Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Free Falling (or Falling in Love with Free)

Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I did my first Amazon.com free book promotion over the weekend through their KDP Select program.  I have to say as a sort of weak disclaimer that I dislike the monopolistic flavor of the Select program, but I felt I had to try it.  It seems to me that free is the new $0.99 in the world of indie publishing (I'm glad there isn't a way for indie authors to pay readers to read their books, because I'm certain that would be the next logical step in the struggle to get out of the "slushpile" of indie obscurity--but I digress).  Amazon's KDP Select program is the only way to go free on their site without violating their contractual terms.  I know many authors use the price match function to go free, but I don't like having to violate the contract in order to achieve freebie status.  So I stuck to the straight and narrow.

Despite my ideological reservations, I have to say I am thrilled with the results of the promotion.  Hemlock and the Wizard Tower reached #2 in free Epic fantasy on Saturday, and spent a good deal of Sunday at #1.  It spent about half of Sunday in the top 100 free titles list, which I hear is a "big deal" in terms of the mystical inner workings of the Amazon ranking algorithms.  I don't really understand those intricacies yet, but it sounds good.  And so far this week my paid sales are actually coming in drizzles and spurts (as opposed to their former trickle).

But a surprising feeling hit me in the waning hours of Sunday as I gleefully watched the free downloads accumulate.  Since then I have been wondering about all of these people who now have my book, and may soon be reading it.  It was easy for me to create an imaginary connection with the trickle of readers I had been reaching before the promotion.  I would imagine a guy reading in Arizona or a woman reading in Liverpool, and that would feel OK--be manageable in some hypothetical way.  But this torrent of simultaneous downloads is different.  Now I am dealing with an auditorium full of imaginary downloaders--a number that my imagination just can't quite come to grips with.  I've ended up visualizing a mass of readers in a big room: but they are faceless--rendered anonymous in aggregate--sort of like the replicating Agent Smiths from the Matrix II movie.  And I'm not sure how I relate to them exactly in this imaginary space.  They are reading something very dear to me, but I am conspicuously absent from the scene.  Or maybe I've been fragmented into a multitude of tiny pieces that flew out into cyberspace with each ebook.

Now, I realize this is a silly way to think.  But remember: I'm a person who sometimes uses my imagination to frame and interpret reality.  So, as a result of this promotion, I have had to come to terms with this sudden expansion of readership; and in the process I've had to let go of the imaginary feeling of connection I'd grown used to.  But, like we used to say when I was part of a company that faced problems related to growth, this is a good problem to have!

A note to potential readers: I'm sorry if you missed the free promotion.  It may happen again, but I can't say for sure.  Rest assured that Hemlock and the Wizard Tower is regularly priced at the lowest possible price Amazon allows: $0.99.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cover of Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy!

 Here is the work in progress cover art for Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy!  I'm super excited to unveil it!  We're still reviewing it, but it's very,very close.

I'm still working through the revisions of the ending of the new novel.  All I can say is: "God bless President's Day!"  In a stroke of good fortune I've been granted a precious day off on Monday that I'll be able to use to write uninterrupted!  What timing!

So I'm rushing around like a busy little wizard adding new ending scenes, tweaking things and generally cleaning up the chaotic mess that ending "1.0" was.  I was telling some friends that if I ever try to release any of my writing with a "1.0" version of an ending again, they should physically slap me in the face, and possibly curb stomp me.  OK, maybe the curb stomping would put my ability to revise the ending at risk, so scratch that.  Maybe instead of a plain slap, it could be a gentleman's slap with a leather glove (or something equally dramatic and injury-free) instead.  That would get my attention!

I don't have anything else to share right now.  I'm busy writing and imagineering, and there's not much more to say than that.  I think the release of the new novel is mere weeks away at this point!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bigfoot Blues

Photo by Wayne Parrack.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Whenever I am trying to take a nap I like to put on the TV and tune in to a show about history or the paranormal.  History is good to sleep to because it already happened.  It's not like you're going to miss something if you sleep through it.  Plus the monotone narration is also soothing to the ear.

When I'm drowsy I also like to tune in to these Bigfoot hunter shows.  For one, like history shows, I am certain nothing will happen in the show that I will need to stay up for (come on, they never find anything, do they?).  I also sort of enjoy the traipses through the woods with the UV filter video and the almost juvenile attempts to leverage technology to capture the elusive "squatch".

As a writer, I never want my stories to be snooze-worthy.  And I think this can happen if a story is too reliant on the standard fantasy tropes.  But I also have this need to ground my tales in established mythology, which would seem to conflict with the notion of trying to keep a storyline fresh and innovative.

So how does an author walk the fine line between innovation and mythological resonance?  Maybe further reflection on my affection for Bigfoot shows will shed some light.  Maybe the magic of these shows is the enthusiasm the hunters display as they go about their hunt.  They treat their experience like an adventure--even though the outcome of the adventure is never in doubt.  Somehow these hunters make the viewer suspend disbelief--perhaps only for a few moments, but that's enough.  Maybe they will find a "squatch" this time!  Maybe Bigfoot IS real!

As a fantasy writer I try to suspend disbelief for readers by making sure there are no visible seams in the plot.  Plot seams are the equivalent of seeing the author running around in a cheesy Bigfoot suit.  When the plot is seamless and "organic" I think the reader starts to wonder what might happen next--and by extension feels like anything could happen.  This sense of uncertainty is what makes a novel exciting for me as a reader.  The author may be behind the curtain, but if the curtain is well concealed then the illusory narrative of the story remains seamless.

I've recently been revising the ending of my new novel, and I was feeling really down about it for several days.  I think it was because I was trying too hard to just sew up the plot seams with little regard for subtlety or prudence.  I just had to wait for the right idea to develop organically from plot circumstances instead of trying to "synthesize" something to connect the dots.  As tempting as the Bigfoot suit is for an author, it's best left in the proverbial closet.  Don't worry, the skeletons will keep it company.