally, zombies are compelling because they look like humans, but show no sense of humanity. The George Romero movies highlight this aspect beautifully. They show people struggling to come to terms with the fact that a zombie, while it has a human body, has no human sense of compassion or sympathy or fraternity with other humans. All they have is a desire to kill. And when the zombie used to be a friend or family member, dealing with that lack of humanity becomes even more difficult.

But in the Brad Pitt movie, at least what I've seen of it in previews and commercials, the zombies are running around so quickly, in such great numbers, that you hardly get a sense of them as individual things. And so there isn't time to face the idea that they used to be human.

So all in all, it looks like an Epic Fail to me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

overdoing it

Last week I posted a link to a video of Jim Butcher interviewing Patrick Rothfuss. The first question Butcher asks relates to Rothfuss's eloquence, i.e. the artful way he writes. Rothfuss mentions, in his answer, that he goes through a lot of revision in his writing process, and that doing so lets him feel free to really "overdo" it, because he knows he'll be able to look at it again later and see if what he's written works, or whether he was just "wanking around."

His words stood out to me. In the course of writing my novel Blood Brothers, my favorite moments tended to be the ones in which I really "overdid it". I had a lot of fun throwing prudence to the wind, and letting the purple prose gush forth. I did carefully evaluate those sections later, and I took the comments of several beta-readers into careful consideration, too--and in the end I almost always chose to let the "overdone" moments stand as they were (or, sometimes, I polished them up a bit). Like Rothfuss says, some readers will be turned away by such writing. But to me these moments are a blast.

Here's one of my favorites, in which the Verlvik character falls off the edge of a cliff:

Falling. Verlvik knew the sensation well. All pictsees did. As children, they spent as much time in the trees as they did on the ground. One thing that every pictsee learned about trees: sometimes you fall out of them.

Falling, therefore, was a familiar sensation for Verlvik. The instant of weightlessness at the start of the fall, the embrace of gravity that followed it, the feeling of the world rushing past you as you plummeted, Verlvik knew all of this as well as he knew the feeling of strong sun on his skin, or of rough bark beneath his feet. He knew falling like he knew the beating of his own heart.

But a key part of what he knew about falling, as key as the double-pulse rhythm of a heartbeat, was landing. Either right-side up or upside down, landing always followed falling. In a way, it consummated the falling experience. By its contrast, and by its inevitability, landing helped to define what falling was. And usually it happened rather quickly, almost always more quickly than you expected.

So in certain ways, as Verlvik fell off the cliff, as he felt the pull of the earth take hold of him and draw him downward, what he felt was quite unfamiliar. As the world plummeted by, and continued to plummet—as the earth’s pull drew him down more and more fiercely—Verlvik discovered that what he was experiencing now was rather different than anything else he’d ever experienced. Without the quick landing to fulfill the rhythm of falling, the sensation of falling became foreign to him. What he had known as intimately as his own heartbeat had become something entirely different, and entirely new.

Perhaps this is why his heart itself was behaving so strangely. At the start of the fall—the moment of weightlessness before gravity took hold—his heart had frozen in a clench. And now as he fell, as he remained suspended in that fall without a landing to return things to normalcy, his heart seemed unable to decide what course it should take. And so it held on, frozen in that clench, unwilling or unable to resume beating as normal.

His heart wasn’t the only thing acting strangely, either. The rope-like locks of his hair, which normally hung limply to the top of his shoulders, now writhed in the wind like snakes. His wide-open eyes flowed with tears, which in itself wasn’t unusual considering that wind, but instead of flowing down his face like tears normally do, these tears ran outward from the corners of his eyes, spreading over his temples, running into his ears.

Verlvik shook his head to clear his ears, and realized that though his heart seemed too stupefied to move, the rest of him still could. And so he turned his head to look at the massive waterfall to his left, and realized with delight that the torrent of water was falling at the exact same speed as he was: dreamily slow.

In fact, watching that water, Verlvik suddenly became convinced that neither the water nor he himself was actually moving at all. It was the cliff walls, and all of the rest of the world, that moved, passing him by.

Verlvik rolled onto his back to look up at where he’d been. He could see the top of the cliff soaring away into the sky. Father Longhair was up there, just a silhouette at this distance, looking down. Verlvik waved to him. It reminded him of being at the bottom of one of the massive forest trees, and seeing someone up at the top. And that led Verlvik to thinking of how trees had to pull water through their roots, and pass it up through their long trunks, to feed their leaves hundreds of feet above the ground. A tree, he decided, was sort of like a waterfall in reverse.

His stupefied heart, the velocity with which the mist-laden air rushed by, and the notion of every tree being a backward waterfall—together it all left Verlvik feeling rather breathless. He rolled onto his stomach again and opened his mouth wide. Air rushed in through his mouth, inflating his lungs, filling his body with moisture-heavy vapor. The mist was inside of him now. The physical form of the Great Goddess was filling him up.

He had fallen hundreds of feet already—or rather, hundreds of feet of the cliffs had passed him by—and he was nearing the thick cloud below. He could see it roiling and tumbling beneath him. The power gathered by the falling water must have been incredible, and when the water reached the bottom of the cliff it hit with enough force to vaporize a part of itself, to turn itself into the cloud, to become the mists ascending above the cloud, to become the heavy rain falling on the tops of the cliffs.

And then he had passed into the cloud. All around him, a white void. He could no longer see the falling water. He could no longer see the cliff walls passing him by. There was no motion, and no time. He was floating in a boundless white nothingness, as if the form of the world no longer existed, or had not yet been born. His lungs felt full to bursting. The Great Goddess was within him, filling him up. And he was within the Great Goddess.

He raised his hands to his face, but the cloud was so thick that he couldn’t see them. Or perhaps they were no longer there. His body had disappeared, had been absorbed into the cloud. His body had been absorbed by the body of the Great Goddess. There was no division between himself and Herself anymore.

Slowly, the white around him began to dim, to darken. The cloud became smoke. The smoke became ash. The ash became coal. And the coal became the black darkness of dreamless sleep.

And then, having returned to a familiar experience, his heart finally released its clench, and began to beat anew.